THE END OF HISTORY AND THE LAST MAN. By Francis Fukuyama. New York: The Free Press, 1992. Pp xxiii, 418.
Reviewed by Suhas Dhruvakumar.
History has seldom been charitable to intellectuals who predict finality in human thought process or consciousness. Philosophical works attempting this tend to get political and often ends up being dogmatic. Each adherent of such a prediction frames his or her own opinion and interpretation and we end up with individuals like Hitler, Stalin, Pol Pot, Mao etc. The downfall of communism through the collapse and overthrowing of its totalitarian states in the 1980s provided a renewed opportunity to its adherents and critiques to evaluate or dismiss communism.
In 1989, Fukuyama wrote an article ‘The End of History?’ in a little known journal The National Interest. The article argued that liberal democracy was increasingly accepted by the world and it had defeated ideologies like monarchy, fascism and communism. The context of this article could not have been starker, Berlin wall had been demolished, Soviet satellite states had overthrown communism and Soviet Union was split into Russia and several independent states. This article evoked passionate national debate across US and this motivated the author to expand it into a book, ‘The End of History and the Last Man’.
The author has divided the book into five parts. Part I deals with contemporary history educating the reader about the idea of liberal democracy and its threats largely arising from the totalitarian left and the fascist right. Part II focuses on the idea of universal history and the aspects of directionality associated with it. This part could be understood as the economic interpretation of history. Context being established in the first two parts, the author delves into Part III, which I believe forms the crux of Fukuyama’s thought process. This part introduces the idea of ‘First Man’ and helps us understand the non-materialistic needs of men. Part IV of the book identifies specific non-materialistic needs through which man can feel recognized. Part V is a brave attempt by the author to critically evaluate liberal democracy through the principal criticisms of Karl Marx and Friedrich Nietzsche respectively. Part V gives us a picture of what the ‘Last Man’ could be like.
Fukuyama traces the pessimism of the 20th century to the failure to meet expectations of French revolution in 1776. The contrast to the liberal state envisioned in 1776 was offered subsequently by totalitarian communist states and fascist states. Fukuyama demonstrates the inherent contradictions in both the systems. To explain his argument, he uses examples from the communist states of erstwhile Soviet Union, China and Eastern Europe and fascist/authoritarian states of Southern Europe, Latin America and East Asia. He hardly tries to hide his disdain towards communist countries and goes into elaborate detail to explain the weaknesses of communist states. In his defence, Fukuyama is not trying to argue that liberal democracy is the best system available, but stresses upon the fact that it is the one which has not yet revealed any contradictions. The universality in its appeal for cultures spread across geographies makes his argument convincing that history is indeed universal and this is in the direction of liberal democracy.
To understand the universality of history, the book explores two interpretations of historical process– Cyclical history which ends with any person’s death and a directional history which propounds that history is a continuous meaningful process.German idealists, the early adherents of directional history introduce us to the idea of dialectic – systems and civilizations are overthrown and replaced by the ones with lesser contradictions. Each replacement is in the direction of increasing the equality of human freedoms. This realization of freedom is manifested through evolution of political and social institutions.
The author explores if modernization theory can explain unidirectionality in this evolution. Modernization theory suggests that industrial development follows a coherent pattern of growth which equalizes social and political systems. To counteract this, Communist countries resisted social changes due to technological revolution or tried social engineering to force a technological revolution. Fukuyama insists that such a resistance is unstable and is at best helpful for countries to reach coal and steel age and fails miserably in a technology driven information age. Dependency theory criticized modernization theory stating that resources always flow from underdeveloped countries to developed countries. No equalization per se ever happens. The author convincingly rebuts dependency theory by providing examples from the East Asian growth experience. Fukuyama’s criticism of dependency theory complements my own belief about the peculiar timing of structuralist explanations for post-colonial countries which took shape in the form of subaltern studies after the failure of communism. Aren’t subaltern studies essentially an extension of dependency theory?
Does industrialization imply a change toward democracy? The author assesses theorizations of Talcott Parsons, Max Weber and others. He concludes that there is no sufficient causation between the two. Since this critical causation is not established, the author drives home the point that there is a thirst for democracies which cannot be explained by materialistic account of history. A materialistic account of history should ideally lead us all to communist societies and free us all. But the ‘totalitarian temptation’ of the communist state never helped liberate an individual in a real-world communist society. Quoting the author,
‘The Marxist realm of freedom is, in effect, the four-hour working day: that is, a society so productive that man’s labor in the morning can satisfy all of his natural needs and those of his family and fellows, leaving him the afternoon and evening to be a hunter, or a poet, or a critic. In a way, real-world communist societies like the Soviet Union or the former German Democratic Republic achieved this realm of freedom, since few people put in more than four hours of honest work a day. But the remainder of their time was seldom spent writing poems or criticism, since this could promptly land them in jail; it was spent waiting on line, drinking, or scheming for the opportunity to take a vacation in a crowded sanitarium on a polluted beach. But if the “necessary labor time” required to satisfy basic physical needs was four hours on average for workers in socialist societies, it was on the order of an hour or two for corresponding capitalist societies, and the six or seven hours of “surplus labor” time that rounded out the working day did not go only into the pockets of capitalists, but allowed workers to buy cars and washing machines, barbecues and campers. Whether this constituted a “realm of freedom” in any meaningful sense was another matter, but an American worker was far more fully liberated from the “realm of necessity” than his Soviet counterpart.’
The author argues that only a non-materialistic account can help us answer why democracy has historically occurred even in the absence of modernization and economic rationale.
Fukuyama is aware of the inequality and impoverishment of the proletariat arising from capitalism, but he categorizes this as a ‘problem’ and not a contradiction in the capitalist system. According to him, a problem is not a contradiction just because it cannot be solved by the system, it becomes a contradiction if it delegitimizes the system. In the opinion of the author, this was Marx’s first flaw in his understanding of capitalism.
Fukuyama appears on solid ground in his reasoning and substantiations, however he can be criticized for the same reasons we criticize modernization theorists, ethnocentricity. The sympathy extended to fascist or military rules because a ‘modernizing dictatorship can in principle be far more effective than a democracy in creating the social conditions that would permit both capitalist economic growth and, over time, the emergence of a stable democracy’ is disturbing. Such a charitable viewpoint is not extended to the left who claim to solve the historical injustices meted out to various classes. Fukuyama having established a need for non-materialistic reading of the history compares various first men as conceptualized by philosophers. The need for this arises from the premise of understanding human satisfaction and assess if a system has contradictions or problems.
Hegel believed man entered society when he encountered another man. In order for recognition, the two men engaged in a battle. Three possibilities arise, both men die, both do not fight and walk away, one submits himself to another. The first two cases are inapplicable since the formation of society does not happen when both die or walk away. When one submits to another, a master and a slave is born. A slave gave importance to self-preservation which is animalistic and a master brought in the human need to be recognized. This master-slave society is by definition unstable over a period of time. A master is not satisfied since he will have the need to be recognized by other peers. This is the cause for aristocrats in society and the wars in the feudal era. The slave does not understand recognition and hence chooses to engage with the nature to master it. Eventually, slave learns to overcome his desire of self-preservation and does not care about his own life and overpowers the master to become a master, not just master of ex-master, but master of himself and his animalistic desire of self-preservation. French revolution and American revolution are important landmarks where man overcame his animal needs and transcended into human consciousness.
Thomas Hobbes and Karl Marx conceptualized their primordial men similar to Hegel and agreed in principle that master-slave societies followed subsequently. The weightage ‘first man’ gave to self-preservation and recognition was different between philosophers. Hobbes and Marx gave higher weightage to self-preservation. On the other hand, John Locke believed that ‘first man’ wanted to acquire unlimited amount of wealth and disregarded the need for recognition. This formed the basis of Anglo-Saxon tradition of liberalism which revolved around the ideas of Hobbes and Locke – private ownership of capital and a democracy. A tradition that derecognizes human quest for recognition and solely focuses on self-preservation.
Fukuyama argues that moral weight of recognition surpasses self-preservation. Human freedom is not just freedom to earn material needs, but freedom to be recognized. While Capitalism has helped us achieve material wealth, it is democracy which has helped us achieve recognition. Communism on the other hand never considered dignity or recognition and even if it did, it believed material needs presupposed this major craving. Quoting the author’s reaction on Vaclav Havel’s essay ‘Power and the Powerless’,
‘…Dignity and its opposite, humiliation, are the two most common words used by Havel in describing life in communist Czechoslovakia. Communism humiliated ordinary people by forcing them to make a myriad of petty, and sometimes not so petty, moral compromises with their better natures. These took the form of putting up a sign in one’s store window, or signing a petition denouncing a colleague for doing something the state did not like, or simply remaining silent when that colleague was unjustly persecuted. The seedy post-totalitarian states of the Brezhnev era tried to make everybody morally complicit not through terror but, ironically enough, by dangling before them the fruits of modern consumer culture.
These were not the spectacular baubles that fueled the greed of the American investment banker of the 1980s, but small things like a refrigerator, a bigger apartment, or a vacation in Bulgaria, which loomed large to people with few material possessions. Communism, in a much more thoroughgoing way than “bourgeois” liberalism, fortified the desiring part of the soul against the thymotic part. Havel’s charge against communism is not at all that it failed in its promise to deliver the material plenty of industrial efficiency, or that it disappointed the hopes of the working class or the poor for a better life. On the contrary, it did offer them these things in a Faustian bargain, requiring them to compromise their moral worth in return. And in making this bargain, the victims of the system became its perpetuators, while the system itself took on a life of its own independently of any one’s desire to participate in it.’
‘Why are liberal democracies not stable or universal?’. The author strongly believes liberal democracies imposed from the top are incompatible with people and this is primarily because of Lockean and Hobbesian liberal traditions which aims at homogenizing masses with homogenized ideas of ‘good’, ‘evil’, ‘secular’, ‘empathetic’ etc. Adherents of the Anglo-Saxon tradition of liberalism often disregard the cultural advantages enjoyed by the current liberal order when imposing their worldview on others.
This approach also does not consider pre-existing ethical and cultural structures and secularizes societies. Group identities offer resistance to such a project. These cultural reasons lead to economic failure when capitalism is tried and this leads to cultural reassertion which results in authoritarian regimes.
The last issue with the current liberal societies is the language they use to communicate with other societies. The language of international relations is largely shaped by the realist school. The realist school propounds that accumulating power is a permanent goal for every nation state and this demands military accumulation aimed at balancing of powers.
This has resulted in international coalitions based on power rather than ideologies. Fukuyama opines that such an experiment has resulted in meaningless coalitions like the United Nations (UN) which brings in incompatible countries having liberal democracies, communist ideologies and fascist regimes together. The author laments how compatible coalitions like North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) do a better job at providing global security as opposed to the UN. This is largely true as international relations today has been isolated from domestic politics and regimes come and go, but foreign relations are disconnected from it.
In the last part of the book, Fukuyama tackles the criticisms aimed at liberal democracy and summarizes the ‘last man’. The criticism from the left is elaborated in great detail by Karl Marx, especially the problem of inequality in a capitalist mode of production which is predominant in a liberal paradigm of Anglo-Saxon tradition. Inequalities can be due to natural reasons or human conventions. A liberal democratic society of today has provisions which tries to reduce inequality due to human conventions through universal literacy, wealth redistribution, regulated businesses, social security, medical care etc. Fukuyama argues that the balance between liberty and equality has been struck in a liberal democracy.
Marxist project on the other hand tried to eradicate natural inequalities which tried to satisfy the need but not talent or recognition. To achieve this, monstrous states were created with the elites made up of party officials, scientists etc. A liberal democracy ensured dignity in its citizenry even when achieving social justice to reduce natural inequalities. A good example for this is seen in the treatment of the physically challenged which is quoted below.
‘Contemporary American society, however, has sought to remedy not only the physical handicap, but the injury to dignity as well. The way of helping the handicapped that was actually chosen by many government agencies and universities was in many respects much more economically costly than it might have been. Instead of providing the handicapped with special transportation services, many municipalities changed all public buses to make them accessible to the handicapped. Instead of providing discreet entrances to public buildings for wheelchairs, they mandated ramps at the front door. This expense and effort was undertaken not so much to ease the physical discomfort of the handicapped, since there were cheaper ways of doing this, but to avoid affronts to their dignity. It was their thymos that was to be protected, by overcoming nature and demonstrating that a handicapped person could take a bus or enter the front door of the building as well as anyone else.’
Fukuyama appears shaky in this section especially since he does not choose to answer the critics who claim welfare measures in capitalist societies was due to the threat of communism. We are all aware of the gilded age in the US which was ruthless towards labour unions and ‘The New Deal’ corrected this injustice. The author could have attributed the fall of unions in the US to the development of human resource departments which proliferated around the time of ‘The New Deal’, instead he chose to remain silent to the reverse-comparison with communist countries, especially regarding labour rights.
Fukuyama goes into great detail elaborating the criticism from Friedrich Nietzsche. Nietzsche believed that equal recognition for unequal human beings is denying humanity. According to Nietzsche, equalization of recognition will not provide us any leaders, be it Lenin, Stalin, Jefferson etc. who were instrumental in correcting the injustices, instead will result in a society of mediocrity. Alexis de Tocqueville extends the criticism of democratic societies suggesting that these societies would stop producing ‘beautiful useless things’ and produce ‘ugly useful things’. Hegel’s interpreter, Kojève himself opined that modern societies would cease to produce art and philosophy.
It is in this context that Fukuyama predicts his version of the ‘last man’. The author explores the possibility of a contradiction in a liberal democracy. The world with no war, no economic deficit, undifferentiated members and boring lives may lead to subversion of democracy itself. This is because nature might itself conspire to encourage Megalothymia
It is in this spirit that capitalism has to provide a healthy outlet to conquer more of nature. Otherwise, men will find a cause to struggle and liberal democracy with capitalist mode of production itself might be a target. Fukuyama argues that long lasting peace in nations might lead to war due to Megalothymia
of nations. For this, he suggests the need to allow a bit of Megalothymia,
a creative outlet for recognition.
Fukuyama building a case for liberal democracy throughout the book ends it on a pessimistic note. Unidimensional man that liberal democracy with capitalist mode of production produces is very much present in Fukuyama’s thought process and this is eerily similar to Marx’s proposition. In the author’s opinion, the liberal democracy inherently is skewed in favor of megalothymia
and this sounds like Herbert Spencer’s social Darwinism. Fukuyama also ignores exploring non-Abrahamic religions, most importantly Hinduism which provided a system of organizing society and state typically was secondary in this case.
The survival of the authoritarian states of China, strengthening of oligarchy in Russia, rise of the ISIS are offering renewed challenges to Fukuyama’s theory of directional changes in favor of liberal democracy, especially in the middle east and post-communist countries.
The inequalities which the author calls as ‘necessary and ineradicable’ have manifested even more strongly in the US. The necessary megalothymia
has moved away from recognition to hoarding of money and at any cost. The recession of 2008 is a prime example where neither material needs nor recognition was desired, but money derived from fictitious capital was solely responsible.
This behavior in humanity is hardly explainable using Fukuyama’s arguments in first world liberal democracies. While the author convinces the reader of the contradictions in Marxism and its deadly manifestations, the brave project of endism appears shaky. It is still a very informative read with a very high level of engagement with a whole range of scholars, philosophers and historical figures. Fukuyama, the neoconservative despising communist states is visible, but the treatment of ideologies, both left and right has been balanced and comprehensive. It is indeed a pity that the book ends up leaving a lot of questions if one were to accept or not accept the ‘last man’ of Fukuyama.