[Marxism] Francis Fukuyama's 'The End of History' in Retrospect

Graham M. gkmilner at v-app.com.au
Tue May 13 23:03:59 MDT 2008


The essay below was written in 2001.    Although it is focused on Europe,
the essay probably has some general validity as an examination and
assessment of Fukuyama's celebrated thesis, where that thesis is concerned
with global politics in the later 20th century and beyond.

Fukuyama himself has, since the publication of his original essay 'The End
of History?' in 1989, modified his views to some extent.   But it seems to
me that the neo-conservative tenor in Fukuyama's positions remains intact
today, even although he is prepared to criticise certain aspects of
contemporary US foreign policy.

In solidarity,

Graham Milner



FRANCIS FUKUYAMA'S 'THE END OF HISTORY' IN RETROSPECT

Some statements have a way of capturing a moment, or even summarising an
epoch.   Such were Thomas Paine's pamphlet 'Common Sense', which articulated
the sentiments of American colonists on the eve of the Declaration of
Independence in 1776, or Paine's later antagonist Edmund Burke's famous
'Reflections on the Revolution in France', which galvanised conservative
Europe in 1790 against the actions of the French National Assembly.
Francis Fukuyama's article 'The End of History?',1 published first in an
obscure US journal in 1989, and later expanded into a best-selling book,2
sounded the note of triumphalism that was to be taken up enthusiastically by
Western liberals and conservatives as Communist regimes in Eastern Europe
collapsed in 1989, and as the USSR itself disintegrated and disappeared in
1991, ostensibly leaving the field uncontested for 'liberal democratic'
capitalism.

Fukuyama argued, even before the fall of the Stalinist regimes in Eastern
Europe, that the course of events in the 20th century, which had 'begun full
of self-confidence in the ultimate triumph of Western liberal democracy',
was returning full circle by its end to 'an unabashed victory of economic
and political liberalism'.3   This development constituted, in Fukuyama's
view, not just the end of the Cold War, or even of an epoch, but 'the end of
history as such',4 with liberal democracy as the end point of humanity's
political evolution.   Fukuyama pithily summarised this situation as
'liberal democracy in the political sphere combined with easy access to VCRs
and stereos in the economic'.5

Communism and Fascism, as the two main political contenders with liberal
democracy in the 20th century, have been seen off, according to Fukuyama,
with developments in the Soviet Union under Gorbachev putting the 'final
nail in the coffin of the Marxist-Leninist alternative to liberal
democracy'.6   He emphasises that the 'end of history' does not signify that
all liberal-democratic societies are perfect, or that liberal democracy is
generalised, but simply that there is no viable or existing form of society
with a valid claim to be of a higher type.7

Fukuyama concludes his article on a pessimistic note, holding that 'the end
of history will be a very sad time', with 'neither art nor philosophy' but
merely curation of 'the museum of human history'.8   Fukuyama elaborated his
ideas in the book 'The End of History and the Last Man', and later published
articles on the 5th and 10th anniversaries of his original article,
restating his basic thesis, modifying aspects of it, and replying to
critics.9

Above has been presented a bald summary of what is a well-argued and
strikingly harmonious and integrated thesis, which draws upon the Hegelian
tradition as mediated through the work of the Russian emigre thinker
Alexandre Kojeve, who had a major influence on French intellectual life
between the wars.10   Fukuyama's book develops the concept of thymotic
'recognition', which he derives from Plato and Hegel to provide a
non-materialist meta-history - a concept that has force and which underpins
his commitment to liberal democracy as the only form of polity that can, by
guaranteeing human rights through the institutions of civil society, assure
each individual's self worth.11   The 'Last Man' is a term derived from
Nietzsche's philosophy, and refers to the mundane type of 'post-history', as
against Nietzsche's ideal of the overman - the megathymotic striver for
superiority over his fellows.12

The Fukuyama thesis has been compared with earlier expositions of
'convergence' theories developed by thinkers as diverse as James Burnham,
Daniel Bell and Herbert Marcuse, but none of these theorists proclaimed the
'end of history' itself.13   'Endism' does, however, have a lengthy
pedigree, as has been reconstructed by Perry Anderson in his penetrating
assessment of Fukuyama's ideas.14   Anderson and Fred Halliday are two
Marxist critics who have recognised the strength and internal unity of
Fukuyama's contribution, but Halliday has commented that he sees no valid
reason to replace a Marxism admittedly in crisis with either Fukuyama's
Hegelian idealism or the frivolity of postmodernism.15   Some of Anderson's
criticisms of Fukuyama's ideas will be discussed further below, but other
commentators have remarked on Fukuyama's cavalier dismissal of facts and
arguments that tend to undermine his presentation.   These points include
the prevalence of racism and ethnic rivalries, and other social ills, in the
'liberal democracies', as well as the threats of religious fundamentalism
and nationalism 16 - all of which Fukuyama downplays.

Daniel Singer has pointed to the desire of the capitalist order's rulers to
'break the promethean spirit',17 and destroy any belief in the possibility
of an alternative to the present social system.   How does Fukuyama's thesis
measure up in the light of post-World War One European history?   I shall
examine in turn the end of the Cold War and the collapse of Stalinism; the
rise of the right, including Thatcherism as well as neo-fascism; European
unity and the German question; and finally the situation of the left and the
future prospects for socialism.

The stasis of the Cold War provided the framework for a basically stable
political situation in Europe from 1945 until 1989.   In fact, despite the
arms race and the stockpiling of nuclear arsenals by the rival blocs in the
Cold War, it has been observed that fundamentally the two sides agreed to
adhere to their respective spheres of influence in this period, avoiding
major confrontations..18   Ideological antagonism was always there,19 but
lengthy periods of detente underwrote academic views emphasising
convergence, such as Daniel Bell's.    The enormous burden placed on both
sides, in terms of military spending, told particularly against the USSR,
economically weaker by far as it was than the Western bloc..   It is
doubtless the case that a prime motivation behind Mikhail Gorbachev's 'New
Thinking' was a desire to reach a modus vivendi with the USA, and to
redirect resources from arms spending to civilian economic reconstruction.20

Anderson has written that the collapse of the USSR and its satellite states
in Eastern Europe, and the subsequent restoration of capitalist market
economies in those areas 'gives...central force to Fukuyama's case'.21   As
mentioned above, Fukuyama had already commented in mid-1989 that Gorbachev's
programme, as it had by then evolved, 'put the final nail in the coffin' of
Marxism-Leninism'.22   But Fukuyama has surely since that time been too
sanguine about the fate of those countries in the East that have dismantled
their planned economies and engaged in wholesale privatisation.   Some
writers have remarked optimistically about the rebirth of civil society in
Eastern Europe since 1989, 23   but others have talked of a return to
'feudalism',24 or the reduction of these countries to underdeveloped
status.25   There is a good deal of nostalgia among the older generation in
Russia for the stability of the Brezhnev years - a sad commentary on the
quality of recent Russian governments.26

Neo-liberalism - the ideology of free markets, limited government
intervention, and self-reliance - was the prgramme of Margaret Thatcher's
governments from 1979 in Britain, and of the Reagan administrations in the
USA.27   It has since travelled the world, becoming one of the most
successful post-war political and social programmes.28   And of course its
priorities dovetail neatly with Fukuyama's perspectives.   The resurgence of
a crusading  neo-liberalism, after the nadir of its parent liberalism was
reached in the first half of the 20th cedntury,29 a low point followed by
the dominance of the Keynesian 'Butskellite' consensus in the 1950s and
'60s, does lend credence to Fukuyama's thesis.   But the classical Marxist
(and Leninist) critiques of capitalism still have force, and there is no
guarantee that an economic crisis of a severe nature can be warded off
indefinitely (a prospect the possibility of which Fukuyama himself
admits).31

Fukuyama considers that fascism as a political ideology was finished off by
World War Two.32   But fascist and right-wing populist currents have proved
durable entities in European political life since the war, and have
exploited issues such as immigration to garner, in some cases, significant
support.   Le Pen's National Front in France, and Haider's Freedom Party in
Austria are just two of the more successful examples.33   Such groups may be
flying in the face of European integration and political stability at the
moment, but Paul Sweezy, the US Marxist, observed during the last World War
that 'every capitalist nation, in the period of imperialism, carries within
it the seeds of fascism'.34   The 'new' middle class of white collar workers
and semi-professional workers 35 may well constitute a mass base for future
fascist movements, given an economic breakdown and a resurgence of labour
militancy - a scenario that Fukuyama's thesis could not readily accommodate.

Has Europe, with the creation of the Union and its probable extension to the
East, reached the 'ideal', stable, liberal democratic polity that Fukuyama
claims for the industrialised world at the 'end of history'?   Michael
Wintle has pointed out that Europe as an entity stretches back thousands of
years into the past, inheriting the contributions of Greek civilisation, the
Roman Empire, medieval Christendom, and the Enlightenment.36
Nevertheless, the just departed century witnessed Auschwitz and the other
extermination and torture camps of the Third Reich, which possibly marked
the nadir of civilisation: surely it is too soon (a matter of only a few
decades since the end of World War Two) to discount the possibility of a
resurgence of barbarism.37   Germany seems content to be subsumed into
Europe, but East Germans resent the second-class status that they have in
the now united Federal Republic.38

Ernest Mandel wrote in the early 1970s of a possible antagonism developing
between Europe and the USA, as economic competition increased between the
rival imperialist centres.39   But this view might have been exaggerating
Europe's importance in the world - George Lichtheim remarked in the same era
on the decline in significance of Europe in the 20th century, as a factor in
world politics.40   Fukuyama would argue that liberal democracies do not as
a rule go to war against each other, and that stability in international
relations is assured only by the preservation of democratic polities in the
leading states.41

Turning to the issue of the crisis facing the left, it should be emphasised
first that the alleged eclipse of socialism is an essential component of
Fukuyama's thesis.   The 'Old Left' of Stalinism and Social Democracy, while
retaining significant support in many European countries, does indeed seem
to be in a state of decline, in the former case terminal decline.   The
collapse of the so-called 'socialist bloc' has delivered a massive blow
against the entire left, 42 and the success of Fukuyama's original article,
and the wide currency given to the ideas contained within it, reflects the
prostration of the left.   Some writers have expressed the view that the
entire progressive liberal and socialist perspective extant since the
Enlightenment has disintegrated, a theme prevalent amongst postmodernist
theorists.43   Harvey Kaye sees the defeats of the British and US labour
movements in the 1980s, and the fragmentation of post-1960s social
movements, as prefiguring the crisis of the left.44

But what of these social movements: the peace movement; the feminist
movement; the gay movement; ethnic rights movements; the ecology movement,
and of the whole New Left that emerged from the radicalisation of the 1960s,
reaching its high point in the 'annus mirabilis' of 1968? 45   Do these
movements offer a systemic challenge to Fukuyama's
neoliberal/neoconservative consensus?   A revitalised left will indeed be
based to a large extent on these movements, especially the Green movement
which, as Anderson has cogently argued, is putting forward demands that
cannot be met by a capitalist economic system, with its inbuilt expansionist
drive for growth and profits. 46   The same point is made by Bert von
Steenbergen, 47 who emphasises that Fukuyama devotes remarkably little
attention...to these ecological problems'. 48   The demands of the women's
movement can also not be readily included in Fukuyama's scenario.   Feminism
and the fight for improvement in the status of women have suffered setbacks
in Eastern Europe since 1989, while the struggle for women's liberation in
the West has also experienced a backlash from the conservative
counter-offensive.   The demand for total women's emancipation is not
achievable without challenging the structures and institutions of capitalism
as the last form of class society.

Fukuyama's ill-informed dismissal of Lenin's organisational concepts repeats
misconceptions common to both Western and former Stalinist commentators.
His claim that Lenin stood for an 'absolutely rigid,
monolithic...hierarchically organised vanguard Communist party' 50 is an
absurd caricature, and contraducts the view of Lenin held by reputable
scholars such as Marcel Liebman, Ernest Mandel and Paul le Blanc,51 who have
all stressed Lenin's flexibility in organisational and tactical matters.
It is my opinion that a revitalised socialist movement must draw upon the
classical Marxist tradition, and extract the best from it - including (and
in some ways, in organisational matters for example, especially) the
contribution of Lenin.

Frank Furedi, drawing attention to Fukuyama's effective conclusion that 'the
emptiness of bourgeois life is the apogee of human achievement',52 remarked
that this attitude really 'speaks the language of defeat'.53   Boris
Kagarlitsky, the Russian New Left theorist, has defined the 'Restoration' of
1989-91 as, like the European Restoration of 1815, a temporary victory for
reaction.   According to Kagarlitsky, the tasks of the international
revolution remain - 'unfinished'.54


NOTES

1.  'The National Interest' (Summer 1989) pp.3-18

2.  'The End of History and the Last Man' (Harmondsworth, 1992)

3.  'The End of History?', p.3

4.  'Ibid.', p.4

5.  'Ibid.', p.8

6.  'Ibid.', p.12

7.  'Ibid.', p.13

8.  'Ibid.', p.18

9.  'The End of History: Five Years Later', "History and Theory" Vol. 34
(1995) pp.27-43; 'Second Thoughts', "The National Interest" (Summer 1999)
pp.1-3.   See also 'On the Possibility of Writing a Universal History',
Arthur Melzer et al (eds.), "History and the Idea of Progress" (New York,
1995) pp.13-29

10. Kojeve presented a liberal view of Hegel's philosophy, as against the
Marxist interpretation on the one hand, and the position of Karl Popper on
the other.   Popper argued that both Hegel and Marx were totalitarian
opponents of the open, liberal society: see 'The Open Society and its
Enemies' Vol. 2 (London, 5th edition, 1966).   On Kojeve, see Fukuyama, 'The
End of History?' pp.4-5 and Alex Callinicos, 'The Revenge of History:
Marxism and the Eastern European Revolutions' (Cambridge, 1991) p.8.   Georg
Lukacs' 'The Young Hegel' (London, 1975) also corroborates the view that
Hegel was a liberal when a young man, but of course assimilates the
philosopher into the confluence culminating in Marxism.   Jan Nederveen
Peiterse, 'Fukuyama and Liberal Democracy: the Ends of History', "Economy
and Society" Vol. 21 (1993) p.221, has claimed that Fukuyama's presentation
of Hegel is 'brand new' in focusing on liberalism.   But the vogue of
Hegel's philosophy in the Anglo-American world in the late 19th century was
precisely based upon this interpretation, made by thinkers like Green and
Bradley.   See Ernest Barker, 'Political Thought from 1848-1914' (London,
2nd ed., 1928) ch. 2,3

11. 'The End of History and the Last Man', Part Three

12.The prologue to 'Thus Spoke Zarathustra', Nietzsche's most widely-read
book had, in its original German edition, the title 'On the Overman and the
Last Man'.

13. Burnham, 'The Managerial Revolution' (Harmondsworth, 1945); Bell, 'The
End of Ideology: On the Exhaustion of Political Ideas in the Fifties' (New
York, 1962); Marcuse, 'One Dimensional Man' (London, 1972).   See Gregory
Elliott's comments: 'The Cards of Confusion: Reflections on Historical
Communism and the "End of History"', 'Radical Philosophy' No. 64 (1993) p.3

14. 'The Ends of History', "A Zone of Engagement" (London, 1992) pp.279-375.
Keith Windschuttle, whose book 'The Killing of History: How a Discipline is
Being Murdered by Literary Critics and Social Theorists' (Sydney, 1994)
otherwise contains a good exposition of Fukuyama's ideas, belittles
Anderson's contribution beyond recognition: he merely employs the
opportunity to berate the Marxist left

15. 'An Encounter with Fukuyama', "New Left Review" No. 193 (1992) p.95

16. Abdelkader Aoudjit, 'The End of History and the Last Man', "Clio" Vol 22
(1993) pp.379-80

17. 'Prometheus Rebound?', W.Tabb (ed.), "The Future of Socialism:
Perspectives from the Left" (New York, 1990) p.32

18. See Eric Hobsbawm, 'Age of Extremes: The Short Twentieth Century
1914-91' (London, 1994) p.256 and John Lewis Geddis, 'The Cold War, the Long
Peace and the Future', M. Hogan (ed.), "The End of the Cold War: Its Meaning
and Implications" (Cambridge, 1992) esp. p.34

19. David Horowitz, 'From Yalta to Vietnam' (Harmondsworth, 1969) focuses on
the ideological, anti-communist drive behind US foreign policy during the
first Cold War.

20. Gorbachev's 'Perestroika: New Thinking for Our Country and the World'
(London, 1988) ch.7, articulates well the case for disarmament, but without
drawing a direct link to economic reconstruction.   The success of the
latter, however, required a reduction in the huge burden of arms spending

21. 'The Ends of History', p.351

22. 'The End of History?', p.12

23. See, for example, David Lovell, 'Nationalism, Civil Society, and the
Prospects for Freedom in Eastern Europe', "Australian Journal of Politics
and History" Vol 45, No1 (1999) pp.65-77

24. C. Verdery, 'A Transition from Socialism to Feudalism?   Thoughts on the
Post-Socialist State'; "What Was Socialism, and What Comes Next?"
(Princeton, 1996) pp.204-28

25. See James Petras and Steve Vieux, 'Russia: The Transition to
Underdevelopment', "Journal of Contemporary Asia" Vol. 25 (1995) pp.109-18.
See also the comments in B. Silverman and M. Yanovitch, 'New Rich, New Poor,
New Russia: Winners and Losers on the Russian Road to Capitalism' (London,
1997) who point to a massive decline in living standards and a corresponding
increase in inequality

26. Per Manson, 'Back in the USSR', "History Today" Vol. 47 (1997) pp.48-53

27. On the Thatcher years see George Black, 'Is There Life After Thatcher?',
"The Nation" Vol. 248 (May 8, 1989) pp.620-22 and K. Harris. 'Thatcher'
(London, 1988) ch. 13 (for a eulogistic view)

28. See I. Adams, 'The New Right', "Political Ideology Today" (Manchester,
1993) ch. 9

29. Harold Laski's 'The Rise of European Liberalism' (London, 1962; original
ed., 1936) was written during the darkest night of liberal fortunes by a
socialist writing for socialists

30. On this issue see Robert Lekachman, 'The Age of Keynes: A Biographical
Study' (Harmondsworth, 1969) ch. 7

31. 'Second Thoughts',  pp.4-5

32. 'The End of History?', p.9

33. On the contemporary European far right see Hans George Betz, 'The New
Politics of Resentment: Radical Right Wing Populist Parties in Western
Europe', "Comparative Politics" Vol. 25 (1993) pp.413-27.   Fascism of the
pan-European type is discussed in R. Griffin (ed.), 'Fascism' (Oxford,
1995), p.315 and section d.   Good, first-hand accounts of fascist currents
in Europe are Ingo Hasselbach (with Tom Reiss), 'Fuhrer-Ex: Memoirs of a
Former Neo-Nazi' (London, 1996) and Ray Hill (with Andrew Bell), 'The Other
Face of Terror: Inside Europe's Neo-Nazi Network' (London, 1988)

34. 'The Theory of Capitalist Development' (New York, 1942) p.346

35. See Nicos Poulantzas, 'Classes in Contemporary Capitalism' (London,
1978) Part 3

36. 'Cultural Identity in Europe: Shared Experience, Culture and Identity in
Europe' (Aldershot, 1996) pp.12-13, 24

37. Fukuyama's dismissal of Hitler as being representative of a 'diseased
bypath in the general course of European development' obscures the role
played by German capitalism in financing and supporting the Nazi party.
See Robert Black, 'Fascism in Germany' 2 vols. (London, 1975)

38. See Mary Fulbrook, 'Aspects of Society and Identity in the New Germany',
"Daedalus" Vol. 123 (1994), pp.211-34; Harold James, 'Germans and their
Nation', "German History" Vol. 9 (1991) p.145, and Fritz Stern, 'Freedom and
Its Discontents', "Foreign Affairs" Vol. 72 (L993) pp.110-11

39. 'Europe versus America?  Contradictions of Imperialism' (London, 1970)
ch. 15

40. 'Europe in the Twentieth Century' (London, 1974) ch. 15

41. 'The End of History?', p.16

42. See Elliott, 'Cards of Confusion', p.7 and Konrad Jarausch, 'Toward a
Postsocialist Politics?   A Historical Postscript', C. Lenke and G. Marks
(eds.), "The Crisis of Socialism in Europe" (Durham, N.C., 1992) p.230

43. Tony Judt, 'The End of Which European Era?', "Daedalus" Vol. 123 (1994)
pp.10, 13

44. 'Hard Times?', Alan Ryan (ed.), "After the End of History" (London,
1992) pp.64-5

45. On the New Left and 1968 see Harriett Gough, 'Situationism, Futurism and
May 1968', "Australian Journal of Politics and History" Vol. 42 (1996)
pp.160-72 and Daniel Singer, 'Prelude to Revolution: France in May 1968'
(London, 1970).   On the youth radicalisation see F. Heer, 'Youth Rebellion
in Europe', "Challenge of Youth" (London, 1974) pp.164-91

46. 'The Ends of History', pp.353, 367-68.   On the ecological crisis and
socialist strategy see further James O'Connor, 'Socialism and Ecology',
"Capitalism, Nature, Socialism: A Journal of Socialist Ecology" Vol. 2, No.
8 (1991) pp.1-11, and the Democratic Socialist Party (Australia),
'Environment, Capitalism and Socialism' (Sydney, 1999)

47. '"The End of History as a Self-Denying Prophecy', "Futures" Vol. 24
(1992) pp.712-15

48. 'Ibid.'. p.715

49. Feminists obviously differ over strategy, but socialist feminism is
still a major strand.   On recent feminist debates see Pauline Johnson,
'Feminism as Radical Humanism' (Sydney, 1994).   On the experience of women
in Eastern Europe since 1989 see Peggy Watson, 'Eastern Europe's Silent
Revolution in Gender', "Sociology" Vol. 27, No. 3, pp.471-87.   On the
situation with respect to women in Western Europe see Joni Lovenduski, 'The
Integration of Feminism into West European Politics', M. Rhodes et al
(eds.), 'Developments in West European Politics' (London, 1997).   See also
Susan Bassnet, 'Feminist Experiences: The Women's Movement in Four Cultures'
(London, 1986), on Italy, Britain and the GDR.

50. 'The End of History?', p.13

51. Liebman, 'Leninism Under Lenin' (London, 1975); Mandel, 'The Leninist
Theory of Organisation', Robin Blackburn (ed.), 'Revolution and Class
Struggle: A Reader in Marxist Politics' (Glasgow, 1977) pp.78-135; Le Blanc,
'Lenin and the Revolutionary Party' (Atlantic Highlands, N.J., 1993)

52. 'The Enthronement of Low Expectations: Fukuyama's Ideological Compromise
for Our Time', Christopher Bertram and Andrew Chitty (eds.), 'Has History
Ended?  Fukuyama, Marx, Modernity' (Aldershot, 1994) p.33

53. 'Ibid.', p.43

54. 'The Revolution...Unfinished', "International Viewpoint" Paris (January,
1988) pp.30-2



-----------------------------------------o0o--------------------------------
-----






More information about the Marxism mailing list