The attraction towards the Liberal democratic ideals started at the beginning of the 19th century; these ideals later gathered momentum, and eventually coalesced into a conflict between Capitalism (Liberalism) and Socialism/Communism (Fukuyama, p. 45). After the Cold War period, Western Liberalism was the victorious and predominant global ideology. The failure of communism can be attributed to the lack of consideration of individual freedoms —a notion fundamental to human affairs.
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There have been many protagonists of Western Triumphalism, but none have generated as much controversy as Francis Fukuyama, whose seminal work, The End of History and the Last Man has attracted widespread acclaim and notoriety. Fukuyama argues that there has been an encompassing revolution worldwide, spearheaded by Liberalism (Fukuyama, 1992, p. 39), which despite having some gaps in adherence such as the Middle East was remarkably consistent in its global acceptance. This essay examines the validity of Fukuyama’s thesis, which states that the Western-liberal type of Democracy is the final evolution of political thought, and examines the flaws.
Fukuyama was influenced by the ideas of Hegel, Kant, and Marx; he claims that both Hegel and Marx had predicted that the final form of society would be “free from contradictions, and whose achievement would terminate the historical process” (Fukuyama, p. 65) of cyclic strife and conflict to give rise to a universal homogenous state where economic activity would become the prime dialogue between states (Fukuyama, p. 65). Fukuyama also holds that frictions would continue even after the history has “ended”, but only in the form of economic/political conflicts —which after the end of the Cold War would be necessary for the democratization of the world (Fukuyama, p. 272). However, the end of history in Fukuyama’s analysis of world events pointed to the end of ideological evolution and the crystallization of Western liberal democracy as the final end product in the science of governance.
Fukuyama’s contention that the democratic ideals that spurred the French revolution “would vanquish the world’s tyrants, autocrats, and superstitious priests (Fukuyama, p. 4)” is not borne out by the subsequent march of history where dictators and authoritarian regimes still prosper all over the globe. Noted French philosopher Jacques Derrida points to the inconsistencies in Fukuyama’s thesis when he observes that Fukuyama’s “physic-techno-military gave only leads us as far as the gates of the ‘Promised Land of liberal democracy but does not deliver us to the Promised Land” (Derrida, 1994, p. 60). Derrida also points out that this ‘triumphal’ liberal democracy has been in many ways responsible for human misery where “in absolute figures, never have so many men, women, and children been subjugated, starved or exterminated on the earth” (Derrida, p. 85). Other than ‘deconstructionists like Derrida, Post Modernists find Fukuyama’s concept of end to history also faulty.
Post-modernists believe in the cyclical process of history, where repetition is inevitable. The distinction post-modernists make is that “history is the repetition of an unhistorical moment, a moment that is always new in each case” (Stanford University, 2005, p. 11). Postmodernists also take note of the fact that Fukuyama’s thesis does not take into account the significant effect of technology on historicism, which has been to induce hyper-reality. This concept theorized by Jean Baudrillard draws a different concept of the ‘End of History. According to him, the end of history was a reality because the world has entered into a phase of simulation where ‘real’ “is produced from miniaturized cells, matrices, and memory banks, models of control, that can be reproduced infinite number of times” (Baudrillard, 1994, p. 2). The end of history according to Baudrillard has come to the fore because technology, the way the elite operate, and the means of production have created a lack of dissent in the society where the masses have become a “silent majority” (Baudrillard, p. 42), that passively receive images by the few who write the script and depict those images. Since everything was hyper-real, by implication it meant that Fukuyama’s triumph of Western Liberal-democratic ideals was in fact a simulation.
Furthermore, Fukuyama’s views can be considered ‘First World Centric’, as his observations on Islam show. Fukuyama states that “despite the power demonstrated by Islam in its current revival…this religion has virtually no appeal outside those areas that were culturally Islamic, to begin with…” (Fukuyama, p. 46). Such an assertion runs counter to the fact that Islam is the fastest-growing religion in America and in the world (Ibrahim, 1997, p. 40). There are 1.57 billion Muslims in the world (Greene, 2009, p. 1) making Islam the second-largest religion. Except for Turkey, which is struggling to maintain its secular credentials, none of the Islamic countries are liberal democracies. Most are monarchies, theocracies (like Iran), or autocracies and show no signs of agreeing with Fukuyama’s End of History formulation. Neither do large parts of Africa where tribal affiliations and ethnicity hold fast rather than liberal democratic ideals. This means that Fukuyama has failed to convincingly explain why there is a commonplace prevalence of alternate systems of governance other than democracy in the global system.
The rise of China is yet another case in point where Fukuyama’s thesis fails. Fukuyama’s triumphal elucidations cannot explain how this 1.3 billion strong nation with the fastest growth rate in the world, which promises to make China “the world’s largest economy by 2041” (Goldman Sachs, 2003, p. 10) succeed in the absence of liberalism. The Chinese revolution gave rise to a totalitarian state (Rejai, 1995, p. 228) with Marxist-Leninist ideology as the guiding ideology of the state. The present-day Chinese Communist Party while downplaying Mao’s aphorisms has kept the central ideology based on Marxism-Leninism intact albeit, modifying it to ensure steady economic progress. China surely sounds like the death knell to Fukuyama’s thesis.
While Fukuyama did have the support of the right-wing members of the Bush administration, prominent conservative thinkers such as the late Samuel Huntington disagreed with him. Huntington observes that Fukuyama’s ‘end of history was just a euphoric reaction that permeated the Western world at the end of the Cold War. According to Huntington (1996):
“The illusion of harmony at the end of the Cold War was soon dissipated by the multiplication of ethnic conflict and “ethnic cleansing”, the breakdown of law and order, the emergence of new patterns of alliance and conflict amongst states, the resurgence of neo-communist and neo-fascist movements, intensification of religious fundamentalism… the inability of the united nations and the United States to suppress bloody local conflicts, and the increasing assertiveness of a rising China” (Huntington, p.32).
Fukuyama’s western triumphalism inspired by Kant, Hegel, and Marx, suffered from a number of weaknesses. His conclusions regarding the overpowering effects of the French Revolution were not supported by history as liberal democratic ideals of the revolution did not replace authoritarianism, fascism, and dictatorships that continued to flourish in the world after the revolution. Deconstructionivists such as Derrida pointed to the theoretical gaps in his thesis wherein Fukuyama had failed to explain how to reach the Western liberal democratic ideal. Even conservative thinkers such as Huntington had observed that Fukuyama had overstated the universalizing effects of Western Liberal democratic values as after a brief period of peace, human conflicts had increased. The fact that the Muslim world, tribal Africa, and China have no intentions of evolving into western liberal democracies disproves Fukuyama’s thesis.
Baudrillard, J. (1994). Simulacra and Simulation. Ann Arbor, MI: University of Michigan Press.
Derrida, J. (1994). Specters of Marx: The State of the Debt, The Work of Mourning, and the New International. NY: Routledge.
Fukuyama, F. (1992). The End of History and the Last Man. NY: Free Press.
Huntington, Samuel P. (1996). The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of World Order. NY: Touchstone
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Goldman Sachs. (2003). Dreaming with BRICS: The path to 2050. Goldman Sachs. Web.
Greene, R. A. (2009). Nearly 1 in 4 People Worldwide is Muslim, Report Says. Web.
Ibrahim, I. (1997). A Brief Illustrated Guide to Understanding Islam. Houston: Darussalam.
Rejai, M. (1995). Political Ideologies: A Comparative Approach. NY: M.E. Sharpe.
Stanford University. (2005). Post Modernism. Stanford University Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Web.