The End of History and the Last Man

In his 1989 article, “The End of History?” Francis Fukuyama raised a storm of controversy. THE END OF HISTORY AND THE LAST MAN is the author’s response. His thesis is simple. The failure of communism and the disappearance of the Soviet Union has resulted in the victory of liberal democracy and capitalism. There are, he claims, no more challengers. Security and freedom have been achieved, and consequently history has ended.

THE END OF HISTORY AND THE LAST MAN ignores the confusing events and details of most history and is more philosophical, even teleological, in its orientation. The author states that only liberal democracy and the market economy have satisfactorily provided what Plato claimed to be necessary for happiness: the appetitive (food and sex), the reasoning (knowledge and truth), and the need to be recognized as human. Hegel’s concept of thesis, antithesis, and synthesis explained the process of history, with liberal democracy as the final synthesis according to Fukuyama. Marx, like Hegel, saw the world in a clash of evolving opposites, but while Marx predicted that the triumph of communism would lead to the withering away of the state, Fukuyama instead argues that with the victory of liberal democracy it is history that has died.

Whether the triumph of the West is entirely satisfactory is another matter. Borrowing from Nietzsche, Fukuyama wonders if merely making money or getting elected to political office might not be a hollow victory; perhaps transcendent challenges are ultimately necessary. Well-written and provocative, THE END OF HISTORY AND THE LAST MAN deserves to be read, if only as a commentary on the end of the Cold War and the supposed final victory of Western values and institutions.

Sources for Further Study

American Historical Review. XCVII, June, 1992, p. 817.

Commonweal. CXIX, June 19, 1992, p. 25.

Current History. XCI, April, 1992, p. 184.

Los Angeles Times Book Review. January 19, 1992, p. 2.

The New York Review of Books. XXXIX, March 26, 1992, p. 7.

The New York Times Book Review. XCVII, January 26, 1992, p. 14.

Publishers Weekly. CCXXXIX, January 1, 1992, p. 41.

Society. XXX, November, 1992, p. 116.

The Times Literary Supplement. April 24, 1992, p. 6.

The Washington Post Book World. XXII, January 12, 1992, p. 1.