James Atlas (essay date 22 October 1989)

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SOURCE: “What Is Fukuyama Saying?,” in New York Times Magazine, October 22, 1989, pp. 38-40, 42, 54-5.

[In the following essay, Atlas provides an overview of Fukuyama's professional background, historical perspective, and critical controversy surrounding “The End of History?”]

The year 2000 fast approaches, and millennial doom is...

(The entire section contains 62716 words.)

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SOURCE: “What Is Fukuyama Saying?,” in New York Times Magazine, October 22, 1989, pp. 38-40, 42, 54-5.

[In the following essay, Atlas provides an overview of Fukuyama's professional background, historical perspective, and critical controversy surrounding “The End of History?”]

The year 2000 fast approaches, and millennial doom is in the air. Global warming, nuclear proliferation, chaos in Eastern Europe. Even the notion of post is over. Post-modernism, post-history, post-culture (to borrow the critic George Steiner's term)—we're beyond that now. “The sun is about to set on the post-industrial era,” declares the economist Lester C. Thurow in The New York Times.

What follows post? Samuel P. Huntington, Eaton Professor of the Science of Government at Harvard, has a name for the latest eschatological craze: “endism.” The critic Arthur C. Danto theorizes on “the end of art.” Bill McKibben, a former staff writer for The New Yorker, issues a dire report on “The End of Nature.” Clearly, it's late in the day.

On the face of it, the lead article in the summer issue of The National Interest, a neoconservative journal published in Washington, seemed like more bad news. “The End of History?” it asked. The author, Francis Fukuyama, a State Department official, was unknown to the public, but his article was accompanied by “responses” from Irving Kristol, Allan Bloom, Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan and others notable for their gloomy prognostications.

The magazine's readers were in for a surprise. What was Fukuyama saying? That the end of history is good news. What is happening in the world, claimed his eloquent essay, is nothing less than “the triumph of the West.” How else to explain the free elections in Poland and Hungary? The reform movement in China? The East German exodus?

In Fukuyama's interpretation, borrowed (and heavily adapted) from the German philosopher G. W. F. Hegel, history is a protracted struggle to realize the idea of freedom latent in human consciousness. In the 20th century, the forces of totalitarianism have been decisively conquered by the United States and its allies, which represent the final embodiment of this idea—“that is, the end point of mankind's ideological evolution and the universalization of Western liberal democracy.” In other words, we win.

Within weeks, “The End of History?” had become the hottest topic around, this year's answer to Paul Kennedy's phenomenal best seller, The Rise and Fall of the Great Powers. George F. Will was among the first to weigh in, with a Newsweek column in August; two weeks later, Fukuyama's photograph appeared in Time. The French quarterly Commentaire announced that it was devoting a special issue to “The End of History?” The BBC sent a television crew. Translations of the piece were scheduled to appear in Dutch, Japanese, Italian and Icelandic. Ten Downing Street requested a copy. In Washington, a newsdealer on Connecticut Avenue reported, the summer issue of The National Interest was “outselling everything, even the pornography.”

“Controversial” didn't begin to cover the case. Unlike that other recent philosophical cause célèbre, Allan Bloom's “The Closing of the American Mind,” Fukuyama's essay was the work of a representative from what is often referred to in academic circles as the real world. This was no professor, according to the contributor's note that ran in the magazine, but the “deputy director of the State Department's policy planning staff.”

It wasn't just the message, then; it was the source. Maybe there was an agenda here. … By mid-September, Peter Tarnoff, president of the Council on Foreign Relations, could speculate on the Op-Ed page of The New York Times that. “The End of History?” was “laying the foundation for a Bush doctrine.” Not bad for a 16-page article in a foreign-policy journal with a circulation of 6,000.

You have to pass through a metal detector to get to Francis Fukuyama's office in the State Department, and the silver plaques beside the doors—INTERNATIONAL NARCOTICS MATTERS, NUCLEAR RISK REDUCTION CENTER—confirm that this isn't a philosophy department. But the elegant private dining room on the 8th floor, overlooking the Potomac, could easily be mistaken for an Ivy League faculty club. Plush carpets, chandeliers, a sideboard out of Sturbridge Village, oil portraits of 19th-century dignitaries on the walls—an environment conducive to shoptalk about Hegel.

It's mid-September, and the arrival of Soviet Foreign Minister Eduard Shevardnadze for meetings with Fukuyama's boss, James A. Baker 3d, is less than a week away. “It's a busy time,” says Fukuyama, apologetically. Apart from assisting in the preparation of “talking points” for the Secretary of State, he's been besieged with telephone calls from book editors and agents eager to cash in on his famous article.

How does he account for the commotion? “I don't understand it myself,” Fukuyama says quietly, sipping a Coke. “I didn't write the article with any relevance to policy. It was just something I'd been thinking about.”

He does seem an unlikely celebrity. (But so was Paul Kennedy. So was Allan Bloom.) His khaki suit has an off-the-rack look about it, and he speaks in a tentative, measured voice, more intent on making himself clear than on making an impression. A youthful 36, he emanates a professorial air—an assistant professorial air.

Fukuyama doesn't quite fit the neo-conservative stereotype. Whatever ideological direction he has gone in lately, he's still a child of the 60s. He belongs to the Sierra Club; he's nostalgic for California, where he worked for the Rand Corporation; he worries about pesticides in the backyard of the small red-brick bungalow in the Virginia suburbs where he lives with his wife and infant daughter.

“The last thing I want to be interpreted as saying is that our society is a utopia, or that there are no more problems,” he stresses. “I simply don't see any competitors to modern democracy.” In short, he's a liberal neo-conservative.

Fukuyama grew up in Manhattan's Stuyvesant Town, a middle-class housing development on the Lower East Side. His father was a Congregational minister who later became a professor of religion, and Fukuyama's own direction in the beginning was toward an academic career. As a freshman at Cornell in 1970, he was a resident of Telluride House, a sort of commune for philosophy students; Allan Bloom was the resident Socrates. They shared meals and talked philosophy until all hours, living the good life Bloom would later evoke in “The Closing of the American Mind,” the professor and his disciples sitting around the cafeteria discussing the Great Books.

Fukuyama majored in classics, then did graduate work in comparative literature at Yale, where he studied with the deconstructionist Paul de Man (who would achieve posthumous notoriety when it was discovered that he'd published pro-Nazi articles in the Belgian press at the height of World War II). “It was kind of an intellectual side journey,” Fukuyama says.

After Yale, he spent six months in Paris, sitting in on classes with Roland Barthes and Jacques Derrida, whose abstruse and fashionable discours would become required reading for a generation of American graduate students. Fukuyama was less than impressed. “I was turned off by their nihilistic idea of what literature was all about,” he recalls. “It had nothing to do with the world. I developed such an aversion to that whole over-intellectual approach that I turned to nuclear weapons instead.” He enrolled in Harvard's government department, where he studied Middle Eastern and Soviet politics. Three years later he got a Ph.D. in political science, writing his thesis on Soviet foreign policy in the Middle East.

Fukuyama's first job out of the academic world was at the Rand Corporation in Santa Monica. Then, in 1981, Paul D. Wolfowitz, director of policy planning in the Reagan Administration (and also a former student of Bloom's), invited him to join his staff. Fukuyama worked in Washington for two years, then returned to Rand.

For the next six years, he wrote papers for Rand on Soviet foreign policy, speculating on such weighty matters as “Pakistan Since the Soviet Invasion of Afghanistan” and “Soviet Civil-Military Relations and the Power Projection Mission.” In “Gorbachev and the Third World” (published in the spring 1986 issue of Foreign Affairs), Fukuyama claimed that Soviet foreign policy was still expansionist, and that despite efforts to economize at home and act conciliatory abroad, Gorbachev was quietly “trying to stake out a more combative position” in client nations like Angola and Afghanistan, Libya and Nicaragua. The message of these heavily footnoted articles was clear. The cold war is still on.

Last February, shortly before he returned to Washington to become deputy to Dennis Ross, the new director of policy planning. Fukuyama gave a lecture at the University of Chicago in which he surveyed the international political scene. It was sponsored by his former professor, Allan Bloom. “My whole life has been spent in organizations that prize technical expertise,” says Fukuyama. “I was anxious to deal with larger and more important issues”—what Bloom calls “the big questions.”

As it happened, Owen Harries, co-editor of The National Interest, was looking around for a think piece on the current situation—a piece, as Harries explains it, that would “link history with the great traditions of political thought.” Harries got hold of Fukuyama's lecture and instantly recognized that it was “a provocative, stimulating essay, just what the times needed.”

Harries, a donnish, pipe-smoking Welshman whose desk is piled high with books—he was educated at Oxford and was for many years a professor of politics—belongs to a type that exists only in Washington. Leon Wieseltier, literary editor of The New Republic, calls them “policy intellectuals.” In New York, people talk about the latest issue of Vanity Fair; in Washington, they talk about the latest issue of Foreign Policy.

Some of these policy intellectuals are in government; Carnes Lord, the author of a highly regarded translation of Aristotle's Politics, is national security adviser to Vice President Quayle. Others are “fellows” or “scholars” at the Heritage Foundation or the Brookings Institution. Often, they have grand titles: Michael Novak, for instance, is the George Frederick Jewett Scholar in Religion and Public Policy at the American Enterprise Institute. Many are fugitives from academic life. “A lot of people around the office came up to me after the article appeared,” Fukuyama says. “Hegelians who hadn't gotten tenure.”

The political orientation is well to the right. “We hold to a traditional view of foreign policy,” says Owen Harries. And what does he mean by “traditional”? “The belief that power politics is still in business. A belief in the efficacy of force.”

The National Interest is clearly a well-heeled outfit. It's funded by the Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation, a prominent neo-conservative organization; the John M. Olin Foundation, established by a wealthy manufacturer who made his fortune largely in munitions, and the Smith Richardson Foundation—which, says Harries, “supports a number of good causes around the place.”

The magazine's quarters, in a modern office building on 16th Street in Washington, are a far cry from the grubby cubicles one associates with political journals on the left (if there still are any). The floors are carpeted and the phones ring with a muted chirp. The elevator has piped-in Mozart instead of Muzak. Directly across the street, behind a wrought-iron fence, is the Russian Embassy.

The National Interest, now four years old, is the creation of Irving Kristol—listed on the masthead as its publisher. His desk at the magazine is sort of in the lobby area; but then, he occupies many desks. Apart from his two magazines (he's also publisher of The Public Interest), Kristol is a distinguished fellow at the American Enterprise Institute. Last year, he gave up his professorship at New York University and moved to Washington.

New York was no longer the nation's intellectual center, he wrote in The New Republic a few months later, explaining his decision. The intellectuals had disappeared from the universities. The culture of Washington was just as “nasty and brutish,” in Kristol's Hobbesian view, as anywhere else. “But there is one area in which Washington is an intellectual center, and that is public policy: economic policy, social policy, foreign policy, today even educational policy.”

Living in Washington doesn't make Kristol any less a New Yorker. The cigarette, the rumpled seersucker jacket, the shrewdly self-deprecating wit are more congenial to a seminar room at the City University of New York's graduate center on 42nd Street than to a Washington think tank. Why did “The End of History?” make news? “I'd like to think it's because my coming to Washington from New York has raised the level of discussion,” Kristol says with a laugh. And Fukuyama's thesis? “I don't believe a word of it.”

Neither did a lot of other prominent opinion-makers around town. “At last, self-congratulation raised to the status of philosophy!” sneered Christopher Hitchens, a Washington-based Englishman who writes a column for the Nation. “The Bush years have found their Burke, or their Pangloss.” For Strobe Talbott, editor at large for Time magazine, “The End of History?” was “The Beginning of Nonsense.”

It if wasn't nonsense, Fukuyama's basic thesis wasn't exactly news, either. For months, conservatives had been gloating over the demise of Communism. “The perennial question that has preoccupied every political philosopher since Plato—what is the best form of governance?—has been answered,” wrote Charles Krauthammer in The Washington Post last March, before anyone had ever heard of Francis Fukuyama. “After a few millennia of trying every form of political system, we close this millennium with the sure knowledge that in liberal, pluralist, capitalist democracy we have found what we have been looking for.” Essentially, that was Fukuyama's message, but it didn't draw swarms of reporters to Krauthammer's door.

So how did “The End of History?” become such a big event? It was the Hegel that did it. Not only is American winning, Fukuyama claimed, but the flourishing of democracy around the world is the fulfillment of a grand historical scheme. The end of the cold war and the disarray of the Soviet Union reflected a larger process—the realization of the Idea. History, Hegel believed (or Fukuyama says he believed), “culminated in an absolute moment—a moment in which a final, rational form of society and state became victorious.” And that moment, it just so happens, is now.

A weird thesis, utterly speculative and impossible to prove. But “The End of History?” was a stylish performance, erudite and written with a rhetorical flair rare in the somber prose of Washington policy journals; it possessed intellectual authority.

Fukuyama's respondents greeted the piece with open arms. “I am delighted to welcome G. W. F. Hegel to Washington,” declared Kristol. Senator Moynihan, himself a Harvard government professor before he discovered politics, confessed that his grasp of Hegel was shaky; but he dusted off his European history, tossing in a few references to Marx and Rousseau. “It is not often that one has the opportunity to argue about Hegel in The National Interest (or anywhere else, for that matter),” noted the historian Gertrude Himmelfarb, who is the wife of Irving Kristol. Soon after the article appeared, there was a conference held to discuss it at something called the United States Institute of Peace. Kristol, Himmelfarb and Krauthammer were in attendance, along with the Sovietologist Richard Pipes. The rest is … history?

It's not hard to see why Fukuyama's essay won favor among this community. It's not only the high-flown references to Kant and Hegel, not only the message that Western democracy beat out he competition. “The End of History?” has a polemical edge familiar to readers of “The Closing of the American Mind.”

Like Bloom, Fukuyama doesn't have much patience for non-Western cultures. (“For our purposes,” he writes, “it matters very little what strange thoughts occur to people in Albania or Burkina Faso.”) And like Bloom, Fukuyama's no booster. The West isn't so hot either. At the heart of his critique is a veiled contempt for the very culture whose triumphs in the politic sphere it purports to celebrate.

What distinguishes Fukuyama from the crowd of conservative pundits elated by Gorbachev's troubles is his curled-lip attitudes toward the victorious party. Say the West has won, that fascism and Communism are dead, that no significant ideological challenges are on the horizon then what? There's an “emptiness at the core of liberalism,” Fukuyama maintains. What does American have to offer? “Liberal democracy in the political sphere combined with easy access to VCRs and stereos in the economic.” The society Hegel envisioned at the end of history, a universal state in which the arts flourish and virtue reigns, is nowhere to be found. Instead we're stuck with a “consumerist culture” purveying rock music and boutiques around the world.

So the end of history may not be such a good thing after all. In fact, Fukuyama concludes, it will be “a very sad time.” Why? Because the meaning of life lies in the causes that we fight for, and in the future there won't be any. “The struggle for recognition, the willingness to risk one's life for a purely abstract goal, the worldwide ideological struggle that called forth daring, courage, imagination and idealism, will be replaced by economic calculation, the endless solving of technical problems, environmental concerns and the satisfaction of sophisticated consumer demands.” Put plainly, we're heading for a time of “boredom.”

As a Washington cab driver said when I tried to explain why I was in town, “Give me a break!” Does Fukuyama really believe all this? “I guess I prefer not to answer that,” he said one afternoon, talking in his State Department office—“Leave it ambiguous. All I can say is, if people can't take a joke. …”

That he meant to be provocative is obvious; but it's clear from his rational, erudite prose that he wasn't fooling around. As a political theorist, Fukuyama is more in the tradition of Bentham or Locke than of pop futurist Alvin Toffler. “All I meant by that last paragraph,” he says “was that there's a tension in liberalism that won't go away. There are all kinds of reasons for being a liberal: the security and the material wealth it provides, the opportunity for spiritual and intellectual development. But it fails to address some fundamental questions. You know, what are the higher ends of man? Should we just be content with having secured the conditions for a good life, or should we be thinking about what the content of that good life is?”

If liberalism still has a few kinks to work out, Communism is finished, although “there may be some isolated true believers left in places like Managua, Pyongyang or Cambridge, Massachusetts,” writes Fukuyama with characteristic acerbity.

In Cambridge, the contempt is mutual. Even in that citadel of 1960s subversion, there aren't too many Communists left, but there is an inordinately dense concentration of people around Harvard Square who know their Hegel, and the summer issue of The National Interest sold out there virtually overnight. By and large, the Cambridge intelligentsia is dubious about “The End of History?” The distinguished Harvard government professor Judith N. Shklar didn't even have to read Fukuyama's piece in order to dismiss it as “publicity.” Her colleague Daniel Bell, who did, pronounced it “Hegel at third remove … and wrong.” (Bell's classic book, The End of Ideology, anticipated Fukuyama 30 years ago.)

The historian Simon Schama, author of Citizens: A Chronicle of the French Revolution, is more tolerant. Himself an idiosyncratic practitioner of the genre, he found the piece “spirited and lively,” but wonders how Fukuyama could have failed to address the revival of religious fundamentalism or the conflicts that could arise out of nationalism. “It's more of a theological document, don't you think, a work of prophecy,” he says. “I mean, nobody really believes in the end of history.”

It's not too hard to think of scenarios that would spoil Fukuyama's end of history. Who's to say what would happen in the Soviet Union if glasnost and perestroika collapse? What new dangers might a reunified Germany pose? Or a newly industrialized China? And what about the nuclear threat? That would put an end to things, the political scientist Pierre Hassner observed, “in a more radical sense than he envisages.”

Gertrude Himmelfarb's response in The National Interest was perhaps the most damaging refutation of all. To begin with, Hegel never said that history would end in a literal sense; it's a continuous process in which “the synthesis of the preceding stage is the thesis of the present, thus setting in motion an endless dialectical cycle—and thus preserving the drama of history.” And what about black poverty, the poverty of the underclass? asked Himmelfarb. In southeast Washington, where young blacks are dying nightly in the front lines of the drug war, history doesn't seem over, it seems to be just beginning. As Irving Kristol tartly put it, “We may have won the cold war, which is nice—it's more than nice, it's wonderful. But this means that now the enemy is us, not them.”

Liberals complained that Fukuyama ignored the third world. Conservatives weren't too enthusiastic about his dour assessment of the winning team. Where is it written that government should provide for the spiritual needs of its citizens? Michael Novak wondered in Commentary. Democracy promises freedom from tyranny, it doesn't promise to make us happy. “The construction of a social order that achieves these is not designed to fill the soul, or to teach a philosophy, or to give instruction in how to live,” Novak wrote. Democracy isn't a required course; it's an elective.

A number of commentators have compared “The End of History?” to the famous article published by George F. Kennan in Foreign Affairs in July 1947 and signed with an anonymous “X.” Kennan's essay warned of Moscow's expansionist tendencies and called for a policy of “firm and vigilant containment,” thus supplying the term that would come to characterize America's foreign policy in the postwar era.

In an article in Policy Review last summer, “Waiting for Mr. X,” Burton Yale Pines, the magazine's associate publisher, called for an update. The cold war was over, Pines agreed; only what was the United States doing about it? How to deal with the turmoil Gorbachev's reforms have provoked? What should be our policy toward Eastern Europe? “Needed, in essence, is another ‘X’ article,” wrote Pines—an article that would encourage the United States to seize the initiative. Given this hunger for a sequel, it's not surprising that Fukuyama is being touted as our “X.”

But is he? It's tempting to dismiss the whole thing as a media phenomenon. “Each year needs a new sensation,” says Daniel Bell. “It encapsulates a mood that people feel and gives it a vocabulary.”

The practical consequences have been more difficult to measure. In the wake of Shevardnadze's visit, interpreters of foreign policy were busy scrutinizing speeches for evidence of endism. Did Fukuyama's article reflect President Bush's thinking? Was it a high-level policy paper in disguise? Senator Moynihan, for one, is skeptical. “The minute you announce that the cold war has ended and history is over,” he notes, “a lot of people are going to say, ‘Hey, wait a minute, we're out of a job.’” If only for bureaucratic purposes, then, history is still a going concern. As for the article's actual influence, “there's no connection between this piece and what the Government does,” Kristol says flatly. “No one in the Administration has read it.”

Everyone else has. Whether or not we've reached the end of history, we haven't reached the end of “The End of History?” The fall issue of The National Interest featured more “responses,” and you still can't pick up a magazine or a newspaper without stumbling across some reference to Fukuyama. “I don't see much of a future for liberal democracy here in Peru's Shining Path country, but people would be pretty excited about VCRs if they only had electricity,” the journalist Tina Rosenberg reported with laconic irony in The New Republic, writing from Baja Collana, Peru. “But that's just one of those technological problems Francis Fukuyama says we'll have to spend our time grappling with now that there are no more ideological conflicts to keep us busy.”

In a way, though, the question mark in Fukuyama's title has pre-empted criticism. History, after all, is only a way of making sense of things. Human beings depend on narrative to create an illusion of order, the literary critic Frank Kermode has argued in his profound book, The Sense of an Ending. “To make sense of their span they need fictive concords with origins and ends, such as give meaning to lives and to poems.”

“The End of History?” is a poem. (No wonder no one in the Administration has read it.)

Even if we have come to the end of history, that may not be the end of it. As the historian Jerry Z. Muller observed, writing in Commentary last December, “After late capitalism comes more capitalism.” And after the end of history comes more history.

Richard Bernstein (essay date 10 December 1989)

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SOURCE: “The End of History, Explained for the Second Time,” in The New York Times, December 10, 1989, p. E6.

[In the following essay, Bernstein discusses Fukuyama's defense and elaboration of “The End of History?” in The National Interest.]

The debate about the “end of history” has not come to an end. Francis Fukuyama, the State Department official who declared the end of the ideological struggle between East and West in an article last summer in The National Interest, has responded to his critics, and taken the argument a step further.

Not only has history ended, Mr. Fukuyama argues in a crisply written eight-page essay to appear in the journal tomorrow, but human nature itself has changed. History has ended because our “democratic-egalitarian consciousness,” the highest form of political thought, has become “a permanent acquisition, as much a part of our fundamental ‘natures’ as our need for sleep or our fear of death.”

Mr. Fukuyama's argument is in most respects an extension, and a defense, of the one he made several months ago when he resurrected certain notions of the German philosopher Hegel, particularly his view that history is not much the record of events as it is the progress of ideas. History has ended, Mr. Fukuyama said, because there is not going to be any further evolution in human ideology. The dissolution of the cold war in particular reveals that the liberal-democratic idea has permanently triumphed over its Communist rival, he said. And while, to be sure, there will be events, even dramatic ones, disturbing ones, violent and exciting ones, such as the exploration of space, the essential elements of human consciousness will no longer evolve.

“The end of history then means not the end of worldly events but the end of the evolution of human thought,” Mr. Fukuyama writes in his defense. He notes ruefully that his original article served the rare function of creating consensus across the political spectrum. Virtually none of the many writers and commentators who reacted to his thesis agreed with it, whether they were writing in The Wall Street Journal or The Nation.

The major objection of these writers is that the Fukuyama hypothesis is divorced from the real world, which remains fraught with anti-democratic ideas, tension, violence and the threat of renewed war, all of which belie the notion that a happy post-historical era is dawning. Their point is that Mr. Fukuyama, arguing within his closed Hegelian system, may be right that history has ended, but only in a very abstract way, since the possibility of turmoil and war remains strong.

In the fall issue of The National Interest, the Harvard political scientist Samuel P. Huntington argued that the passing of the cold war does not mean the end of superpower conflict. The Soviet Union, he agreed, could well revert to being “just another great power,” devoid of Marxism-Leninism. But even when Russia was “just another great power,” he said, it created plenty of history, deploying its troops in Europe and suppressing uprisings in neighboring states. In the future there are likely to be new and unpredictable manifestations of such things as nationalism, religious fanaticism and just plain human foolishness to keep history going.

“To believe in the end of history,” Leon Wieseltier, the literary editor of The New Republic, wrote in the same issue, “you must believe in the end of human nature, or at least of its gift for evil.” Or, as Jean-François Revel, the French political analyst, put it, “In politics I don't much care about the long run: it's the short one that counts, after all, since human life is short.”

In his reply, Mr. Fukuyama divides his critics into two groups: those who, he says, understood his original thesis and those who did not. The second group, he says, failed to grasp the Hegelian definitions. Mr. Fukuyama is trying to give back to ideas the central importance he feels they merit in human affairs. Thus, future tragic events do not discredit the end-of-history idea. The important issue is not the events themselves but whether the ideas that inspire them offer real competition to the liberal democratic idea.

“A nuclear war between India and Pakistan—horrible as that would be for those countries—does not qualify, unless it somehow forced us to reconsider the basic principles underlying our social order,” he writes.

It is toward those who, he believes, understood his argument but still disagreed that Mr. Fukuyama directs his notion of an altered human nature. Again arguing from Hegel, he contends that even if future conflicts take place, they are unlikely to produce anything that will supersede the liberal democratic idea, in part because that idea has become so inherent to our makeup. Hegel, he says, believed that human nature itself is “self-created by man in the course of his historical evolution.” The direction of that evolution, Mr. Fukuyama adds, is inevitably in the direction of “democratic egalitarianism.”

And so, to those who say, for example, that the Soviet Union could well intervene in European affairs again, Mr. Fukuyama replies that history as Hegel saw it would in no way be resurrected. The important element of the recent Soviet threat was its link to Communism's “messianic mission,” to a “universalist idea that was inimical to our way of life.” Even if dictatorship is restored in the Soviet Union, Mr. Fukuyama writes, Marxism-Leninism as an ideology will remain defunct. The idea competing with liberal democracy will have disappeared.

George Gilder (review date 12 January 1992)

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SOURCE: “Four Cheers for Liberal Democracy,” in Washington Post Book World, January 12, 1992, pp. 1, 6.

[In the following review, Gilder offers favorable evaluation of The End of History and the Last Man.]

Amid all the timid tomes and hollow debates of the day, ruminating on the moral codes of the Palm Beach Au Bar, the fiery bellyaches of the New Male, or the platoons of CIA officials and Watergate burglars now widely identified with heavy weapons blazing away on the Grassy Knoll, Francis Fukuyama has launched a countercultural blitzkrieg. Despite a cumbersome title, The End of History and the Last Man unleashes an awesome barrage of some 200,000 well-boned words at all the multiculturalism, ethical relativism and pseudomarxist economics that now addle the American liberal-arts campus and political establishments.

According to Fukuyama, the American system is not a flawed and failing order about to give way before a global upsurge of more vigorous and populous Third World cultures, ethnic demands, relativistic ethical codes, and racialist or tribal politics. Liberal democracy, capitalism and Judeo-Christian morality are not ethnocentric figments of American or European pride in a culture of “dead white males.” Rather, in all its crucial fundamentals, the U.S. constitutional order of liberal democracy and economic system of entrepreneurial capitalism define the end point of human political history, the very end of teleological time. This is it: the goal of several millennia of human groping and searching and dying in the dark—through wars, utopian experiments, eugenic pogroms, authoritarian bureaucracies, philosopher kingdoms, nationalist frenzies, revolutionary purges, totalitarian horrors—looking for the one true way, the way according best with the real intrinsic nature of the human being.

In the mastery and scope of its case, The End of History and the Last Man may be seen as the first book of the post-Marxist millennium—the first work fully to fathom the depth and range of the changes now sweeping through the world. According to Fukuyama's relentless argument, even the realist view that “war is eternal,” feeding on “man's natural instinct for aggression,” is fallacious. Fukuyama points out that war was a product of the zero-sum strivings of aristocracy and totalitarianism; over the last 200 years no liberal democratic state has ever attacked another. As all nations turn toward the positive-sum spirals of democratic capitalism and world trade expands at a pace of some 14 percent a year, he boldly asserts, war will disappear.

Along with war, nationalism too will wither away. Fukuyama dismisses as “parochial and untrue” the idea that nationalism is a deep-seated human trait. Most of these so-called nations with allegedly deep cultural imprints and primal human allegiances are in fact recent and transitory inventions affording far less powerful ties than kin or class.

Fukuyama scorns the United Nations as a reactionary alliance in defense of the falsehood of “sovereign equality of all its members.” National self-determination has no foundations outside of democratic theory. Yet the most essential message of the U.N. Charter is the legitimacy of non-democratic nations. Fukuyama implicitly dismisses also the “new world order” of President Bush, which apparently accepts the notion that non-democratic regimes have sovereign rights. On the other hand, Fukuyama supports as profoundly realistic and important the campaigns for human rights which many foreign policy “realists” disdain.

Just as he spurns as a “total illusion” the idea of a “humane” middle way between communism and capitalism, he denounces the notion of a deep cultural propensity for authoritarianism. Except in the case of Somoza in Nicaragua, the recent authoritarian governments, left and right, fell of their own contradictions and inner divisions, often voluntarily, not because of revolutionary violence. Authoritarians saw that they needed legitimacy and the only source was the democratic process. History has refuted all the sociological hokum about the “naturally” totalitarian Soviet citizens or the “naturally” theocratic and feudal Iberians or naturally traditionalist Poles and shows a truly natural trend toward democracy everywhere.

Not only cultural relativism but also moral relativism falls before his remorseless scythe. “Apparent differences between people's ‘languages of good and evil’ will appear to be an artifact of their particular stage of historical development.” The universalist moral codes of the Judeo-Christian tradition, with their revolutionary claim of basic equality and moral autonomy for all individuals, are the foundation of liberal democracy and the new global system.

The driving force behind this global trend is the cumulative logic of natural science and technological enterprise, bringing the world into an “information age.” “Evolution in the direction of decentralized decision making and markets becomes a virtual inevitability for all industrial economies that hope to, become ‘post-industrial’,” Fukuyama writes. “While centrally planned economies could follow their capitalist counterparts into the age of coal, steel, and heavy manufacturing,” Marxism-Leninism “met its Waterloo” in “the highly complex and dynamic ‘post-industrial’ economic world.”

“In particular,” be continues, “President Reagan's Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI) … threatened to make obsolete an entire generation of Soviet nuclear weapons, and shifted the superpower competition into areas like microelectronics and other innovative technologies. …” He argues that when Mao attacked the technocrats in the Cultural Revolution, he “set China back a generation.”

Nonetheless, as Fukuyama understands, “Modern science may explain why history unfolds as it does, but science itself does not explain why men pursue science.” Modern science may explain the move to capitalism, but it does not explain the move to democracy. Many analysts who accept Fukuyama's argument for the necessity of capitalism will balk at his case for the inevitability of liberal democracy throughout the Third World.

Fukuyama, however, does not shrink from the more difficult claim. Devoted to the profound roots of the inevitability of liberal democracy, the second half of the book ingeniously reconciles the competing claims of democracy, capitalism, science and freedom, and at the same time transcends the Lockean and Jeffersonian roots of the liberal democracy he reveres.

Fukuyama sees that the secular, rationalist “Last Man” of modern liberal democracy could have neither created it nor defended it. Indeed, the modern scientific view of man tends to render incomprehensible the entire historic struggle by which the human race reached its current emancipation—the long saga of men and women who imposed an edifying imperialism around the globe, launched revolutionary technologies in the face of expert pessimism, tested rival philosophies and scientific paradigms, and evangelized for the Judeo-Christian revelations of human equality and freedom.

In many of these struggles, the scientific intelligensia was on the wrong side. “In our grandparents' time, many reasonable people could foresee a radiant socialist future in which private property and capitalism had been abolished, and in which politics itself had somehow been overcome.” This fantasy of intellectuals prepared the way not for liberal democracy but for a century of atavistic horrors.

Beset by Marxist, Third World, and environmental claims, Western intellectuals still suffer the severe crisis of confidence that “left liberal democracy without the intellectual resources with which to defend itself … and led to serious doubts about the universality of liberal notions of right.” Under the influence of environmentalism, the intelligensia still tends to believe that humanity is merely part of nature—that natural science itself disproves all the transcendent claims that drove human achievement to the current pinnacle. As Fukuyama puts it, “Modern natural science seems to show that there is no natural difference between man and nature, that man is simply a better organized and more rational form of slime.”

Fukuyama sees that this twisted vision of modern science would have been less likely to consummate history than to leave it stalled in some communist or Nazi cul de sac. Liberal democracies, he writes, “are not self-sufficient: the community on which they depend must come from a source different from liberalism itself.” To define this source, he returns to the concept of the First Man in a “state of nature” or “original condition” that is the foundation of much political theory.

According to the argument, there are two traditional First Men. One belongs to the school of Locke and Hobbes that is motivated chiefly by the rational impulse of self-preservation. This First Man created human communities to assure his survival in a world where life is otherwise, as Hobbes put it, “solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short.” According to Fukuyama, it is this Hobbesian or Lockean man motivated by rational self-preservation that has evolved into the secular rationalist Last Man of today. Having achieved self-preservation and comfort, he is a complacent and self-absorbed member of the “me-generation.” Indeed, facing cultures based on duty, discipline, and transcendence, the Lockean “pursuit of happiness” may be the fatal flaw of Western society. Sliding down the determined gradients of our reason and desire, we become less than autonomous human beings, incapable of defending our freedoms against relativistic assaults.

Fukuyama dismisses this prevailing Lockean image in favor of a First Man from Nietzsche. Fully aware of the perils of citing this alleged father of fascism, Fukuyama rejects Nietzsche's moral relativism. Indeed, it was his moral relativism that allowed his work to be abused by Nazis. But Fukuyama declares that the Nietzschean First Man is indispensable to explain the triumph of liberal democracy.

Rather than a pursuer of happiness, Nietzsche's First Man is a valiant fighter for recognition and esteem. In order to assert his moral autonomy and prove his superiority to the beasts, he risks his life in battle. Because this act is irrational, it projects him beyond the determinist sway of natural forces. No longer a mere function of nature, he can be a master of it. Risking his life, he becomes a man of moral autonomy who can drive history to a new summit rather than a slide down into a murk of materialism.

It is this proud first man, mastering nature in the name of transcendent ideals, not the Lockean man succumbing to nature in the name of self-preservation, who is the bulwark of democracy. It is this proud first man, “ruddy cheeked, full chested,” asserting his moral value, rather than a reasonable first man, prone to relativism in his desire for self-preservation, who impelled the human struggle up from the slime. As Fukuyama writes in the last chapter of this landmark work: “Relativism—the doctrine that maintains that all values are merely relative and attacks all ‘privileged perspectives’—must ultimately end up undermining democratic and tolerant values as well … If nothing can be true absolutely, if all values are culturally determined, then cherished values like human equality have to go by the wayside as well.” This is the lesson of Nietzsche and Nazism.

Ultimately, the belief in equality stems from neither the Lockean nor the Nietzschean first man but is founded on the universalist Judeo-Christian assertion of the worth of every individual before God. But even this claim expresses what Fukuyama calls thymos, a Nietzschean demand for recognition and a mandate for transcendence of nature. It accords with every individual's hunger not merely for self-preservation and pleasure but for recognition and moral dignity.

Such recognition is also at the heart of democracy. Through the equal vote, the equal access to political power, the equal right to express views and see them reflected in the political process, the nominally equal participation in the clash of opinions, the citizen gains the recognition for which human nature hungers. Fukuyama makes a persuasive case that this Nietzschean lust for recognition is the crucial driving force of the triumph of democracy around the globe. He powerfully documents his case that it suffices to make liberal politics, as well as capitalism, the inevitable destination of human history.

It is a supremely timely and cogent work, discernibly unbalanced only by a strange Fukuyama fudge on free will. He seems to entertain the sophomoric view that free will is a “tortured issue,” an “abyss of philosophy” that it is prudent to avoid confronting. But without free will, as Fukuyama himself implies, not only philosophy but science as well becomes nonsense, since it reduces scientists themselves to mere functions of forces that they cannot transcend and reduces their findings to mere figments of false consciousness. As chemist-philosopher Michael Polanyi has shown, a natural determinism that includes the scientist is so much gibberish. It takes a philosopher or logician to deny or even unduly complicate free will; no ordinary persons entertain the notion for a minute that their human wills are predetermined.

Only someone who finds the case for free will precarious, however, could imagine that the best way to assert it is to risk death in Nietzschean status struggles. Although understandable as a forensic strategy, Fukuyama's stress on Nietzschean swashbuckling as the test of human dignity rings false amid the perfect pitch of most of his argument.

The test of freedom is human creativity. In Michael Novak's aperçu, humans were made in the image of their creator—to be creative. Any creative endeavor is as palpably and undeniably free as the imagination is free. As manifestations of creativity, Fukuyama speaks first of art and letters. But just as any scientific theory that denies the free will of the scientist falls into gibberish, so does any economic theory that denies the free creativity of the entrepreneurs—that reduces them to production functions and consumer demands. Capitalism itself consists chiefly of creative entrepreneurship and in this way fully satisfies the thymos of its protagonists without bloodshed. In the cause of launching new businesses and technologies, entrepreneurs may not risk their lives but they risk their work, wealth, and esteem.

As Fukuyama understands, entrepreneurial competition and creativity are prime outlets for the hunger for recognition in democratic capitalist societies. The chief threat to his vision, as he recognizes, is the conflict between citizens seeking recognition through creative and productive entrepreneurship and seekers of recognition through litigation and bureaucracy at the expense of entrepreneurs.

Democratic thymos increasingly takes the form of a hunger for recognition as an enemy of the “rich” and the capital gains that embody the very essence of their creative efforts. Capital gains are the only form of wealth that is not explained or captured by determinist models of capital accumulation, retained earnings and return on investment. The fruit of innovation, capital gains are the unexpected yields of entrepreneurial thymos; their reinvestment in new ventures is the real reason for the triumph of capitalism. A capitalist system that expropriates capital gains is scarcely superior to socialism.

In a successful system, both forms of recognition—economic and political—must be granted. The drive for power needs free outlets no less than the impulse to create. Without democracy, the power seekers stifle the capitalist creators or transform them into mercantilist arms of the state, more feudal fiefs than free enterprises. While socialist regimes suppress creativity, authoritarian capitalist regimes block the no less imperious expression of political thymos and divert it into the economic sphere. Fukuyama ascribes the failure of Latin American economies, nominally capitalist, to their neo-feudal mercantilist character.

In this pathbreaking work, Fukuyama shows that both kinds of authoritarianism will ultimately and inevitably fail. All systems that deny either human impulse will lose military and economic power vis a vis liberal democracies. Indeed, as Fukuyama shows, democratic capitalism achieves such a good balance—a balance that accords so closely with the psychic balance of mankind—that it will end the long historic search for ways to organize human society and thus allow a new golden age of creativity and freedom for all.

Walter Russell Mead (review date 19 January 1992)

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SOURCE: “The Theory That May Be History,” in Los Angeles Times Book Review, January 19, 1992, pp. 2, 7.

[In the following review, Mead offers tempered assessment of The End of History and the Last Man, which he describes as “a book of murkily vast ambitions and limited successes.”]

“The End of History?” was the provocative title of an essay published in the summer 1989 issue of The National Interest. It was written by Francis Fukuyama, then the deputy director of the State Department's Policy Planning Staff. The article made the point that, with the collapse of communism, there were no worldwide ideological rivals to western style democracy as a form of government. History, said Fukuyama following the German philosopher G. W. F. Hegel, is at bottom the story of ideological struggles between opposing ways of life. Feudalism, fascism, and communism: they had all fought democracy and they had all lost. Democracy had now won its last battle with communism: Could we now say that history was finished?

Fukuyama's essay ignited an international media firestorm as other intellectuals grappled with the issues he raised. Criticism from both the left and the right was harsh and often misplaced.

Fukuyama has now returned with The End of History and the Last Man, a fuller statement of his views.

So: Is history over? Fukuyama's answer is anticlimactic. History might be over, he says, but then again maybe it isn't. There's no way we can know for sure. Or, as “Saturday Night Live's” Emily Litella might have put it, “Never mind.”

The End of History and the Last Man turns out to be a kind of philosophical bait-and-switch. For more than 300 pages Fukuyama tells us about Universal History, about Hobbes, Locke, Hegel, Nietzsche and a 20th-Century French lecturer on Hegel named Alexandre Kojeve. For most of the book he carefully lays the groundwork for a claim that history is over—only to back away at the end and admit that the framework he lays out can't answer the question he poses.

A famous 19th-century cartoon in Punch, the British magazine of satirical humor, once showed a very meek young curate (a low-ranking member of the Anglican clergy) eating breakfast at the home of a very intimidating bishop. “I'm afraid,” said the bishop, “that your egg is bad.”

“Oh, no, my Lord,” said the curate. “Parts of it are excellent.”

This is what we have here—a curate's egg of a book. Parts of it are excellent, and parts of it are best pushed under the toast and out of sight. At his best, for example in his discussion of Nietzsche, Fukuyama shows himself to be a talented and thoughtful writer who is able to explain even the most recondite philosophical issues with grace and style.

But this is also an honest book. Lesser writers would have tried to make their conclusion sound more definite; Fukuyama doesn't have a clue whether history is over and he won't, to please his publisher, pretend that he does.

Another point in Fukuyama's favor, and one which some of his critics have missed: Fukuyama is no cheerleader for the status quo. He is happy to see the downfall of communism, but does not go on, as so many do, to argue that if communism is bad, capitalism must therefore be perfect.

One must also admire Fukuyama's intellectual ambition. There are few subjects in intellectual history as complicated as the relationship of Hegel in particular, and German philosophy in general, to the Anglo-American philosophical tradition that runs from people like Locke and Hobbes to Adam Smith and James Madison. In fact, Karl Marx once said that his life's work was to reconcile English political economy with German philosophy.

What Karl Marx tried—and failed—to do over a lifetime, Fukuyama tries to do in a few chapters. Fukuyama also fails, but American culture desperately needs people who will at least take on the big issues. We have plenty of professors who turn out narrow little monographs that are impeccably mediocre and of no importance whatever. Fukuyama is at least trying to engage important contemporary issues in the light of our intellectual heritage, and for this he deserves a sympathetic and attentive hearing.

Fukuyama's real subject is not so much whether history is over as whether it has a plot. Is history going anywhere, or are we just sitting around? Cultural relativists say we are sitting around. Western civilization, they maintain, is different from but not necessarily better than other civilizations and cultures of the present and the past. Progress is an ethnocentric illusion.

Fukuyama, an ardent disciple of Allan Bloom, thinks this is a dangerous idea. He wants to take Hegel's complex and supple philosophy of historical progress and human freedom and bring it into the field against the postmodernists and deconstructionists. He believes that these thinkers, in abandoning “metanarratives” and universal values, are undermining liberty and civilization itself.

This is a noble but difficult project; Fukuyama has philosophical enemies on all sides, and his struggles to fight them off provide all the drama and excitement to be found in his book. On one side he has the Marxists, whose historical philosophy begins with their own interpretation of Hegel. Fukuyama identifies with Hegel's philosophical idealism against Marxist materialism, and argues that the original Hegelian concepts make more sense than Marx's recasting of them.

On the other hand, Fukuyama stands with the Marxists against the postmodernists and the pure relativists in his belief that progress exists and that there are universal values that apply to all human beings. This, he believes, puts him on the opposite side of the fence not only from people like Lyotard, Baudrillard and Derrida, the three horsemen of postmodernist France, but also distinguishes him from the Anglo-American tradition rooted in the thought of Hobbes, Locke and Adam Smith. Anglo-American democratic thought, Fukuyama believes, is inherently vulnerable to relativism.

These are deep waters, and Fukuyama does not always keep his head in them. The few people who actually read Allan Bloom's The Closing of the American Mind—as opposed to the many who bought it—will find that Fukuyama's book is largely a remake of Bloom's: Nietzsche's challenge to the Enlightenment project of freedom; the inability of Anglo-American liberal/libertarianism to meet it; the need for an idealist philosophy to save society from the consequences of Nietzschean nihilism.

This is Bloom; it is also Fukuyama. It is also, in the opinion of this reader, dead wrong. It underrates both the Anglo-American tradition and the philosophical traditions represented today by anti-communist Marxists like Oxford's David Harvey and critical philosophers like Jurgen Habermas.

Conservatives and neo-conservatives will like Fukuyama's attacks on cultural relativism, but many will bridle at his wholesale dismissals of Christianity—“a slave ideology”—and of the conservative as well as the liberal roots of Anglo-American thought. Edmund Burke and Samuel Johnson would hate this book as much as Jacques Derrida and Alexander Cockburn.

Neither will this book be popular among the politically correct. Fukuyama suffers from the neo-conservative urge to épater les proles—to get in a few sly digs against Afrocentrists, radical environmentalists and other lefties who drive him crazy. A predictable but pointless debate is likely to follow. Passionate voices from the cultural left will denounce Fukuyama as racist and all kinds of other nasty things. He and his neo-conservative allies will deny the charges with irritating calm. Fukuyama and his defenders will be right. He isn't a racist. But baiting one's opponents in this way is neither the wisest nor the most charitable course for an author bent on persuasion and hoping, if possible, to heal and renew an impoverished American intellectual climate.

The End of History, then, is a book of murkily vast ambitions and limited successes. It is more provocative in the questions it poses than it is interesting in the answers it suggests. Given the subject matter, it cannot always be a good read, but it is usually a clear one. Like the curate's egg, and the optimist's glass, it is partly excellent and half full.

For many readers, such is the sorry state of American intellectual life that it will be their introduction to a world of important philosophical and political reflection, and this is reason enough to congratulate Fukuyama on what he has accomplished with this book, and to wish him better success in his future endeavors.

William H. McNeill (review date 26 January 1992)

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SOURCE: “History Over, World Goes On,” in New York Times Book Review, January 26, 1992, pp. 14-5.

[In the following review, McNeill approves of Fukuyama's serious concerns though dismisses The End of History and the Last Man as “silly” and “reactionary.”]

“Back to Hegel” is not a rallying cry many Americans are likely to find plausible, yet this is what Francis Fukuyama advocates in this quixotic and tightly argued work of political philosophy. Actually, Mr. Fukuyama—a consultant at RAND and the former State Department official who caused a stir three years ago with his essay “The End of History?”—does not really recommend Hegel, but an interpretation of Hegel by a French intellectual named Alexandre Kojève (to me, entirely unknown), who explained in 1947 that History with a capital “H” had reached its logical end with the emergence of liberal democracy. In The End of History and the Last Man, Mr. Fukuyama adds a dash of Nietzsche to this strange cocktail, which is where the Last Man in his title comes from.

Mr. Fukuyama's invocation of German political philosophy aims to correct what he sees as a serious defect of Anglo-American political thought. Hobbes, Locke and Madison, he says, based their political theory on a topsided view of human nature. By appealing only to reason and desire, their liberalism left out a third element of human nature, which, according to Mr. Fukuyama, is of special importance for politics. This he calls thymos, a term borrowed from Plato that he translates as “spiritedness” or “desire for recognition.” When properly satisfied, thymos arouses pride; when frustrated it results in anger. A failure to assert it brings a sense of shame.

Thymos, Mr. Fukuyama argues, is the principal motor of polities, impelling some men, throughout history, to assert personal mastery over others. But the genius of liberal democracy, dating from the American and French Revolutions, is that thymos could now begin to find universal satisfaction in shared citizenship. Freedom, in short, was perceived as a goal for all, and the struggle for mastery that had dominated the past now reached its logical and necessary conclusion. History (capitalized to signify a “meaningful order to the broad sweep of human events”) came to an end.

To be sure, not all the countries of the world have yet achieved liberal democracy. But Mr. Fukuyama argues that they are all bound to get there sooner or later, since human nature requires it. Until that time, history continues in the old way in the illiberal parts of the globe, and the End of History affects only Europeans, Americans and the inhabitants of a few other nations, such as Japan.

Moreover, even after the End of History has become global, Mr. Fukuyama observes in the final pages of his book, we cannot know for sure that human beings will rest forever content with the imperfect satisfactions of human nature that our political institutions permit. In the future, people may become confused about what is possible for them to enjoy. “If it is true,” he says, “that the historical process rests on the twin pillars of rational desire and rational recognition, and that modern liberal democracy is the political system that best satisfies the two in some kind of balance, then it would seem that the chief threat to democracy would be our own confusion about what is really at stake.” Clearing up that confusion is, of course, the purpose of this book. It is therefore an immensely ambitious work, and a reviewer must ask whether Mr. Fukuyama has succeeded.

His book deserves respect. It is clearly written, discusses important questions and contains pithy sayings (as well as some silly remarks). As a professional historian, however, I am bound to point out that Mr. Fukuyama is so eager to address the grand sweep of History that he does not bother much with the details of history (without a capital letter) Thus, for instance, he asserts that Hobbes profited from the ideas of Newton, who was all of 11 years old when Leviathan was published. He also tells us that the English civil wars of the 17th century were fought between Catholics and Protestants, thereby administering a posthumous conversion to some of the antagonists in those all-Protestant conflicts.

Yet such errors, however egregious, are really beside the point. As a thinker and theorist of politics, Mr. Fukuyama deserves to have his argument taken seriously. Trying to do so, I find myself quite in sympathy with his effort to base politics on something more than the calculus of material self-interest. Ever since economists achieved the status of national soothsayers through their success in generating new concepts and statistics for maximizing war production during World War II, economics has pervaded public discourse in the United States far more than it deserves to. Americans, like other human beings, clearly do respond to noneconomic motives; and what Mr. Fukuyama refers to as thymos does, in fact, frequently outweigh material self-interest, impelling individuals to engage in acts of collective self-assertion or to display behavior that sometimes puts their lives at risk.

Nonetheless, the lesson Mr. Fukuyama derives from his reading of History seems to me fundamentally false. His argument that all the human past was no more than a fumbling progress aimed at the perfection of liberal, capitalist democracy, as exemplified here and in a few other countries, simply reformulates a longstanding vision of the United States as embodying an earthly perfection toward which all other peoples have been expected to aspire. The exotic Germanic garb in which Mr. Fukuyama expresses this self-flattering image may give fresh life to this myopia. But when Asian models of social and economic efficiency seem to be gaining ground every day, and when millions of Moslems are at pains to sustain the differences, great and small, that distinguish them from Americans, it is hard to believe that all the world is destined to imitate us.

My basic difference with Mr. Fukuyama is this: I do not believe that human nature is uniform and unchanging. Rather, whatever penchants and capabilities we inherit with our genes are so malleable that their expression takes infinitely diverse forms. Personal identification with a group of fellows is the basic guide for most behavior; and groups define themselves by marking the ways they differ from outsiders. This, I believe (in contrast to Mr. Fukuyama), assures permanent institutional diversity and cultural pluralism among humankind.

Mr. Fukuyama is not entirely blind to these dimensions of social life, but he only considers nationalism, which, he holds, can “fade away as a political force” by becoming “tolerant like religion before it.” Oddly, he says nothing about race feeling, which appears to be on the rise in Europe as well as in the United States. He likewise skips over religiously defined identities and rivalries so prominent in the Middle East, which he presumably thinks will eventually sink toward the sort of political marginality that Protestantism and Catholicism have attained in this country and in most of Western Europe. Similarly, he says nothing about class conflict, perhaps because he thinks that Marxism has now been so discredited that refutation of one of its primary doctrines is unnecessary.

Another, related defect of Mr. Fukuyama's view of human nature, I believe, is that he fails to recognize that thymos is not always (or perhaps even usually) individual. Human beings are capable of transferring their desire for recognition to a collectivity, and surely this is the most effective form of political action. Often, a real sense of freedom results from deliberate and habitual submission to an external authority; soldiers frequently experience this phenomenon. And the freedom that follows from total surrender to God's will is the theme of innumerable religious discourses.

Finally, it seems worth pointing out that Mr. Fukuyama's philosophical approach entirely omits the biological and ecological setting within which human society and politics inevitably exist. Even if his End of History were to arrive, the enduring equilibrium he attributes to liberal, democracy, because it “gives fullest scope to all three parts” of the human soul, would confront serious outside disturbances arising from the instabilities in the natural environment created by our technology and ever increasing numbers. Under such circumstances, tumults like those of the past would surely continue, even if, from Mr. Fukuyama's point of view. History had somehow lost its right to a capital letter.

Ultimately, this sort of word game seems silly rather than illuminating. I conclude that “Back to Hegel,” glitteringly refracted through the mind of Mr. Fukuyama though it may be, is reactionary in the true sense of the word.

Paul Johnson (review date March 1992)

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SOURCE: “To the 21st Century,” in Commentary, Vol. 93, No. 3, March, 1992, pp. 51-4.

[In the following review, Johnson provides analysis of The End of History and the Last Man and refutes Fukuyama's thesis. According to Johnson, “History does not end; it simply becomes more complicated.”]

Educated people have an extraordinary appetite for absolute answers to historical questions, answers which wise historians know cannot be forthcoming. It is astonishing that Hegel's reputation survived his absurd declaration that history had ended with Bonaparte's victory over Prussia at Jena in 1806. Yet Hegel went on to hold what was then the most enviable academic post in Germany, the chair of philosophy in Berlin, and to write much more clever and influential nonsense. In due course his thoughts were transmuted by Marx not merely into a set of absolute answers about where history was heading but into a program for accelerating the process. Until recently this moonshine was believed by millions of comparatively well-educated people, and indeed there remain corners of university campuses where it is still upheld and taught.

There was a time, too, especially in the 1920's, when Oswald Spengler's Decline of the West was the ultra-fashionable text for historical determinists, and that was succeeded, a decade or so later, by Arnold Toynbee's A Study of History. It sold in prodigious quantities, despite its offputting length, and I am old enough to remember a time when it was still taken seriously, even though Toynbee changed his entire theory fundamentally, halfway through it.

The latest intellectual entrepreneur to supply the appetite is Francis Fukuyama, whose 1989 article, “The End of History?,” with its notion that the collapse of Soviet Communism had opened the era of total liberal triumph and brought history to a stop, was a sensation in the United States and elsewhere, and so got the 1990s off to a thoroughly muddled start. No doubt anxious to consolidate his perhaps fragile reputation as the guru of the decade, he has now produced a volume of 400 pages which says the last word on—well, everything, more or less.

Fukuyama here restates his original contention in less exalted, and therefore more acceptable, terms than in his original essay:

As mankind approaches the end of the millennium, the twin crises of authoritarianism and socialist central planning have left only one competitor standing in the ring as an ideology of potentially universal validity: liberal democracy, the doctrine of individual freedom and popular sovereignty.

This proposition is, at any rate, worth debating. The only trouble is that its assumption of the imminent triumph of liberalism was a 19th-century commonplace, shared alike by John Stuart Mill and Woodrow Wilson, Mazzini and Kossuth, Gladstone and Thiers; indeed, it was pretty generally held, among “enlightened” people, as late as the Versailles Conference in 1918-19. Unfortunately, such complacency was succeeded by the totalitarian era, from which we are only just beginning, rather tentatively I would say, to emerge. Even in its watered-down form, Fukuyama's optimism appears presumptuous.

Moreover, it gets him only as far as page 42, and he still has more than 350 pages to fill. Fukuyama is himself a Hegelian, and the thoughts of the Master keep popping up in his text, rather as King Charles's head intrudes into the memorandum which Mr. Dick, in David Copperfield, is writing to the Lord Chancellor. To make matters worse, Fukuyama is also bedazzled by a now-obscure French philosophy expert, Alexandre Kojève, here described as “Hegel's great interpreter,” and he too keeps popping up, behind and sometimes in front of Hegel, rather like Sancho Panza squiring Don Quixote.

As I say, the book goes on to cover a lot of ground, and the author enjoys conjuring up fancy chapter headings, such as “The Mechanism of Desire,” “The Beast with Red Cheeks,” and “The Coldest of All Cold Monsters.” But these promise more than they perform, and much of the book is anodyne in effect, ranging through conventional poli. sci. to standard futurology, with a tendency to waffle at critical points. Perhaps the fairest comment I can make is to recall the exchange between the High Court Judge and the sharp-tongued barrister F. E. Smith. Judge: “I have listened carefully to your exposition, Mr. Smith, and I am none the wiser.” “Possibly not, my lord, but considerably better informed.”

Alas, “considerably” would be out of place here: Fukuyama does not deal widely in facts, and the key table he presents, “Liberal Democracies Worldwide,” tracing their increase through the years 1790, 1848, 1900, 1919, 1940, 1960, 1975, and 1990 seems to me a minefield of misunderstandings, both historical and contemporary. In the bound reviewers' galleys of this book, Yugoslavia was rated as a “liberal democracy”—that country riven by half-a-dozen civil wars, with a million homeless refugees, its rump still run by a heartless Communist dictatorship; in the nick of time, the listing was removed from the final published version. But is it right to call Romania a “liberal democracy”? Or Paraguay? Or genocidal Sri Lanka? There are a dozen other countries Fukuyama complacently lists in his “end of history” column which do not belong there.

The truth is that though Fukuyama repeatedly refers to “the recent worldwide liberal revolution,” it is at present one of aspiration rather than reality. What is true is that, for the first time in history, every single nation in Western Europe is now, theoretically at least, a democracy under the rule of law, and there has been a strong movement toward political and economic freedom in Eastern Europe, too. But with some exceptions, much the same could have been said of Europe in 1918-19, and look what followed.

Even in Western Europe, the credentials of some countries need examination. In France, for instance, the ability of citizens, either as individuals or through their puny parliament, to resist the overweening power of the state is minute—though perhaps Fukuyama, as a Hegelian, and so a state-worshipper, would approve of that. In Italy, only last year, the special anti-Mafia prosecutor told parliament in despair: “Whole provinces of Italy and Sicily are now beyond the law.” Moreover, as Britain, where liberalism originated and which has been a country under the rule of law since at least the mid-17th century, is discovering to its cost, the European Community is slowly enmeshing twelve nations in a labyrinth of bureaucratic regulations which is profoundly undemocratic and illiberal.

Elsewhere, the outlook is much darker. The likelihood of working democracies, where all are equal under the law, emerging in any part of the Muslim world is not great, and Fukuyama's listing of Turkey as a “liberal democracy” seems to me quite false, as the author would discover for himself if he went there in the guise of a Kurd or an Armenian. The only successful democracy in the Arab world was Lebanon—it worked well when I first visited it in the 1950's—and it was so by virtue of its Christian majority, which has since vanished, along with democracy and law. The first free elections ever held in “liberated” Algeria, after 30 years, produced an overwhelming first-round victory for Islamic theocracy—the negation of liberal democracy—at which point the experiment was aborted.

The one liberal democracy in the African continent, the Republic of South Africa, has a parliamentary democracy, albeit limited to the white race, and a rule of law which extends to all; it is now threatened by black power under an unreconstructed Stalinist-type party. There are democratic stirrings in Africa, after a long night of Marxist and collectivist failure, but they are no more than stirrings.

In South America (if not in Central America), the skies are a little lighter, at any rate for the present, though that part of the world specializes in false dawns. And it must be pointed out, as Fukuyama half-admits, that the present wave of economic liberalism is almost entirely due to the success of the seventeen-year military dictatorship of General Pinochet in Chile. The freeing of what had been an economy strangled by collectivist regimentation and bureaucracy could only have been achieved by a masterful man of his stamp, able to do as much as he pleased by virtue of his bayonets. And, though many neighboring countries currently going through a democratic, parliamentary phase—such as Argentina—have taken courage to follow suit, it remains to be seen whether their governments have the stamina to go on with it. In the Latin American context. I fear, democracy and economic liberalism tend to be mutually exclusive, a point not lost on that wise old Pole, Joseph Conrad (cf. Nostromo).

As for Asia, who will be bold enough to predict the political future of the three key peoples, the Japanese, the Indians, and the Chinese? Believing, as I do, that political freedom and economic freedom are ultimately indivisible, and that if you embark on one the other must eventually follow suit, I assume that if the Beijing regime reverts to its program of commercial liberalization, as it seems inclined to do, moves toward political democracy must follow. But I would not bet one Kuomintang dollar on it. Again, India has now practiced a form of democracy—by no means a liberal form, despite what Fukuyama's table states—for nearly half a century, thanks to a useful foundation of British institutions. But its survival, amid all the stresses of race, region, and religion, is a kind of daily miracle, a gift from God.

Then there is Japan, another half-century-old democracy. Fukuyama classifies it as a liberal one, and so in certain technical respects it may be; but in other, much more important respects, it is not, or not yet. To me, Japan is the most elusive and impenetrable nation on earth, which in some ways has more in common with the Middle Kingdom of ancient Egypt than anything in contemporary society. Far more than Stalin's Russia, it fits Churchill's description, “a riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma.” Japan, so far, has clung to democracy because it is convenient, and safe, and has proved mighty profitable. If these conditions should change, will Japan, a country with a large and now-affluent population and few natural resources, look elsewhere for political salvation? Has democracy, let alone liberalism, struck deep, self-sustaining roots in Japanese civic habits and attitudes? How can we possibly say? The Japanese, or so many of them tell me, do not even know themselves; or if they do know, are not saying.

This tour d'horizon leaves out North America, and the United States in particular. Fukuyama assumes that America is intrinsically and incorrigibly liberal-democratic, the fons et origo of the concept. Of the 64 countries in his table, it is the only one to score full marks all the way through from 1790 to 1990. Yet because a state may formally qualify for the status of a liberal democracy, it does not follow that all its inhabitants enjoy the benefits. Can we say a society is democratic if democracy is not in fact practiced, or is under the rule of law if law is not, in reality, available?

One problem Fukuyama does not consider is the way in which liberal democracy, or liberalism tout court, breeds its own nemesis. Let us take an illustration from a recent examination of the state of the U.S. economy, The Great Reckoning, by J. D. Davidson and William Rees-Mogg. They cite Dodge City in 1871 as an example of a primitive, pre-civil society, without representative government, police, courts, or justice of any kind. Its murder rate was, accordingly, high. But it was only half, per capita, of the murder rate in Washington, D.C., the nation's capital, in 1990. In large parts of Washington today, fewer than one in ten adults vote; one person in sixteen will be murdered over a life-span, and among children under twelve murder is now the leading cause of death. To a lesser degree, such conditions apply to portions of other major cities in the richest, most democratic, and most liberal country on earth. To someone in a U.S. ghetto, or for that matter in a big-city housing complex in Britain or France, the consequences of liberalism may themselves be a tyranny, and life for many is liable to be, in Hobbes's words, “solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short.”

History does not end; it simply becomes more complicated. Whereas capitalism, judged by its historical performance over two centuries, is a self-correcting system, being a form of economic activity which tends to occur at a certain stage in human development unless you do something specific to stop it, liberalism is an intellectual concept which to some extent has to be imposed on societies by its better-educated elites: no large democracy, for instance, has ever abolished capital punishment by referendum. That, of course, is why liberalism tends to be self-defeating—because it often runs across the grain of popular sentiment, based on harsh experience. Similarly, such concepts as racial equality and nondiscrimination, buttressed as they usually are by practical measures like quotas, busing, and positive law, are imposed by elected elites, often responding to pressure groups or “expert opinion” rather than being demanded by mass opinion.

Ordinary men and women favor freedom of speech and movement; all want the right to sell their labor in the highest market, to spend their money as they please; they welcome the right to vote, and most support freedom of the press, and even religion. But the more sophisticated forms of liberalism are less popular, and some are downright unpopular. If countries like the United States and Britain had government by referendum—something which is now technically possible on a day-to-day basis—they would become radically less liberal in a short time. Over a huge range of issues, from what is taught in the schools and how, to the treatment of criminal offenders, public opinion, so far as one can see, would insist on a harder, harsher society, but also one which would become more industrious, and safe. Such are the orders of human priorities in the mass.

In short, it is not only in South America that there tends to be a conflict between democracy and liberalism. In fact, “liberal democracy” is to some extent a contradiction in terms. The more democratic it is, the less liberal; and vice versa. I cannot, for instance, honestly call Britain a democracy, though it is certainly a liberal-led society. There, 30 years ago, capital punishment—an issue on which virtually every adult has, and is entitled to have, strong opinions—was abolished, not indeed by referendum but by parliamentary vote. On the evidence of polls, public opinion has continued to demand its return, usually by majorities of 80 percent; parliament has continued to ban it, by almost equally large majorities.

It occurs to me, then—and it is the sort of point which Fukuyama, were he not such a blinkered Hegelian, might have considered—that over the next twenty years or so, the advanced societies will move further in the direction of liberalism, or will become more democratic; but not both. I foresee all kinds of tensions developing, as our cities grow richer, more violent, more hedonistic, and, if not more liberal, then more libertarian, and our countrysides (therefore) more threatened. As history grows in complexity, it becomes more fascinating, as well as more difficult to predict. Pace Fukuyama, we face new nightmares in the 21st century, as well as realized dreams, and the really disturbing prospect is that they will be nightmares of a kind we have never before experienced.

Stephen Holmes (review date 23 March 1992)

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SOURCE: “The Scowl of Minerva,” in The New Republic, March 23, 1992, pp. 27-33.

[In the following review of The End of History and the Last Man, Holmes provides analysis of Fukuyama's historical perspective and postulations, and cites contradictions in his theoretical assumptions and inattention to historical reality.]


The collapse of communism has brought dizziness and disorientation across the political spectrum. For the barbarians, as the poet Cavafy wrote, were a kind of solution. But no longer: the East-West confrontation has lost its power to threaten and to clarify our lives. Even the distinction between left and right, which has underlain all European politics since 1789, has been shaken. Throughout the post-Communist world, from the Baltics to Albania, and now in Russia itself, we are observing waves of radical change that look so far like a liberal revolution. The strangeness of the notion suggests the unprecedentedness of the change. But how else to describe the ground-up reorganizations occurring, with varying degrees of haste and success, across the post-Leninist world? Is liberal revolution not the most significant fact of contemporary political life?

An immense task of reconceptualization lies before us. Scholars and politicians alike are wondering how to bring this complex and novel world into focus, how to comprehend its new powers for good and ill. A first avalanche of answers to these questions came cascading into print two years ago. The man who threw the stone that loosed the avalanche was Francis Fukuyama: his essay “The End of History?” appeared in 1989 in The National Interest, and the colloquium of rejoinders organized by the journal was only the beginning of a worldwide outpouring of reactions.

Most of these responses, as Fukuyama has boasted, were negative, if not jeering. They also had real force. History is unpredictable, so why speak of its end? Why describe a movement from the frozen to the fluid, from riveted bipolarism to unsettled multipolarism, in these eschatological terms? What has died is not history but Marxism, and Marxism was precisely an eschatological philosophy that distorted history by forcing it into a procrustean scheme with a predetermined direction and a happy end. But Fukuyama was unmoved by these early animadversions, and now he invites the world to stir for a second time. His book appears not only to answer his many critics, but also to amplify and to enlarge his account of politics and history. This time around he will “[take] into account the experience of all peoples in all times.”

Though he might not admit it, Fukuyama has accepted many of the criticisms leveled against him and incorporated them into his narrative, sometimes suavely, in the main text, at other times clumsily, in the footnotes. But still he sticks obstinately to his original claim. His stubbornness does not appear to be based on a need for recognition (a need that figures prominently in his new analysis of human affairs) or reputation. He seems sincerely to believe that in some sense all the “major problems” in world history have now been solved. We are facing, he says, “the end of all large disputes”; we are on the threshold of “a world where struggle over all of the large issues has been largely settled.”

Fukuyama sees a new agreement in world politics, “a remarkable consensus concerning the legitimacy of liberal democracy.” In 1932 or 1942, liberal democracy was besieged by ideological enemies on the right and the left. Many Western intellectuals heard the siren songs of fascism or communism; disagreement raged about the direction in which contemporary societies should move. In 1992, however, these old controversies have vanished. The two great totalitarian temptations of the twentieth century have gone down, one with a bang, the other with a whimper. And so a quietus has descended on history's long storm. “Everyone” now recognizes that the ideal of liberal democracy cannot be improved upon. It is worshiped even in those underdeveloped countries where the possibility of putting it into practice seems remote. To be sure, debates continue about the extent of government regulation or the size of the public sector within advanced liberal states, but the differences between liberal regulators and liberal marketers pale against the background of their underlying agreement. All parties now accept private property, economic competition, juridical equality, the separation of powers, competitive elections, freedom of the press, religious toleration, and so on.

This new consensus spells the termination of ideological debate (or, to coin a phrase, the end of ideology). That is the phenomenon that Fukuyama wants to capture with his metaphor—if it is a metaphor—about history's culmination. Obviously he has a point. But how much of a point? And is this the most precise and the most intellectually responsible way to make it? If Fukuyama were simply registering a narrowing of ideological differences among secular Western elites, or the recent collapse of long-standing tyrannical regimes, he would be on fairly safe ground. But he is grander. The collapse of our major rival for the past forty-five years, he claims, tells us something essential about nothing less than the overall course of world history—about “a broader historical process leading to the spread of liberal democracy around the world.”

In some places Fukuyama sets forth his chronicle of the human story with the authority of a mastermind holding the key to the universe; in other places he offers it tentatively, as a façon de parler, as a hypothesis, worth considering, maybe. In any case, his description of “the historical process” conflates many different claims. Here, world history is described as coherent or intelligible; there, it is called irreversible. Here, history is cumulative (all past achievements are retained); there, history is directional (headed toward perpetual peace or the convergence of political and economic systems). And everywhere history is described as meaningful and having a plot, as beginning with a problem that, after much travail, it solves. The sheepish version of this thesis is that secular Western intellectuals now agree that history has a goal. The knock-'em-down version is that the world, or some of it, already has arrived at this goal.

All these claims are jumbled together, though they are analytically quite distinct. (History can disclose irreversibilities without containing any meaning and without having any overarching goal.) By slipping around among different conceptions of historical change, however, Fukuyama achieves a tactical advantage: he presents his critic with a moving target. Consider his double-talk about progress. In some passages, he claims that the overarching pattern has no moral content: history marches on, but it may well make things worse instead of better. This is a defensible view. But it is a view that flies in the face of Fukuyama's own thinking; for if history is not a process of improvement, then he cannot define the end of history as the end of improvement, which he repeatedly does.

In transcribing into his book many of the best arguments made against his original essay, Fukuyama walks into other contradictions as well. He now admits that history is unpredictable: “some new authoritarian alternatives, perhaps never before seen in history, may assert themselves in the future.” And he says that old tyrannies may return: “We have no guarantee and cannot assure future generations that there will be no future Hitlers.” Moreover, “we can expect a higher degree of nationalist conflict in Europe with the end of the cold war.” And cultural wars are just about to begin: if, in one mood, perpetual peace is supposed to come about thanks to “an increasing homogenization of all human societies, regardless of their historical origins or cultural inheritances,” in another mood “persistent cultural differences between ostensibly liberal democratic capitalist states will prove much harder to eradicate.”

Fukuyama does not seem to understand that all these pre-emptive concessions amount to an admission of defeat. Indeed, the most important sentence in his book is this one: “No regime—no ‘socioeconomic system’—is able to satisfy all men in all places.” With this fine observation, however, he stands himself on his own head. He flatly, and rightly, contradicts the idea of an end of history: if liberal democracy, too, is unsatisfying, then it, too, cannot represent the climax.

And the sentence illustrates something else, perhaps the most profound of Fukuyama's divisions against himself. Switching from cheerleading to doom-saying, he laments “the banalization of life through modern consumerism.” Fukuyama begins as an anti-Jeremiah, announcing that “good news has come” and urging us “to shake off our acquired pessimism,” and ends up as just another Jeremiah, denouncing “some kind of internal rot” at the heart of the West. In short, he celebrates and deplores the West in the same breath: that is the real plot of his book. (When he wants to explain how unsatisfying liberal democracy is, he calls it “bourgeois society.”) He is an optimist and a pessimist, without worrying the logical and moral contradictions. He praises the Soviet debacle and damns our alleged degeneration; he waves a flag of victory and hangs his head in despair. His strong cultural pessimism is reflected in the second half of his title, “the last man,” a phrase borrowed from Nietzsche: the inhabitants of Western-style liberal democracies are last men, emptied of ambition, satisfied with mediocrity, bereft of high ideals, unwilling to make sacrifices.

Fukuyama's argument rests on three fundamental and closely related premises that have been characteristic of a particular variety of conservatism. First, the battle against communism is the heart and soul of world history. Second, Western liberal democracies are vulgar and corrupt and rotten. (We won the cold war because of the inner weaknesses of Communist states, not because of any great strength of our own.) Third, the only thing that prevented corrupt liberal states from sinking to the ultimate depravity was the moral struggle against communism. Our final victory, therefore, is our final defeat. Having vanquished communism, we have nothing to fight for except security, wealth, and comfort—but those are not ideal values, they are materialist temptations. Thus history after the struggle will be flat and without interest. Indeed, there will be no history worthy of the name.

But it is obvious, or it should have been obvious, that communism was neither our only important problem nor our only ideological enemy (how some conservatives will miss it!). To the forms of antiliberalism that exist today, others will surely be added in the future, due to human ingenuity and human evil. It should also be obvious that liberal democracy is flawed but not rotten. Despite its shortcomings, liberal democracy has enormous internal strengths, and will remain a fairly stable political and economic system, offering much to different people across the globe without draining their lives of moral meaning.

Fukuyama borrows his idea of the end of history from Alexander Kojève, the Russian émigré philosopher and cult figure who taught an influential seminar on Hegel in Paris in the 1930s. (Among the many things Fukuyama undermines is his own admiration for Kojève: my favorite understatement in this overstated book is his admission, which is hidden in the footnotes, that “there are certain problems in seeing Kojève himself as a liberal, insofar as he frequently professed an ardent admiration for Stalin and asserted that there was no essential difference between the United States, the Soviet Union, and China of the 1950s.”) Kojève's thesis was that the pivot point of world history was the transition from separate class societies to a single classless society encompassing the whole of mankind, that hierarchical and particularistic societies have gradually given way (or are gradually giving way) to “the victory of the universal and homogeneous state.” The transition from aristocracy to egalitarianism was simultaneously a revaluation of values and an abandonment of violence and war for perpetual peace. Citing Hegel, Kojève asserted that this Great Transition became inevitable in 1806, when Napoleon (or more generally the force that Kojève called “Robespierre-Napoleon”) defeated the Prussian army and prepared the way for the spread of Enlightenment ideas throughout the world.

As a moment's reflection makes clear, however, the transition from a class society to classlessness, or from pre-Enlightenment ideals to Enlightenment ideals, has nothing to do with the end of the cold war. Intellectually, the cold war was an internecine conflict, a battle between two Enlightenment ideologies. The end of that intellectual and political struggle certainly does not signal the defeat of the premodern by the modern. Kojève was concerned with the victory of an egalitarian ideology over its inegalitarian rival; but the occasion for Fukuyama's speculation is the victory of one egalitarian ideology over another. This difference is fundamental, yet it is never mentioned.

It is true that Communists and liberals give contrary answers to a whole range of important questions (Does the march of History guarantee the triumph of justice? How great a threat to freedom is posed by state power? What are the consequences of private property for the worst-off members of society?). It is also true that the schismatic war within the Enlightenment is done. But for all their differences, liberalism and communism share egalitarian and cosmopolitan presuppositions. Both favor in principle the emancipation of the individual and the development of his potential. Both are secular. (Communists wish to eradicate religion, liberals to depoliticize it.) Both admire technical advance and economic growth. (They even cooperated in the great struggle against fascism, which was the real revolt against modernity.) Like all family quarrels, their confrontation was especially intense, but it is now ended, and it can be asserted with some confidence that the antiliberalism of the future will not be Marxist, or in any way a child of the Enlightenment. But does even this extraordinary development amount to the end of “large issues” and ideological conflict? I doubt it.

How can Fukuyama claim that the battle between liberalism and non-Communist forms of authoritarianism is not ideological in the customary sense? (He also claims the opposite, but let's ignore the inconsistency this time.) Are not ideas clearly at stake in these other confrontations? Is it really correct to say that the end of the cold war means the replacement of ideological conflict by ethnic conflict? Will the battle of grand universalism against grand universalism really be replaced by the battle of petty particularism against petty particularism? Or to put it differently, are not particularisms also informed by grand and dangerous ideas?

Religion and nationalism are rising, not falling, and they often take the form of ideological beliefs that prefer History to history. And what the West stands for in its struggle against, say, Islamic fundamentalism or Baathist dictatorship are precisely the central values and institutions of liberalism: individual freedom, tolerance for diversity, rights of minorities, impartiality of the law, government by consent, competitive elections, freedom of the press, wide-open public debate, and so on. So why should confrontation with a form of authoritarianism that has been culturally untouched by the Enlightenment be less ideological than confrontation with a bastard child of the Enlightenment itself? Why should the coercive imposition of a public conception of virtue on all citizens be any less ideologically repulsive to liberals simply because it is ethnocratic or theocratic rather than egalitarian?

Fukuyama is a fierce critic of cultural relativism, but he is oddly a cultural relativist on this point. He thinks that the West has every reason to impose its own political norms on Eastern Europe and Russia, but not on East Asia or the Muslim world, because we inhabit a different cultural space or tradition. Multiparty democracy cannot be exported to Japan, for example, because Japanese culture abhors wide-open public debate in the liberal manner:

There are several respects in which one could say that Japan is governed by a benevolent one-party dictatorship, not because that party has imposed itself upon society in the manner of the Soviet Communist Party, but because the people of Japan choose to be ruled in that fashion. The current Japanese system of government reflects a broad social consensus rooted in Japan's group-oriented culture that would feel profoundly uncomfortable with more “open” contestation or the alternation of parties in power.

Because of Asia's Confucian traditions, in other words, the Japanese voter is grateful to have no real choice on election day. Autocratic rulers in Europe, of course, always invoked their society's low tolerance for disagreement as a fundamental justification for their monopoly on power. The LDP does the same in Japan today. But it is a little shocking to find Fukuyama furnishing those places in the world where history did not end with a historical excuse.


Fukuyama is not content with merely describing the pattern of history. That is the work of mere historians. He wants to explain history, to show why it necessarily moves in the direction he detects. His explanation fails, but it is interesting. There are two basic motors, he says, that drive the historical process: science, or the rational domination of nature, and pride, or the demand for social recognition.

Fukuyama calls modern science “the Mechanism that gives history its directionality.” The ancient conception of history as a repetitive cycle has been retired by the relentless and irreversible advance of science. Once unleashed, its power is unstoppable: technology, the major outgrowth of the scientific worldview, has swept the world. And science—here is the rub—“in some way makes capitalism inevitable.” The argument is admittedly and a little amusingly Marxist: the forces of production develop according to a logic of their own, and at a certain point the old relations of production become a fetter on the further use and development of technology, and then the old social system crumbles and is replaced by a new one. Applying this deterministic scheme to 1989, Fukuyama reasons that the Stalinist system, while perfectly compatible with industrialization, became a shackle on the development of computer technology: when the microchip was ripe, the Communist system went down.

Technical rationality does not, however, guarantee the triumph of political democracy. Science may flourish in an atmosphere of freedom, but neo-Confucian authoritarianism, not democratic individualism, is the best system for exploiting the forces unleashed by science and technology. Unlike the free-wheeling, individualistic, and consumption-oriented societies of the West, the tradition-bound culture of Japan promotes pride in one's work and group loyalty, which are the optimal conditions for uncorking the potential of modern technology and a rational division of labor.

If we think only of economic development, therefore, the end of history lies not with “unimprovable” individualistic democracy but with “market-oriented authoritarianism” on the Asian model. The obvious implication is that, if science alone moved history, then the future would belong to group-think. So what accounts for the supremacy of liberal democracy? Enter the second major force in Fukuyama's Universal History: human pride, or the desire for recognition.

Democratic politics—as opposed to mere market capitalism—becomes inevitable because of this yearning deeply planted in the human soul. As Hegel explained, man desires more than food, shelter, sex, and sleep: “He desires the desire of other men, that is, to be wanted by others or to be recognized.” Most of life is dominated by this non-materialistic need for respect. The end of history has arrived, in Western liberal democracies, because man has found here what he has been seeking from the beginning of time: recognition.

Fukuyama means this aspect of his analysis to be a protest against the reductionist picture of human motivation characteristic of neoclassical economics. Departing from his usual praise of “cumulative” scientific advance, he laments “the successful ‘economization’ of our thinking that has occurred in the past 400 years.” Economics, having forgotten Plato's wisdom about irrational passions, has made much of human behavior unintelligible. For if man were an economic animal (or a rational pursuer of material advantage) he would never, as he sometimes does, throw away his life in pursuit of something so utterly useless as an enemy flag. To understand the course of human history, we need to grasp such non-economic motives as pride, ambition, indignation, and anger.

Fukuyama's intentions here are admirable. But it is not enough merely to assert the existence of non-material motives and non-calculating styles of action. There are important distinctions among the many non-materialist and non-economic motives, that is, among the passions, which Fukuyama fails to make. He does not even distinguish between material and non-material goals, on the one hand, and calculating and non-calculating styles of behavior, on the other. But this is an essential distinction, since we can easily pursue non-material goals in a perfectly rational and calculating manner.

At first Fukuyama draws a sharp contrast between the rational desire for economic prosperity and the prerational desire for the recognition of others. He uses the Greek word thymos or “spiritedness,” from Plato's Republic, to stand for this second desire. Thus, he argues that “the self-assertion arising from thymos and the selfishness of desire are very distinct phenomena.” But while he asserts that they are “very distinct,” he also says that they are one and the same. In fact, capitalism is a product not of material self-interest, but of pride: “The wants created by modern consumerism arise, in other words, from man's vanity.” Thymos is not repressed in economic life, it is merely demilitarized. Fine; but this claim is repeatedly contradicted by Fukuyama's assertion that thymos is wholly eliminated in economic man.

Many of Fukuyama's problems stem from his decision to elide the Platonic idea of thymos with the Hegelian idea of recognition. There are some interesting parallels, but the two concepts are not so easily conflated as Fukuyama assumes. And other muddles result from fusing Hegel's historicism with Plato's antihistoricism. Sometimes Fukuyama claims that thymos is a permanent feature of the human mind. At other times he claims that it can be extinguished, and perhaps has been extinguished, in bourgeois societies. Sometimes he says that thymos is an unsatisfiable desire. At other times he says that it can be satisfied, and perhaps has been satisfied, in bourgeois societies.

Fukuyama's complaint that the economist's idea of “utility” has no explanatory value because it is used tautologically to “encompass any end actually pursued by human beings” may be appropriately directed at his own notion of thymos. This desire for recognition is “the origin of tyranny, imperialism, and the desire to dominate” as well as “the psychological ground for political virtues like courage, public-spiritedness, and justice.” It explains anger and pity, duty and disobedience, religious piety and aggressive ultranationalism, pride in one's work and shame at one's looks, extreme self-confidence and its total lack. It is the source of eccentricity as well as conformism, fierce individualism as well as subordination to the group. It is the passion that engenders affection for a heroic leader as well as contempt for pitiful weaklings. It produces the striving for excellence and the acceptance of one's wormlike nullity.

It never occurs to Fukuyama that a concept that may explain so much might not explain anything at all. He should have distinguished more carefully among the passions, and more generally among passions, interests, and norms. Instead, he adheres confusingly to a crude opposition between the economistic and the non-economistic, employing the general category of non-materialistic motivation to cover both moral ideas and irrational impulses. But surely norms and passions—say, the idea of justice and the feeling of envy—should be kept distinct. Similarly, Fukuyama fails to distinguish between the man who risks his life “for the sake of higher, abstract principles and goals” and the man who does so “for the sole purpose of demonstrating that he has contempt for his own life.” But attachment to moral norms is quite different from existential daredevilry. (Fukuyama does not worry about the relationship between irrational impulses and the higher ends of life.) And both of these motives are distinct from the impulse to prove one's superiority to another human being at risk of life and limb.

If democratic governments are everywhere replacing non-democratic ones, argues Fukuyama, it is because only democracy provides citizens with recognition from their government. Only democracy allows people to escape the humiliating status of dependency and to achieve the self-respect of autonomous adults. Fukuyama's presentation of this central point is vague. Did communism collapse because it was a fetter on the forces of production or because it failed to provide the moral recognition that individuals need and seek? (He sometimes advances the materialist claim, sometimes the non-materialist one.) And surely the desire for recognition does not necessitate the total victory of democracy: socialism may hurt human pride, but it may also gratify human envy. Moreover, there are many kinds of recognition. Some are liberal, some are not liberal. Fukuyama himself argues that Japanese culture offers workers recognition as team players, a highly stable kind of recognition that differs from the individualistic recognition granted in the West.


Fukuyama first announces that liberal democracy satisfies every important longing in the human soul, and then explains that liberal democracy does not satisfy the most vital longing of all, which is thymos. The reason for that failure lies in the nature of thymos: it contains two contradictory drives—a desire for equal recognition and a desire for unequal recognition. In opposing the desire to be recognized as a superior with the desire to be recognized as an equal, Fukuyama draws a distinction that introduces a fundamental confusion into the meta-narrative he borrows from Kojève.

Following Kojève's analysis of the transition from aristocratic to egalitarian societies, Fukuyama describes the shift from “inherently unequal recognition” to “universal and reciprocal recognition” as a logical necessity. The desire for recognition-as-a-superior is irrational or internally incoherent, because who wants to be recognized by underlings and nobodies? Recognition as an equal by equals, by contrast, is wholly satisfying and wholly rational. This is an excellent point, although Fukuyama does not seem to appreciate its force as a democratic response to Nietzsche's aristocratic ideal.

Alexander Kojève was an egalitarian and a universalist. Fukuyama, finally, is not. The reason is that Leo Strauss (whose student, Allan Bloom, was Fukuyama's teacher) was not. Strauss was opposed to egalitarian ethics, as well as to any cosmopolitan weakening of national borders. Fukuyama, you might say, is stretched to the breaking point between Kojève and Strauss. For his larger argument, this is the most fatal tension of all.

Following Strauss, and in opposition to Kojève, Fukuyama expresses his deep and rather disturbing disapproval of “liberal democracy's tendency to grant equal recognition to unequal people.” Treating unequals as equals is not at all rational, whatever Kojève may have claimed; and Strauss, convinced of the baseness of equality, opposed Kojève on these grounds. Fukuyama adopts this pose, emphasizing “the inherent contradictions in the concept of universal recognition.” And he adopts the Straussian strategy of disguising his opposition to the norm of equality as outrage at “moral relativism.” But then he also seems to take over Kojève's sincerely egalitarian position. Fukuyama-the-KojŠvian stresses the way universal education (a key feature of economic modernization) encourages people to demand recognition as moral beings. Fukuyama-the-Straussian despises this demand, declaring it an irrational request for the equal recognition of unequals.

Fukuyama presents himself at times as a cosmopolitan, like Kojève, adducing the European Community as a symbol for the borderless liberal world of the future. But he also appears as an anti-cosmopolitan, like Strauss, pointing out the political necessity of morally unjustifiable borders. He repeats the Jekyll-and-Hyde routine when discussing war. (What has been the main cause of war throughout all of human history? Why, thymos, of course.) In some passages, Fukuyama celebrates the end of inhuman and wasteful war. In others, he deplores pacification as a moral disaster, since armed confrontationalism tightens sinews and gives meaning to life.

In any case, warfare, too, has now become a thing of the past, because bourgeoisification has cooled man's original hot-bloodedness; the addiction to security and comfort accounts for “the fundamentally un-warlike character of liberal societies.” It also explains why the planet is headed inevitably for perpetual peace. Why is deterrence no longer necessary in Western Europe? Why has the “realist” logic of power politics been suspended in the posthistorical zone? “Because most European states understand each other too well. They know that their neighbors are too self-indulgent and consumerist to risk death.” Remember, our happy present moment is owed less to the strength of freedom than to the weakness of tyranny: liberal societies are weak-kneed appeasers. (This is contradicted by the history of wars between liberal states and nonliberal states, but never mind.) We are entering a world of sissy states, which will be a world of perpetual peace.

But all this is based on a fundamental misunderstanding of social life in a liberal order. In such an order, it must be recalled, not every complication is a contradiction. The existence of contrary urges, the coexistence of egalitarian impulses and anti-egalitarian impulses, the appetite for security and the desire for dignity, do not necessarily spell tragedy, or even instability, because a liberal society may be complex enough to admit both equalities and inequalities.

The typical pattern in liberal society is a combination of public equality and private inequality. Just as liberalism encourages self-assertion without violence, so it encourages private and domesticated attempts to prove one's superiority so long as no coercive authority over others is the consequence. Seen this way, liberal democracy does not look eschatological. It is merely stable, and more fair. It satisfies both pride and envy. It allows individuals to be both equal and unequal. And this particular arrangement, for all its failure to satisfy those who hunger for an end, seems to be just about as admirable and as durable as any imperfect and rickety creation of human beings can hope to be.

The melancholy truth about Fukuyama is that in the end he fails to appreciate the higher values protected by liberal society. Quite the contrary. He asserts that the battle to throw off Communist tyranny was much more fulfilling than the life that will be achieved once liberal democracy is reliably installed in the ex-Communist states. The Chinese students “who stood up to tanks,” the Romanian revolutionaries who battled Ceausescu's Securitate, the Lithuanians who fought the Russian black berets, the Russians around Yeltsin's White House: they enjoyed a high that is not available to the inhabitants of normal bourgeois societies. When bravely confronting their armed oppressors, they “were the most free and therefore the most human of beings.” But what have they achieved? Not much. They may get VCRs and even passports, but their life will be void of drama and significance. In fact, their hard-won liberation totally destroys “the possibility of their ever again being as free and as human as in their revolutionary struggle.”

In sum: becoming free is everything, being free is nothing. How can Fukuyama preach such a message to the millions of men and women still groaning under the bitter legacy of decades of totalitarian rule? Welcome, he tells them, you have just been released from Communist unhappiness into democratic meaninglessness. Welcome to the vacuum at the heart of liberal society, where life is no longer worth living. You are no longer admirable prisoners. You are now contemptible last men.

“Human life,” Fukuyama observes from some point very high above human life, “involves a curious paradox: it seems to require injustice, for the struggle against injustice is what calls forth what is highest in man.” How should we respond to this sagacity? We might advise Fukuyama, for a start, to have a look at the world around him. It contains ample pain and evil. It confronts human beings with multiple inner and outer struggles. Some are even ideological. Fukuyama may be right, of course, that Communist totalitarianism became a perverse crutch for some Western conservatives, but surely a respect for the all-too-real sufferings of those who lived for decades under that colossal lie rules out anything resembling nostalgia for it. As for Fukuyama's “deeper” suggestion that we need tyranny and war and struggle to make our lives worth living, that peace will bring emptiness and a collapse of meaning, suffice it to say that, whether or not history has ended, there is more to living humanly than living historically.

Alan Ryan (review date 26 March 1992)

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Last Updated on June 7, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 6651

SOURCE: “Professor Hegel Goes to Washington,” in New York Review of Books, March 26, 1992, pp. 7-8, 10-3.

[In the following review of The End of History and the Last Man, Ryan provides an overview of Fukuyama's historical and intellectual perspective and the book's appeal to conservative critics. Ryan objects to Fukuyama's historical determinism and assumptions about the nature of and inevitability of liberal democracy.]

Francis Fukuyama's discovery of the end of history first came to the public's attention in the summer of 1989. The essay he wrote for The National Interest on “The End of History?” made the headlines in Time, Newsweek, and elsewhere; it was for a short time a truly global sensation. The news that history had ended aroused much disbelief. Even those who were glad that Fukuyama had declared that democracy was in no further danger from its rivals were not persuaded that this was because history had stopped. Indeed, the suggestion struck many readers as more or less mad; this seemed to be a time when history was happening everywhere and happening particularly fast. The announcement of the end of history coincided with the bloody repression of the Chinese democratization movement in Tiananmen Square, and only briefly preceded the fall of the Berlin Wall and the overthrow of Ceausescu.

Other readers, familiar with the work of Hegel, Marx, Nietzsche, and their interpreters, knew that what Mr. Fukuyama had in mind was not history but History, not the “tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing” that Macbeth railed against, and Henry Ford dismissed as “bunk,” but “History as a Whole.” They were less surprised by Mr. Fukuyama's discovery than by the furor it aroused. They remembered Herbert Marcuse announcing the end of history in One Dimensional Man, and Daniel Bell discovering “the end of ideology” some years before that. Mr. Fukuyama candidly admits that the tale he tells is an old one. Its author was a Russian emigré philosopher, Alexander Kojevchnikoff, better known as Alexandre Kojève, who in the mid-1930s began to lecture to the students of the Ecole Pratique des Hautes Etudes on Hegel's Phenomenology of Spirit. It was in these lectures that he first laid out Hegel's account of the end of history, an account he made his own, and one that Mr. Fukuyama has now popularized with a few modifications of his own.

Kojève's lectures evidently had a considerable charm; Raymond Aron, Sartre, and Merleau-Ponty attended them along with Georges Bataille, Jacques Lacan, Eric Weil, and many others. In 1947 the French novelist Raymond Queneau turned Kojève's lecture notes into a book entitled Introduction … la lecture de Hegel. Given Queneau's other work and Kojève's intellectual skittishness, I have always regretted that it wasn't called Zazie dans la dialectique, but one can't have everything.

The book seems not to have been well known in the United States—it was better known in Canada1—until it was partially translated in 1968. This version was edited by Allan Bloom, better known for The Closing of the American Mind, and one of Mr. Fukuyama's teachers at the University of Chicago. On the other side of the Atlantic, Kojève provided many students' first introduction to Hegel, even though he dealt with only one of Hegel's major works—the Phenomenology of Spirit—and seduced students into concentrating on only one section of that dense volume, the so-called “dialectic of lordship and bondage” or the “master-slave dialectic.”

There were many reasons for the book's popularity. It was written with great panache, while Kojève made Hegel seem both intelligible and exciting, even if pretty far gone in megalomania. He picked out those aspects of Hegel that led most naturally to Marx on the one hand and to Heidegger on the other; he played down Hegel's philosophy, narrowly considered, and played up the historical sociology that was latent in his work. And he said a lot of strikingly implausible things about the politics of the twentieth century.

Kojève was a Marxist, but he spent the postwar years working for the greater glory, of corporate capitalism and the capitalist welfare state in the French Ministry of Economic Affairs, and then as a senior civil servant of the European Community; he died in Brussels in 1968. In what sense he was a “Marxist” is a bit mysterious. Perhaps his most famous opinion was that postwar America is a classless society which has little labor and high consumption, and therefore has realized Marx's aspirations.

One can even say that from a certain point of view, the United States has already attained the final stage of Marxist “communism,” seeing that, practically, all the members of a “classless society” can from now on appropriate for themselves everything that seems good to them, without thereby working, and the USSR gave me the impression that if the Americans give the impression of rich Sino-Soviets, it is because the Russians and Chinese are only Americans who are still poor but are rapidly proceeding to get richer.

So much for the cold war.

The End of History and the Last Man is not just warmed-over Kojève, nor is it just an inflated essay. It is a long book, and tackles a large number of questions—from staples of the op-ed pages such as the differences in American and Japanese work habits and the prospects for nationalism in Eastern Europe, to staples of undergraduate sociology such as the plausibility of an “economic interpretation of history.” What makes it distinctive is its attempt to connect such issues with the two large themes gestured at in the title. Has History—Weltgeschichte with a Big H—come to an end? If it has, has it created a world in which only the projects of the bons bourgeois are possible? Are we doomed to be what Nietzsche dismissed as “last men,” animals whose horizons are limited to securing their creature comforts?

The End of History and the Last Man is an easy book to summarize, and Fukuyama does it very well in his introduction. History has ended in the sense that there is no more room for large ideological battles. Liberal democracy is not merely triumphant, it is simply what there is, and all there can be. There is literally no more room for debate over fundamentals. What Kojève called the “universal and homogeneous state” has arrived, and it is liberal democracy. There are two reasons for its triumph. First, the growth of science and our increasing ability to dominate nature means that societies that are technologically effective dominate societies that are not. Part of the technique of dominating nature efficiently is to be properly organized, and the market, the capitalist firm, and the capitalist entrepreneur have proved to be uniquely efficient forms of organization. This is sociologically commonplace and amounts to the common coin of Marx and Weber.

Still, this does not explain how the modern organization of the economy happened, or how it ended in democracy. The second element is the irrational component in economic behavior that the sociology of Marx and Weber doesn't explain. This is “the search for recognition.” We do not want only to satisfy our needs for food, shelter, sex, and comfort; we much more powerfully wish to establish ourselves as people to be reckoned with. Achilles sulked in his tent while the Achaean army failed to make any headway against the Trojans, not because the slavegirl Briseis was important as an item of consumption, but because he had lost face surrendering her to Agamemnon. Mankind is much more powerfully driven by the desire for recognition than by desires for a high standard of living. The mastery of nature owes more to the spirit of conquest than to economic calculation. A society, like our own, in which economic calculation holds sway is the by product of a history driven by the demand for recognition.

Why does this yield liberal democracy? Because this is the form of social order in which the desire for recognition can be satisfied by everyone. Each is recognized by all. It is stable, immune to subversion by outgroups who desire to be recognized but are not recognized. It is this that was Hegel's message. But the result is ambiguous. Nietzsche's complaint, echoed by Heidegger, was that the terms on which this was achieved destroyed the whole point of the search for recognition. As has rather too often been said. “If everybody's somebody, nobody's anybody.” Worse yet, if there are no projects that are worth risking our lives for in the search for recognition, what is most distinctive in human life has gone. For Kojève, following Heidegger following Nietzsche, Americanization is a return to animal mindlessness. Fukuyama converted that hardly optimistic observation into the conclusion that history had ended in the triumph of the West.

In the two years since his original article appeared, Fukuyama has taken heed of the many critics his essay attracted. In the process, he has stripped his argument of much of its empirical content. The most obvious complaint against the view that the whole world is committed to liberal democracy is that most of it is not. Much of Asia is committed to some form of democracy, to the idea that governments are accountable to their subjects, and must maintain constitutional rather than merely personal authority. But this is not liberal democracy; it is neither built on nor friendly to the moral individualism that underpins liberalism.2 It is not concerned with our anxieties about the boundary between the private and the public; it is not worried as we are about keeping government authority out of our sexual, religious, intellectual, and moral allegiances. Lee Kuan Yew has called the system he has built “East Asian Confucian capitalism.”

Fukuyama agrees and disagrees almost simultaneously. He has a chart of liberal democracies on which Singapore appears, and two discussions in the text in which Singapore is treated as an authoritarian and nonliberal political system. Japan gets the same contradictory treatment. This incoherence is hard to account for; it may be because he does not know what he really believes.

This suspicion is reinforced by the discrepancy between the bold statements of the beginning of the book and the hesitant tone he strikes three hundred pages later. To begin with. Fukuyama is sure that liberal democracy is the wave of the present and the future, and that any disturbances to the liberal hegemony will be brief localized, and unimportant. But in the last three chapters of the book, History threatens to begin all over again. Western societies are unsatisfying to their own members because they offer too little sense of community, the point on which Asiatic societies are strongest. Since he has already agreed that liberal democracy may not be as good for economic growth as a more authoritarian and more communalist social and political order. Fukuyama cannot but agree that more communitarian and authoritarian societies may succeed in the global competition, after all. But then where is the end of history? The “universal and homogeneous state” is not dictated by “rational desire” and “rational recognition” after all, or if it is, it manifests itself as nonliberal democracy.

He acknowledges, too, what the Berkeley political scientist Ken Jowitt has been arguing much more vividly, that the vast gap between the increasingly rich first world and a resentful but possibly nuclear-armed third world may lead to any amount of twenty-first-century violence, with unpredictable consequences.3 Fukuyama is unable to decide whether this outcome would still be a triumph for the end of history thesis—since what the resentful third world resents is not being like the modernized first world—or a genuine departure for a different destination. If the third world isn't the source of something new, Fukuyama nonetheless wonders whether internal strife may undo countries like the United States. Indeed, he ends the book wondering whether we may not first converge on liberal democracy, and then head off in entirely new directions after all.

He spins an elaborate metaphor: history is like a pioneer wagon train heading for a distant town, with different wagons at different points, but all heading for the same place. But he ends uncertainly:

Alexandre Kojève believed that ultimately history itself would vindicate its own rationality. That is, enough wagons would pull into town such that any reasonable person looking at the situation would be forced to agree that there had been only one journey and one destination. It is doubtful that we are at that point now, for despite the recent worldwide liberal revolution, the evidence available to us now concerning the direction of the wagons' wanderings must remain provisionally inconclusive. Nor can we in the final analysis know, provided a majority of the wagons eventually reach the same town, whether their occupants, having looked around a bit at their new surroundings, will not find them inadequate and set their eyes on a new and more distant journey.

This last thought is simply inconsistent with what purports to be the philosophical basis of the end of history thesis.

Read unsympathetically, The End of History and the Last Man is a string of op-ed page speculations. No subject receives more than a page or two of discussion. While every issue is interesting, and Fukuyama writes agreeably enough, his treatment rarely rises above the banal. Yet the book comes encrusted with tributes to its brilliance from George Will, Charles Krauthammer, Irving Kristol, and Tom Wolfe, none of whom is especially stupid or easily deceived. It is easy enough to see that George Gilder has misread the whole thing4 and believes that it is a hymn to laissez faire; but George Will at least should know better than that. There must be something going on whose attractions are not immediately visible.

One attraction is that Fukuyama likes asking Big Questions, and much of the world likes Big Questions, too. Fukuyama doesn't just argue that liberal democracy is the only political option now open; he argues that liberal democracy is the meaning of history. The authority for this claim is Hegel-as-filtered-through-Kojève. It is an odd place to turn for metaphysical reassurance, however. Anyone who has read any Hegel knows that Hegel did not think that liberal democracy was where history would end. Hegel thought that the ultimate form of political association was a rational legal state, but it would be explicitly antidemocratic, and liberal only in its attachment to the rule of law. Crucially, Hegel had no time for the individualism that Americans regard as the very heart of liberalism. He insisted on the priority of the state to the individual, insisted that individuals had no rights against the state, said that the common people should be “simultaneously respected and scorned,” and offered as the most rational form of modern political association something much more interesting than Fukuyama, namely the corporate state.

Pace Kojève and Fukuyama, the Hegelian state was not “homogeneous,” that is, classless, other than in the sense that the rule of law applied to everyone—which was also the only sense in which it was “universal.” Hegel was explicit about the need to balance the marketplace with legally recognized corporations, about the need for a hereditary, agrarian element in the state, about making representation corporate rather than individual, and about doing what could be done to control capitalism as well as allow its modernizing effects full play. Fukuyama says that few Americans read Hegel, because he is thought to be difficult and metaphysical. Fukuyama appears to be among their number, for the truth is that Hegel's Philosophy of Right is not in the least difficult; it just happens to say pretty much the opposite of what he claims.

Fukuyama, like Kojève, rests his case on the Phenomenology of Spirit. The Phenomenology is difficult, partly because Hegel finished it in a hurry, and it is unclear whether it says what he wanted to say or not. It is in fact hard to say just what the book is about. At one level it seems to be the autobiography of God, insofar as God manifests Himself in human culture. At another level, it is a history of human consciousness, both the way individual minds develop and the way cultures develop characteristic ways of thinking. Politics occupies a fairly lowly place in such an enterprise; art, religion, and philosophy are much more salient. Kojève somewhat vulgarizes the entire project by turning it into sociology; Fukuyama vulgarizes it entirely. Having taken the high ground by insisting that we need to give an account of History as a Whole, a project that Hegel called “the true theodicy.” Fukuyama reassures his readers a dozen pages later that the philosophy of history has nothing to do with religion. This is either incoherent or disingenuous.

In the first place, it misrepresents the driving force behind the philosophy of history, even on Fukuyama's own account. Fukuyama himself observes that the philosophy of history, in the sense in which it is concerned with the “meaning” of the entire historical process, is a secular holdover from Christian eschatology. Greek and Roman philosophers thought history was cyclical and repetitive just like any other natural process; Machiavelli, whom Fukuyama mysteriously believes to have been the founder of modern historicism, followed his classical masters in thinking the same. The Judeo-Christian tradition was anticlassical in thinking that history had a definite dramatic shape, with a beginning, a middle, and a conclusion. It was the Christian image of History as a three-act play—Fall, Suffering, Redemption—that found its way into Kant's philosophy of history, into Hegel's and eventually into Marx's supposedly empirical and sociological “materialist conception of history.” President Bush tells us that it was with God's help that America won the cold war and defeated Saddam Hussein; Fukuyama's God is History-with-a-Big-H.

Disclaiming any religious intention misrepresents Hegel's philosophy. There is an old tradition, started immediately after Hegel's death, that Hegel was an atheist whose talk of God was simply a ruse to deceive his Prussian employers, and Kojève subscribed to that view. Much of his Introduction … la lecture de Hegel is devoted to the idea that Hegel's atheism consists in his treating God as a sort of allegory for Man. But all the evidence we have tells us that Hegel was a Lutheran who thought that the truths presented pictorially and imaginatively in religion needed to be represented plainly and rationally in philosophy if they were to be rationally discussed. The point of the philosophy of history was theodicy, to justify the ways of God to man, or, more philosophically, to show people that they could not rationally wish the world to be other than it is. As Hegel says at the end of The Philosophy of History, thus we see that this process is not only not without God but is always and everywhere God's work. Passing off the Phenomenology as sociology misses the point of Hegel's Idealism. Unless the Phenomenology can explain history as the work of Spirit, history is one damned thing after another, an empirical, not an intelligible, process.

Hegel did after a fashion present the modern world as coming “at the end of history.” But Fukuyama is deaf to the multiple ambiguities in Hegel's account. Hegel claimed that history was the history of freedom. The freedom in question was not political freedom, but the “rational self-direction” that Isaiah Berlin has baptized “positive liberty.” Freedom was not a matter of indeterminacy or randomness—a child who replies “nine” or “six” or “five” at random, when asked to add four and three, is not displaying freedom but mathematical incapacity. A mathematician knows that “seven” is the only thing to say, but “seven” is not forced upon him; it is not an external reality to which he has to conform. Rather, when counting properly there is only one route to go. How this rationalist view of freedom is to be applied in each sphere of life is hotly debated; what is not open to dispute is that Hegel's conception of freedom is “rational freedom.” One reason why he never captured the hearts of English commentators was that he thought English “laissez faire” mistook chaos for freedom.

Fukuyama knows this, I think, though he has nothing to say about the ways in which liberal democracy does (or more plausibly does not) sustain rational freedom. His interest is exhausted by the claim that the achievement of freedom means the end of history. Even here, he is deaf to nuance. Hegel's view that history had ended rests on a simple triadic account of the history of freedom. Once, there was prehistory, when mankind lived in something other than organized political society, nomadic tribes, scattered families gardening in the bush, and so on. History began with Persian despotism. Here the discovery of the human will took place. One person, the despot, was free. Freedom had arrived in the world, but as the possession of one man, and manifested as arbitrary rule. Its next manifestation was in the Greek polis, which was law-abiding, self-governing, and independent of other states, but which restricted freedom to a small number of its inhabitants—citizenship was confined to free, adult, native-born males, who were capable of fighting for their country, and whose independence was guaranteed by their ownership of enough land to live on.

Like most German philosophers Hegel had hankered after the classical republics in his youth, and as a young man he had gone off with Schiller to plant a “freedom tree” in celebration of the outbreak of the French Revolution. But by the time he wrote the Phenomenology of Spirit and even more so when he wrote The Philosophy of Right and The Philosophy of History, he had decided that classical citizenship represented a form of freedom that was beneath the moral and intellectual level of the modern world. The truth represented by the modern world was that “man as such is free.” It is this slogan that Fukuyama latches on to.

But when did mankind discover that “man as such is free”? Kojève identified the end of history with the work of the French Revolution, and claimed that “Robespierre-Napoleon” was a world-historical individual whose tyrannical eruption into European history paved the way for the “universal and homogeneous” state. On that view, the battle of Jena at which Napoleon defeated the combined forces of Austria and Prussia in 1806 really was the end of history, and when Hegel saw Napoleon ride into the captured city of Jena he really had “seen the Spirit of the World crowned and riding on a horse.” For Kojève it was a comforting creed, since it suggested that Stalin and Hitler, too, were just quirky ways in which the “cunning of reason” had chosen to work out the implications of Napoleon's victory over the ancien régime. Matters had been settled at Jena, and were merely ratified by Stalingrad and Hiroshima.

But this is a peculiar rendition of Hegel's ideas. Hegel frequently claimed that the discovery that freedom was the human essence became a world-historical doctrine with Martin Luther and the Protestant Reformation. He sometimes traced it back much earlier than that. He suggested that Socrates' appeal to the dictates of his own individual daemon against the common opinion of Athenian democracy first launched the thought; and Nietzsche's distaste for Socrates certainly rested on the view that conscientious dissent was destructive of the solidarity of the Greek polis. Hegel also suggested that Roman law manifested a commitment to individualism in that every individual was treated as a legal person, subject to and protected by the law. His taste for contradiction, of course, was gratified by the way the Roman Empire simultaneously reduced the value of citizenship by subjecting everyone to the power of the emperor and elevated individuality by insisting on the omnipresence of the law.

The rights of conscience, legal individuality, and the capacity to own property all form elements of modern freedom, and Hegel thought modern society could, in principle, realize them, though only insofar as its members were taught to demand their rights within its limits. Was this the end of history? In one sense, yes. The history of the concept of freedom must come to an end once “man as such is free”—the triad “one, some all” extends no further. But this is a purely verbal point. It does nothing to settle the question whether our exploration of rational freedom itself has any boundaries. Socrates died twenty-three centuries ago, and it would be hard to deny that fundamental changes have taken place since then: Luther died four centuries ago, and changes almost as fundamental have taken place since then; even the hundred and sixty years since Hegel's death have been rich in fundamental changes. All of which makes one wonder quite what Hegel had in mind, if he thought that further fundamental transformations were out of the question.

My own view is that Hegel was much more ambivalent and ambiguous than Fukuyama supposes. Hegel's vision of philosophy as an ascent to Absolute knowledge meant that serious philosophy had to represent itself as summing up all previous thought, all human history, all cultural achievement; but there was a pathos about this, since any serious philosopher also understood that previous philosophies had been superseded in ways their creators could not have foreseen. By the same token, any philosophy of history is retrospective, viewing the historical process as leading up to the present, and refusing to predict the future. In his introduction to The Philosophy of Right Hegel famously declared that “the Owl of Minerva only flies at dusk.” Philosophy paints in “grey on grey”; it looks backward, and “paints a form of life grown old.” This is far from triumphalist, and suggests that Hegel's view was that new forms of life might arise, but that it was not up to philosophers to predict them.

What of the “last man” in Fukuyama's title? Kojève and Fukuyama both make much of the passage in Phenomenology in which Hegel raised the question of how human beings distinguish themselves from the outside world. Characteristically, Hegel thought that eating things, burning them to keep warm, using them in general, made a metaphysical point: conscious beings were more important than mere nature. The dialectic of master and slave starts from the thought that we are inclined to treat other people as if they were part of nature, too; we want to use them. But since they are people, not mere things, we want to make a particular kind of use of them. We want them to acknowledge that our purposes are their purposes, that we count and they do not. This sets up an obvious conflict—for they see us in the same light. It is a conflict with no room for negotiation; either I am the one who matters or You are. It seems clear that Hegel had in mind the heroic ethos represented in Homeric poetry as an example of what it was like to be driven by this urge to impose one's will upon all comers.

This conflict of aspirations leads to a struggle to the death. Since it is our life that gives us value, we are not serious unless we risk it. But, a fight in which both parties die is no good; nor is one in which one party dies, since what we are after is recognition, and you can't get that from a corpse. The struggle must divide mankind into masters and slaves. The slave is defined by his fear of death, the master by his willingness to hazard his life. Which holds the key to the human future? Paradoxically, the slave. The slave owner is typically idle, perhaps a splendid beast, exciting to watch in battle, but otherwise conservative and unimaginative. The slave has to work, and in the process learns what human creativity is capable of. He also knows what it is like to be recognized as a person, since he recognizes the master as one. The slave thus knows what recognition of one another as equals would be like.

To abbreviate Hegel's very long story, human freedom is achieved in a society whose members recognize each other as free and equal citizens. This freedom and equality is, once more, not that of liberal individualism, but that of the corporate state—the Napoleonic ideal. What Hegel does not ask—or Kojève for that matter—is whether the end results are particularly attractive. Kojève observes in passing that if human beings were made human by the historical struggle, they will cease to be human once the struggle is over. With the Americanization of the world, we shall become superior animals; strictly speaking, we shall have no culture, no art, no romantic love, and none of the passions that once drove history. The heavily ironic tone of much of the Introduction makes it hard to know what we are supposed to make of it all. It is made harder by a footnote which Kojève added after visiting Japan in 1959. Here he says that an alternative to American mindlessness is Japanese snobbery—equally unhistorical, formal, and empty, but undeniably a human achievement. Again, it is hard to know what to make of the thought, all the more so when Kojève assured an interviewer who raised the matter just before Kojève's death in 1968 that he was merely playing when he wrote it, and was playing with his interviewer now.

Fukuyama knows what he makes of the thought. Unlike those who read him as a simple triumphalist, he is alarmed by the idea that the end of history will produce people who only want high levels of consumption, enjoyable leisure activities, and security. He mentions the possibility that Wall Street traders, makers of Donald Trump-like deals, and similar heroes of the acquisitive culture may find enough challenges in such activities to keep the appetite for heroic risk-taking satisfied. He doesn't believe it; he thinks graduates troop into law schools like sheep. He is well read enough to know that for Nietzsche nothing would do except risking one's life. If the test of character is the ability to face annihilation without flinching, all other forms of risk-taking are surrogates; conversely, if risking your life is simply a leisure activity, as it is in rock climbing or hang gliding, it simply can't matter in the way courage in battle did for Hector and Achilles. Those who complain that victory in the cold war is less exciting than it ought to be have their answer. It is as exciting as the end of History allows—not very exciting at all.

Although Fukuyama's éclat comes from the way he throws Hegel and Nietzsche into the post-cold war debate, much of his book is sociological rather than philosophical. This is especially true of the long argument to the effect that industrialism is inescapable, and that capitalist industrialism is a lot more efficient than the alternatives. On all this, his views are orthodox and sensible. Where it is hard to know what really causes what, he is properly reticent. Thus, he considers explanations for the economic troubles of Latin America—Catholicism rather than the Protestant ethic, feudal assumptions among both the elites and the workers, misguided attempts at self-sufficiency rather than specialization for the international market—but does not settle for any one in particular.

The same readiness to canvass all possibilities comes out in his discussion of the prospects for international peace and security. Observing that no liberal democracies have ever fought each other—the British burned Washington in the War of 1812, but that hardly counts—he is sanguine about a future in which the world is full of liberal democracies. Whether they will fight the third world he cannot say. He notices in passing that one prospect is vast population movements as third world and recently emancipated second world peoples try to get into Western Europe and the United States; but whether this will result in mayhem is again too hard to predict.

It is hard to quarrel with such reticence. If History is at an end, particular events certainly are not, and only a fool would risk his reputation by predicting the course of either domestic or international affairs over the next ten years. It is much easier to quarrel with the extraordinary analytical looseness with which Fukuyama tackles the issue on which he is decisive, namely the irreversibility of the liberal-democratic solution to our ills. Part of the problem is that he seems to have a complete contempt for history in the usual sense, and part is that he seems to have no imagination.

So far as history goes, the text suggests that he believes that Britain was a “liberal democracy” in 1848, and the US in 1790, even though he defines democracy in terms of full adult suffrage—which Britain did not achieve until 1928 and even the US only in 1919. Turn to his footnotes, and he points this out himself, arguing that we can still call them “democracies” when they do not fit his own criteria. This is impossible, since it ignores the central question raised by the horrors of the twentieth century—whether mass democracy is consistent with liberal values, and whether capitalism can work smoothly in anything other than a corporatist environment. That Fukuyama does not see this is not surprising, for analytically, he seems to have no idea what “liberal” means.

The index of the book is a giveaway: Tocqueville is well represented, Jefferson hardly appears, and Mill not at all. Nobody who took liberalism seriously could think that the best guides to liberalism are the illiberal Hegel and the Stalinist Kojève—in the footnotes Fukuyama does his not very convincing best to claim Kojève as a liberal, but the task is hopeless. When the question confronting Americans today is whether the chaotic but undeniably liberal democracy that they have inherited from the Founding Fathers is any match for the corporatism of Japan and a united Europe, it won't do to lump all regimes other than centrally planned Communist dictatorships together and call them liberal democracies. It is only from an altitude so great that most of human life is invisible that Japan and the United States could be passed off as examples of the same socio-political system.

As to the longer future, how can we tell what novelties mankind might come up with? Only nine years ago Jean-François Revel made a great hit with Why Democracies Perish. At the time, many people pointed out that they weren't perishing in any great number, but M. Revel was not much deterred. The logic of democracy was to perish, and if communism somehow failed to be the cause of their perishing, something else would show up to do it. Now we have Mr. Fukuyama telling us that democracies not only do not perish, but are inscribed in History. Economic, political, and cultural divergence is ruled out for ever. This claim is made at a time when world population is growing far too fast, when religious fundamentalism is increasing, and when we have no idea how to resolve our environmental problems at a reasonable cost, to name only a few of the central issues of which Fukuyama hardly seems aware. Innumerable problems will surely demand new institutional, cultural, and psychological resources to adapt to them, and it takes an astonishing smugness to think that “more of the same” will be enough, and an extraordinary lack of imagination to believe that we are incapable of thinking of something new.

Nor is it so clear that spontaneous cultural divergence has become impossible. It was not History that imposed a sort of democracy on Japan, but two nuclear attacks and an American occupation. It was not the inefficiency of Nazism that brought multiparty democracy and welfare capitalism to the Federal Republic of Germany, but millions of dead and wounded at Stalingrad and in Hamburg, Dresden, and Berlin. These were not societies whose inhabitants spontaneously gave up on them and turned to “the West.” They were bombed, beaten, and occupied into democracy. Why should we think the People's Republic of China is going to develop into a larger version of the US? There will be technological convergence, but why should there be cultural convergence? Of course, it's hard to imagine what dramatic changes will take place. But history has always taken us by surprise.

It remains, in the end, a puzzle that Mr. Fukuyama is such a darling of American conservatives. It's not as though the US were Britain where conservative intellectuals are a rare breed; they are to be found in droves in think tanks, on newspapers, and on television programs, interning away for conservative politicians, and word processing in assorted foundation offices. Still, they are usually employed to comment on matters of the day, rather than deliver the judgments of world history. What is puzzling is why the idea that “Professor Hegel goes to Washington” has become popular. Why should people sleep more soundly for thinking that a dead Prussian philosopher and his eccentric French interpreter have certified them as the final products of History as a Whole?

The only explanation I can think of comes from Voltaire's Candide. Candide's tutor, Dr. Pangloss, held that this was the best of all possible worlds, and every evil a necessary evil. Candide is an outraged satire on the very idea that this could be the best of all possible worlds, and a savage commentary on the idea that its evils are necessary. Mr. Fukuyama is the conservative's Dr. Pangloss. If what we've got is what History with a capital H intends for us, then we, too, live in the best of all possible worlds, and if it remains a bit of a mess, this is a necessary mess. Meanwhile the comfortable and conservative may bask in the thought that their privileges come with the blessing of History; they can display high seriousness by writing elegant essays on the low cultural level of consumer society, and display a decent compassion for those who have fallen off the historical bus before it ever got to the consumer society. But above all, they can settle for the politics of business as usual. It used to be said that the Church of England was “the Tory Party at prayer.” The United States has never had an established church, and conservatives may have felt the lack of it. Mr. Fukuyama has provided them a Hegelian prayer book, for which they are properly grateful.


  1. See Tom Darby's discussion of Kojève in The Feast (University of Toronto Press, 1982; 1990); the preface to the 1990 edition contains some acerbic criticism of Fukuyama's 1989 essay, which Darby sees as a simple ideological exercise in celebrating the triumph of Western liberalism. Darby's view is that “there are no winners.”

  2. This point has been made with some authority by Li Xianglu, the former secretary for economic reform in the government of the reformist Chinese prime minister Zhao Ziyang. In an essay in the Winter 1992 number of New Perspectives he says of Singapore that “its core values are not Western liberalism or individualism and it may yet evolve into a system posing a challenge to the West. China is likely to follow this alternative path.” (p. 15).

  3. His New World Disorder: The Leninist Extinction (University of California Press, to be published in April 1992), has some very sharp and anxious things to say about the dangers to world peace posed by “American liberal absolutism,” and the seeming incapacity of American politicians to embrace the idea of sharing global influence with Japan and a united Europe, as well as the prospects of continued disorder in an impoverished and bitter third world.

  4. Reviewing Fukuyama in The Washington Post, Gilder even contrives to include a plug for a capital gains tax cut in his essay.

John Gray (review date 11 May 1992)

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SOURCE: “Cleopatra's Nose,” in National Review, May 11, 1992, pp. 46-8.

[In the following review, Gray offers unfavorable assessment of The End of History and the Last Man.]

In his brilliant, ingenious, but nevertheless deeply unhistorical and ultimately absurd book, Francis Fukuyama argues that History—understood, in Hegelian-Marxist terms, to mean ideology—is over. With the collapse of Communism, there remains no legitimate alternative to liberal democracy, which is therefore the final form of human government. Wars and revolutions, tyrannies and dictatorships, may yet come and go, so that history understood as the events historians study will doubtless drag on; but History as the contestation over economic and political systems has come to an end. Only liberal democracy can satisfy the universal human need for self-recognition, or thymos—the Platonic virtue of spiritedness. Fukuyama acknowledges fundamentalism and nationalism to be powerful forces currently at large in the world; but he interprets them as reactive phenomena, responses to oppression or to over-rapid modernization, with little power of their own. We need not fear another century of global wars, as we creep nervously into the new millennium. We have more to fear, according to Fukuyama—following Nietzsche and perhaps Weber—from the boredom that flows from the rationalization of the world. It is Nietzsche's Last Men, not his blond beasts, that herald the mild and gentle Apocalypse to come.

Fukuyama is right that we are seeing the end of ideology—that is to say, of those secular religions, or political faiths, that we inherited from the Enlightenment and from its nineteenth-century followers, such as Marx. He does not notice, however, that the end of ideology encompasses the euthanasia of liberalism—that tottering political faith his book is devoted to propping up. The post-Soviet peoples have not shaken off one nineteenth-century ideology, Marxism, to adopt another, liberalism; none of them ever accepted the former, and few the latter. They have instead returned to their immemorial ethnic and cultural identities, national and religious, with all the ancient enmities they carry with them. The post-Communist peoples do not express their thymos by wishing to become producers and consumers in a global market, or rights-bearers in a universal liberal democracy; they express it by the demand for nationhood, as Armenians or Georgians, Lithuanians or Russians, and by the reassertion (as in the former Soviet Central Asia) of their traditional religious identities. For the post-Communist peoples, history has not ended. Instead, after decades of interruption, it has been resumed.

Our author—referred to in Japan, pointedly, as “the American writer Fukuyama”—is able to pass over these evident facts because, despite himself, he is propounding a secular theodicy, a directional and teleological interpretation of history—in which history's telos is, of course, us. The notion that human history has a goal or telos, and the related notion that it is possible to write a Universal History of Mankind, makes sense, if at all, only when based on religious suppositions, such as the Christian idea of Providence that animates Edmund Burke's whiggish interpretation of history. Yet religion is wholly absent from Fukuyama's thought, except as an inconvenient (and ephemeral) impediment to the global tranquilization he thinks is our fate. (The banal and insipid quality of the godlessness that pervades Fukuyama's book is in stark contrast with the atheism of one of his mentors, Nietzsche, which is—rightly—suffused with anguish and despair.) Fukuyama tells us that “liberalism vanquished religion in Europe”—a statement that will come as a surprise to the ordinary denizen of Belfast, but may be unsurprising coming from one who, in his lectures in Britain, referred to the English Civil War as a conflict between Protestants and Catholics. The idea that religious faith has been domesticated and privatized, and thereby nullified as a force in political life, may well have some plausibility in England today; but it is not true of contemporary Germany, say, and it is ludicrously false in respect of the United States, whose public and political life is pervaded by religious ideas and values.

The Mechanism (his term) that Fukuyama invokes to sustain the directionality of history is, in fact, a compound of two ideas: Hegel's morality tale of the dialectic of Master and Slave, as interpreted by Fukuyama's other mentor, and interpreter of Hegel, Alexandre Kojève; and what Fukuyama himself describes as “a kind of Marxist interpretation of history that leads to a completely non-Marxist conclusion”—namely, an economic interpretation of history that explains the growth of human productive powers by the development of scientific knowledge and its exploitation by human beings to satisfy their desires.

The trouble with this Mechanism of Fukuyama's is the trouble with Marxism—it is monocausal and overly deterministic. It is true that the Communist regimes fell partly because of the ruinous poverty they presided over, but it is also true, as the author himself admits, that they fell because their subject peoples perceived them as illegitimate, and their rulers had lost the will to rule by terror. The same point may be put in more general and more philosophical terms. While it is true that human history exhibits tendencies and perhaps even cycles, these are always subject to contingency, to the forces of chance and accident. (Would the Bolshevik regime have survived if the bullet fired at Lenin by his would-be assassin, Fanny Kaplan, had in fact killed him?) Cleopatra's nose is a better guide to history than Fukuyama's Mechanism.

Whatever slight plausibility the Mechanism might possess derives entirely from the truly fantastic abstractness of Fukuyama's account of recent history. Accordingly, in a table plainly designed to overwhelm the reader with a sense of the virtually irresistible charm of liberal democracy, we learn that among the 61 liberal democracies that existed in 1990 are Rumania and Japan, Bulgaria and Great Britain, Sri Lanka and Papua New Guinea—all listed as examples of a single form of government. It is hardly necessary to comment on the Monty Pythonish character of this categorization. Rumania certainly, and Bulgaria probably, remain ruled by manipulative Bolshevik cliques; Britain retains (so far) an adversarial parliamentary system, but Japan has single-party rule, and the most significant decisions are not taken in the political realm at all; and so on. Again, our author tells us that “Contemporary liberal democracies did not emerge out of the shadowy mists of tradition. Like Communist societies they were deliberately created by human beings at a definite point in time.” But the world's genuine liberal democracies have very different histories: democracy in England did “emerge out of the shadowy mists of tradition,” as it did in the Low Countries and perhaps also in Scandinavia. As at many other points, Fukuyama here implicitly deploys the United States as a paradigm, when it is in truth a limiting case.

It would be easy, but mistaken, to write of Fukuyama's treatise as an exercise in a genre as charmingly dated as heraldry or metaphysical history, and as practically irrelevant. This would be a grave error, since Fukuyama's Panglossian (or Pollyannaish) vision has undoubted appeal to some sectors of conservative opinion, and it has real and dangerous implications for policy. Consider his account of universal convergence on democratic capitalism. This implies that the “systems debate”—the debate about which economic and political institutions' are best for modern industrial societies—is over, when in fact one such debate has merely replaced another. The model of the socialist command economy has indeed been removed from the political and intellectual agenda, and a consensus reached on the indispensability of market institutions as vehicles for the self-reproduction of modern societies. The debate now is over which variety of market institution is to be adopted in the post-Communist states and in the developing world. Is the model of market institutions that of Anglo-American democratic capitalism, or is it that of German neo-corporatism, or East Asian dirigisme under authoritarian political auspices? If present trends are any guide, the new systemic debate is going against the model of democratic capitalism, with China opting for authoritarian development on the Japanese and South Korean models, and Russia oscillating uncertainly between a more or less Chilean model of capitalist development and the East Asian example. The Olympian abstraction of Fukuyama's account obscures this important debate.

Or consider the implications of Fukuyama's tranquilly apocalyptic vision for strategic and security policy. If fundamentalism is transitional and transitory and has no long-range political importance; if nationalism is fated to become a matter of private cultural preference, like tastes in ethnic cuisine; if we can expect a universal convergence on liberal democratic institutions, and these are inherently non-aggressive—if these premises are all granted, what need will the Western powers then have for national defense? If we are entering a world whose chief evil is boredom, it would seem not at all unreasonable to cut defense expenditure to the bone—as is, in fact, currently the trend, especially in the United States. All this assumes that the world after the unraveling of the postwar settlement will be a peaceful world, and it panders to the hopes and illusions of democracies, such as the United States, that lack strong martial traditions. Worse, Fukuyama's argument supports the groundless claim that modern states are by nature post-military societies in which national defense is unnecessary or optional. It is hard to think of a more perilous or debilitating idea.

A far truer, and much darker, picture of our likely future is given in the recent book Le nouveau monde de l'ordre de Yalta au chaos des nations (Paris: Gasset, 1992), by Pierre Lellouche, foreign-policy advisor to Jacques Chirac, leader of the Gaullist opposition in France. For Lellouche, the undoing of the postwar settlement inaugurates a desperately dangerous period for the world—a period in which the United States retreats as a global power and exhibits ever more of the traits of the Latin American states, in which the mirage of a federal superstate in Europe is dissipated by the re-emergence of immemorial national rivalries, and in which most of the post-Communist countries, including Russia, turn to forms of dictatorship and authoritarianism.

If this is so, the coming century looks to be, not the end of history, but a tragic epoch in which history is resumed along traditional lines, but on a far vaster scale—an epoch of Malthusian wars and religious and ethnic convulsions, of ecological catastrophes, forced migrations, and mass deaths overshadowing those of our century. It will be an epoch in which the uncontrolled proliferation of technologies of mass destruction shifts the balance of advantage of nuclear deterrence from the North to the anarchic South and in which (because of their economic success, and because neither of them is emulating the unilateral military self-emasculation of the Western powers) Japan and China are set to overturn the Occidental supremacy of the past few centuries. It is hard to avoid the suspicion that, with these great geopolitical changes afoot, and with the United States seemingly bent on repeating on a grander scale the historical experience of Argentina, but in a context in which the crumbling Leviathan of the Federal Government presides over a Hobbesian anarchy of warring ethnicities, Fukuyama's book will have to endure the mockery of fate, as we shuffle, exhausted and blinking, back onto the classical terrain, harsh but familiar, of history and human tragedy.

Peter Fritzsche (review date June 1992)

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SOURCE: A review of The End of History and the Last Man, in American Historical Review Vol. 97, No. 3, June, 1992, pp. 817-9.

[In the following review, Fritzsche provides analysis of Fukuyama's argument in The End of History and the Last Man.]

Francis Fukuyama would not be at the RAND Corporation if he were an avowed postmodernist. But the implication of his thoughtful essay point in just that direction. Like many cultural theorists today, Fukuyama argues that there are no longer any overarching plots or designs that give prescribed meaning to our political endeavors. History with a capital “H” has come to an end, although the lower-case history of births and deaths and private aspirations persists. This is the case because the twentieth century has knocked out all the ideological challengers to the principles of the liberal democratic order. “The last man” left standing is a democrat and a capitalist. And once there is a winner, there is no longer a contest. This Last Man has concluded History.

In similar fashion, postmodern critics in the 1990s have taken pains to distinguish themselves from their modernist counterparts of the 1890s, who still sought some order in the grand narratives and unified subjects of History. That Marxism, with its story-line of class struggle and its well-known proletarian subject, has crumbled as an intellectual tool in the academy is a striking indication of the present-day postmodernist sensibility. Both Fukuyama and postmodernists agree that the recent past is different from the present because yesterday was experienced as a dramatic contest of ideologies in a way that today is not. The only difference is that Fukuyama believes the contest to have been won while postmodernists argue that it was all theater to begin with. In either case, today, tomorrow, and the day after will simply proceed without a new or believable narrative in place to give events any coherence, a predicament of drift that is both novel and terrifying and poses once again Nietzsche's questions about the diminution of the human spirit.

Moreover, Fukuyama implicitly questions the further usefulness of historians since any meaning invested in the reading and writing of history depends in large part on the validity of grand narratives, partisan purposes, and good causes. Without these, history books become aimless, antiquarian, merely interesting. The end of History is thus the end of a genre, although not the foreclosure of events themselves.

The end of History rests on the victory of liberal democracy and capitalist economics. According to Fukuyama, no other competing system of thought has survived the twentieth century. The key dates denoting liberalism's triumph are 1945, the year the Allies defeated Nazism, and 1989, the year that marked the collapse of communism. Whatever the misgivings about democracy or capitalism, misgivings that Fukuyama is willing to concede, no one today imagines a radically better future that is not essentially democratic and capitalist. To be sure, the delights of the liberal order have yet to reach everybody, a process that might take several generations. But even if they do not, the incompleteness of liberalism is not necessarily its invalidation. According to Fukuyama, who in turn leans on Hegel and Alexandre Kojève, history only moves forward when the contradictions of one system give way to basic alternatives.

All the crushing poverty and bruising political tyranny around the world does not add up to an alternative order. If the rest of time is simply testimony to the incompleteness or slow implementation of liberalism's promises, it would still be the case, for Fukuyama, that History has ended. This is a point most of Fukuyama's critics have misunderstood. The idea of the end of History is not an argument for the rightness of all things. Fukuyama is not replaying Pangloss, even if he is too strident in his applause for Western politics and Western economics. Rather, Fukuyama's news is that we have stopped thinking about what might lie beyond capitalism and democracy. All that goes on now is tinkering with a system that variations such as Swedish-style social democracy and Reaganomics leave basically intact. In a fundamental way, Fukuyama asserts that we have all become neoconservatives; even leftists are mostly lapsed Marxists who are now simply social democrats. This disenchantment might be sad, but it rings true.

There are powerful reasons for the triumph of the liberal order. Fukuyama argues that 400 years of military and mercantile competition required states in Europe and elsewhere to adhere to rational and scientific principles. If this revamping of structural-functionalism and modernization theory explains the victory of capitalism, it is not sufficient to explain the ultimate triumph of democracy, which Fukuyama argues is the endpoint of humanity's species-unique struggle for recognition or thymos.

Fukuyama insists that the origins of democracy are to be found in the willingness of men and women to risk comfort and security in order to attain liberty and dignity, a point he makes by profitably comparing Hobbes with Hegel. Both philosophers agreed that people often act to gain prestige as individuals. These irrational endeavors lead to unfortunate episodes of imperialism and domination. It is precisely this self-proclaimed ethic of aristocratic mastery that Hobbes saw as the barrier to well-ordered government. Once citizens agree to live rationally by submitting to the laws of the monarch, they avoid the horrors to which irrational vanity leads. For Hegel, the Hobbesian submission to the state is little more than slavery, and vanity's contempt for this “mere life” is the beginning of freedom. The conditions of liberty are secured only once the slaves conceive in universal and this-worldly terms the freedom that nobles had once acquired one-by-one. History ends with the final revolt of the slaves, which Hegel identified as the French Revolution.

If all this sounds familiar it is because Fukuyama overstates the originality of his argument and, in fact, closely follows “the march of progress” that is still embedded in many modern history courses. Remember the class? German and Russian misdevelopment accents the righteous path of France, Britain, and the United States. For all the wrenching pessimism about the authenticity of progress that Fukuyama laments in post-Holocaust thought, the story of the twentieth century is told from what Michael Geyer has termed a North Atlantic or NATO perspective that invariably leads to a happy ending. It was in this North Atlantic realm that weak feudal traditions, more languorous industrialization, and strong civic traditions supposedly favored the advance of political democracy and measured social reform. By contrast, Germany's rise to nationhood after 1870 was turbulent in the extreme and turn-of-the-century Russia faced even more difficult social and economic circumstances. The price paid for the disfavors of history was Nazism in Germany and Bolshevism in Russia.

The story of the progress of liberal democracy depends on declaring fascism and communism exceptional and thus illegitimate challengers. Fukuyama, for example, argues that fascism was an aberration generated by “hothouse” industrialization and post-World War I chaos. A similar compound of bad luck left Russia vulnerable to communism. What this line of argument ignores, however, is the degree to which fascism and Marxism emerged out of the intellectual mainstream in Western Europe, and therefore they cannot so easily be separated from democratic thought.

It was the coldness and shallowness of the very rationalist forms of capitalism and bureaucracy that Fukuyama sees triumphant at the end of the twentieth century that spurred the search for new political communities at the end of the nineteenth century. Solidarities based on class, blood, nation, or generation seemed to offer more social intimacy and more spiritual purpose than did free-market liberalism. Political modernism after the 1890s was the composition of this emotional foundation to public action. It did not just prosper in those nations (such as Germany) that were scarred by rapid industrialization and the remnants of the feudal order. A glance at France at the turn-of-the-century moment of the Dreyfus Affair, for example, provides plenty of evidence for the widespread appeal of integral nationalism, strident racism, and exclusively working-class syndicalism.

The point is not only that racists or fascists or Marxists have much deeper roots in nineteenth-century thought than Fukuyama allows, but that they shared with liberalism basic assumptions about progress as well. It would be nice to think of fascists, for example, as improbable types, resentful antimodernists and the executors of history in its most extreme conditions. But their appeal was surprisingly broad and often rested on democratic or populist appeals, and their programs were technocratic and forward looking. Indeed, it is striking to see how unquestioningly most political groups in this century have invested in the vocabulary of modern science, diagnosing sickness in the population, deploying interventionist therapies to restore “health,” classifying and sorting out physiognomic types, and doing so in the name of progress. The eugenic imagination is in the name of progress. The eugenic imagination is an excellent example of the commonalities among liberals, fascists, and communists. This common ground should give pause to those such as Fukuyama who dismiss any necessary link between modernism and the Holocaust. By the same token, total war in 1914-18, with its awesome mobilization of bodies and hearts and minds, was not an irksome German or Russian invention but the consequence of the democratization of war, a process that implicated each belligerent. Fukuyama stumbles across all sorts of history when he tries to separate the righteous aspects of the democracies from the sinful ones of the dictatorships.

It is precisely because the twentieth-century order has witnessed the menace of Nazis and Stalinists and also the menacing effects of technological protocols, scientific classifications, and popular nationalisms that thoughtful observers have become skeptical about progress. It is simplistic to accuse Western philosophers of being unduly pessimistic in the face of the Holocaust or Hiroshima. What leaves observers “speechless,” as Fukuyama somewhat crudely puts it, is not the existence of evil as revealed by the Holocaust but overconfidence in the ability of science and rationalism to remake the social world, an arrogance on which no one side has a monopoly. The recognition of the fragile and destructive aspects to civilization is not out of place.

Fukuyama's collapse of modernism into well-ordered democracy has the unfortunate effect of sanitizing Western history. Fukuyama distinguishes a liberal telos from illiberal pathologies with unjustified rigor. At a certain point the menaces cannot be explained away as either exogenous aberrations or mere growing pains that do not impinge on the underlying principles—otherwise the ideal adds up to little more than ideology. Indeed, Fukuyama's distinction between democracy and totalitarianism rests on a total misreading of Kojève, the French philosopher and interpreter of Hegel on whom Fukuyama relies. For Kojève, the historical function of Stalin and Mao was to introduce the Napoleonic code to Russia and China, the severity of their methods being a function of tardy deployment rather than essential illiberalism, a view whose ironic statement and political implications a more attentive Fukuyama, for one, would certainly abhor.

None of this really compromises Fukuyama's central point: there are no robust ideological alternatives to liberalism, which enjoys broader worldwide acceptance than at any time this century. And Fukuyama is right in insisting that those constituencies who already enjoy the fruits of capitalist economics and liberal democracy do not intend to roll back this “progress.” Modern history has taught us many lessons, Fukuyama maintains, with the result that we appreciate the modest successes of the present and remember the disastrous results of hubris in the past. This collective memory guards against history repeating itself. But if we remember, what do we forget? What are the irretrievable losses that have been incurred in the twentieth century? Another way of putting this question is to consider progress not simply from the point of view of the living but also of the dead.

I suspect that the nineteenth century would have been appalled at the twentieth century. Most nineteenth-century intellectuals did not endorse democracy as Fukuyama suggests. On the contrary, democracy was widely regarded as the vulgar rule of averages, a despotism of the masses to which fascism and communism attested. This perspective is rather different than Fukuyama's. Nineteenth-century thinkers also assumed that men and women would make use of new ideas and new tools in an effort to become more able and more worthy of their god. They could not easily have imagined a culture of passive spectators and consumers. If the twentieth century is happy not to have to live in the nineteenth, which was without anaesthesia, ice cubes, or indoor plumbing, the nineteenth century, in turn, must regard the twentieth as a nightmare of complacency. Fukuyama completely lacks the irony of Kojève, who acknowledged that the End of History is not accompanied by the fullness of wisdom. Perhaps progress exists only as the conviction of each present, plausible because the dead do not speak, credible because we have forgotten more than we have remembered. Is this not the cunning of History?

Patrick J. Deneen (review date 19 June 1992)

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SOURCE: “It Ain't Over 'Til It's Over,” in Commonweal, June 19, 1992, pp. 25-6.

[In the following review of The End of History and the Last Man, Deneen provides an overview of Fukuyama's historical postulations and critical reaction to his thesis.]

Francis Fukuyama's 1989 article “The End of History?” in The National Interest caused a sensation in both academic and nonacademic circles of a magnitude unprecedented since Allan Bloom's The Closing of the American Mind in 1987. The resemblance of the sound and the fury is not coincidental: Fukuyama—a former student of Bloom's—veered from the well-worn discursive paths within the field of international relations with as much aplomb as did Bloom in domestic fields. Fukuyama's book—fundamentally a lengthy extension of his original article—should continue to infuriate as well as stimulate debate as the West finds itself somewhat lost in a new but no less frightening international arena.

Fukuyama's thesis is grand, even brash at times, deriving as much from the subtle and difficult theories of Hegel and Nietzsche as from recent developments on the front pages. History—conceived here not as a pastiche of disjunct events, but in broad, panoramic strokes from which developmental stages can be discerned—has reached its logical conclusion with the worldwide embrace of the “universal and homogeneous” state of liberal democracy. Fukuyama contends—and, one would have to admit, correctly—that no other political arrangement contains the legitimate and ethical components found in the liberal democracies of Europe and the United States. Fukuyama provides ample historical evidence demonstrating the decline of alternative political arrangements, notably fascism and communism; but the display of evidence is secondary to his larger contention that it is the idea of liberal democracy that has prevailed, and that localized exceptions merely continue to play out the necessary conflict that will inevitably drive each nation to similar liberal arrangements.

Such a cavalier dismissal of contradictory historical evidence is grounded in Fukuyama's supporting thesis that there are two forces which impel the course of History. First, the exigencies of national defense will inevitably require a country to pursue a policy of a scientific research, and thus foster economic development that supports—materially and educationally—continued military competitiveness. The result of this first force in its most developed form is market capitalism. Nevertheless, Fukuyama acknowledges, a capitalist economy does not necessarily result in a democratic polity, and thus a second force is introduced: the struggle for recognition. In perhaps the most original and controversial part of the book, Fukuyama links the Hegelian notion of “recognition” (Annerkenung) with the Platonic source of honor, thymos—translated alternately as “heart” or “spiritedness.” Described as the “psychological seat” of the human desire for recognition, thymos is the inegalitarian impulse that drives the human person to struggle for recognition of his or her human dignity; writ large, that worldwide individual struggle ironically results in democracy, the only political system in which each person is both accorded recognition by, and is in turn required to recognize the dignity of, fellow citizens.

Yet this very solution contains the seeds of its own dissolution: recognition, by its very essence, requires, on the one hand, inferiors to whom one can compare oneself advantageously; and alternatively, those in a superior position whose esteem is worth seeking. Egalitarian democracy leaves the individual's thymotic desires unsatisfied, akin to “the Last Man” scenario described by Nietzsche in which mankind is left materially contented but spiritually bereft as an equal if mediocre democratic citizen. The “End of History” is by no means to be celebrated in Fukuyama's estimation; in fact, given the inevitability of humanity's continuing search for recognition, the end of History may simply result in a condition of such overarching discontent that human beings will once again struggle—this time against equality itself—thereby jeopardizing the stability of liberal democracy and starting the march of History anew.

Fukuyama's conclusions are certain to provoke an angry response by those on the Left, particularly Marxists, who will be disturbed by the supposed configuration of the economy at the end of History, and liberals who will object to the Nietzschean conclusions that Fukuyama draws from the dynamics of egalitarianism. The vehemence of their response should be indicative of the threat they perceive from Fukuyama's thesis—and justly so. Ultimately, these opposition camps share an uncomfortable similarity with Fukuyama's approach, namely a belief in the progressive course of History. They will object, then, not necessarily with the premises of Fukuyama's analysis, but with its conclusions, rather seeking alternative explanations that will result in a more benevolent future. Such debates should prove amusing: for, if the forces of History must inevitably result in a single tableau, then arguments over its likely appearance should prove quite irrelevant.

Notwithstanding these critics, significant (and consequential) questions should remain for those not wholly satisfied with Fukuyama's thesis, yet sympathetic with some of his criticisms of modern liberal democracy. While at first glance it seems apparent that the two forces of History can be divided into a material explanation (scientific capitalism) and a moral explanation (thymotic democracy), further contemplation should force us to conclude otherwise. In fact, by calling attention to the philosophical origins of the scientific method—namely, in the writings of Francis Bacon and his Renaissance contemporaries—Fukuyama indicates that scientific and capitalistic development was, and to some extent still is, subject to moral considerations. Alternatively, the individual's craving for recognition has been a natural feature of the human psyche, at least since the first chapters of Genesis. The inherent contradiction described by Fukuyama concerning the egalitarian result of humanity's thymos and the individual's subsequent dissatisfaction, suggests no more than the longstanding Judeo-Christian belief that solutions to the cravings of the human soul are not available in wholly secular—including political—terms. Fukuyama, while recognizing the paradox of the individual's desires, nevertheless appears to accept without perturbation Hegel's thesis that Christianity is the culminating “slave-morality” of world history, and that its replacement by liberal democracy has made the individual's inferiority to God unnecessary. Yet, only through “recognition” originating from a higher source can mankind achieve both meaningful equality (as mutual subjects) and recognition (through worship and imitation of the divine). Otherwise—following to its conclusion the argument originally shared by both Hegel and Nietzsche, and acknowledged by Fukuyama—the sole secular source of recognition in a world of liberal democracy is through participation in the glories of warfare. And given the destructive forces that we now wield against one another in this potential struggle for wholly earthly recognition, we may quite literally find ourselves at the end of History, but this time with no one to lament its passing.

Gregory Bruce Smith (essay date 1994)

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SOURCE: “The ‘End of History’ or a Portal to the Future: Does Anything Lie Beyond Late Modernity?,” in After History?: Francis Fukuyama and His Critics, Rowman and Littlefield, 1994, pp. 1-21.

[In the following essay, Smith provides an overview of Fukuyama's “end of history” thesis and examines the sources of its critical controversy. Smith contends that “the End of History debate” is more properly an “End of Modernity debate.”]

This is a significantly enlarged and transformed version of an essay that initially appeared in Perspectives on Political Science, Vol. 22, Fall 1993, under the title “Endings, Transitions or Beginnings.”

Rarely does one see so many take so much trouble responding to the arrival of a new book—and what for many was a new idea—as with the release of Francis Fukuyama's The End of History and the Last Man, especially in light of the almost universally critical, occasionally hyperbolic, nature of the responses. This was perhaps predictable in light of the controversy generated earlier by the article that launched the book. But prediction and explanation are two different things, and an explanation is harder to come by. However, I think they clearly protest too much.

If Fukuyama's argument impacted only one side of the contemporary political spectrum to the exclusion of the other, an easy explanation might present itself. Needless to say, liberal progressives were not intrigued by having the idea of History co-opted only to be told that liberal individualism and free markets represent its terminus.1 And conservatives were less than thrilled to be told that the victory of the liberal West in the cold war might eventuate in the moral decay and spiritual hollowness of the Nietzschean last man. Since the negative responses cut across the political spectrum, it is reasonable to suppose that there may be more here than meets the eye; Fukuyama has apparently struck a nerve. I believe that there are several explanations of this phenomenon and that they tell us something of importance about our contemporary moral, intellectual, and political environment.


On one level the End of History debate points to the frequent parochialism of the American academy. Similar debates, with far less fanfare, had already been conducted in France, Canada, and elsewhere. For American academics, one part of the scandal was that this debate traced its roots to a German philosopher and one of his left bank Parisian commentators.2 The continental roots of an argument are indictment enough in some circles. But the heat generated by the present debate, even in theaters where it had already played, indicates there is far more to the matter than American parochialism. Needless to say, playing out the End of History debate at the end of the cold war was significant. The liberal West could no longer define itself simply as the demonstrably superior of two available options. The liberal West now has to look at itself in the mirror and define itself in relation to intrinsic, substantive goals and ideals—that is, articulate what we are for rather than take our bearings by what we are against. Therein lies one of the significant problems; neither the right nor the left seem well equipped at present to join that discussion.3

The End of History debate also came at a time of declining faith that History could be understood as linear and one-directional.4 For a long time it has simply been assumed that the present is in principle superior to the past merely by having come later. That premise had worked its way out until it seemed like sound common sense for a series of generations.5 But the commonsense belief in linear history is by no means obvious when one looks at the actual grist of history. Empirically, the past presents a spectacle of random occurrences. The faith that history has a meaning and direction requires a theoretical critique; it does not rest on empirical evidence. A theoretical frame must be brought to the empirical data from outside. It is precisely the status and origin of such frames—especially in the late modern world—that is at issue.

As I will argue throughout this essay, the fundamental issue with which we are confronted in the End of History debate is theoretical, not empirical. But after Hegel and Marx it has become increasingly difficult to accept the theoretical premises that underpin the notion of linear history. Nonetheless, political and moral life in the modern world has increasingly been driven by ideas. Many of those ideas lost theoretical credibility in previous generations; yet political and moral life continues to be driven by them. The premises that underlie our actions can remain suppressed for some time, but not indefinitely. When they are eventually brought to the light and seen as questionable a complicated situation arises. We live in one of those complicated times.

On the basis of a past theoretical faith in the linear, unidirectional movement of history, it was possible simply to begin from the prejudice that the past is a chronicle of ignorance and vice. To that could be added the gratifying notion that the present generation starts on a moral and political promontory simply by coming later. By extension, it was possible to adopt the conclusion that the future should in principle be superior to the present with or without reactualizing necessary antecedent virtues and circumstances that made the present what it is. If we lose our faith in linear history, our easy-going faith in all manner of commonsense opinions will be unhinged as well.6 This is where we had arrived prior to the End of History debate, without having publicly admitted it. “We” expected further progress, perhaps indefinitely, and Fukuyama suggested that we had more or less arrived at a terminus. Without History to support our aspirations we would have to defend our idea of the good far more explicitly. But at present, no one is in a particularly strong position to do so.7

An adequate rejoinder to the End of History thesis would require that one furnish a substantive discussion of the good that the future should, rather than inevitably will—or at present does—offer, along with the ways in which it is plausible to believe that it can be actualized. If History does not somehow underpin the movement toward the good, substantive argument or capitulation to the status quo is all that is left. No self-respecting progressive can ever publicly accept the status quo and most are loathe to turn to nature to underpin their arguments because the left generally does not like to admit that intransigent matter, human or otherwise, might limit its utopian agendas. The left prefers instead to believe in the relative indeterminacy and malleability of human beings, as well as material reality, at the hands of clever social manipulation, education and technological mastery.

But without a fixed nature that presupposes its own end or perfection, or an inevitable history that moves only in the desired direction, one is in a very awkward position in trying to justify one's idea of the good. The left is not alone in this predicament. Most conservatives sneak in a linear conception of history along with their various “invisible hands.” Invisible hands have the effect of making it equally unnecessary to discuss substantive ends and explicitly justify them. Likewise, one need not consciously foster the political prudence and moral virtue that are the only alternatives to faith in mythical inevitability.8 Fukuyama's thesis put many in the position of the emperor with no clothes. Being forced by Fukuyama to confront their substantive nakedness was not met with gratitude by either the left or the right.

That said, it was liberal progressives who were most discomfited. Theoretically, many had backed themselves into a corner by arguing for several generations that liberalism does not rest on a substantive teaching or point to distinctive liberal virtues.9 According to this argument, liberalism is neutral as regards ways of life and substantive ends. It is fundamentally a set of procedural norms open to a diversity of ends. This fashionable “antifoundationalism” is frequently secured by elements drawn from even more fashionable postmodernism in a way that yields an entirely jury-rigged contraption.10 However secured, this view represents the cul-de-sac that most on the present-day left have decided to colonize. Hence being forced either to accept the End of History or to be nudged into a substantive debate was particularly annoying in these circles.

Granted, arguing that history ends precisely where many neo-conservatives would wish it to end—in modern, commercial individualism—had the look of a “reactionary” maneuver. For many it was difficult to respond other than with outrage to the notion that history would not continue to progress even further in what had been assumed to be not only the desired but also the inevitable direction. The central point is this—and it is precisely the point Hegel made—one cannot know that history is linear and progressive except in light of the end toward which it moves. One cannot know of or about the end unless is has been, or soon will be, actualized. Without an End of History thesis the idea of a progressive linear history cannot stand.11 It is impossible to conceptualize History progressing indefinitely. More to the point, if one rejects the End of History thesis, the only alternative is to show that we can somehow stand outside the flux of temporality at some fixed point. Only by standing at that atemporal point could we then presume to measure temporal movement. That atemporal standpoint is what is traditionally meant by the concept nature. Without being willing to openly accept the End of History, and refusing to accept nature, antifoundationalists are in a difficult position. The only consistent move they have left is to valorize “our own” as the good—and since at least Aristophanes, that has been the most traditional and conservative of maneuvers.12


While most on the left proceed from the assumption of the malleability and indeterminacy of man, Fukuyama has also been attacked by many, from both the right and the left, for not realizing that human nature does not change. History, they argue, cannot end because human nature will never allow itself to be satisfied by any substantive outcome, even prosperous liberal democracy. But that argument substantially begs the question. First, even such seeming absolutists on this question as Aristotle make clear that our nature requires completion by education and habit—that is, cultural variables—and those are obviously not static. It begs the question further by failing to mention that modern philosophical fellow travelers from John Locke and Jean-Jacques Rousseau to Robert Nozick and John Rawls have told us we must quit the natural condition because the good for man exists only within an artificially constructed human arena. Debate in the modern era has focused explicitly on the relation between nature and the good and by and large has concluded that the human good requires quitting the natural condition. To simply assert nature as if it operated qua efficient causality in human affairs as it does for beavers, bees, ants, and other social species does not hit the mark. The fact that there is a natural fabric to human existence does not immediately prove that it conduces to the good. The substantive question of the human good still has to be addressed even if we mechanically invoke nature.

Another variety of responses to the End of History thesis which invokes something empirically pregiven as an indication that history cannot end focuses on the renaissance of tribalism in Eastern Europe, the former Soviet Union, and elsewhere as clear evidence that secular, Western, liberal, technological commercialism has not been, and will not be, globally victorious. In a similar vein, rising Islamic fundamentalism is put forward as empirical counterevidence to the possibility of the End of History. This approach also begs the question. The modern moral, political, and technological juggernaut has confronted revealed religion before and an accommodation has been reached—and without the total secularization of religion. Someone would have to explain why Islam, which shares sacred texts and multiple principles with Judaism and Christianity, so differs that accommodation will be impossible. Is not political marginality far more accountable for the frustration that presently finds vent in Islamic fundamentalism, for example, than simple moral outrage at the Western understanding of justice and the good? If that is the primary ground of frustration, there is no reason why accommodation is not possible. Otherwise, it would be necessary to explain why, even if a radical choice for or against Islam develops, the realities of the modern world would not force a decision for modern technological civilization.

As regards the hegemony of parochialism, ethnic tribalism, and nationalism, what leads us to believe that present manifestations of tribalism will have greater staying power in their Russian, Eastern European, and Asian manifestations than they did in Western Europe? Has not the former Soviet experience demonstrated that one cannot ultimately retain any national autonomy in the modern world without at least free markets, and probably liberal freedoms as well? And even if we anticipate a relative withering away of the modern nation-state, and the movement toward a more homogeneous, cosmopolitan, global civilization, there would predictably still be states competing to maintain their place in the cosmopolitan market. Kant's vision of a cosmopolitan federation of states is probably more plausible than any simple world state. Further, the tribal traditions to which our contemporaries turn in desperation represent a response to present difficult circumstances and resultant apprehensions. But such traditions emerged under entirely different concrete circumstances than those of increasingly global, modern technological civilization. As modernity consolidates, the future world will become increasingly foreign to the traditional world of the past. What leads us to believe that ancient traditions have any chance of maintaining themselves in a radically transformed environment?

Any tradition is born of an attempt to explain reality and support a shared conception of the good. It must be consistent with its concrete present, at least to some significant degree. The real question is, is not the modern world intrinsically at odds with the generation of stable customs and habits and hence with living additions to traditions generated in the past? If so, old traditions will become increasingly stale and out of touch. Why will the attempt to hold on to old traditions not become more and more of a parody with each passing generation? The mere fact that something is old does not make it good. It must also be reasonable. But will reason be able to substitute something in the place of decaying traditions? This latter question is another way of asking, will universal Enlightenment ever be able to take the place of a shared ethos in giving solidity to our lives?13

There is no doubt that we have habits in the modern, Western world. But our habits are ones that accommodate us to constant change.14 There has never been a greater mechanism for constant change than free markets, conjoined with modern technology. This is especially true when they are likewise conjoined with an increasingly global mass media supported by ever expanding information technologies. What could plausibly bring this mechanism to a grinding halt? Is this not a steamroller that will crush everything that tries to congeal in its path, along with any remnants of past traditions? Put another way, is it possible for new traditions to form in this whirlwind?

Needless to say, near-term political and economic collapse in the former Soviet Union and elsewhere is a very real possibility, but how would it do anything but postpone the eventual march of modernity? Will Russia or its former satellites in Eastern Europe continue to turn to old traditions when they have become more successful at being modern, as seems a likely outcome sooner or later? To presume to prove empirically that History cannot end because of present manifestations of tribalism, fundamentalist religion, or any other “facts,” one would have to give persuasive answers to these questions and many more, not simply make empirical assertions. The real issue is, what sovereign theoretical understanding leads us to believe in the imperviousness of present empirical givens in the undeveloped world, in an age of cascading global technological homogenization? Have we not created a world that will inevitably destroy old traditions without providing the circumstances for the generation of new ones? Are there any rational principles that can plausibly be thought to replace the shared ethoi that bind classes and generations together? If there were such rational principles, has our experience in the modern world heightened or destroyed our faith in universal Enlightenment?

If we have created a world of constant, monotonous change, history could end with ongoing, monotonous agitation. We would not have proved that history was some inevitable process. But we might be forced to conclude that our unique present obliterates past possibilities and simultaneously makes unique future possibilities unlikely.15After a certain point humanity could very well arrive at a moment of irreversibility. The End of History need not require Hegelian inevitability. If we arrive at a moment of irreversibility, and movement forward seems implausible, we may at the very least have arrived at an extended hiatus of history. The question is, is there some nexus of variables that makes liberal, commercial, technological civilization both plausible as a global outcome and difficult, if not unlikely, to transcend—at least for a very considerable period of time? And if transcended, would our movement be in the direction of “down” or “back”? That too would prove the End of History thesis; all novel possibilities have already been seen, while repetitions of past moments are still possible.16 If one is opposed to the possibility of historical novelty—opposed to the possibility of the generation of novel ideals and ends not yet longed for—then one should accept the End of History.17 Either there is the possibility of historical novelty or we have seen all possibilities in morality, religion, poetry, art, and politics played out at least once already.


It could be argued that even if human nature, understood primarily qua efficient causality, is not simply operative, human imagination and creativity are indomitable. Here we arrive at an argument that is in its own way Hegelian; it rests on the premise that genuine, concrete historical change is preceded by the generation of novel ideas. When we generate new aspirations, goals, and ideals we act differently and that eventually has concrete consequences in the world we share. But this approach also begs the question. The Hegelian point is that ideas and ideals sequence themselves in a way that leads from less comprehensive and more contradictory ideas to the most comprehensive and least contradictory ones, at which point the process of fundamental change stops because idea-novelty stops. When idea-novelty stops, and the latest ideas have been actualized in concrete institutions, history ends. Again, the only compelling empirical proof that this position is wrong would require the production of a novel ideal.18 There simply is no evidence that has occurred since Hegel.

There have been post-Hegelian thinkers who have operated on a very high philosophical level—I have in mind especially Nietzsche and Heidegger—but they are fundamentally negative or merely hopeful. The central question is, what ideal is possible beyond a world devoted to universal equality (hence the pursuit of equal dignity and recognition), prosperity for all individuals, a secure, long, fear-free life, etc.? That ideal may not be fully-manifested in present concrete reality, but what ideal could conceivably replace it that would win substantial acceptance? If no such ideal is imaginable, history could be at an end. If no novel ideals are possible, our only alternative—other than to continue to globally actualize the reigning ideal—is to engage in sorties through past ideas and forms in acts of remembrance. Or we could try to patch old ideals and forms together into novel pastiches (i.e., practice the ironic eclecticism of postmodernism). The possibility of idea and ideal completion or exhaustion points in the direction of another fairly recent “end of” thesis—the end of political philosophy. There has surely been revived interest in the history of political philosophy in recent years, and political theory abounds—that is, working out the ramifications of already manifest ideals—but where is the evidence of a novel speculative political philosophy? Much of fashionable postmodernism seems devoted to proving both the impossibility and the undesirability of efforts to generate such political philosophies. What is at stake is the possibility of the generation of novel speculative political philosophies.

The proof that speculative political philosophy remains a possibility is an empirical one. But anyone trying to produce a truly novel speculative ideal will immediately see the difficulty. Again, precisely what is it one would wish for that we do not already have in theory? And is there an interesting, nonatavistic faction in the world that wishes something other than a long, comfortable life, self-interested and self-sufficient, devoted primarily to an industrious acquisitiveness, freedom from pain and fear of violent death, with secularized institutions, great latitude of moral belief, and so on? Where is the longing that lies beyond that modern dream? And even if there are a few who have such a longing—and they would need someone to articulate it in a theoretically serious fashion—what is the likelihood of it gaining public manifestation rather than remaining a shared private fantasy?19 Is not the modern, bourgeois longing precisely what the majority of human beings desire everywhere and always? Other ideals are those of the few. What chance do the ideals of the few have of gaining ascendancy in an increasingly homogeneous, egalitarian age?

The two greatest philosophers of the post-Hegelian era, Nietzsche and Heidegger, give us no specific political philosophies, and Heidegger's thought, like much of contemporary philosophy, moves further and further away from concrete discussions.20 Nietzsche, conceding Hegel's point, brings his thought to a culmination in willing the eternal recurrence of the same; in other words, Nietzsche simply wills a rerunning of history, not a novel moment. Heidegger, again conceding an Hegelian point, argues that at least an extended historical hiatus has arrived. He waits for a new god or a new dispensation of Being, neither of which, he admits, may come for a long time if at all. The record to date should not occasion great optimism about the early arrival of a genuinely postmodern idea of justice and the good. Hence the End of History thesis is not as simple to dismiss as many on both the right and the left would lead us to believe. Simply to confront it would require that a different set of questions be addressed than those that have occupied most of Fukuyama's respondents.

It is certainly true that we have been witnessing the theoretical disintegration of faith in the principles that provide the foundation for the modern civilization that seems to be consolidating its gains globally.21 But that fact only proves the ironic nature of our situation, not that counter-ideals exist. And when we are repeatedly told that modern liberal principles do not ground moral meaning, while allowing that meaning to intrude from a variety of traditional sources, we again see the irony of our situation. Will past traditions and norms become extinct and new ones become impossible, leaving global modern liberalism spiritually hollow—albeit materially comfortable and perhaps thereby acceptable to the majority?

Needless to say, the irony of our situation has caused more than a little shared inarticulate anxiety. The energetic responses Fukuyama has aroused are related to this pool of anxiety. But anxiety does not prove the possibility of a counter-ideal either. We should recall that the End of History thesis is just one of a series of parallel theses that we have witnessed as the twentieth century has unfolded. We could begin by pointing to the earlier twentieth-century preoccupations with the end or decline of the West, add to that the far more academic discussions of the end of ideology or the end of political philosophy and make ourselves fashionably current by pointing to the various discussions of postmodernism that will undoubtedly preoccupy us into the twenty-first century. Add to these, terms like postindustrial society, poststructuralism, the end of man, the decline of logo-centrism, and like phrases that are all too familiar and one would have an odd mélange that seemingly shares only one idea: there is a more or less inarticulate sense that something out of the ordinary is occurring around us.

Beyond that vague sense, it remains unclear whether that which is occurring points toward a long period of stasis, a relatively quick transition to something novel, or the early stages of a novel future already deploying itself. Ambiguity always leads to uneasiness. Only a few, rare intellectuals could revel in irony and ambiguity as a way of life. Hence, anyone who revivifies an inarticulate uneasiness will run the risk of the kinds of responses Fukuyama received. But none of this proves the possibility of a novel postmodern ideal.


Many of Fukuyama's critics have been generous enough to recognize that his book-length treatment adds depth and subtlety to the initial articulation of his thesis. The price one pays for subtlety is frequently the introduction of new ambiguities. In the latest account, Fukuyama offers several different engines that move the dialectic of history. There is the dialectic of modern science and technology, which overlaps with and informs a dialectic of capitalist market economies. Something similar to the Heideggerian analysis of the inevitable and unidirectional march of modern technology seems to take hegemony in this part of the account—albeit in modern fashion, technology is seen by Fukuyama as primarily emancipatory rather than alienating. There is also the spiritual or psychological dialectic of recognition, which is given two by no means identical articulations, one in consciousness—and here we come in contact with its modern Hegelian manifestation—and one in the instinctive love of honor—here we are confronted with Plato's discussion of thymos.22 The spiritual dialectic leads Fukuyama to a reflection on the banality of bourgeois culture—shared substantially by authors from Tocqueville to Nietzsche, Reisman, and many others. This part of the argument is in tension with the fundamentally optimistic faith in the emancipatory goodness of technology and markets. Many of the ambiguities of Fukuyama's account come from a failure to differentiate these different engines of history, or to explain how they might converge.

Fukuyama's technological engine of history moves unavoidably in the direction of a global economy in which nation-states play a diminished role in the face of large-scale global, multinational institutions. This effect is magnified by the existence of the mass media, which increasingly give everyone access to the same culturally homogenizing influences. In this fashion Western influences consolidate their hold globally. No nation can afford not to modernize or it will lose any chance for even minimal national autonomy, whether conceived in tribal terms or in some other fashion. Despite the growing global tribalism many of his critics glory in reciting, Fukuyama concludes that the parochial—whether conceived ethnically or religiously—is on a more or less gentle and extended slippery slide toward the universal. (Fukuyama clouds the issue somewhat by observing that this outcome may be mitigated in various Asian nations by Confucian traditions. Why that would be true requires further articulation.) Brute nature itself seems to pose the only potential barrier to this outcome, since limited resources might lead to the inevitability of a zero-sum economic game. While it would be imprudent to predict with certainty the near-term outcome of the simultaneous globalization and tribalization which at present confront each other, the globalizing tendencies seem to have the upper hand.

As regards the dialectical movement of consciousness (recognition), Fukuyama openly follows Hegel—passed through the mediating lens of Alexandre Kojève.23 The fundamentally modern turn to consciousness that Kojève resolutely developed,24 shared by many of Fukuyama's critics, is that man is not primarily a fixed, determinate being but a consciousness that changes and evolves and at each stage “outers” itself, achieving thereby various concrete manifestations in different religions, art forms, cultures, constitutions, and eventually the technological transformation of the natural world. Having passed through a multitude of stages and seen the various forms of narrowness of each successive stage, humanity would return to a previous stage only on the basis of forgetfulness rather than choice.

Through an extended period of trial and error, which must be recorded in detail—and our historically conscious age is amazing in its ability to record and preserve—consciousness reaches ever more comprehensive and allegedly less contradictory states. Eventually it arrives at a point with which there is at least relatively high satisfaction on the part of the majority—taking into account the effects of the unavoidable pettiness, envy, and jealousy that would remain—having transformed the external world to correspond with its internal consciousness. In the process of its journey, consciousness not only produces ideas, but acts upon them and concretely actualizes them. In this way consciousness transforms the external world, and any adequate theory of human reality must account for our ability to do this. Eventually the world we occupy bears primarily the stamp of a human creation. Consequently, the dialectic of consciousness should ultimately dovetail with the technological dialectic. Living in a humanized world, human beings allegedly achieve a satisfaction they could not achieve in the natural world. Again, this is the modern premise par excellence, whether we take Hobbes, Locke, Rousseau, Hegel, or whomever as our favorite exemplar.

It is certainly true that Fukuyama adds a potential confusion by trying to synthesize the Hegelian discussion of recognition—a phenomenon primarily of consciousness—and Platonic thymos—primarily a phenomenon of fixed, instinctive being. As a result, Plato and Hegel cease to present us with fundamental alternatives. Further, Fukuyama's psychological dialectic eventually comes up against the empirical fact of significant if not universal alienation from modern, urban, global, technological civilization. That alienation can be accounted for in one of two more or less exclusive ways. Either the ideal that awaits at the end of the evolution of consciousness has not yet been perfectly manifested empirically on a sufficiently global basis, or man is not so much an evolving consciousness as a fixed being with a nature, suppression or sublimation of which within a technological civilization is necessarily alienating or dissatisfying. If the latter, nature could always rebel given the chance (barring the transformation of that nature by modern biological science). History might be irreversible, but it is never simply at an end as long as something deep in our being can repeatedly reassert itself.25 History could be both irreversible and a terminus only if man was primarily a consciousness or if that part of his being which is fixed was irreversibly transformed.26


The central issue raised by the End of History debate has simply not been addressed by Fukuyama's critics: Is Fukuyama's point primarily theoretical or empirical? If both, how are the two related and/or which takes priority? By way of an answer, I would make the following fairly simple observation: To know on a purely theoretical level that history, or anything else, had ended would require us to know how the entirety of the human things—which is the subject matter of History—is integrated into the nonhuman. In other words, we would have to have complete knowledge of the Whole to make definitive statements about how any of the parts, particularly the human, fit into the Whole. We should admit that we will never have perfect knowledge about the Whole; hence we will never have finished knowledge about how the parts are articulated into the Whole. Likewise, we will never have final knowledge about the sense in which any of the parts could reach a terminus beyond which there is no novelty. Consequently, we cannot know with theoretical certainty whether history has or has not reached a terminus. But we can know that empirical evidence is never adequate to dispose of the issue. Where does that leave us?

This points to the fact that we should expect all articulations of the Whole to be partial. One would therefore expect a spectacle of repeated attempts to articulate the Whole, none of them perfectly adequate, with different ones publicly persuasive at different times and with the reasons that account for persuasiveness being somewhat unpredictable. If each attempt gives rise to various interpretations or “disseminations,” with their own distinctive deferred ramifications and unpredictable practical consequences—as is reasonable to predict—one would expect novel ways of living to emerge. If we do not see evidence of that and see instead what looks like snowballing global homogenization, some at least temporary impasse or hiatus can legitimately be thought to have settled in and require explanation.27 That explanation will be theoretical even though it can never be apodictic. Since it is unlikely that we will ever grasp the Whole, or if we did adequately grasp it—through some direct noetic act of apprehension—that we could articulate it comprehensively in some final form of public speech, it is unlikely we will ever arrive at the comparatively prosaic knowledge of the exact relationship between human consciousness or thought and our determinate natural being.28 Hence perfect knowledge of precisely what we are as human is likely to remain a mystery—which is not to say that since we do not know everything, we do not know anything.

Further, as a theoretical matter it is necessary to state precisely what kind of terminus it is at which we are asserting history arrives when we say it ends. Is it the kind of end beyond which there is one or another form of nothingness or indeterminacy, or is it the kind of end that is understood as a perfection? In a significant way, Fukuyama thinks that something literally ceases in the sense that something that was part of the human scene hitherto will not be seen in the future. In another sense, Fukuyama wants to say that a form of perfection is reached, although the message is mixed, since a certain impoverishment is also possible, and the end of the possibility of novel ideas and ideals is posited as well. It would be helpful if Fukuyama could clarify the relationship between end understood teleologically and as terminus beyond which there is one kind of nothingness or another.29 While it is plausible to project a terminus of history qua extended hiatus, it is not theoretically possible to project an end qua perfection given that we are not simply determinate beings moved only by efficient causality. If we were, there would be no History in any interesting sense.

These clarifications to the contrary notwithstanding, it should be admitted that one can “clarify” even a compelling idea out of existence and not thereby attend to what is truly compelling in it. What is it that is truly compelling in the End of History thesis? No empirical evidence exists separate from some theoretical frame, which we all use in our approaches to reality. That said, it should be recognized that it will be difficult to develop—or to mysteriously find ourselves equipped with—a post-Hegelian theoretical frame, here understood as a genuinely postmodern frame. Hence present empirical circumstances may be settling in for a long period. On this level, the End of History thesis can be compelling without being conclusive.

The End of History thesis presents a picture of an increasingly global, egalitarian, commercial, technological civilization emerging, one that at the very least may have great staying power. Yet two issues remain open: (1) Is it good? (2) If not, what is implied in the possibility of transcending it? Having arrived at those two questions, I would argue that the End of History debate would be better posed as an End of Modernity debate in which one seriously reconsiders the modern dream, the arguments in its favor and those against it. Such a reconsideration would occasion an explicit discussion of fundamental questions concerning the nature of justice and the human good. It would also require an explicit reflection on the place of the human within the larger Whole, knowing in advance that we cannot arrive at a definitive conclusion as a result of those reflections. Reflections of this kind are necessary and ones which an increasingly technological and utilitarian civilization has tried to bury in the dustbin of History—while implicitly presupposing distinct answers.

I would argue that we should engage in a fundamental questioning of modernity not with an eye to premodernity as an alternative to the possibility of a late modern hiatus of History, but with an eye to the possibility of the genuinely postmodern.30 As long as a fundamental, essential kind of thinking of this sort remains possible and can find some public manifestation in the concrete world—in other words, as long as thinking does not choose, nor is forced, to retreat to some epicurean garden—History cannot end in any strong sense.31 But if such essential reflection ceases to have a public echo we would have no right to glibly dismiss the End of History thesis. The End of History thesis points toward the need for—and reflections on the possibility of—speculative political philosophy. If it remains possible, all horizons are still open.


  1. What progress means cannot be explained without some notion of History. In other words, progressives always presuppose some “metanarrative” about the course of human events, and that metanarrative rests on a theoretical picture of history as linear and one-directional.

  2. The operative texts are G. W. F. Hegel, Phenomenology of Spirit, trans. A. V. Miller (New York: Oxford University Press, 1977), and Alexandre Kojève, Introduction to the Reading of Hegel, trans. James H. Nichols Jr. (New York: Basic Books, 1969).

  3. The End of History debate also comes at a time when there is increasing suspicion about the meaningfulness of traditional left-right or progressive-conservative dichotomies. Progressives frequently label everything that differs from their view as “reactionary,” usually on the basis of a hidden End of History premise. They know they represent the cutting edge of history, hence only movement in the same direction they desire is legitimate. Anything that differs from the direction in which they wish to move must be a form of going back because there is nothing beyond their position that could come in the future. In this way the progressives become the defenders of the status quo. It is the conservatives who want change—either back or in some unclearly specified direction. The role reversals of progressives and conservatives may indicate the approaching end of the line for such distinctions. Terms that emerged as part of the fight for and against throne and altar, even when revamped for use in the confrontation between Marxist collectivism and liberal capitalism, will not retain their force indefinitely.

  4. This can be seen clearly in the work of Nietzsche. However, history still retained a somewhat predictable circularity or repeatability for Nietzsche. It was Martin Heidegger who, in radically attacking the premises that support the Enlightenment faith in progress, opened the door to the historically random and mysterious. Heidegger presents an account of the Whole (Being) dominated by various fated historical dispensations that are altogether unpredictable. In its comings and goings, presencings and absencings, Being is simply beyond human comprehension; consequently so is history. French epigones such as Michel Foucault and Jacques Derrida build on these Heideggerian premises to the same end. Man can no longer predict and control existence as the modern thinkers had hoped. Fellow Frenchman Jean-François Lyotard codifies these efforts and announces the end of the age of “metanarratives.” See, especially, Jacques Derrida, Writing and Difference (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1978); Michel Foucault, The Order of Things (New York: Vintage Books, 1973); and Jean-François Lyotard, The Post-Modern Condition (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1984).

  5. What we call “common sense” is never something autonomous that we can use as a yardstick to measure theoretical frameworks. Today's common sense is the diluted, deferred ramification of a theory from the past.

  6. Obviously, progress in limited individual areas would remain possible; together with simultaneous retrogression in others. But the larger notion of simultaneous, linear progress scientifically, morally, politically, socially, technologically, psychologically, etc., would be lost.

  7. For example, if we think greater egalitarianism is necessary, then it must be defended substantively on the basis of an explicit discussion of such things as the nature of justice and the human good. In such a discussion, all manner of suppressed premises would have to be made explicit. Then we would immediately see the difficulties involved in enjoining the substantive debate.

  8. One can accept the wisdom of unleashing human spontaneity from bureaucratic manipulation without falling prey to a mythic faith in an “invisible hand”—one permutation of which is not that far from Hegel's notion of the “cunning of reason.”

  9. One exception is William Galston's Liberal Purposes: Goods, Virtues and Diversity in the Liberal State (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1992). Fukuyama may still be correct that the kinds of virtues Galston catalogues are an uninspiring ensemble ill-equipped to hold the spiritual attention of the brightest and best, or even the majority.

  10. Elsewhere I have differentiated what I believe could legitimately be called postmodern from postmodernism. The latter is a straightforwardly late-modern phenomenon. See my Between Eternities: Deflections Toward a Postmodern Philosophy (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1994).

  11. The not so subtle irony is that many of those who attacked Fukuyama had been operating upon their own furtive, usually suppressed, End of History theses.

  12. This is precisely what a self-styled “postmodern, bourgeois ironist” like Richard Rorty does. See especially Contingency, irony, solidarity (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1991).

  13. The central issue we confront at this point is one that cannot be adequately dealt with at present: What is the relation between reason, habit, and tradition? The End of History thesis is the ultimate outcome of the Enlightenment faith that reason could replace habit and tradition completely. That was a fantastic hope from the beginning. But through acting upon that faith we have gone a long way toward destroying the habit background that is needed by any functioning society. Reason always requires law and habit as allies.

    Even if reason is sufficient to grasp eternal questions and problems, that does not prove that reason can be immediately manifested in the conventional arrangements needed for everyday life. Indeed, reason can be adequately manifested in more than one set of conventional arrangements—the doctrinaire, modern, absolutist faith to the contrary notwithstanding. That is substantially what Aristotle meant when he asserted that justice is natural even though it changes.

    The relation between philosophic insight and the traditions and ethoi that support daily existence is complicated. Unless one retains an unbounded faith in Enlightenment, shared ethoi are needed and must be allowed to evolve slowly over many generations. We cannot simply will traditions even if we could grasp the Whole exhaustively. We always need to find the way to articulate the truth for our time and place. How that could be accomplished in our time of unprecedented simultaneous changeability and creeping homogeneity remains the open question.

    Even if we concluded that Plato, Aristotle, Aquinas, or whomever had grasped the truth, it still has to be articulated publicly and manifested in laws, customs, and habits. And the truth must be presented in ever renewed poetic articulations. Where are the poetic articulations, habits, and traditions for our time—the time at the end of the persuasiveness and plausibility of many modern beliefs and premises?

  14. Consider in this regard, Alexis de Tocqueville, “How the Aspect of Society in the United States is at Once Agitated and Monotonous,” Democracy in America, trans. George Lawrence (New York: Doubleday, 1969), pp. 614-16.

  15. Of course, we can always believe in—or will—some version of the eternal recurrence. Even then we would be forced to explain what circumstance might return us to the beginnings. For us, the possibility of such a “return” probably would imply an apocalypse no sane person would wish for. But this would still not disprove the End of History thesis which claims only the impossibility of future novelty, not the impossibility of retrogression.

  16. The collapse of Western (a.k.a. American) liberalism would in and of itself prove nothing. Likewise, natural catastrophes that reduce us to a more barbaric situation would prove nothing. The question would be, did we move to a novel set of historical possibilities, or “back” to ones that had already been lived? Having been pushed back to such a prior state, would we long for something novel in the future or would we then strive to get back to where we had already been? Everything comes back to the question, is there something novel—beyond late modernity—to long for? If not, the End of History thesis is plausible. The only point at which empirical evidence would be interesting is the empirical production of a novel ideal. We have seen none since Hegel.

  17. If one accepts the argument that human nature is fixed and that there are a finite number of fundamental questions and human longings capable of playing themselves out, at some point history should have played out its finite possibilities. At that point only repetition or stagnation are possible.

  18. It is no good saying that changes in material circumstances precede all changes in ideas, for one must still conceptualize, using ideas, what that change is/was. Worrying about the relation between ideas and material circumstances, one quickly gets drawn into an unsolvable chicken-egg conundrum. Rather than be drawn into this useless discussion we should bring ourselves back to more manageable observations, such as the observation that ideas have concrete consequences and no ideas are formed in a vacuum. We should add to this the understanding that truly novel ideas are rare.

  19. The same response can be made to those who say that “philosophy” represents a satisfactory response to present dissatisfaction with the moral and political contours of the late modern world. “Philosophy” is hardly an alternative for any but a few—to believe otherwise is Enlightenment at its silliest. Further, if philosophy exists only in some Epicurean garden, of what public interest is it? We may grant that philosophy should not be turned into a public weapon as it has in the modern world, but as an entirely private affair of the few it would be publicly irrelevant and hence irrelevant to the present discussion. Were the privatization of philosophy to occur, we would have the Nietzschean picture of free-spirited over-men tripping quietly across the anthills that pass for civilization—what Nietzsche also termed the timeless “tombs of death.” A deeper response would go to the nature of philosophy itself. Must not philosophy, in Socratic fashion, remain in the cave, and begin from speeches in the political community? If so, the Epicurean alternative is destructive for philosophy itself. Once we recognize the need to speak, we recognize simultaneously the need to be persuasive. Then we are led back to the issues we have been discussing—what novel ideal can be persuasively argued for at present—surely not the universalization of philosophy?

  20. This is not to say that in unhinging old presuppositions Heidegger's thought may not eventually have concrete, deferred ramifications. See in this regard my Between Eternities, especially Part 3, “Heidegger's Critique of Modernity and the Postmodern Future.”

  21. It is not at all easy to explain what accounts for the disintegration of faith in a moral or political dispensation—unless, of course, one turns to Hegelian premises. It is far too easy to say that it is because the old dispensation came to be seen as false. Does that mean that the reason for its initial persuasiveness was precisely its falsity? It seems to me that a dead end lurks in that direction. It is unlikely that reason is ever fully adequate to “prove” or “disprove” the persuasiveness of a political and moral dispensation. To claim that it is gets us in the awkward position of arguing that the “irrationalists” had, at one time, the stronger “reasons.” And once again, even if we are capable of a noetic apprehension of the truth, it must still be put into speech, and unless you are Hegel, there is more than one way to do that. There is no reason to believe that what some of us might see as a compelling articulation of the truth will be publicly more persuasive than what some of us perceive to be false.

  22. The idea that our fundamental humanity is to be found in our ego or consciousness rather than in our instinctive materiality is one of the central modern premises from Descartes to Hegel. It was not a premise shared by, for example, Plato. By the time this modern idea had worked its way out to Kant and Hegel, our fundamental humanity was to be found not only in consciousness, but in conscious opposition to or negation of our instinctive materiality. This consciousness/instinct dichotomy is a distinctively modern invention.

  23. Many critics of the End of History thesis have dismissed Kojève as a quaint and curious volume of increasingly forgotten lore. But the customary basis for those rejections is far from weighty—usually boiling down to the observation, correct if banal, that Anglo-American academics have paid him almost no attention. But Kojève is one of those rare individuals who truly deserve to be called thinkers. He knew how to take a theoretical premise, isolate its key concepts, and follow them resolutely to wherever they might lead, regardless of personal rooting interests. That kind of philosophical honesty is rare. It does not prove that Kojève is correct, but it does prove he deserves respect. By the same token, that most Hegel scholars dismiss Kojève's reading of Hegel does not prove that he is wrong. It is rare to find scholars who are honest brokers. One cannot fail to see the extent to which Hegelian scholarship gives us a liberal, socialist, conservative, or simply boring Hegel.

  24. This could also, to use a term coined by Rousseau, be designated our “metaphysical freedom.” This is the premise of late modernity—shared by Rousseau, Kant, Hegel, Marx, existentialism, critical theory, etc. This is the idea upon which late modernity must make its stand. See in this regard my Between Eternities, Part One, “The Essence of Modernity.” According to this understanding, our metaphysical freedom is based on the fact that we are unlike all other species in that we are instinctively underdetermined. This allows us to determine ourselves, to a greater or lesser extent and more or less consciously, depending on the author. Unfortunately, the competition to determine man becomes increasingly hypothetical, abstract, and artificial, at which point one senses that this line of argument has more or less reached its terminus. For an Anglo-American example of this artificiality consider John Rawls, A Theory of Justice (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1971) and his “Original Position.”

  25. For reasons I will indicate shortly, I don't believe we should become overly delighted with the premise that human nature can always reassert itself. We live in a time when the mentality of limitlessness has taken hegemony. We are simultaneously equipped with techniques that allow us to assault natural limits—e.g., genetic engineering—and the desire to transcend all natural limits. Even if we could articulate what is fixed in our humanity, we are in a position to eradicate it. Hence the central question is one of ideas: should we or should we not continue further on the path to overcoming natural limits? We are then led right back into the kinds of issues we have been considering.

  26. In my opinion, we are not confronted here by an either/or situation: The relationship between evolving consciousness and determinate materiality is complex. Fukuyama needs to work out more explicitly how the two are related. Perhaps he will return to this issue in the forthcoming sequel. The End of History debate confronts us with a version of the traditional nature/convention distinction. Is man primarily shaped by education, environment, culture, etc., or is he a genetically fixed and determinate being? This is in turn a version of what I would argue is an unsolvable chicken-egg problem of whether ideas cause changes in material reality or whether material changes prefigure changes in ideas. I believe it is best to conclude that the relationship is complex and that an either/or answer is not available. We have a fixed being that must be completed by habit—i.e., in a variety of different ways, albeit not an infinite variety. Our changing ideas have a significant influence on how that is accomplished.

    Even here we are not confronted with a fundamentally empirical issue. Every modern “science” that presumes to speak about reality presupposes theories prior to the act of approaching empirical data; it would be naive to think that those theories were morally and politically neutral. To try to deduce anything from scientific “facts” is simply to dig up what was presupposed from the very beginning. No science is morally, politically, or metaphysically neutral. We should dismiss the contrary early modern faith as a myth. Given that modern science cannot mediate the nature/convention issue, it is probably the case that we will never get beyond the conclusion that the relationship between evolving consciousness and determinate materiality is complex. Put another way, we will never get around the need to do speculative political philosophy.

  27. As mentioned above, even if we find dissatisfaction by a few—or any minority—with the present world and the prevalent articulation of the Whole, justice and the good, it need not be interesting if global satisfaction by the majority remains. Because we live in a mass democratic age it would be unclear what ideas could come along to delegitimize the hegemony of the tastes, perceptions, and desires of the majority. Who thinks there is a plausible basis for a newly legitimate aristocracy, and from what direction might we expect its approach? Therein one may see one of the more compelling reasons why an extended hiatus of history is plausible.

  28. This means we will never put to rest the fundamental nature/convention question and should be cautioned not to accept any simple invocation of either side of the equation.

  29. For an important reflection on this subject see Joseph Cropsey, “The End of History in an Open-Ended Age?” in If History Is Not Over, Then Where Is It Going? Reflections on Progress and Democracy, eds. Arthur Melzer, Jerry Weinberger, and Richard Zinnman (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1994).

  30. I have undertaken such a discussion in Between Eternities.

  31. In other words, philosophy must always remain primarily dialectical political philosophy, for its own sake as well as that of the rest of the world. The retreat to some garden of shared noetic apprehension—which always raises the question of whether or not one is engaged in some subjective fantasy—points toward an ultimate alogon, “blindness.” Here we should recall the Socratic metaphor of trying to grasp Being directly as an inevitably blinding staring at the sun. Religion always runs the same risk of blindness as any simply noetic philosophy. Our noetic visions, whether based on grace or otherwise, must be brought to speech. Even faith in the words of the prophets raises the question of how to tell true from false prophets. All of our endeavors require dialectical speech. There is no way to transcend the dialogue which is intrinsic to being human. As dialectical, philosophy must be of and part of its shared world, and that ultimately means it must engage in shared public speech.

Barry Gewen (review date 5-19 June 1995)

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Last Updated on June 7, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1996

SOURCE: “Contradicted by the Facts,” in The New Leader, June 5-19, 1995, pp. 5-7.

[In the following review, Gewen offers unfavorable evaluation of Trust.]

Not since Ray Bolger went dancing down that yellow brick road has there been a more popular straw man than Francis Fukuyama. In a sense, it's his own fault: By titling his provocative 1989 article “The End of History?” and then repeating the phrase in his 1992 book, The End of History and the Last Man, Fukuyama gave every lazy editorialist and Op-Ed writer in America the chance to pontificate about how wars and other disasters were going to continue to plague humanity despite the collapse of the Soviet Union. “Contrary to Francis Fukuyama, history has not come to an end,” the pieces usually began, before going on to talk about Bosnia or Rwanda or whatever, and though they made Fukuyama famous, they probably left those people who had not bothered to read him with the impression that he was a complete idiot.

In fact, he is a highly intelligent and erudite man who, in his article and book, was attempting to extract some philosophical implications from the West's victory over the Soviet Union. Liberal democracy, he said, had proved superior to every competing ideology and was spreading around the world. Atavisms like ethnic nationalism and militant Islam were still possible—and tragic—choices in some regions, but Western principles of liberty and equality represented the highest level of social thought, indeed the “end point of man's intellectual evolution.” Civilization had progressed to the stage where “all of the really big questions had been settled.”

Fukuyama conceded that serious internal problems remained in the democracies. These, he maintained, were due to a failure to implement Western ideas, not to shortcomings in the ideas themselves. Anticipating the criticism that was sure to come, he stressed that his arguments had a worthy pedigree, deriving from Hegel (as well as Hegel's French proselytizer, Alexandre Kojeve). They were certainly open to question, whatever their source, but they deserved more than a thousand flicks of the editorial wrist.

Now, undaunted, Fukuyama is back with Trust: The Social Virtues and the Creation of Prosperity. He is just as wide-ranging, just as abstract and contemplative as before; only this time it is not Hegel he is serving up, it is Max Weber. In his new book Fukuyama takes issue with neoclassical economics, insisting that the rational, calculating, profit-seeking “economic man” beloved by Milton Friedman and his ilk is a distortion of reality, an incomplete picture of why human beings behave the way they do. People do not look simply to maximize utility, he says; they act for a whole host of reasons—many grounded in culture, belief and tradition—that cannot be fit into the economists' models (one of the book's chapters is called “The Spiritualization of Economic Life”).

Perhaps as a concession to the dismal scientists, Fukuyama does try to quantify these reasons, and he comes up with figures of 80 per cent for rational self-interest and 20 per cent for culture and habit. The numbers are silly, but the key insight is not. The author correctly warns that economists and, more important, societies as a whole ignore the nonrational origins of human motivation at their peril.

In particular, Fukuyama argues, successful nations—as measured by their economies—require a significant degree of trust. “Spontaneous sociability is critical to economic life because virtually all economic activity is carried out by groups rather than individuals.” Trust not only enables persons to come together to solve problems, it gives them the flexibility to reorganize themselves to deal with the novel and the unexpected. “People who trust each other and are good at working with one another can adapt easily to new conditions and create appropriate new organizational forms.” Trust also allows societies to form relatively large productive units to take advantage of economies of scale.

Some of the strongest pages of the book detail the economic inefficiencies caused by a lack of trust (and it is no accident that these will sound familiar to most Americans). Crime rises, requiring more investment in police and prisons. Law suits proliferate, making attorneys happy but sending insurance rates through the roof and imposing a tax on consumers. Corruption drains resources. In labor relations, every detail of the work process has to be contractually spelled out because neither side is willing to give the other any breathing space. “There is usually an inverse relationship between rules and trust,” Fukuyama writes. “The more people depend on rules to regulate their interactions, the less they trust each other, and vice versa.” Clearly, it seems, countries with high levels of trust are likely to do better in the global rat race than those with low levels.

The bulk of Trust is taken up with comparisons of different societies, and no one can accuse Fukuyama of not doing his homework. He examines trade unions in the United States and Germany, small business in France and Taiwan, family life in China and Japan. He tells us about samurai ethics, Sicilian sharecroppers, Christianity in South Korea, Frederick Taylor's management theories, and the size of Roger Smith's bonus after he practically drove General Motors off the road in the early 1980s. Mainly, Fukuyama draws distinctions between high-trust nations like Japan and Germany and low-trust ones like China, South Korea, France, and Italy.

Rather surprisingly, he finds that societies with strong family structures tend to develop low levels of trust, “because unrelated people have no basis for trusting one another.” In China, for instance, and in places influenced by Chinese culture such as Singapore, Taiwan and Hong Kong, businesses function successfully at a Mom-and-Pop level, yet they never expand into large-scale enterprises since the owners are unwilling to place responsibility in the hands of managers who are not related to them. A company may survive into a second generation, when the sons take it over, and sometimes into the third generation, but it falls apart after that. Fukuyama notes that one consequence of this “Buddenbrooks phenomenon” is a dearth of recognizable Chinese brand names.

In a trust society like Japan, by contrast, family ties are much weaker and the impulse to reach out beyond next-of-kin much stronger. Voluntary associations in Japan are common, whether in archery or finance, and loyalty to the group is esteemed. Because their culture encourages large bureaucratic units run by professional managers, the Japanese were quick to adopt the corporate form of organization developed in the United States, and to make the most of it. The result has been all of those familiar names—Toyota, Mitsubishi, etc.—that have given American businessmen and a succession of American Presidents fits.

So far, so convincing. But as Fukuyama extends the argument to encompass France, Germany, Italy, South Korea, Taiwan, Hong Kong, and a large part of Latin America, he gets into trouble. South Korea, he tells us, is a low-trust society influenced by Chinese culture. Yet it has huge business organizations that are, if anything, more concentrated than those in Japan. How come? Because, Fukuyama remarks, the government has stepped in to create an economy based on the Japanese model, and it has succeeded splendidly, even if the Koreans don't much care to associate with one another. Untrusting South Korea is booming.

Or take Italy, another low-trust land. Sure enough, families are tight and businesses are small there; and in the south the economy is languishing. In central Italy, however, thousands of family enterprises are busily churning out shoes, machine tools and apparel for a highly competitive international market. Fukuyama observes that a lack of trust limits the size of these firms—none will ever become General Motors—yet why should the prosperous shoemakers of Tuscany care? Small can obviously be better, especially in labor-intensive industries with rapidly fluctuating consumer demand. And when Fukuyama concludes that “smallness of scale is … no more of a constraint on aggregate gross domestic product growth in Italy … than it is in Taiwan or Hong Kong,” a reader begins to wonder just how important trust is anyway.

Matters are not helped when Fukuyama goes on to point out that high-trust nations have their downside. Tolerance and openness do not come naturally to them. “The egalitarianism in communally oriented societies,” he explains, “is often restricted to the homogeneous cultural groups that tend to comprise them and does not extend to other human beings, even if they share their society's dominant cultural beliefs. Moral communities have distinct insiders and outsiders; insiders are treated with a respect and equality that is not extended to outsiders.” Fukuyama reminds his readers—if they need reminding—that high-trust Germany and high-trust Japan became notorious in the past for their treatment of conquered peoples and other “inferiors.” Apparently it is the rule-bound societies, that is to say the low-trust ones, that accept differences among groups and adhere to universal codes of law protecting everyone.

Where does the United States fit in? Is it a high-trust or a low-trust country? According to Fukuyama it is a high-trust society on its way to becoming a low-trust one. There is all that crime, all those law suits. He also cites statistics showing that Americans are not the joiners they once were. The Lions, the Elks, the Masons, the Boy Scouts, and the American Red Cross have all lost members over the last 20 years. Parent-teacher associations have seen their rolls drop from 12 million in 1964 to 7 million today. And individuals apparently feel the difference. In 1960 a survey asking whether “most people” could be trusted elicited a “yes” from 58 per cent of the participants; in 1993 only 37 per cent answered affirmatively.

Fukuyama offers several reasons for this decline, ranging from the community-destroying effects of capitalism to the rise of the welfare state; most of his causes are drawn from the standard neoconservative litany (even if he does have to tap dance around a bit while bemoaning the weakening of the American family). The crucial question is whether any of this is pertinent. It would be nice, of course, to be able to leave our homes unlocked when we go out or to walk through our parks at night, but Fukuyama has been taking economic well-being as his standard, and by that measure the level of trust in American society appears largely irrelevant.

Compared to most other countries, the high-trust ones included, we seem to be doing all right. Fukuyama himself says: “From the perspective of the middle of the last decade of the 20th century, the economic prospects of the United States look very good indeed. … There have been few other periods in recent decades when American economic prospects looked brighter.” Maybe they would look even more promising if we all became Elks and attended our local PTA meetings, but that is an awfully tough case to make.

In the end, a reader of Trust is likely to be somewhat puzzled. Low-trust societies are supposed to produce small enterprises—yet South Korea's are enormous. Low-trust societies, it is implied, do less well than high-trust ones—yet South Korea and central Italy are humming away, and the United States, declining on every sociability graph, is poised to take off once again economically. No doubt if he had wanted to, Fukuyama could have trotted out a few high-trust societies whose cupboards are bare. Britain, perhaps? Ireland? Egypt, maybe? Surely, they are out there. To his credit, he is honest with his evidence, and does not shrink from any of the exceptions or counterexamples to his thesis.

Actually, Fukuyama is so honest that by the final pages of his book he is left practically without any conclusion at all, as if the study he had undertaken to produce had turned out to be contradicted by the facts he accumulated. Limply, he writes: “What we can say is that the impact of cultural differences in the propensity for sociability will have a large, but at the moment indeterminate, impact on economic life.” Max Weber would have done better.

Fareed Zakaria (review date 13 August 1995)

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SOURCE: “Bigger Than the Family, Smaller Than the State,” in New York Times Book Review, August 13, 1995, pp. 1, 25.

[In the following review, Zakaria offers tempered assessment of Trust, which he describes as “a fascinating and frustrating book.”]

In 1989, as Communism teetered on the brink, Francis Fukuyama wrote a now-legendary essay extravagantly titled “The End of History?” In it, he argued that the global movement toward democracy and capitalism had brought to a final conclusion the centuries-old ideological debate over the ideal form of government. Now Mr. Fukuyama has shifted his attention from the state to society; the result is a fascinating and frustrating book, Trust: The Social Virtues and the Creation of Prosperity. We have settled on the structure of the state, he writes, but “liberal political and economic institutions depend on a healthy and dynamic civil society for their vitality.”

In the world of ideas, civil society is hot. It is almost impossible to read an article on foreign or domestic politics without coming across some mention of the concept. And “civil society” has bipartisan appeal; from Hillary Rodham Clinton to Pat Buchanan, politicians of all stripes routinely sing its praises.

At the heart of the concept of civil society lie “intermediate institutions,” private groups that thrive between the realm of the state and the family. Alexis de Tocqueville famously observed during his sojourn in this country that America was teeming with such associations—charities, choral groups, church study groups, book clubs—and that they had a remarkably salutary effect on society, turning selfish individuals into public-spirited citizens.

The renewed interest in civil society first emerged in Eastern Europe after Communism crumbled. Leaders like Vaclav Havel wanted to go beyond establishing new governments and create a culture that could sustain political and economic liberalism. They looked for help to those private groups beyond the reach of the state—citizens' associations, churches, human-rights chapters, jazz clubs—that had nourished dissident life. Around the same time, the victorious Western democracies found themselves confronting sagging economies, a fraying social fabric and the loss of national purpose. Here too, the experts and statesmen agreed, revitalizing civil society would overcome our malaise.

Mr. Fukuyama, a social scientist and former State Department analyst who is now a scholar at the Rand Corporation, pushes Tocqueville's argument a step further. The art of association is good not just for politics, be asserts, but for economics too: association inculcates the habit of working together with ease and therefore increases productivity; it makes rigid rules and complex legal contracts unnecessary. In short, it smooths the frictions of capitalism. Since Tocqueville, we have assumed that Rotary Clubs help democracy; Mr. Fukuyama tells us they help capitalism as well.

The ability to form the kind of groups that will help, Mr. Fukuyama argues, depends on trust. If a society has a culture of trust, and particularly if its members have the capacity to trust people outside their families, it generates “social capital,” which is as useful as financial capital to its economic wellbeing. “Social capital is critical to prosperity and to what has come to be called competitiveness,” he says.

Or that is what he says sometimes. Mr. Fukuyama has almost written two books in one. The first is his argument, interleaved throughout his 457 pages, for the virtue of trust, social capital and intermediate groups. The second, the bulk of the book, contains well-researched case studies of three “high-trust” countries—Germany, Japan and the United States—and three “low-trust” countries, France, Italy and China. In a discussion that is dazzling in its intelligence and complexity, he explains how trust and culture have affected the economic and political life of these six countries. Mr. Fukuyama ranges widely across civilizations and subjects, writing with as much originality and insight about Confucianism as about corporate structure. This very richness and nuance, however, undermines his book's general arguments.

Mr. Fukuyama's central assertion is that the strength of civil society strongly affects the industrial structure of societies. Far from being three distinct forms of capitalism, the American, Japanese and German economies, he says, bear a striking resemblance to one another. All three are dominated by large, private, professionally managed corporations, like the General Electric Company, the Toyota Motor Corporation and Siemens. France, Italy and China, on the other hand, have many small, family-run companies and a few giant, state-owned or subsidized corporations, like Renault and Italy's large banks. Mr. Fukuyama makes a persuasive case that this difference in industrial structure stems from differences in levels of trust within these societies. In France, Italy and China, people appear little able to trust anyone outside their families and form few intermediate organizations. The United States, Japan and Germany, by contrast, are societies of joiners, filled with organizations that bring strangers together in various ways. In a striking example, Mr. Fukuyama recounts how Wang Laboratories, “the one Chinese brand name familiar to many Americans,” collapsed because its founder could not bring himself to trust professional managers and instead handed the company over to his incompetent son.

The correlation between trust and industrial structure is unimpeachable. But does it matter? Mr. Fukuyama admits that large professional corporations are not necessarily better for a country's growth or productivity. (The three fastest-growing industrialized nations in the postwar period have been Japan, France and Italy—one high-trust and two low-trust countries.) In fact, some economists argue that in the post-industrial age, small companies have the flexibility to outwit their larger, lumbering competitors. Small businesses have produced most of the jobs in the industrial world in the last two decades. In the end, Mr. Fukuyama reverts to a best-of-both-worlds prescription: the ideal economy, he says, would have small companies that are linked together, thus gaining both flexibility and size. Yet it is not clear why high-trust societies would be better at creating such arrangements. Indeed, linkages among small firms have already begun flourishing in low-trust Italy and China.

Social capital, then, is not critical to prosperity. Mr. Fukuyama mentions some ways that it might be useful economically, in positioning a country in key technological sectors, maintaining domestic control of arms industries and so on. But in truth, he seems to believe that civil society and social capital are good, not for their economic consequences, but rather for their noneconomic benefits. The “more important consequences,” he writes, “may not be felt in the economy so much as in social and political life.” Civil society breeds sociability, community and citizenship, and bolsters liberal democratic government; in other words, we are back to Tocqueville.

But even Tocqueville may have been wrong, not in his empirical observation that intermediate institutions bolster the American system of government, but in his generalization that such institutions are the key to democracy. Much of the current scholarly interest in intermediate institutions has been based on a study of Italian politics by the distinguished social scientist Robert D. Putnam, who argues that the rich civil society of northern Italy has fostered better government than the group-poor society of southern Italy. The book is brilliant, but its title, “Making Democracy Work,” is utterly misleading. The Italian north has been better run than the Italian south for hundreds of years, during which time the country was, to put it mildly, not always democratic. One might more reasonably conclude from Mr. Putnam's research that social capital makes any regime work, whether monarchical, democratic or fascist. Democratic theorists, in fact, have typically disliked efficient government because it increases the power of the state vis-à-vis society, which is why James Madison consciously designed the Government of the United States to be unwieldy.

Behind much of the new interest in civil society, on the part of communitarians as well as social conservatives, is the idea that culture and society shape the nature of government. Obviously, there is some truth to this. But there is a tradition much older than Tocqueville's, running from Aristotle to Montesquieu, that asserts that fundamentally the state shapes society, not the other way around. Mr. Fukuyama claims that deep (and relatively unchanging) cultural traditions create trust, but his empirical sections suggest that culture is quite malleable. He argues—persuasively—that the growth of an overly centralized, regulatory and legalistic American state in the last 25 years has crowded out our once-flourishing civil society. Similarly, he shows that the reason the French, Italians and Chinese seem unwilling to trust people outside their families in business activities is a simple one. All three countries experienced long periods of centralized, arbitrary and domineering government with little respect for property rights and business contracts.

From East Asia to Africa, states that hit the right balance between order and liberty create successful nations and societies. (Even the Czech Republic will succeed more because of what Vaclav Klaus, the conservative economist who is Prime Minister, does to its state than what Vaclav Havel, the philosopher and playwright who is President, does to its society.) Consider Russia today, whose success or failure surely depends more on getting its political and economic fundamentals right than on the number of soccer leagues that spring up in Moscow. This is because the structure of the state has powerful effects, for good or for ill, but also because not all Russia's private groups will be soccer leagues. The Mafia is, after all, an intermediate institution. The Middle East, to take another example, is currently experiencing a renaissance of intermediate institutions, but the citizens' groups forming there are often intolerant, politically and religiously extreme, and advocate violence and terror. It is difficult to believe that the emergence of more groups like these will lead to genuine democracy there.

We have come to think of civil society as being full of Rotary Clubs, Red Cross chapters and social workers' groups. Such organizations, of course, help bolster liberal democracy. But the space between the realm of government and that of the family can be filled with all kinds of associations, liberal and illiberal. Historians have amply laid out how the Nazi Party made its first inroads through infiltrating local groups. On a less extreme note, many of the small groups that have formed in America over the last two decades have been thoroughly illiberal in spirit: victims' groups that have discouraged individual responsibility, minority clubs that have Balkanized the campus and the workplace, pseudoreligious cults with violent agendas. Will more of these save American democracy?

In the economic realm, some private groups can actually hurt economic growth. Mr. Fukuyama is well aware that historically “medieval producers following the economic doctrines of the Catholic Church,” as well as some unions and small special-interest groups, have created the deadlock and stasis that are inimical to energetic capitalism. Social capital, he says revealingly, “is likely to be helpful from an economic standpoint only if it is used to build wealth-creating economic organizations.” Exactly. We like intermediate institutions when they have good effects and dislike them when they have bad ones. What we want, it would seem, is not civil society, but civics—what the Romans called civitas; that is, public-spiritedness, sacrifice for the community, citizenship, even nobility. But not all of civil society is civic minded.

In a thoughtful essay at the beginning of this year, Mr. Putnam argued that America's social capital is dwindling dangerously, membership in Rotary Clubs, P.T.A.'s and the Boy Scouts is dropping. As a symbol of the problem, he noted that while more Americans are bowling, fewer are bowling in leagues and groups. With its haunting title, “Bowling Alone,” the piece won applause across the spectrum, from George Will to President Bill Clinton.

Less noticed was a report in The New York Times four months later on Timothy J. McVeigh, the accused bomber of the Federal Building in Oklahoma City. It turns out that Mr. McVeigh and his buddies, Terry and James Nichols, would go to a bowling alley some evenings. The group seemed to perform all the functions of a good intermediate institution, creating a sense of community, fostering comradeship and facilitating the planning of group projects. But perhaps we would all have been better off if Mr. McVeigh had gone bowling alone.

Philip Green (review date 25 September 1995)

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SOURCE: “History: To Be Continued,” in The Nation, September 25, 1995, pp. 318-22.

[In the following review, Green offers an unfavorable evaluation of Trust.]

How is it that some people become famous while others do not? Of course, it smacks of sour grapes for one of the latter to ask this about one of the former, but Francis Fukuyama's career begs for the question. How exactly do you get ahead by boldly making one of the worst predictions in the history of social science? In case anyone has forgotten, six years ago he wrote that, with the fall of Communism, we've reached an “end of history,” marked by a “worldwide convergence in basic institutions around liberal democracy and market economics,” in which “the broad process of human historical evolution culminates not, as in the Marxist version, in socialism but rather in the Hegelian vision of a bourgeois liberal democratic society.” This is also a world in which “modern technology … shapes national economies in a coherent fashion,” so that “the world's advanced countries have no alternative model of political and economic organization other than democratic capitalism to which they can aspire.”

He's got to be kidding. The American economy (or the South Korean or Italian or Chinese or British economy) is “coherent”? The aspirants to “democratic capitalism” (Margaret Thatcher, Ronald Reagan, Pat Robertson, Patrick Buchanan, Charles Pasqua, Silvio Berlusconi) are trying to adopt liberal democratic political institutions? “Human societies … around the world” are restricted to a handful of nation-states, mostly in Western Europe and North America? How much effort does it take to notice that elites in one after the other of the “advanced countries” have sought to shed liberal institutions as fast as they can, in order to crush rebellions bound to arise as “the global capitalist division of labor” integrates all of us into a two-class world of unrelenting rigidity?

And what of Hegel, to whom Fukuyama explicitly compares himself? Yes, Hegel thought that a world of independent nation-states might reach the “end of history,” but only by manifesting the triumph of reason in their institutions. It doesn't take more than a cursory reading of The Philosophy of Right to discover that he didn't have in mind anything remotely like governments in thrall to organizations of multi-armed paranoiacs or neofascist thugs or (especially!) religious sectarians; or governments that deny a general duty to maintain the welfare of the poorest-off. Hegel notoriously toadied to the Prussian regime, but his euphemistic account still makes it sound a lot better than the Tory regime of 1995, or what we can expect for the United States by 1997. Bourgeois liberalism? If only. Any socialist nowadays would gladly settle for that. How about John Stuart Mill for President? Jefferson? Kant? Adam Smith? Lincoln? One is reminded of Gandhi's famous response on being asked what he thought of Western civilization, that “it would be a good thing.”

How to demonstrate this alleged convergence, as opposed to simply asserting it? The trick is methodological, assiduously perfected by Fukuyama in the more than 400 pages of Trust, almost all of which he borrows from other people's sociology or economics—Alice Amsden on South Korea, Ronald Dore on Japan, Michel Crozier on France, Charles Sabel and Michael Piore on the new regime of work, Alexis de Tocqueville on the United States and the ancien régime, Edward Banfield on Southern Italy, Max Weber on the Protestant Ethic and Confucianism, Mary Ann Glendon on rights, Samuel Huntington on the excesses of democracy … and on and on. Replace Marx's emphasis on historical materialism with Weber's on culture; “culturalism” then does the lion's share of the work. (“Cultural relativism,” the more familiar term, is an ethical stance; what I prefer to call “culturalism” is purely sociological.)

From a culturalist perspective, there are no inherent contradictions in capitalism that cry out for resolution; instead, there are many capitalisms, each based on a national culture, and each successful or not depending on how congruent the culture is with a lifeworld of market exchange—the best lifeworld available. Progressive economic life is based on a culture of generalized “trust,” or what Fukuyama calls “spontaneous sociability.” The best index of such sociability turns out to be widespread corporate conglomerations, monopolies, cartels, the zaibatsu, all of which indicate that their host-societies (Japan, Germany and the United States) have cultural understandings that generate trust in non-kin, most importantly, in professional corporate managers and engineers. Conversely, Confucian familism in China and Korea limits the spread of the impersonal corporate form, obliging the relatively inefficient state to take over the role of general entrepreneurship, while British class contempt dictates a destructive split between financial and industrial capital, and “amoral familism” in Southern Italy makes progressive economic development there all but impossible.

We are told that this spontaneous sociability is rooted in precapitalist political decentralization and in concomitant institutions of an elaborated civil society, such as the well-known web of reciprocal obligations in Japan that led to the post-World War II trust-based exchange of lifetime employment (nenko) for labor peace; or, in Germany, feudal guilds and the universal work ethic they fostered, which ultimately made possible an immensely elaborated welfare state; or, in the United States, Protestant sectarianism and its correlative, communal activism, which until recently balanced out a hypertrophied individualism.

It's helpful to compare this basically static account of capitalist development with such neo-Marxist versions of the same phenomenon as those of Rodney Hilton, Barrington Moore, Perry Anderson and Robert Brenner. Brenner's analysis of the transition from feudalism to capitalism in England, France and Poland describes social actors (lords and peasants, landowners and agricultural laborers), significant events (peasant rebellions in times of economic crisis) and transformative outcomes—different political settlements of these class struggles, resulting in different patterns of land tenure with consequently different implications for later economic activity. In Moore's account (from which Brenner took off), top-down transformations resulted in fascism (e.g., in Japan and Germany). Overall, these “historical materialist” approaches to change emphasize the role of struggles for power among social classes, rather than socially neutral abstractions such as “decentralization” or “communitarianism.”

Fukuyama's culturalist explanations, in contrast, are devoid of historical struggle, and tend to vanish into dust at the first sight of it. For example, the web of obligation in Japan, based on a cultural proclivity for “spontaneous sociability,” does almost the whole work of the Japanese “miracle”—until, that is, “the bursting of the bubble economy of the late 1980s.” Now, it appears, economic recession has put “tremendous pressures on the lifetime employment system,” so that “some large corporations have in fact resorted to layoffs.” And in Germany that same recession “created high and seemingly intractable levels of unemployment, and in the view of many observers it was precisely the communitarian aspects of the German postwar Sozialmarktwirtschaft that was to blame.” Just as in Japan, “the general intensification of global competition … will continue to put a great deal of pressure on German communitarian economic institutions,” and the welfare state may have to be downsized considerably. The Old Mole under Highgate Cemetery is surely saying at this point: Well, that's what I told you, isn't it? Cutthroat competition, a falling rate of profit, the need to maintain surplus value through a sloughing off of labor and a lowering of the average wage—what did you expect? The chapters on Japan and Germany, in fact, both end on an almost elegiac note: Hey guys, this communitarian stuff was nice while it lasted, but now let's get with global capitalism.

What is the point of these cross-cultural comparisons that come to nothing, especially since, as Fukuyama assures us, cultural patterns are not exportable? On the face of it, they seem to have nothing to do with Fukuyama's legendary convergence. Actually, though, the culturalist analysis makes his point, which is that there are many roads to capitalism, and some of them are communal rather than (liberal) individualistic or state-oriented. And so, “a corollary to the convergence of institutions at the ‘end of history’ is the widespread acknowledgment that in post-industrial societies, further improvements cannot be achieved through ambitious social engineering.” Put simply, the United States could stand some communitarianism of the old style (German, Japanese or American Puritan); what it doesn't need are strong public institutions.

The target of these 457 pages of other people's sociology is educated, prosperous and powerful American elites, who receive a simple and helpful message: Nothing painful or costly has to be done, because nothing can be done. Install Japanese production techniques (“lean manufacturing”) in your workplaces to produce company loyalty in the place of job-productive trade unionism, provide in-house flexible training, and that's about it. Your taxes needn't go up, and the state won't bother you because the state can't accomplish anything worthwhile. We philosophize; you are philosophized. Your history has ended, buddy; mine has just begun. Back to Chiapas with you. Or to inner-city ghettos, whose inhabitants, per Fukuyama (out of Thomas Sowell) are “deracinated,” without entrepreneurial spirit or institutions of communal self-help; and thus beyond other people's help.

It's impossible to tell if Fukuyama intends this book to be read as an essay in political negativity, but that's certainly how it will be read by those who matter. This is especially so since he peddles the usual line of American nostalgia (“The Way Things Never Were,” in Stephanie Koontz's wonderful title), according to which we were a trusting, communal bunch until—guess what?—yes, the 1960s. (The nostalgicists should all be forced to read an entertaining book on early twentieth-century labor struggles by Louis Adamic called, simply, Dynamite. Or any book on slavery or Reconstruction. Or … ) Then came the welfare explosion, the litigation explosion, the rights explosion and abortion, and so—here he appropriates the recent work of Robert Putnam—Americans stopped being communal, stopped joining voluntary organizations. And it's all our fault!

Well, if Putnam and Fukuyama insist on looking at bowling clubs and P.T.A.s, that's what they'll find. But have they heard of the N.R.A. and the Christian Coalition? It's not community that's lacking, but civility and a respect for equal justice. Putnam uses the decline of union membership as an index of failing communalism, but somehow he and Fukuyama have missed the development of corporate unionbusting as one of the major American growth sectors of the past two decades. Do workers distrust managers because of too much individualism? Actually, most of the participants in “the rights explosion” whom I know belong to many voluntary associations and are intensely communal, though it's true they don't go bowling much. Does standing in vigils count?

Fukuyama (like his source Mary Ann Glendon) does not consider the possibility that our unending racial and sexual confrontation is a cause as well as an outcome of communal breakdown. Nor does he notice the savage class warfare that capital (not labor) has been waging for two decades. Nor the way in which social decay in the face of global redistribution has produced the distorted sociability of superpatriotism (“We're Number One!”). Nor the enveloping culture of greed, hyped not by “inner-city African-Americans” or tort lawyers but by good old-fashioned economic elites and their pet Presidents. That is, he doesn't notice much because he keeps looking for “culture,” instead of looking for people who are doing things to other people.

In a throwaway that sums up his critique of liberal individualism, Fukuyama remarks that Asians—especially the familistic Chinese—have difficulty understanding American insistence on human rights because of the abstract universalistic principles on which such rights are based. I pondered this notion. What might it mean? The best I could come up with is that people with Confucian rather than Christian traditions think that it's perfectly O.K. to torture nonkin. Do they really? And let's see, was the embrace by Jeane Kirkpatrick and Commentary magazine of Argentine torturers due to some defect in Irish Catholic or Jewish culture? What culture trains all those Latin American torturer/murderers at Fort Benning? When the U.S. Air Force decided that the best way to prepare female pilots for rape was by raping them, whose cultural tradition was that? Men's?

The world over, a depressingly large number of people will torture and murder in the pursuit of power, or out of the desire to maintain it (“maintaining order” is what this is usually called), and if we are among those people it appears that our only internal constraint will be the urgency of our need. External constraints, on the other hand, are considerably more important. There's plenty of abuse of rights in the United States, but a lot less than in China, and the reason is not some kind of communitarianism but because we have created a variety of institutions to restrain such abuses, and China hasn't. On the other hand, we're not nearly so good as the Germans at creating institutions to prevent and alleviate economic despair. Of course, cultural patterns do count here, as this comparison suggests; a one-sided economic materialism (as Weber put it) cannot by itself explain the differences. But the overemphasis on culture is worse, because it justifies a cop-out on action, on taking as much responsibility as one can reasonably manage for the state of the world. That's why when I see the word “culture” these days, I reach for my eraser.

Actually, no one will really read Trust, except reviewers like me, because it's 200 pages too long and repeats every point many times. But everyone in a certain milieu will talk about it, because as a crash course in comparative political economy and sociology it enables them to think they know what they're talking about when they chit-chat about lifetime employment in Japan or the high cost of the German welfare state. And it fits perfectly with the dominant political consciousness of the day.

Anthony Giddens (review date 13 October 1995)

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SOURCE: “Keeping the Family Firm,” in New Statesman, October 13, 1995, pp. 30-1.

[In the following review, Giddens offers positive assessment of Trust.]

The End of History and the Last Man was always going to be a hard act to follow. Much criticised in the social-science community, Francis Fukuyama's book was actually a major work that captured the mood of 1989 and after. It deservedly projected the author to global fame, and one might suspect a few sour grapes in the dismissive attitudes of some academic critics. His new book isn't going to set the cash registers ringing as his first did and it has nothing like the same originality. Yet it is a work of considerable intellectual substance, engagingly written and ambitious in content.

We're back on the familiar terrain of the end of history. Right up to 1989, there were deep cleavages between different ideologies; but these have been replaced, Fukuyama notes, by a “remarkable convergence” of opinions and institutions. Societies which have liberal democracy and capitalism can see nothing beyond those which haven't got them want them.

The global triumph of democracy and capitalism, however, doesn't mean that there's an even playing field, even in the advanced countries. There are different types of capitalism; some are gaining in strength while others are threatened.

Writing nearly a century ago, the great German sociologist Max Weber sought to answer the question: why did capitalism first develop in the west, and not in the eastern civilisations? Criticising both Marx and orthodox economics, Weber argued that economic development is strongly affected by social habits and ethical codes, especially those contained within religion. Weber was interested only in the origins of capitalism. He accepted that once a capitalistic system had come into being, it might not develop in the same way elsewhere. Capitalism could not have emerged spontaneously in the east, but it might be transplanted there. And this is just what has happened, with the coming of the “Asian miracle”.

But what accounts for that “miracle”? Many current observers have drawn upon Weber to seek an answer—and so does Fukuyama. The economic competitiveness of Japan and the other “Asian tigers”, Fukuyama says, comes from some of the traits Weber identified. Rather than the capitalist spirit as such, Fukuyama emphasises what he calls “social capital” or the “social virtues”.

In the early years of western capitalism, Weber pointed out, Protestantism provided a moral context for business activities. Businessmen travelling across the US would introduce themselves to new contacts as Christian believers: shared beliefs served as a guarantee of mutual trustfulness.

Capitalistic enterprise needs an undergirding of trust in others, and that can't be delivered by the economic contract alone. In the terminology of another founder of sociology, Emile Durkheim, there is a non-contractual element in all contracts.

Economic activity isn't carried out by individuals, Fukuyama says, but by people acting in association. In small groups and large organisations, cooperation depends on shared values, a property of culture rather than the economy. And social capital is a precondition for the effective building of economic capital. Fukuyama is putting forward a sort of historically based communitarianism.

The family is one obvious form of moral community generating trust relations. Hence “it is no accident”—a phrase he uses often—that most businesses, in current as well as earlier times, are family businesses. The influence of the family over economic enterprise links apparently divergent societies. Southern China and northern Italy, both hotbeds of rapid development, are each characterised by the extended family. Familialism alone, he admits, is not enough, as southern Italy shows. Families are a fount of economic activity only if they are dynamic and outward-looking.

Capitalistic societies with strong families but fairly weak bonds of community between strangers are marked by the predominance of small businesses. The resources of trust needed for larger enterprises are difficult to create. These countries have weak intermediary associations between families and the state: Italy, Spain and France in Europe; China, Taiwan, and Singapore in the east.

Japan, Fukuyama suggests, is different from all of these; the Asian miracle isn't cut of single cloth and Japan resembles Germany more than it does the other successful Asian economies. No surprises there—the more inventive part of his argument lies in the claim that Japan and the US resemble one another. Japan is usually thought of as a society oriented towards the group, the US as the home of rampant individualism. In Fukuyama's view these perceptions are wrong. Americans may dislike big government, but they are great joiners. They aren't individualists at heart: witness their dense networks of voluntary organisations. These are part of the social capital responsible for the robustness of the US economy.

The state pays a larger part in Japanese society than in the US, but it isn't, Fukuyama says, the prime force in Japan's impressive development. Japan also boasts a large network of voluntary groups—more hierarchical than in the US, but not based upon kinship. The social capital they generate allows for the creation of bigger enterprises than those in kinship-dominated trust systems. Hence, in both Japan and the US, large corporations are much more prominent than in, say, Italy, France or Taiwan.

The US today, however, finds itself in trouble; its fund of social capital is being depleted. Here Fukuyama echoes authors such as Robert Bellah and Robert Putnam. Individualism is winning out over more collective styles of social life. The pre-existing balance between individual rights and community obligations has tilted too far in favour of the former. Thus membership of voluntary groups has dropped over the past two decades.

Fukuyama comes close to endorsing the “Singapore critique” of the US, as offered by that state's leader, Lee Kwan Yew. Family life in the US, says Fukuyama, “has deteriorated markedly since the 1960s” and civic mistrust has grown. The US is living off past glories, drawing on an historical fund of social capital that isn't being renewed.

Fukuyama's book has many virtues, not least its boldness in attempting such a vast comparative sweep. Yet he is no Max Weber and a host of objections or qualifications springs to mind. The key terms “trust” and “social capital” aren't discussed at any length, although both are problematic. “Trust” in particular has a large role to play; but Fukuyama doesn't refer to the seminal work done on the topic by writers such as Niklas Luhmann or Diego Gambetta.

Fukuyama's comparison of Japan and the US is thought-provoking, but scarcely persuasive. In spite of his attempts to downplay it, the state has been much more important in Japanese society than in the US. One can't help but feel that Fukuyama wants to stress similarities to accommodate a preconceived argument.

Japan was and is a much more hierarchical society. Voluntary associations have long been well-developed in the US, but this is because of the high degree of individualism rather than in spite of it. “Individualism” is itself a complex term—Steven Lukes, if I recall, once distinguished 17 different meanings—but isn't analysed by Fukuyama. Individualism in certain senses is advancing in Japan. Moreover, the idea that the family and “community life” in the US (and in the UK?) are threatened with breakdown is much more controversial than Fukuyama suggests.

His main claim is that economic modernity depends on sources of social capital that are not themselves modern. To function effectively, capitalistic enterprise presumes traditional solidarity. Arnold Gehlen made much the same argument many years ago. Jurgen Habermas developed this theme in proposing that capitalism tends to destroy the sources of its own moral legitimacy, since the expansion of markets attacks tradition. Fukuyama should have confronted these and similar ideas.

He might be right that “social capital” is relevant to economic success—although I don't think that the book even comes close to demonstrating this. Yet western and eastern societies alike will have to search for new sources of solidarity, because detraditionalisation is advancing apace almost everywhere. In the east, as elsewhere, time will show that economic modernity and tradition are an unstable mix.

Robert Heilbroner (review date Winter 1996)

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SOURCE: “What Francis Fukuyama Can Teach … and Learn,” in Dissent, Vol. 43, No. 1, Winter, 1996, pp. 109-14.

[In the following review, Heilbroner provides an overview and critique of Fukuyama's historical, political, and social perspective in The End of History and the Last Man and Trust.]

Francis Fukuyama's The End of History predictably earned him a skeptical response when it appeared a few years ago, especially from critics on the left, many of whom, one suspects, had not read the book. (There are some notable exceptions, such as Perry Anderson's “The Ends of History,” a brilliant treatment, at once critical and admiring, in A Zone of Engagement.) Our daily exposure to Yugoslavian chaos, Russian anarchy, Chinese instability, African decay, and not least, United States retrogression offered ample reason to jeer at what seemed to be the smug conservatism of his title. Having myself harbored similar sentiments at the time (and for the same reason), I would like to begin this consideration of that infamous book, and of Trust, its newly published successor, by examining what they actually say. For I believe that Fukuyama has something of value to teach the left, not the least part of which is the necessity to discover what the left may be able to teach him.

The thesis that underlies these books is nothing less than an effort to discover the meaning of human history, which is to say, the core of significance behind the tragedies, disappointments, and occasional successes that assail us daily in the newspapers or that we find retrospectively in the great narratives of Thucydides, Gibbon, and the like. Lest this only deepen our suspicion of Fukuyama's work, it may be helpful to recall that many of us have begun from, or still harbor, such an ambitious overview of history as the gradual movement from the alienating and exploitative life of a class-stratified society to the emancipated existence of a democratic socialist one. This derives, of course, from Marx's view, celebrated in his much quoted description of a communist society as one in which one could “hunt in the morning, fish in the afternoon, rear cattle in the evening, criticize after dinner … without ever becoming hunter, fisherman, shepherd, or critic.”

There is no need to criticize this famous flight of fancy, which stands in sharp contrast to the meaning of history that informs Fukuyama's work. Fukuyama treats Marx with all due respect, but he finds his own inspiration in Marx's own source, Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel. This is a view of history not merely as a vehicle for emancipation from oppression, but as a process by which humanity gradually becomes aware of a deeper need. In Fukuyama's paraphrase of Hegel:

Men seek not just material comfort, but respect or recognition, and they believe that they are worthy of respect because they possess a certain value or dignity. A psychology, or a political science, that did not take into account man's desire for recognition, and his infrequent but very pronounced willingness to act at all times contrary to even the strongest natural instinct, would misunderstand something very important about human behavior.

Fukuyama employs the Greek term thymos—roughly dignity or self-respect—for this crucial need. Thymos plays a central role for him, as it does for Hegel (who does not, however, use its Greek name), because the transcendent importance of dignity leads both to ascribe to political liberty a primary place in the development of complete human beings, ultimately more important for their self-realization even than the satisfaction of “natural”—that is, material—wants. It goes without saying that this stress on thymos also serves to separate Hegel and his followers from Marx, who assuredly valued human self-respect, but rather too easily assumed that political liberty would naturally follow economic emancipation.

It is here, however, that Fukuyama himself departs sharply from a mere restatement of Hegel's views. Specifically, for Hegel, the mechanism for the historical transformation of personhood has a heroic, even mystical quality—“The individual, who has not risked his life, may, no doubt, be recognized as a person; but he has not attained the truth of this recognition as an independent self-consciousness.” With Fukuyama, the development of full personhood has a much more matter-of-fact character. We find it set forth in the opening chapters of The End of History, where he identifies the transformative Mechanism (with a capital “M”) as the growing embrace of natural science, with its enlargement of material abundance. This is a far cry from Hegel's heroic awakening, but it is equally—perhaps much more—effective. Fukuyama writes: “Apart from fast-disappearing tribes in the jungles of Brazil or Papua New Guinea, there is not a single branch of mankind that has not been touched by the Mechanism, and which has not become linked to the rest of mankind through the universal economic nexus of modern consumerism.”

As this passage makes clear, the historic process for Fukuyama is driven primarily by much less inspiring means than is the case with Hegel, but there is, nonetheless, a specifically Hegelian emphasis in Fukuyama's treatment. This is the importance of the idea of freedom. With Hegel this idea is finally instantiated in a state governed by an upper class that protects and values the thymos of its citizenry. In Fukuyama the historic process leads to the recognition that democratic institutions are the only possible template for the political life of an advanced society. However much reality may depart from this ideal, the ideal itself is now everywhere acknowledged. “That is to say,” Fukuyama writes, “for a very large part of the world, there is now no ideology with pretensions to universality that is in a position to challenge liberal democracy, and no universal principle of legitimacy other than the sovereignty of the people.”

Finally, capitalism completes the picture as the economic expression of liberalism. Fukuyama defines capitalism pragmatically, with emphasis on the relative strengths of the public and private sectors: “It is evident,” he writes, “that there are many possible interpretations of this rather broad definition of economic liberalism, ranging from the United States of Ronald Reagan and the Britain of Margaret Thatcher to the social democracies of Scandinavia and the relatively statist regimes in Mexico and India. All contemporary capitalist states have large public sectors, while most socialist states have permitted a degree of private economic activity … Rather than try to set a precise percentage, it is probably more useful to look at what attitude the state takes in principle to the legitimacy of private property and enterprise.”

As we shall see, this seemingly uncritical approach to capitalism ultimately leads Fukuyama into serious difficulties. But it is enough for the moment to complete the argument. A triad of science, political liberalism, and capitalism constitutes the elements of a social order that qualifies as the End of History. In the author's words:

It is not the mark of provincialism but of cosmopolitanism to recognize that there has emerged in the last few centuries something like a true global culture, centering around technologically driven economic growth and the capitalist social relations necessary to produce and sustain it. Societies which have sought to prevent this unification, from Tokugawa Japan and the Sublime Porte, to the Soviet Union, the People's Republic of China, Burma, and Iran have managed to fight rearguard actions that have lasted only for a generation or two. Those who were not defeated by superior military technology were seduced by the glittering material world that modern natural science has created. While not every country is capable of becoming a consumer society in the near future, there is hardly a society in the world that does not embrace the goal itself.

Not very long ago such a thesis would have been laughed out of court, or at the very least asked to take its place in line behind socialism. I need hardly add that these views have changed as a consequence of the disasters in the Soviet Union, China, and Cuba. As a result, one can see why Fukuyama's claim deserves to be taken seriously. Science, liberal democracy, and capitalism do in fact constitute an uncontested center of gravity for institutional design in our day, and in the foreseeable future. To repeat, Fukuyama is not blind to the presence of fundamentalist beliefs, dictatorial governments, and anticapitalist mentalities. His point, rather, is that the force of science, the political frame of liberal democracy, and the energizing impetus of capital accumulation and competition have today become ideas beyond which it is very difficult—Fukuyama might even say impossible—to think. As we will see, I am doubtful that the triad, as it is defined in Fukuyama's book, constitutes an end to history, but I think he is right that it has created a resting point that may endure for a considerable while.

Having paid my tribute, I must state my reservations. The first concerns an issue whose centrality for Fukuyama I have only indicated in passing. It is the importance of thymos as an indispensable requirement for any envisioned “end of history.” Fukuyama's commitment to thymos is passionate, which does not prevent him from a keen awareness of its potential for conversion into megalothymos, or the desire for collective recognition that leads easily to nationalism or ethnic aggressions. In the same reflective vein, he admits that it is uncertain whether the inequality associated with capitalism may not pose a serious threat to the attainment of a society of mutual recognition, as critics on the left would maintain; while also giving ear to the fears of the right that any such hoped-for equality may simply founder before the reality of human differences.

Thus Fukuyama offers hopes, but no assurances, with regard to the attainment of thymos in the liberal capitalist setting he favors. To me that candor, itself very typical of this bold but modest thinker, only strengthens his central placement of political and psychological concerns as the underlying requirement for a durable and workable historical model. But there is also something here that critics can teach Fukuyama. It is that his depiction of thymos smacks too much of an adult struggle for virtue and rationality. Dignity may well be a necessary condition for a good society, but the character and intensity of that need—not to mention the ease with which it is turned into racial and other intolerances—does not reflect only the spiritual strengths and weaknesses of mature individuals. Rather, it mirrors the fact that, like all behavior, thymos is formed in the gauntlet through which all must pass—the long and painful passage through childhood into early adolescence. If it lies within our capabilities to create a good society—by no means an assumption to be easily granted—the lesson-books will have to be those that help us strengthen the psyches of infants and children; and the teachers to whom we must turn not the dramatists of the adult spirit, but the explorers of the infantile imagination—not Hegel or Kojeve or Nietzsche, but Sigmund Freud.

There is none of this in Fukuyama's book. Indeed, there is an amusing indication of its absence: in the extensive index to The End of History there is one entry for Freud, but when we turn to the indicated page, his name does not appear there (nor on any other page). Neither is any work of Freud's, or of other students of the unconscious, cited in the long list of sources. In a word, whatever we know about the process of personality formation is left out in a book in which personhood is given center stage.

A second criticism is much more predictable. It is the inadequate treatment of the dynamism of capitalism. To be sure, capitalism is described as deeply and by no means always constructively transformative, but somehow this recognition is never fully realized. Instead, capitalism appears as an essentially static framework within which disruptive developments, such as trends toward automation and globalization, appear but are never linked to the momentums and hungers of a social order dependent on ceaseless accumulation. In similar fashion, even when Fukuyama acknowledges the relation of capitalism's dynamism to the question of thymos, his treatment lacks vitality. For example, in assessing its negative effects he writes:

The possibility of strong community life is also attacked by the pressures of the capitalist marketplace. Liberal economic principles provide no support for traditional communities; quite the contrary, they tend to atomize and separate people … [L]ives and social connections are more unstable, because the dynamics of capitalist economies means constant shifts in the location and nature of production and therefore work. … The sense of identity provided by regionalism and localism diminishes, and people find themselves retreating into the microscopic world of their families which they carry around with them from place to place like lawn furniture.

This is a strong presentation of the economic pressures of a market system on community life. Yet, where are the impacts of falling real wages, of disappearing employments, of the stupefaction of relentless advertising on the capacity to cultivate one's own dignity, much less to respect that of others? Perhaps more telling, the passage occurs a mere fourteen pages before the book's conclusion, in which the gravest danger to the End of History is seen as the political uncertainty as to “what constitutes man and his specific dignity.” Thus, unaccountably, Fukuyama acknowledges but then forgets the role of capitalism as a powerful agency in forming man's conception of his self. Having given lip service to the possibility that capitalism may well undermine the attainment of a society of mutual concern and respect, in the end Fukuyama allows himself to be carried away by a conception of that ultimate desideratum as a process determined by high moral and political considerations, to the neglect of lower, but perhaps more powerful, psychological and economic ones.

This brings me to Fukuyama's second book, Trust: The Social Virtues and the Creation of Prosperity, which he describes as an economic sequel to his first. To his credit I should add that it bears little resemblance to the abstract economics we learn in the standard textbooks. “Economics,” he tells us on the first page, “is grounded in social life and cannot be understood separately from the larger question of how modern societies organize themselves.” This leads Fukuyama into an analysis of the social relationship that constitutes the title of his book—a relationship that clearly has its roots in thymos, although that key word no longer appears in the text, perhaps because the sociologist Max Weber now becomes more of a tutelary figure than Hegel. Trust is vital to the success of capitalism, Fukuyama explains, because it constitutes the ultimate basis of its productive capabilities. In conventional economics, success is attributed to the vast structure of capital that the system accumulates, together with the immense division of labor that this makes possible. In Fukuyama's economics, the secret lies in the growth of “social capital”—the ability of people to work together—and this social capital, in turn, derives from the capability of individuals to share norms, to respect the dignity of others, and to join hands in common goals—in short, from the system's capacity to generate trust.

As a consequence, we find a spectrum of capitalisms whose varying performances reflect, more than anything else, the levels of social capital they can generate. Economies in which there is a high degree of mutual regard develop smooth management-labor relations, flexible and adaptive work teams, and highly effective networks of suppliers; countries that lack this capability do not. Fukuyama cites modern-day Japan and Germany, and the United States in its nineteenth-century heyday, as examples of high trust societies; and (Southern) Italy, France, and China as examples of the opposite.

The bulk of Trust consists of an analysis, part historical, part contemporary, of both ends of the spectrum. Rich in examples and argument, it will amply repay study, but I will not attempt to summarize this portion of the book here. For my own main interest, and I imagine that of most readers of this essay, concerns the connections that Fukuyama finds between trust and the institutions and dynamics of contemporary capitalism.

As we must have divined from his earlier treatment of capitalism and the development of thymos, Fukuyama is ambivalent in his assessment. On the positive side, he argues convincingly that capitalism initially breaks down the barriers of kinship orders, the suspicions characteristic of peasant communities, and the rigidities of precapitalist command societies. All these social formations are obviously inimical to the development of a climate of generalized trust. Thus the market serves at first as a great social force for redirecting the search for dignity away from acts of valor or violence to those of material attainment, while at the same time encouraging the development of informal associations of capitalists and, to a lesser extent, of workers.

Fukuyama is not, however, a simplist in this belief. “[T]he larger theme of this book,” he writes, “is that sociability does not simply emerge spontaneously once the state retreats. The ability to cooperate socially is dependent on prior habits, traditions, and norms, which themselves serve to structure the market.” Capitalisms thus inherit varying degrees of precapitalist propensities to form relatively more or less trusting societies. Not surprisingly, here Fukuyama mentions Tocqueville's amazement at the network of civil associations he saw in America, so different from the French system of carefully determined place and privilege. Fukuyama is quick to note, however, that although initial social givens are important, these capabilities can change over time. Indeed, he notes that Tocqueville himself feared that the individualistic basis of American gregariousness could easily become an egotism that would “[dispose] each member of the community to sever himself from the mass of his fellows.”

How is this tension between individualism as a force for and against trust resolved? In Fukuyama's view, there are powerful tendencies in both directions. On the one hand, the expanding exercise of economic activities gradually changes the motivation of its participants from a drive for power to the milder purpose of expressing their roles, of finding their place in society. In a word, acquisitiveness loses its combativeness and becomes the more matter-of-fact, although no less important, expression of one's thymos, one's dignity. Wealth is thereby “spiritualized”—not perhaps the most fortunate term, but one that dramatizes the point Fukuyama wants to make with regard to capitalism as a source of increased mutual respect.

On the other hand, Fukuyama recognizes that individualism also destroys trust. We have already seen his recognition of the fact that the inner dynamic of capitalism reduces individuals to “a microscopic world” of family relations. This brings me once again to note the incompleteness with which Fukuyama assesses the economic system that he has made one of the legs of his triadic end of history—in this case, his unwillingness to consider the degree to which the dog-eat-dog necessities for survival in the marketplace can coexist with the trusting patterns of live-and-let-live. It is surely to the point, as Fukuyama himself points out, that the highly trust-directed relationships of Japanese capitalism, with its lifetime employment, have been seriously challenged by its recession of 1992-3, while the frail ententes of American labor-management relations have been ruthlessly discarded under the pressures of ever more fierce world competition.

Fukuyama remains distanced before this contest of forces. So, too, with the fact that the favorable influences of capitalism seem to be associated with its initial appearance, and the unfavorable effects with its later development—a matter that is mentioned but never pursued. Even more important is his treatment of another economic development that, were it fully examined, could seriously, perhaps even fatally, challenge his fundamental vision. In the background of both his books Fukuyama perceives the growing presence of a vaguely defined, but unmistakably real entity called the World Economy—an entity that begins to surround and overshadow even such powerful national economies as our own, much as ours surrounds and overshadows the state economies of Illinois and California and New York.

Here the question that remains unasked is whether this emerging supranational aspect of capitalism does not call into question the plausibility of an end of history posited on the triad of science, democratic government, and capitalism. Surely the last two of these constitutive forces depend on strong and stable national entities within which to exert their social influence. But if the world economy continues its self-generated growth, the consequences for both democratic politics and capitalist economics are likely to be disastrous. What will be left of the relevance of liberal political structures for an end of history if the world economy makes ever more irrelevant the boundaries of the nation-state—massive ecological effects and unmanageable immigration pressures as examples? What is left of the relevance of capitalist national economies if their real-world counterparts are increasingly defenseless against economic penetration, to the point at which they can no longer even exercise effective control over so fundamental a means of self-regulation as the quantity of money within their national control? The world economy, in a word, is an entity whose sole unifying attribute is a commitment to an economic system that erodes the longevity of its presently constituted members. The self-consuming aspects of such an institutional framework seem ill-suited to serve as the setting for Fukuyama's vision.

These prospects are still distant, save for the already manifest pressures of international finance and migration. Nonetheless, the contradictions of a world economy of capitalisms suggest that at some imaginable time in the future another set of institutional structures may become necessary to create a durable setting for humanity's journey. Perhaps wishfully, I can imagine one in which each of the three legs of Fukuyama's design have been changed in significant fashion. In place of science guided to an important degree by economic and military incentives, I could picture it guided by the need to protect the fragile ecosphere against further deterioration. In place of political structures concerned with the rights of individuals within their national boundaries, I could picture the addition of transnational rights—the protection of immigrants as a case in point, the outlawing of international exploitation as a second.

And in lieu of our present range of capitalisms, I could even see a range of “socialisms” that sought to combine the flexibility of markets and the protection of individual property with safeguards against the many negative side-effects of markets and the asocial consequences of both the absence of property among the lower portion of the population and its excessive possession among the topmost portion. Some such an amended triad might form the basis of an End of History better suited to cope with the problems generated by its present supposed terminus. I should add, however, that I suspect even such a much-hoped-for future will be not so much an end to human history as another resting place.

John Lloyd (essay date 23 May 1997)

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SOURCE: “Interview: Francis Fukuyama,” in New Statesman, May 23, 1997, pp. 26-7.

[In the following essay, Lloyd discusses Fukuyama's views on contemporary social, economic, and gender issues, as addressed in his writings and a recent interview with Fukuyama.]

The most influential of public-policy intellectuals, who are most attended to by politicians and their advisers, are those who search for the modern holy grail of contemporary social policy: how to secure the values and security of a community without reproducing the intolerances and exclusivity that communities habitually produced? Can it be done within the framework of a liberal state?

This is a large part of the new Labour project. To new Labour Britain, in its second week of existence, came one of the most prominent public-policy intellectuals of our times, to give lectures in London and Oxford.

Francis Fukuyama transformed himself from an analyst of Soviet foreign policy at the Rand defence think tank in Los Angeles to a global guru, with the publication in 1990 of his The End of History, which claimed—with the assistance of Hegel—that the implosion of Soviet communism left the world with no alternative to what he called “liberal capitalism”.

His reputation was buttressed—though some reviewers thought it was tarnished—by a second book, Trust, published in 1995.

The key concept in Trust was “social capital”, a commodity close to trust which resides in the relations set up within families, but also in institutions such as churches, voluntary societies, trade unions, company structures. Social capital can be saved; it can also be wasted.

Courteous, contained, scholarly and worldly at once, Fukuyama is the very model of the modern conservative-liberal. That is, he approaches the study of society with an unencumbered mind: at least one unencumbered by notions of political correctness, or with a list of no-go areas that might inhibit observation and prescription.

He believes that since the 1960s we have been living through a “great disruption”. This is comparable to the transition from a largely agricultural to a largely industrial society which consumed much of the 19th and early 20th centuries. In our case it is the shift from industrial to post-industrial society, which means a shift in ethical values as much as in the nature of work.

At times, in his talks, he gives the impression that the great disruption is coming to an end. Asked if he thinks so, he replies, “I don't know,” and gives an example, which is clearly one that impresses him a good deal.

“What is a little bit frightening is that, if you look at the US, the blacks have led the whites by about 20 to 30 years. In this sense, when Daniel Moynihan wrote his famous Report on the Negro Family in the mid-1960s, the black illegitimacy rate was 28 to 29 per cent. Now that rate is up to 66 to 67 per cent, and the white rate is up to around 25 per cent.”

“I'm not sure where that ends. It may be in another couple of decades the majority of kids will be born out of wedlock in society as a whole. On the other hand we may be at the tail end of a big hump and things will start to come down. Certainly the cultural mood of the society is much more conservative now.”

“The position of the poor has deteriorated very badly. In fact, among blacks who make up a good part of that underclass there is a kind of nostalgia—not for discrimination, but for the effects of discrimination, when they were all forced to live in the same neighbourhood. They had stronger community ties and vastly lower rates of crime and family breakdown—much more social capital.”

He sees the 1960s as a time not just of excessive liberations, or Liberations, but of excessive and destructive social engineering. “Social engineering was undertaken in a completely wrong-headed way in the 1960s and 1970s, in ways that had unanticipated consequences. They made things worse, cost the taxpayers a lot of money and made them distrust government.”

Asked where he stands on the most controversial work of social policy in recent years—Charles Murray and Richard Herrnstein's The Bell Curve, whose stormy reception was a result of its contention that, on average, blacks are less intelligent than whites—Fukuyama marks clear water. “Most biologists I've seen will not agree with Murray and Herrnstein. They will say that race's effect on intelligence is pretty minor.”

However, where he shocks is on gender. At a lecture he gave in London last week, and at a dinner after that, the largest and most urgent questions came from the women present. That is because, in researching and thinking about his next book, probably to be called The Origins of Order, he has identified the changing role of women as the most dynamising and disturbing part of the great disruption.

He is thus poised to insert himself into the centre of a debate acquiring an ever-wider moral resonance. In the week in which he was speaking in the UK, Newsweek carried a cover story under the title “No Time for the Kids? How Working Parents Cheat their Children”. It jangles every nerve in the body not just of the new female professionals, but of men, too, beginning to believe that their parental responsibilities do not end with conception. Fukuyama, by luck or judgment, is bringing his own brand of social-philosophic theorising into the heart of a contemporary anxiety.

“Biology is making a stunning comeback. Through most of the 20th century the social sciences did not believe that you could explain any kind of important phenomena by reference to any kind of biological imperative or instinct. In fact, 20th-century social science was to an extent founded on this, because in the 19th century you had all of these racist theories.”

“But what's happening now is that attention has focused not on race but on gender. There's a lot of empirical work coming out now which seems to show that things are much more genetically determined than we had thought before—not by race, but by gender.”

“This is an ideologised sore point. Many women will assert there's no psychological difference between men and women, and to the extent that people think there is, it's a result of living in a repressive, male-dominated society. The interesting thing about the latest work is that it's empirical, and you can bring real evidence to bear.”

“The really important differences are gender differences. This is one of the big policy problems for the US—that gender difference has been treated like race discrimination. There is no basis for race discrimination. There is of course no basis for any discrimination—but the fact remains that there are serious biological differences between the sexes while there are no serious biological differences between the races.”

“At present the official tide is against that. For example I think it's really lunatic to take 18-year-old men and women, put them in uniform and send them off to fields to train together—and then to punish sexual misbehaviour with great severity. It's one of these things we'll do for some time, it will degrade performance, and then we'll stop it and people will shake their head and say—why ever did we do it?”

The key problem caused by working women is the breakdown of the family. Fukuyama is relatively unambiguous about this, tracing the steeply rising curve of crime against the steeply rising curve of women working since the 1960s.

Women's work is in part to compensate for the drop in male incomes. It has meant that household incomes have held up, but that child care has not. The rise in one-parent families, especially among blacks, has meant a huge rise in the number of fatherless children who have no male close to them to teach them life's limits and possibilities from a man's standpoint.

Will The Origins of Order present solutions? No: it will point out the areas of deepest malaise, and invite consideration of why the malaise has happened or worsened. Laws can do something: Fukuyama instances laws on civil rights as helpful in changing moral perceptions. But there is no longer any hope from a social democratic state setting in place a strong framework of support.

“The social democratic ideal of the state sector acting as a motor for egalitarianism is completely dead. The countries that have gone farthest down that road, such as Germany and Sweden, are now in the deepest trouble, and will have to undo their pasts. Political stability in many European countries, the UK excepted, depends on the ability of their politicians to manage the deconstruction of the excessive parts of their welfare states without having a political blow-out—and that's going to be terribly difficult.”

“In the US the problem is so much less. The unemployment rate is now 4.5 per cent and the real debate is whether you can push it much lower without getting wage inflation. There are a lot of arguments that, because of globalisation, workers will not push that hard through fear of losing their jobs.”

“There was a lot of talk in the press about downsizing and how awful it was. I think it was overdone because most people got other jobs very quickly. But it has had the happy outcome that people are now so worried and anxious that they are not pushing for higher wages, which means you can push the unemployment rate to historically unprecedented low levels.”

Politicians can give some assistance. Fukuyama noted that both Bill Clinton and Tony Blair have been criticised for occupying the centre, even centre-right ground: for him, this is inevitable and vindicates his End of History thesis that modern politicians are extremely tightly constrained in what they can do. But they can be something of a moral exemplar.

“The Clinton strategy has been to stress moral values. He has a little bit of a harder time [than Tony Blair] of holding his own as a family model, but he certainly makes plenty of speeches on the theme. I wish his own family ties were a bit stronger because people tend to laugh when he says these things—yet it's also true that he's the first Democrat who has stood up and said that it's not right to raise a child you can't support outside of marriage. There's a role to that: but the solutions lie outside of the things politicians can do.”

The “solution” to our present disorder is, in the end, to build social capital. “Social capital comes from all sorts of sources—some of which are traditional and some of which can be socially constructed. Traditionally it has come from such things as religion and culture and social mores handed down from one generation to another. Ralph Dahrendorf has a book called Life Chances in which he says there is a trade-off between what he calls ligatures and options—ligatures being the ties which bind people, options the choices they have.”

“Society had been all ligatures and no options; then, gradually, options increased, first for men and then for women. These have come at the expense of ties which bind people to other groups. Some of these ties are good to see go—obscurantist religions, ties which were built purely on religious or ethnic identity. The real question is whether that can be replaced by voluntary sorts of ties which can be undertaken freely but still tie people to norms which allow people to live in communities.”

This is, to be sure, the real question. Yet it is one posed by many—by the communitarian writer Amitai Etzioni (to whom Fukuyama is close); by the new Democrats and new Labour; by priests and policy wonks. Fukuyama has moved far from reflections on the end of the cold war which became The End of History—into other areas, where, say his critics, he shows less mastery. His reflections so far fall into the conservative-communitarian camp: to produce a framework for order in a liberal society still seems to elude him, as it does everyone.

Francis Fukuyama with Melanie Rehak (interview date 2 May 1999)

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SOURCE: “The Unselfish Gene,” in New York Times Magazine, May 2, 1999, p. 24.

[In the following brief interview, Fukuyama comments on the human need for connection and cooperation and the causes of social fragmentation.]

[Rehak]: In your new book, you present the contentious view that on some fundamental, genetic level, human beings are built for consensus. Can you explain that?

[Fukuyama]: We're programmed to cooperate in groups, to be joiners, to feel accepted. This is one of these things that people believe common-sensically, and that social scientists tell us is wrong. Economists begin with this understanding that human beings are selfish and just want to make money. Even many religious conservatives view humans as essentially sinful. But people feel intensely uncomfortable if they live in a society that doesn't have moral rules.

Are you saying that every human being prefers law to lawlessness?

Not everyone will obey them, but over a large population, there is a tendency to spontaneously generate rules to control deviance and set limits on individual behavior.

Is there an example of how this tendency toward moral order manifests itself in daily life?

All the companies scrambling to dissociate themselves from the Salt Lake City Olympics because of a possible bribery scandal. Now, you can say that all of this is self-interested behavior, but from a social standpoint it doesn't make much difference. A market society promotes honest behavior because it is in people's self-interest to develop reputations for honesty. So even Wall Street sharks or whatever kind of predatory animal will generate order and rules, and therefore a certain kind of socially constructive behavior.

You also talk about some fundamental human need for ritual.

The more that modern economic life strips that stuff out of the workplace and the family, the more intensely people want it. In the United States, the only real secular ritual that we've managed to create that has a lot of meaning for people is Thanksgiving. We worship individualism, yet at Thanksgiving it's all about sharing and communal values.

So you're saying that that's not enough? Is the modern world diminished in some ways?

People's lives used to be full of Thanksgivings and now we're reduced to just this one. I think ritual will never disappear, but there's a kind of privatization, a tendency toward rituals that involve, in my language, a much smaller radius of trust—you and people like you.

Like what, for example?

Watching “Ally McBeal.” Well, you don't want to get too silly, but even something like that still draws together people and allows them to relate to a common set of experiences.

Is gossip also a kind of ritual?

I wouldn't call it a ritual, but it's one of the most important things that people do to establish communities and maintain informal moral norms. It involves this very basic human ability to make judgments about other people: who naughty, who's nice, who can be relied upon, who's a rat. They're essential to the functioning of any society.

Technology must have a big impact on that sort of functioning. Are people getting more isolated?

It's not that people associate with one another less, it's that they belong to a range of communities and want complete freedom to enter and exit each one. The Internet is a perfect example: you can go to a chat room anonymously, have what feels like a community experience and if you don't like it, you walk away. That's modern individualism. We seek to associate, but we want no restrictions on our behavior. Group membership becomes more superficial.

You trace a lot of these ills—the breakdown of the family unit, a rise in crime, a loss of community—to the social disruptions of the 1960s and 1970s. Have they affected your own life?

I lived in California in the 1980s and by the end of the decade there were hardly any of my colleagues who hadn't gone through a divorce or a family breakup, sometimes a couple of times. But my family has actually been kind of boringly stable. My parents stayed together their whole lives, and I've never been divorced, so I can't really talk about the instability part of the story from my own experience. It's more the stories of people I've seen around me.

How did you end up on such a stable course? What great epoch-making forces missed you?

I don't know the answer. Part of it is your family, what precedents or expectations they set, and part is your environment. But a lot of it has to be luck.

Walter Kirn (review date 7 June 1999)

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SOURCE: “The Sweetest Science,” in New York, June 7, 1999, pp. 88-9.

[In the following review, Kirn offers skeptical assessment of The Great Disruption, finding fault in Fukuyama's faith in human nature and preference for stability.]

Francis Fukuyama's The Great Disruption comes at a peculiar moment. In a season of school shootings, spy scandals, and “collateral damage” from errant cluster bombs, it's tempting to regard as wishful thinking a book that argues, using graphs and diagrams and lessons from economics and anthropology, that our present state of social turmoil will, in time, be naturally replaced by a new, benevolent moral order. But that is precisely Fukuyama's prediction, not merely his hope. A resurgence of grassroots goodness. A spontaneous regeneration of civic-mindedness. The dark days are almost behind us, he asserts. At a time when the average news watcher might mistake America for a rich but failing empire, unable to keep the peace at home, abroad, or in the marbled corridors of government. Fukuyama is bullish on human nature.

That's right: human nature. We haven't heard that phrase used seriously lately, but Fukuyama is out to revive it, rescuing from the deconstructionists, multiculturalists, and sundry relativists the notion that we are all in fact the same—rational, system-building social animals who, by virtue of genes and long experience, are programmed to do the right thing in the end, by ourselves, one another, and our children. It's another sweeping thesis from the man (a professor of public policy and former State Department staff member) who gained fame when he wrote that the end of the Cold War represented “the end of history,” meaning the death of ideological struggle and the rise of near-universal democracy and market capitalism. Whether history has truly ended I'll leave to the Serbs, Chinese, and NATO to answer, but Fukuyama's was a bold analysis, highly understandable and discussible. It held special appeal for maturing American baby-boomers, who've never met a tribute to the distinctiveness of their own, privileged role in human history that they didn't like.

The Great Disruption is a home-front version of the earlier book. Its subject is domestic, not foreign, affairs, and its findings are just as broad and optimistic, styled in the sort of bleached-out, bottom-line prose favored by CIA officers and corporate management consultants: “Social order, once disrupted, tends to get remade once again, and there are many indications that this is happening today.” The tone is a major tip-off. This is science, not opinion, we're reading, founded on facts and comparative analysis, with none of the fashionable European obscurity that has lately crept into cultural commentary. Fukuyama is a throwback here, a time traveler from the age of certainty. His theme—that the past 30 years of social confusion contain in themselves the seeds of a new clarity—is strikingly reflected in his prose, which is almost Victorian in its tidy positivism.

Before he can give the good news, of course, Fukuyama has to give the bad news. He has to outline how It All Went Wrong. Assumption No. 1 is that it did go wrong. Crime rose. Trust fell. Families disintegrated. The social stitches that knit up marriages, neighborhoods, schools, and community organizations decayed in an acid bath of individualism. At fault were a range of overarching trends. As industrialism gave way to the information age and as longevity and wealth increased, people sprinted selfishly from the pack, abandoning commitment and tradition for Pepsi-generation freedom and novelty. Women in particular fell for the Aquarian bait, victimizing themselves in the process. Lapsing into stridency, he writes: “One of the greatest frauds perpetrated during The Great Disruption was the notion that sexual revolution was gender neutral, benefiting women and men equally, and that it somehow had a kinship with the feminist revolution.” Take that, Erica Jong!

It's hard not to feel that when Fukuyama mentions “The Great Disruption,” he really means the sixties, just as when he wrote of “history,” he really meant the Cold War fifties. What distinguishes him from talk-show-circuit ideologues such as William Bennett, however, is his fondness for complicated graphs plotting everything from fertility rates to crime and divorce statistics. He takes pains to distance himself from social conservatives. Religious values, for Fukuyama, are merely one form among others of “social capital,” a respectably secular, ivory-tower term whose meaning I struggled to get a handle on. Team spirit among league bowlers, affection between parents and children, and the presumption of honest dealings between businesspeople are all examples of social capital. But whatever it is precisely, a lot of it has been lost, apparently, especially down at ground level, where ordinary citizens work and live.

Fukuyama is no alarmist—he's too cool for that, too academic and wedded to the sociological long view—but now and then he spins a nightmare scenario. His vision of the lives of aging baby-boomers, bereft of family ties and social structures linking them to the wider world, is bleak. It also seems unnecessarily baroque, the voice of a hothead lurking inside the scientist. The typical boomer, “twice or thrice divorced, will pass his or her waning years living alone in a house or apartment, visited occasionally by a son or daughter who are themselves past retirement age and seeking ways to deal with their own deteriorating health. The connection with these relatives will be tenuous, because the long and tumultuous personal lives they led when younger—the different marriages and sexual partners, the separated homes … have left their descendants with a sentimental but slightly detached relationship.”

Fukuyama's best-selling Theories of Everything have always had a faint ring of manic grandeur, as though they were first scribbled out on dozens of napkins on a park bench. In passages like the one above, he seems to know too much and know it too surely. Is it really programmed in our brains that we will eventually reform society, peacefully and from the bottom up, in a triumph for justice, compassion, and stability? Fukuyama draws on a dozen disciplines, from game theory to genetics, to make his case that stable states arise naturally from chaotic interludes the way Sunday morning follows Saturday night. He seems to confuse stability with goodness, though. Things may indeed get better all on their own, but what is better? Quieter? Faster? Slower? Fukuyama simply puts his chips on human nature, suggesting that however we spin the wheel, we'll come out winners. It's a risky bet.

Michael Kazin (review date 13 June 1999)

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SOURCE: “The End of Amorality,” in Washington Post Book World, June 13, 1999, pp. 1, 3.

[In the following review, Kazin credits Fukuyama as a “subtle, learned thinker,” though finds shortcomings and contradictions in The Great Disruption.]

Are you worried about the rise of violent crime, the illegitimacy, the child abuse, and the pervasive cynicism that seem to have dominated public life over the past three decades? Then Francis Fukuyama has good news for you: We are, he maintains, on the verge of a new era in which ordinary people will strive to live morally and insist that their institutions and leaders do the same. An ethic of collective responsibility will gradually replace that of rampant individualism.

Armed with so bald a thesis, Fukuyama might sound like a right-wing polemicist straining to be a prophet. But the author who burst into prominence in the early 1990s with a remarkable argument about “the end of history” is a subtle, learned thinker who shares little with tub-thumping moralists like William Bennett and Charles Murray beyond a generally conservative worldview. Fukuyama is one of the few American intellectuals of any ideological bent capable of training a knowledge of world history and a grasp of social theory on topics of undeniable contemporary significance.

But the loftier the ambition, the greater the risk of failure. In The Great Disruption, Fukuyama has written two different books, each of which takes up roughly half the volume. The first and more successful half is an historical essay that interprets the decline of moral order since the 1960s and its sprouts of revival through the lens of “social capital.” This is a concept, currently fashionable among academics, that Fukuyama defines as “a set of informal values … shared among members of a group that permits cooperation between them.” “Social capital” is the fuel that runs the institutions of civil society; it depends on a culture of trust (subject of the author's last book) that exists to different degrees in every postindustrial society.

To his credit, Fukuyama avoids blaming the problem of diminished social capital on any ideological faction or bundle of policies. He points out that, from the mid-1960s to the mid-'90s, champions of the individual unbound reigned across the political spectrum and in nearly every developed nation. “To put it simplistically,” he writes, “the Left worried about lifestyles, and the Right worried about money.”

Such ubiquity can only be explained by a larger phenomenon: the instability that accompanies the shift from an industrial to an information society. Fukuyama argues that amoral behavior has gained legitimacy during every transition from one economic order to another. He points to the rise of intemperance and sexual promiscuity during the early change from agrarianism to industrialism. And he indicates, with a brief statistical survey, that “negative measures of social capital” increased from the late ‘60s into the ’90s throughout Western and central Europe as well as the United States. The strength of family discipline in Japan and South Korea evidently protected those nations from the same ordeal.

Such a comparative perspective is valuable in rescuing debates about moral concerns from the verbal skirmishes of culture warriors on both left and right. But by presenting only the skeleton of an argument, Fukuyama skates over matters that could undermine it. For example, in a provocative chapter, “The Special Role of Women,” he argues that the related upsurges of feminism and sexual liberty frayed social bonds from the mid-20th century on. Liberation movements targeted the oppressive aspects of monogamy and paternalist families but neglected to substitute an equally effective way to rear the young.

Fukuyama has swallowed one of the more popular myths of social history. In fact, the “traditional” order never existed for most women; they had to care for the kids while toiling, inside and outside the home, at a myriad of paid and unpaid tasks. And his worry about the impact of falling fertility in the United States and Europe neglects the possibility that adults with fewer children or none at all should have more time to participate in the types of associations, from churches to political parties, that make up civil society. Of course, whether they are motivated to do so is a different question.

But the first half of The Great Disruption is a model of originality and clarity compared to the second. Instead of fleshing out his historical claims and predictions, Fukuyama launches into a rambling survey of what a hefty roster of scholars has written about the “genealogy of morals.” His capsule summaries do serve a purpose—to reveal the roots of cooperative behavior in both evolutionary biology and the networks and hierarchies every culture needs. But the result is an unhappy marriage of the banal and the abstract. “Thus, to say that human beings are by nature social animals,” Fukuyama concludes one chapter, “is not to argue that they are inherently peaceful, cooperative, or trust-worthy. … Rather, it means that they have special facilities for detecting and dealing with deceivers and cheaters, as well as for gravitating toward cooperators and others who follow moral rules.” I think we all learned that in kindergarten.

The lengthy digression into other people's research seems to contradict the very title of Fukuyama's book. If biologists and social scientists have come to agree that “the capacity to create social capital through elaborate forms of social cooperation” is integral to human nature, was “the great disruption” that big a deal? The author who once announced the end of history now implies that it never really mattered. Thus does Pollyanna get dressed up in the verities of sociobiology.

Virginia Postrel (review date 13 June 1999)

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SOURCE: “The Big One,” in Los Angeles Times Book Review, June 13, 1999, pp. 4-5.

[In the following review, Postrel offers favorable assessment of The Great Disruption, which she concludes is “an important and ambitious work.”]

Francis Fukuyama likes big subjects and bold claims. In 1989, he burst into public consciousness with his provocatively titled National Interest article, “The End of History?,” later expanded into a book, The End of History and the Last Man (1992). His thesis: Liberal, democratic capitalism represents the final stage in the Hegelian evolution of governing regimes, and the fall of the Soviet Union settled the debate. When the musical group Jesus Jones hit the pop charts with a 1991 song lauding the post-Cold War joys of “watching the world wake up from history,” Fukuyama achieved a cultural penetration few intellectuals—let alone Hegel interpreters—dream of.

So what do you do after History? In his book, Fukuyama glumly imagined a boring, bourgeois life for the “last man”: passive VCR-watching, perhaps enlivened by the pursuit of artistic perfection à la the Japanese tea ceremony. Life after History seemed to offer little to those once fired by high-stakes ideological struggle.

But Fukuyama is far too curious to stay bored. Market liberalism poses plenty of interesting challenges to the inquiring mind—not the least of which is what makes it tick. In his 1995 book Trust, Fukuyama explored the role of “social capital” in creating prosperity. To flourish, he argued, economies need people who can spontaneously form communities, extending trust beyond the clannish bounds of kinship or the formal claims of contract.

Trust was an intelligent but rather conventional conservative-communitarian paean to the black box called “culture.” It celebrated the Protestant ethic, hinted at the superiority of Japanese lifetime employment and declared that “the ability to obey communal authority is key to the success of the society”—an ability that contemporary American individualism was eroding. The message was troubled: America seemed to have lost the social habits that had made it a flourishing society. Fukuyama warned readers that “once social capital has been spent, it may take centuries to replenish, if it can be replenished at all.”

In his new book, Fukuyama continues his emphasis on social capital. But The Great Disruption represents an important break with his earlier message and with the cultural pessimism that grips Washington intellectuals. “Social order, once disrupted, tends to get remade once again, and there are many indications that this is happening today,” writes the upbeat author.

Fukuyama now explicitly rejects the idea, a commonplace among neoconservatives, that social capital is finite and static. It is not, he writes, “a rare cultural treasure passed down across the generations—something that, if lost, can never again be regained. Rather, it is created all the time by people going about their daily lives. It was created in traditional societies, and it is generated on a daily basis by individuals and organizations in a modern capitalist society.” From “it may take centuries to replenish” to “it is generated on a daily basis” is quite a change of tone.

Before we get to the innovative, positive half of The Great Disruption, however, Fukuyama takes readers through an eight-chapter section on what he argues are related social ills: increasing crime, family instability, a general decline in trust. Through a host of statistics and graphs, he seeks to demonstrate that a Great Disruption in norms—a breakdown of existing social order—did in fact occur, not just in the United States but in other developed countries. His international perspective avoids the trap of attributing general trends to country-specific events, such as the Vietnam War. He also undermines the conservative assumption that the '60s caused the disruption. The cultural upheavals of that period, he suggests, were a symptom rather than a cause.

Family life appears key to the Great Disruption's origins, at least if you believe that we learn how to relate to others first in the home. But Fukuyama notes that crime rates don't match up with the rise in divorce or unwed births. Crime shot up too soon: “There was evidently something beneath the surface of family domesticity in the 1950s that wasn't entirely right, since the generation growing up in it proved more than ordinarily vulnerable to a variety of temptations when they came into adulthood. … The onset of the Great Disruption needs to be traced to a factor common to both crime and family breakdown.”

That factor, he argues, is disregard for traditional authority: “the rise of moral individualism and the consequent miniaturization of community.” When individuals make their own moral decisions and insist on exercising the choices that market economies and advanced technologies enhance, the existing social order is disrupted. (Oddly, Fukuyama does not address the postwar expansion of education, which encourages individuals to think for themselves even as it enhances the knowledge economy.)

This argument gives the book's first section a conservative tone reminiscent of Trust, especially in the chapter called “The Special Role of Women.” For the first time in history, women in the West (and to a lesser extent in Asia) have the economic power and reproductive technologies to live independently of men—and even to support their children. As Fukuyama notes, this change is a product not primarily of government policy but of the economic shift from brawn to brains. The ratio of female-to-male earnings started rising in the mid-1960s. Not coincidentally, he suggests, this period “is a good starting date for the beginning of the Great Disruption.” The emancipation of women, he implies, is at the root of social disorder.

Fukuyama is no misogynist, and the changing role of women is undoubtedly crucial to the social transformations that interest him. But his discussion of women's opportunities is unduly negative. One reason lies in his tendency toward determinism: Throughout the book, he treats “technology” and “the economy” as forces largely independent of important human goals. Yet technology by itself is not an explanation for change; it is only a vehicle for solving problems. New technologies do create options once foreclosed not just by authority but by practicality; individuals, however, must choose to exercise those options. What latent dissatisfaction, we're left to wonder, led people to make those choices? What was wrong with the world before the Great Disruption?

This blind spot leads Fukuyama to ignore the keen desire of women to escape their vulnerability to the whims of nature and of men, a desire that any search for the sources of new social capital must take into account. The evolution of the family in an individualist age must be one that allows women to feel that they and their children are secure, not trapped.

But just when you think The Great Disruption is only a more rigorous version of the usual conservative gripes, it veers into its second section, and entirely new vistas open up. In seven wide-ranging chapters, Fukuyama lays out his theoretical case for social optimism. Order breaks down, yes, but it also reemerges, because “we human beings are by nature designed to create moral rules and social order for ourselves.” The answer to current problems is not “a full-scale retreat into one of the traditional cultures of the past” but a bottom-up dynamic process of developing new habits and institutions under changed circumstances Just as we adapted to the move from farm to city, from the integration of home and work to their separation, we will adapt to the effects of contraception and a knowledge economy (and, Fukuyama might have emphasized more, to increasing longevity).

This engaging section is the heart of the book, its contribution to the cultural debate. It is informed by a rich body of important scholarship that is virtually unknown among not only East Coast intellectuals but also Wired-style exponents of the “New Economy.” Drawing on serious empirical and theoretical work from fields ranging from evolutionary game theory to animal behavior, Fukuyama provides a lucid course in what he rightly argues is “one of the most important intellectual developments of the late twentieth century”: “the systematic study of how order, and thus social capital, can emerge in a spontaneous and decentralized fashion.” It is a mark of the book's sophistication that political scientist Elinor Ostrom and economic historian Douglass North, a Nobel laureate, loom larger than management gurus and “complexity” popularizers.

Self-organization, as Fukuyama depicts it, is what individuals do without hierarchical direction: It includes the informal norms that prevail in small groups of the sort in which human beings, and their primate ancestors, lived throughout most of our existence. He opens the section with the story of commuters from the Washington suburbs who line up at a local restaurant every day to take rides with complete strangers. By picking up two or three of these “slugs,” a driver can use the carpool lanes and considerably shorten the trip into D.C. Over the years, Fukuyama reports, rules have evolved: “Neither cars nor passengers may jump the line; passengers have the right to refuse to get into a particular car; smoking and the exchange of money are forbidden.” The system works because people trust each other as fellow government workers and because people voluntarily obey sensible rules. It is a small-scale model of self-organization and evolving norms. It illustrates how human beings naturally create social order and thus suggests the process through which the Great Disruption might be repaired.

In Fukuyama's version, self-organization does not account for what economist and social theorist F. A. Hayek called “the extended order”—the impersonal relationships that allow culture and trade to flourish among strangers. (Fukuyama attributes the term to Hayek but defines it as “the sum total of all the rules, norms, values, and shared behaviors that allow individuals to work together in a capitalist society.” He thereby misses Hayek's crucial distinction between the extended order and small-group norms, which can be quite hostile to outsiders.) For extended orders, Fukuyama maintains, you need hierarchy. The rules are not instinctive and have depended on the authoritative lawgivers of religion and politics: “Culture with a capital C … does not have spontaneous roots.”

No matter. Today's problems, he argues, come not from the absence of formal authority, which we have in abundance but from a breakdown of quotidian morality: “The reconstitution of social order for the United States and other societies in a similar position, then, is not a matter of rebuilding of hierarchical authority. It is a matter of reestablishing habits of honesty, reciprocity, and an enlarged radius of trust under changed technological circumstances.”

He's right about the current situation but wrong to oppose hierarchy (or Culture) to spontaneity. If “human beings by nature like to organize themselves hierarchically,” as he argues, leadership itself must often emerge spontaneously. The issue is one of levels: A leader proposes a hierarchy (an organization, strategy, plan of action, etc.) that must win converts, just as any new “slug” rule must. The emergence of new hierarchies is itself part of the spontaneous process of self-organization. The important contrast is not hierarchy versus spontaneity but persuasion (including competition) versus imposition.

Fukuyama, for instance, calls organized religions (as opposed to traditional folk religions) hierarchical without considering their evolution or, for that matter, their variety. This omission hurts his ability to imagine the sources of new order. What accounts for the development, within recent history, of the Mormon church or Pentecostalism, one hierarchical in organization and the other radically decentralized? Both were in fact spontaneous orders, rallying followers who felt moved by their spiritual insights, communal values and modes of worship.

These two movements were arguably responses to the last “great disruption,” the social and economic changes of the 19th century. In his final section, a scant two chapters exploring life “After the Great Disruption,” Fukuyama sets great store by the Victorian era's ability to transform a society of crime, grime and extraordinarily heavy drinking into the quintessence of propriety. We did it before and, he believes, we will do it again: The divorce rate has peaked, as have out-of-wedlock births. Welfare rolls and crime rates are dropping. Laura Schlessinger's “often censorious tone” has replaced feel-good pop psychologizing. The Million Man March and Promise Keepers have affirmed men's familial responsibilities.

All true, and undoubtedly a bottom-up response to social excesses. But Fukuyama's contribution would have been greater if he had extended his imagination beyond the comfortable conservative litany. Youth culture is full of indications of a new moral consciousness. If you're looking for meditations on “honesty, reciprocity, and an enlarged radius of trust,” (not to mention awesome responsibility, and problematic parenting), you can learn at least as much from “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” as from Dr. Laura.

Nor have traditionalist men been the only ones gathering on the Washington mall. By some counts, the 1993 gay rights march attracted as large a crowd as the ones inspired by Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan and the Promise Keepers, and it, too, had marriage as a central theme. The push for gay marriage—for the freedom to make commitments—marks a dramatic change not merely from the pre-Great Disruption days of the closet but from the aggressive libertinism of the 1970s. Whatever happens legally, a new order is already evolving in the lives of individuals, with the sanction of voluntary institutions, including many churches and employers.

Discovering such evolving orders requires a combination of journalism and cultural studies, not social science. That would not suit Fukuyama's preferred methodology and would take him into uncomfortable territory. And though such explorations would make the book more interesting and perhaps more convincing, they would not necessarily make it more influential.

The Great Disruption is an important and ambitious work. It promises to communicate unconventional ideas to political intellectuals bound by convention and thus to inject much needed vitality and realism into stale and stylized debates. In a nonthreatening and serious way, Fukuyama is making another bold, and I believe correct, claim: that the trial-and-error processes of a free society lead not to decay but to discovery, not to disorder but to new and ever-evolving forms of order.

Bryan Gould (review date 14 June 1999)

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SOURCE: “Moral Panic,” in New Statesman, June 14, 1999, p. 46.

[In the following review of The Great Disruption, Gould offers positive assessment, though finds fault in Fukuyama's lack of concern for the increasing concentration of money and media power among a small number of individuals.]

If you are interested in a guided tour of current intellectual fashion, Francis Fukuyama's latest book is just the ticket. It offers overnight stops in anthropology, economics, moral philosophy, psychology, neuro-physiology and other attractive locations. As with all good tours, it offers a combination of the exotic and the familiar. There are enough new names to suggest that we are breaking new ground, but there are also comfortingly established names—from Schumpeter to Margaret Mead, from Socrates to Hayek.

The tour has the merit, too, of being a round trip. We are taken through some disturbing and challenging terrain but eventually arrive back at the point we started. The theme of the tour is the breakdown of social order, the rise in crime, the weakening of trust and morality. This is familiar territory, but Fukuyama does not seek to minimise its challenges. He takes a studiedly neutral view of the various arguments from left and right as to why what he describes as the “great disruption” has happened. But in the end his message is a reassuring one.

Fukuyama tells us that while things may seem bad, they are not as bad as they have been on previous tours. We (by which I think he means what used to be called western society) have been over this course before. Human society is always likely to follow this track, as one social order breaks down and another takes a little time to re-establish itself. But, he assures us, a re-establishment will happen. Human nature, both individually and in society, ensures that some new form of order will be arrived at, even though it may seem unfamiliar and unattractive in prospect. We arrive at the end of the journey with a sigh of relief, perhaps bemoaning our bad luck in having lived through the period of the disruption, but confident that our successors will complete the job of social reconstruction.

I learnt much from and enjoyed the book. But the package tour left me dissatisfied in one major respect. I couldn't help but think about that which seems to have been deliberately skirted around. There is, it is true, a brief discussion at the end of the book which takes us into some of this region. This is the chapter asking, “Does capitalism deplete social capital?” Fukuyama offers a tentative negative answer but seems hardly aware that the capitalism about which this question has sometimes been asked in the past has now been transformed into a different and much more powerful beast.

There are, in other words, major aspects of the modern global economy that Fukuyama fails to take into account. One does not need to be a Marxist to understand that the shape of that modern economy has huge implications for societies across the globe. The mere fact of the single global economy; the concentration of economic power in fewer and fewer hands; the increasing importance of technology and the corresponding decline in the value of labour; and the rapidly growing significance of the privately owned media as a means of shaping social values are all new phenomena which raise in a serious form, for the first time, the question of whether or not an acceptable social order will or will not be allowed to reassert itself this time. It is at least arguable that these global forces are now so powerful that the efforts of individuals or of whole societies to negate or reverse them will come to nought. The great disruption and the breakdown of social order may not be the cyclical phenomena that Fukuyama comfortingly identifies. They may be, on this occasion, the outcome of forces so powerful that they can actually prevent the operation of the expected self-righting mechanisms.

What is odd about the book is not that it provides no answer to this sort of question, but that it appears to ignore it altogether. In averting his gaze from this part of the territory, in his apparent belief that everything is for the best in the best of all possible worlds, Fukuyama exhibits that same Pollyanna-ish optimism that we saw in Anthony Giddens' Reith lectures. So Fukuyama's package tour is an enjoyable and reassuring experience for the small number that can afford it. It seems scarcely relevant to those thousands of millions who inhabit the territory that the package tour avoids.

George Lucas (essay date 28 June 1999)

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SOURCE: “Francis Fukuyama,” in New Statesman, June 28, 1999, pp. 18-9.

[In the following essay, Lucas discusses Fukuyama's burdensome reputation as a prognosticator and his concerns in The Great Disruption.]

Beware beatification. Few things must disturb the soul more than sudden conscription as a global guru. A decade ago this was the fate of Francis Fukuyama, a US government Soviet foreign policy specialist who wrote an article, “The End of History?”, for fellow policy-makers. His piece predicted an end to competing ideologies, and no sooner did it hit the stands than Egon Krenz and other comrades began the demolition of communist eastern Europe. Suddenly Fukuyama had shot to planet-wide superstardom. He had, however bizarrely, defined his era.

But since then, fêted by heads of state, policy wonks and dinner-party hard-nut professionals alike, he has suffered his fair share of brickbats. It is not even certain that he has relished the fortune life has forced on him; to his lasting credit, he looks almost in physical agony when on chat shows he is asked for the third time in a minute: “What can you foresee?” His own quandary, in a world that, as his critics rightly point out, reveals history moving again, is over what to do next. More seminars. Lectures. Appearances. Shows. And books. Well, what's a guru to do?

As marooned by circumstance as Monty Python's Brian or Tony Hancock's Rebel, Fukuyama, now 47, has responded with fair honour. His latest work, The Great Disruption, is striking in its earnestness and assuredly sincere intentions. But it also betrays a weariness with the whole charade of foretelling humanity's destiny. Fukuyama is no longer—if he ever was—the gleeful young prophet; rather he is exhausted, a fading player on another dead evening on another summer season at the pier.

All too readily he betrays his doubts in his argument, which reasons that, given the precedent of 19th-century recoveries from widespread vagrancy to restored social order in both Britain and America, a recent slight tempering of several leading measurements of social upheaval indicates that a similar improvement is now under way. He says that, because people have a biological tendency to co-operate and to make rules, the upheavals of the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s may be set to abate. Disturbingly, though, he also readily agrees that we could instead face, like the Romans in AD 300 or 400, several centuries of Dark Age barbarity. “It's perfectly possible. I am not a soothsayer. I really don't know. My argument is just out there. It could easily be proved wrong.” Human beings like “societies where they have morals and are related to each other at a community level”. There are “some empirical grounds for thinking that might have happened, but who knows?”.

But these doubts have not prevented his publishers from aiming his book squarely at the fears of the airport bookshop victim. The design is dark and threatening: lightning forks cut across the cover to add yet more volts to every reader's worst nightmare of social collapse. The actual text—like its author, well expressed, gracious and informed—provides a comparatively undistinguished trawl through a mountain of statistics and, more sadly, an often repetitive secondary meander through the work of others. Certain near-lethal doses of the worst of social science jargon (one especially cringe-making new term is the “New Hamelin”, so named because we'll get there without the Piper) truly jar.

He is on far more comfortable territory when it's time to shock: having warned that the introduction of the pill for Japanese women would do more for east-west convergence than the Internet, he admits sheepishly to intentional provocation: “That article? Well sure!” So the pill isn't as large a shockwave to hit Japan as the net? A cheeky, you've-caught-me grin. “Well, you know, that, I think, may have been a little bit of an overstatement.”

Beyond that, what remains is a series of all-too-blatant assaults on the headline writers' barricades. Having vanquished communism, he has turned his fire on the feminists—though women in their fifties and sixties, he says, have been the “most hostile”. He feels it is easier now to have a “more intelligent discussion” than ten or 15 years ago. Other than that, certain purple patches cause anxiety. Any religious revival is dismissed as one driven by a need for ceremony, not sincere belief. There are brisk pot-shots at Mediterranean Catholic states, but other faiths are barely mentioned. And the music plays on; in Britain last week, with no eye, surely, on current UK debates, he expressed special fears of rampaging biotechnology. It is “potentially very scary stuff”, he says. “Don't mess with human nature.”

If these antics create anxiety, the subjects about which Fukuyama is more serious trouble for good reason. Although the new book tackles important themes that deserve full debate, it smacks horribly of being written mostly about America, a tiny touch covering Europe, with precious little for the rest of an expectant planet. On top of that, the admission is too instant that the slight recovery of American social order is greatly dependent on a runaway economic boom. “There is a real vulnerability there,” he says. The last few years have indeed, he says, provided a “gigantic job creation engine”. So, what if the stock-market music stops? Then there'll be “very bad consequences”. After all, “no society does well in a correction”.

Not even fleeting prosperity is open to the many. Fukuyama shows little sympathy for those older workers downsized out of their livelihoods by large firms. Indeed the great thing about the 1991-92 recession was that it gave some firms “an excuse” for lay-offs.

Beyond US borders, his seeming lack of concern is often frankly terrifying. What about the failures of South-east Asian states which tried to join the west's economic party? “One of the great things” about the Asian crisis, he says, was that certain investors “got burned”. Was it an error that the Russians were inveigled into starting their rush for the capitalist goal line too quickly? Well, they had an “inability for cultural and various political reasons to get their own act together”. How did Central African states stand in his version of events? Sadly, political inadequacies meant they were just, it seems, non-starters in the great globalisation steeplechase. “How can you have economic growth in Zaire [its name, in fact, altered some years ago] or Rwanda … [or in] a state like Nigeria, where the whole place is such a kleptocracy?”

So not everyone can join. Apart from that, for the lucky ones who were within the perimeter fence, would his favoured restored world of stable families, neighbourhoods and greater order not be, well, a little stale, a little boring? What of the more outlandish people, the great entrepreneurs, inventors and iconoclastic thinkers, any number of whom could easily be crushed under the re-emboldened conformism?

He admits that having such guru status carries responsibilities: “I obviously feel the responsibility if I tell people things that I think lead them to make wrong choices.” He has, to his credit, admitted errors made a decade ago, although he does also have an apparent instinct sometimes to flee the scene of the crime. “Nobody was listening to me particularly,” he says. “I don't have anything, I think, particularly to apologise for.”

The far darker reality for him is that his worldwide fame has become a vicious curse that generates a daily appetite for more truths, more insights, more profundity. He is, if you like, the King Midas of best-selling futurology; a little trapped, a little transfixed by the cameras, he is more victim than victor in his own micro-fragment of history.

He is not, however, in jail. He is free to leave whenever he wishes. He could just walk away to a life with no more TV, no more books, no more ceaseless tramping the boards, year in, year out. He must dream of those less pressured days when all he did was prepare obscure State Department papers on the Soviet Union's latest moves. But if he walked out now … oh, those fears, that dread that curdles the blood so monstrously: what if he left and then they never allowed him back?

Decisions, decisions. Let's hope he gets it right.

Charles Murray (review date July-August 1999)

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Last Updated on June 7, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 2526

SOURCE: “Big Picture,” in Commentary, Vol. 108, No. 1, July-August, 1999, pp. 80-3.

[In the following review, Murray offers a positive evaluation of The Great Disruption.]

Francis Fukuyama likes to paint on a big canvas. He came to international attention in 1989 with an article in the National Interest, “The End of History?,” controversially proposing that liberal democracy might constitute the end point of our political evolution. This was followed by two books, The End of History and the Last Man (1992) and Trust (1995), in each of which, calling upon all the social and behavioral sciences, he grappled with the meaning of life in a world grown (hypothetically) rich and peaceful.

He has not scaled back. In his new book, The Great Disruption, Fukuyama takes it upon himself to explain the sudden downward slide on a wide variety of social indicators that began in the mid-1960s and in some ways is still with us: what happened, why it happened, and whether we might hope for a Great Reconstruction to follow the Great Disruption. Fukuyama has considerably broadened the many previous treatments of this topic by bringing to bear an international perspective and, still more ambitiously, by grappling with what he sees as the underlying aspects of human nature that govern large historical swings.

Fukuyama groups the social problems that characterized the Great Disruption under the headings of crime, family, and trust. The indicators for crime and family are by now familiar: steep rises in violent and property crime, a soaring divorce rate, illegitimacy ratios that went from a few percent of live births at the end of the 1950s to a third or more in the 1990s. What may be less familiar to readers is the extent to which these same problems have plagued not just America but Western Europe.

For more than a decade now, peaceful, civil England has had a property-crime rate higher than the crime-ridden U.S. In Sweden, the Left's one-time model, the rate of violent crime is now as high as in the United States—far fewer murders, to be sure, but just as many assaults, robberies, and sex crimes. The breakdown of the family is also far advanced in most of Western Europe. England has leapfrogged America's illegitimacy ratio, going from one much lower than ours in the 1970s to one considerably higher in the 1990s. In Sweden, marriage appears to be a dying institution. Added to these indicators is a plunge in fertility, with many European countries now far below the replacement rate.

Fukuyama's treatment of the theme of trust draws on his 1995 book of the same name and is intimately linked with a central construct of The Great Disruption, social capital. Social capital is the “set of informal values or norms shared among members of a group that permits cooperation among them.” These shared norms facilitate one's trust that another person will act reliably and honestly, while trust itself acts “like a lubricant that makes the running of any group or organization more efficient.”

Social capital, lubricated by trust, is what has let the Japanese sustain their extraordinarily low crime rate without a lot of prisons; the lack of social capital is what has saddled southern Italian villages with amoral familism (in Edward Banfield's term). Social capital makes the free market work in the United States; the lack of social capital makes a free market impossible, so far, in the former Soviet Union. During the period of the Great Disruption, Fukuyama tries to demonstrate, trust deteriorated, including trust in one's fellow citizens and trust in government; and so, inevitably, did social capital.

Turning to causes, Fukuyama lists four alternative explanations of the Great Disruption, each identified with a particular point of view. The contemporary Left has blamed rising crime figures and the breakdown of families on the persistence of economic and social inequality, while a smaller group of theorists, straddling the political divide, has found the culprit to be greater wealth and security. Then there are libertarians like me who concentrate on mistaken government policies. Finally, social conservatives point a finger at cultural values.

Fukuyama finds something unsatisfactory in each of these explanations, preferring instead to focus on the way many factors work in tandem to produce certain effects. For example, family breakdown has clearly had an adverse impact on the socialization of children, and that in turn has had much to do with rising crime, which in turn has fostered distrust, of neighbors in particular and of the world in general. Family breakdown similarly promotes what Fukuyama calls the “miniaturization of community,” the displacement of affiliation with large institutions (a labor federation, for example) by smaller, more local institutions (aerobics groups, Internet chat rooms) sporting a smaller “radius of trust.” As for the causes of family disorder itself, they too are multiple and variegated—but the special role of the feminist revolution has been crucial, and Fukuyama devotes one long and important chapter to it.

In the end, however, what makes this book so valuable is neither Fukuyama's description of the Great Disruption nor his analysis of its proximate causes. Rather, it is his prolonged meditation on what comes next.

Where do norms come from? How do cooperation and trust emerge from them? How, once disrupted, can they be expected to reemerge? Such questions, framed in other vocabulary, were the stuff of social analysis from the Greeks to the 19th century. Is man, by nature, fitted for society? But then, for most of this century, the question virtually disappeared. The renewed interest in it is one of the happier trends in today's social science, and Fukuyama does a masterly job of surveying and synthesizing what has been learned.

He begins by laying out a useful conceptual framework. Briefly, it consists of a horizontal axis anchored on one side by pure hierarchically-generated norms (the Qu'ran's proscription of alcohol, California's proscription of smoking in restaurants) and on the other by pure spontaneously-generated norms (the incest taboo, the price of a commodity). Along the vertical axis is a continuum ranging from “rational” on the top (“rational” merely in the sense of deliberately chosen) and “arational” (meaning socially inherited) on the bottom. The four quadrants in this scheme (hierarchical/rational, spontaneous/arational, etc.) represent four basic types of norms, and Fukuyama sets out to explain how each comes about.

Here, he draws on a wide and vivid set of examples from the sociobiological and anthropological record to demonstrate a few basic points. Most basically of all, human beings are naturally gregarious. They do not behave as the ruthlessly profit-maximizing model of Homo economicus would have us believe. Reciprocity, generosity, and loyalty are integral parts of human nature. Humans are not entirely trustworthy—not angels, Fukuyama repeatedly reminds us—but everything we have learned from modern behavioral and biological science gives us sound reason to think that they are indeed fitted for society.

To be sure, most of these new “findings” about human nature have also been stated in other terms, by thinkers from Aristotle to Adam Smith. But it is important at the end of our century to have the imprimatur of science on them, and I suppose we can also be said to have learned a few new things along the way, or at least to have stated old truths with greater precision. Certainly we have acquired a better understanding of the biochemical origins of behavior, and that understanding may be expected to increase. In any case, these chapters of The Great Disruption are uniformly fascinating.

Shifting gears abruptly, the book takes us into the world of organizational theory, which, as Fukuyama sees it, is increasingly in sync with the sources of human cooperation. The 20th century began with Max Weber telling us that the essence of modernity was bureaucracy. It ends with bureaucracies everywhere in decline, replaced by spontaneous, self-organized markets and networks.

These two things are not identical, Fukuyama explains. In a market, agreements and cooperation require only a minimal set of shared values. That minimal set includes some exceedingly important items, especially a common agreement to engage in voluntary, good-faith transactions. But in every other aspect of their lives, the members of a market can be highly individualistic. They do not even need to like each other.

By contrast, a network is defined by larger shared values. The members of the Sierra Club are part of a network, and so are members of a kinship group or a religion. For that matter, organizations that are putatively market-driven routinely take on some of the characteristics of a network, as in the development of corporate cultures that shape behavior far beyond the narrow terms of a job description.

Fukuyama, putting distance between himself and libertarians, is careful to note the limits of markets and networks alike. Although their spontaneity and flexibility give them great range and vitality, some degree of hierarchy, he believes, is necessary, especially in large social units. Gossip, for example, can be a wonderful mechanism of control in a community of 50 to 100 people; in an anonymous urban neighborhood, it needs to be replaced by more formal systems. And besides, Fukuyama notes, people like to organize themselves hierarchically. What they dislike, he observes trenchantly, “is not hierarchy in principle, but hierarchies in which they end up on the bottom.” Hierarchies, including powerful government hierarchies, we will always have with us.

Where, then, are we left? Fukuyama urges us, as a first step, to reject the notion that the engine of our destruction is, as some on both Left and Right would have it, capitalism itself, relentlessly eating away at our social capital. Quite the contrary. Although he seldom says anything unequivocally, on this point Fukuyama is unequivocal:

Montesquieu and Adam Smith were right in arguing that commerce tended to improve morals; [Edmund] Burke, Daniel Bell [in The Cultural Contradictions of Capitalism], and [the British social critic] John Gray are wrong to assert that capitalism necessarily undercuts its own moral basis or more broadly that the Enlightenment is self-undermining.

It is not capitalism that worries Fukuyama but the state. Governments, he believes, can help generate social capital—the American public educational system in the first half of this century is his example—but they can also destroy it. Are modern liberal states ineluctably drawn to promote individualism at the expense of social capital? Not necessarily, Fukuyama tells us, but he does not sound wholly confident. For government, the trick is not to contrive artificial ways of restoring social capital but to provide an environment in which the natural human tendencies to create norms and values can reassert themselves.

About the likelihood of this happening, Fukuyama is refreshingly sanguine. In the 1820s, he reminds us, the United States was mired in a slough of alcoholism and crime; a few years later, it had been turned around by the Second Great Awakening. Similarly, 19th-century England was caught in the grip of the most wrenching national economic transformation in history: within a matter of decades, it shifted from a country of agrarian hamlets to an urbanized industrial power suffering from all the severe social ills that Charles Dickens would make notorious. But by the second half of the century, even as the economic transformation continued at full force, Victorian middle-class values had been propagated so relentlessly that crime dropped to the very low levels that would remain characteristic of English society all the way through the first two-thirds of the 20th century.

We have seen the pendulum swing many times before: from license to prudery, from profligacy to thrift, from social chaos to social order. Social capital will be regenerated in the natural course of things: that is the central theme through which Fukuyama draws together the many strands of his argument. Maybe all we need to do is wait.

Fukuyama's historical reconstruction is persuasive, and his understanding of human nature is one with which I emphatically agree. My reservations lie primarily in his tendency to use society as a whole as his unit of analysis. Where he tends to aggregate, I would often prefer to disaggregate.

Doing so tempers his picture in interesting ways. A strong case can be made, for example, that even as trust of fellow citizens was deteriorating appallingly in some parts of America—like inner cities—in others, both trust and civil institutions were continuing to function largely unchanged. Similarly, the loss of trust itself needs to be disaggregated. When it comes to government, a loss of trust in the courts is palpably bad because the rule of law is at stake, but what about a loss of trust in the efficacy of government programs? To me the latter sounds like part of the solution, not part of the problem.

Disaggregation is especially important in thinking about the future, where Fukuyama's wide-angled focus may yield too bright a picture. As it happens, I see harbingers of a Great Reconstruction everywhere—for the middle class on up. We may even be entering a golden age, recovering from the destructive intellectual fads of the recent past and rediscovering our attraction to the beautiful and the true, with technology providing wonderful new possibilities—for the middle class on up. But meanwhile there is the other part of American society—the part often called the underclass—that was the source of many of the statistical trends that define the Great Disruption.

America, after the Great Disruption, is split in a way that it was not split prior to 1965. The underclass is not just a traditional lower class, eager to climb the ladder to middle-class respectability, but a segment of society that is acquiring a code, structure, and culture of its own. It has the ability, through its own underground economy and through the assistance extended to it by government policy, to exist independently of the rest of society. It is increasingly white, and it is increasingly making inroads into the working class.

Added to this is one of the most potent variables that will shape social structure in the 21st century: intelligence. Any attempt to think through the question of where technology and the information economy are taking us must come to grips with the radically different ways this process will play out depending on an individual's IQ. The smart are going to do extremely well. The average will do all right. Those of low intelligence are going to be excluded from many more social goods than we can now imagine. They are in danger of becoming economically and, worse, socially superfluous. Combine this with the presence of a sizable underclass, and even in the face of a regeneration of social capital of the kind Fukuyama foresees, America is likely to be a markedly different place from the country we knew prior to 1965.

These, at least, are the strictures of one who has been working some of the same territory as Fukuyama. But put them aside. The Great Disruption takes on questions that go to the heart of social policy writ large. It is written with never-failing lucidity, brings together vast and disparate literatures, and makes one think in new ways about the prospects of post-industrial society. That is quite enough for one book.

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