The End of History and the Last Man

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

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.

The End of History and the Last Man

(Literary Masterpieces, Critical Compilation)

In 1989, a year that saw the fall of the Berlin Wall and other events signifying the end of the Cold War, Francis Fukuyama published a sixteen-page article titled, “The End of History?” in The National Interest, a journal with a circulation of about six thousand. Surprisingly, he and his article quickly became widely known and very controversial. Policymakers and politicians both within the United States and elsewhere debated his assertion. University academics and ordinary readers of popular news magazines discussed the question Fukuyama asked. The End of History and the Last Man is both a response to his many critics and an elaboration of the ideas found in his original article. Arguing that the end of the Cold War and the collapse of communism in the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe left the West in sole command of the political and economic landscape, Fukuyama claims that liberal democracy and capitalism have triumphed, that there are no alternatives or remaining ideological challengers, and that history, defined as the evolving competition between political, social, and economic ideologies, has come to an end.

Most critics vehemently disagreed with Fukuyama’s original article. History cannot simply end; billions of human beings are living their lives, struggling for their existences, and reproducing themselves. Wars are still taking place, political battles are being fought, and even capitalistic economies can suffer depressions. The brutality of the Chinese communists in crushing the democratic student demonstrations at Tiananmen Square and Saddam Hussein’s invasion of Kuwait showed that history obviously was not over. Fukuyama states, however, that he was not suggesting that wars would not be fought, that major events could no longer take place, that all controversies have ended. As he notes in The End of History and the Last Man, he was not referring to the ending of events but rather of history as a single, coherent, and evolutionary process. Fukuyama believes that history is teleological; it has a goal and a meaning, and these have been fulfilled in the victory of liberal democratic capitalism over all of previous human history, and not just over authoritarian communism. Western society in the late twentieth century is the culmination of all that has come before.

The End of History and the Last Man is a work of large ideas and broad interpretations, and Fukuyama tackles them with considerable ingenuity, if not always with complete success. He begins his argument with the ideas of two nineteenth century historical philosophers, Georg Wilhelm Hegel and Karl Marx, both products of the Enlightenment. They agreed that universal history was directional and purposeful and that recent history evolved from, or was a reaction to, earlier stages of human society. For Marx, the end of history was to be the victory of pure communism, which would consequently see the withering away of institutions, such as the state and governments, that had been the product of and the means by which the economic haves controlled the economic have-nots. Hegel saw the final synthesis of history as the development of the liberal state, and Fukuyama argues that it was Hegel, and not Marx, who had the accurate vision of human historical development.

There are a number of factors that led to the victory of liberal democratic capitalism. The scientific method and the Industrial Revolution are crucial among these. With modern science, history could no longer be either merely random or cyclical. Now it could only be, Fukuyama claims, cumulative and directional. Luddites might resist the inevitability of technology and Rousseauists might long for a state of uncorrupted nature, but nothing could reverse the scientific-industrial-technological process once it began. Science and industry effectively modernized society in a forward direction, and in order for any human society to survive, much less progress, there is no alternative.

The economic system that best responds to the scientific and industrial implications of history’s evolving direction is free-market capitalism. Fukuyama argues that the history of the twentieth century proves the triumphant efficiency of capitalism over socialism or communism as economic systems. Only capitalism can provide the greatest economic satisfaction to the greatest number. In the postindustrial age of computers and a worldwide integrated economy, the planned economies of socialist or communist states are simply beyond the abilities of government bureaucrats to control. Fukuyama points to the growth of the market economy even in...

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