“The End of History and the Last Man” by Francis Fukuyama
Thesis: History is an evolutionary process in which governing philosophies are attempted and discarded based on how well they serve the governed – this process will continue until the final (and best) theory of governance emerges
Fukuyama’s argument borrows heavily German philosopher Georg Hegel (18th century) who argued that history shows a progression of governance and philosophy that will at some point end with the best system of governance unchallenged (this will be the end of history)
Hegel argued this process first began when one man fought another not for food or shelter but simply for recognition. This search for recognition is what makes humans superior to animals. Government began when one man submitted to another out of fear for his life. The victor became the master (king, aristocrat, oligarch) and the vanquished became his slave (serf, peon, peasent).
But these governments had internal “contradictions” that meant these systems could not last. The elites sought recognition but only got it from their “inferiors.” Because the elites had all their material needs satisfied they essentially ossified and stop learning. Meanwhile the “inferiors” were learning how to control nature through their labor. They gain confidence as they master the “near worthless” nature into goods of power and wealth..As they grow confident they become increasingly demanding of the same kind of recognition given to theur master.
Hegel argued that the French Revolution was the end of history because it showed the emergence of a system, Republicanism, that had no contradictions. Now citizens recognize each others as equals and so the need for recognition is universally recognized.
But after the death of Hegel this belief in the evolution of history began to fade. Marx (who was a contemporary of Hegels) coopted this idea to say that the end of history would be the enmergence of communism and that the only real “contradictions” were between the classes.
Then came the world wars, the holocaust and the rise of communism and facism – developments that created a period of deep historical cynacism where the elites could rarely fathom history as a positive progression leading to a bright future.
But then communism collapsed (much to the surprise of the cynical elites), facism was defeated, S. Europe, Asia, Latim America, former communist countries began to experiment with free markets and democracy.
Facism is defeated in war, ironic since war was supposed to be the embodiment of the facistic dream of domination – those surviving right-wing dictaterships that survived often were plegued by problems of legitimacy (“why are you in charge and not me?”) that meant the Greek and Argentinian military dictatorships collapsed from within because there was not enough internal suuport even within the military – in other cases such dictatorships are ill suited to handle social or economic problems because the government has built no reserve of good will amongst its people (Brazilian and Peruvian military leaders stepped down during economic crisis’)
Communism collapses when its chief claim of legitimacy (to deliver a good standard of living) begins to falter – Soviet GNP between 1975 and 1985 was growing somewhere between .6 to .1 percent and miilitray spending was increasing 2 to 3 percent in the 1980s – meaning the civilian economy was actually shrinking. – at the same time the memories of Stalin’s terror, the creation of a corrupt, hypocritcal elite and the knowledge that the rest of the world was beginning to see them as backward and primitive lent to a momentum to replace – communism may still be alive here and there but its reputation as a legitimate means of governance is essentially over.
Why? Because we are beinning to see the end of history as modern science, capitalism and democracy are increasingly seen as the only real option of governance and economic planning. While not all countries have embraced these values (and hence remain “historical”) there is no longer any real ideological opposition. The debate over which systems are best is essentially over and what is left are systems transitioning (some more slowly than others) into capitalist democracies or those few cultures whose values don’t allow for recognition of the individual and universal equality.
So why is capitalistic democracy the end point of human history? Because modern science ( and eventually capititalism) satisfy desire and democracy satisfies the need for recognition.
Nations have few options but to embrace modern natural sciences because 1) it conveys military advantages and 2) it makes possible the accumulation of limitless wealth and the satisfaction of human desires.
As a result: increasing homogenization of all societies, creating a centralized state, urbanization, replacing traditional traditional social organization (tribe, sect, family) with units more economically functional, and becoming linked together through trade relationships and universal consumer culture.
As societies attempt to reach a post-industrial age (ie past heavy manufacturing) they are drawn to capitalism as the most efficient means of rapidly allocating investment, prices and labor (as well promoting a work ethic). Hence China, Soviet Union and other communist countries attempting to create post-industrial economies have transitioned to capitalism. Individuals oppose state controls on the economy because they limit the individuals ability to satisfy their material desires.
But if capitalism and modern science are driven by desire? Why is democracy coming also to the fore? You can have a capitalist country, that is non-democratic (China, Singapore)
The Greeks called it Thymos, the need to be recognized by your equals and superiors. This desire is only truly satisfied within a democratic system where the slaves join the masters in determining the destiny through popular sovereignty and rule of law – citizens recognize each others humanity and the state recognizes your worth through the granting of rights – no other arrangement is better able to satisfy this longing as so no further historical change in possible – we become the last man
Internationally this means less war as thymotic needs no longer find voice in war and conquest.
The Last man
Fukuyama acknowledges a variety of roadblocks or complications for this to happen:
Culture -- because religious or ethnic identification can also be a source for thymos, that desire can be diverted into identities other than democratic – Arab culture, Fukuyama notes, seems to have a hard time pursuing democracy as a means of satisfying thymotic needs. In addition, if religion/ethnicity become the primary source of thymos it can often lead to violence since the recognition of the individual only extends to those within the chosed group and those outside of it are not seen as worthy.
Megathymos – What about those who don’t seek equality but seek dominance? Fukuyama says the US had been especially adept at diverting such ambition into capitalism, sports, confrontational careers (law, science), and a political system constrained by checks and balances.
Leftist critique – Political equality does not bring about economic equality so Thymotic needs are never really met and satisfied within a capitalist system. Fukuyama finds this critique unconvincing because capitalism allows for those with high level of desire to strive upwards while those who are comfortable with their lot still have a minumum standard of living and political rights.
But perhaps the greatest problem is the problem of the last man himself – A worker who works enough to be comfortable but not enough to excel, who is comfortable with mediocrity, who seeks to just be one of the many, sees no need to stand out, who is so convinced by everyone else’s equality he loses the ability to condemn immorality, reluctant to sacrifice self for collective good either militarily or as a consumer – so art languishes, the sciences falter, economies slow, and morality descends into relatavism – the solution is limited irrationality or a dose of megathymos
Work ethic – a desire to work for its own sake, usually to receive recognition
A pride in democratic institutions – a desire to become involved in neighborhood associations, run for office, join the PTA, fight in a war – again usually motivated by a need to achieve more recognition that what most others receive
A return to certain forms of intolerance and/or traditional religious beliefs (Fukuyama mentions the banning of prayer in school as especially problamatic) – a belief that while we are all human, our actions can be wrong and worthy of condemnation
A repudiation of the Lockean vision of the state – where the individual is to be served by the state and not vice versa
In other words, the thymotic need for equality should never go so far as to deny the reality that we are not actually equal. All men can discern right from wrong, but not all make moral decsions. All men should have a voice in government, but that voice will not always be heeded. All men should live at a certain level of material comfort, but not everyone gets a porche.
There needs to be winners and losers in terms of both material goods and prestige. But the losers are still human and the winners cannot take that from them.