Review of "The End of History & The Last Man"

Whether Hegel is the philosopher of bougeoisie normalcy, as in Carl Schmitt’s reading of him, or he is a crypto-radical, as is claimed by Left Hegelians such as Marx and Engels, Hegel’s reception and subsequent interpretation can be seen as a litmus test for the times. Liberals battling a hearty communist opposition will decry him, but those in ascendency will appropriate his thought. The End of History and the Last Man by Francis Fukuyama is a work of the latter, though only partially so as Fukuyama’s reading of Hegel is filtered by Kojève’s Lectures on the Phenomenology of Spirit and not a thorough reading of Hegel.

Fukuyama’s book celebrates the liberal hegemony which emerged following the collapse of the Soviet Union, points to the at-the- time-of-publication potentially precarious situation in China and to other dictatorial nations through out the world as evidence for the emergence of a liberal world order. Notwithstanding the current contradictions this neoliberal world order is evincing, Fukuyama centers his book around the grand concepts that are typical of Marxian works, such as Universal History, Human Nature and Thymos – capitalized to illustrate Fukuyama’s idealist conception of them – while rejecting historical materialism as non-viable. He does this, however, by conflating it with an ahistorical Soviet Union that is presumed to provide evidence towards an eschatological end in favor of liberalism. The small number of countries not now made in what is roughly but not precisely the image of America will all soon join the international market as an equal partner and obtain the benefits which accrue under a liberal capitalist regime.

Fukuyama goes on to point out many of the productive and democratic inequalities found within the post-World War world and views these as endemic to the type of governments in power rather than the level of cultural and technological achievement reached by these people. Thus historical underdevelopment and near constant political conflict in Latin America is elided as are the benefits of selective import substitution, one of the manners in which the United States was able to build up capital following the Civil War and thus come into it’s own as a world power. A series of economic arguments follows based upon the Austrian school of economics. Some of his claims in this field are stronger than others, however his explanations as to why it was that those governing the Soviet economy weren’t able to accommodate the rising expectations of people and maintain social stability relies more on Kojeve’s interpretation of Hegel than the historical circumstances. Using these two concepts, the preference in valuating the individual over the community and the supposed dysfunction inherent in non-nearly-pure capitalist economies, he then starts slugging at planned economies and the governments that enforce them.

These swipes against centralized economies are easily turned against the anarchy of the markets a few years later. For instance, Fukuyama’s claim that centralized economies have not succeeded in making rational investment decisions, or in effectively incorporating new technologies into production process is proven to be hollow not twenty years after it’s publication. Most of the countries that had a fair amount of regulation and planning the past two decades, Colombia, Argentina, Sweden, Canada, are now those that are the least affected by the current global economic crisis. Additionally, there is the evidence provided by decentralized economies against Fukuyama. Patterns of investment in the United States were not towards productive technologies but towards exploitation of lower wage populations following international trade deregulation and byzantine financial instruments that allowed for an upward transfer of wealth to the ultra-rich.

Capitalism under a liberal aegis is also supposed to eradicate the conflict inherent in religion, racism and xenophobia. Countering his one-time mentor Samuel Huntington, Fukuyama conceives the world as moving inexorably towards a place wherein these “antiquated” identities disappear amidst the power of money. This is not to say that poverty won’t make some of these tribal alliances stick, however the number of sub rosa resentments that leads to heightened conflict amongst various communities is conceptualized as ever being diminished until the point where the only value of a persons worth is nothing but their income and capital reserves. Additionally, it is this turn against the cosmopolitan, international community that Fukuyama describes as the main conflict in international relations today. Tribalism and ethnocentrism are to him a friction keeping the smoothness of liberalism from manifesting itself in a New World Order wherein the Master-Slave dialectic disappears. Addressing Hegel and Marx’s analysis that this continues to a large extent due to capitalist relations is not addressed.

Because it addresses both philosophy and history in a way that has been out of fashion for a while I can understand why so many people responded to Fukuyama positively. But as should be evident thus far, I find there are many significant problems in Fukuyama’s approach to historiography, his exegesis of Hegel and his approach to international relations. As in my book reviews I seek to avoid extended critical responses and instead provide merely a taste of what’s inside, in this case I find the fruit rotten and can’t help but refer the reader to Alex Callinicos’ extensive criticism of Fukuyama in Theories and Narratives: Reflections on the Philosophy of Historyand Jacques Derrida’s Specters of Marx. While neither are solely devoted to The End of History and the Last Man, they are both instructive to understanding the gaps in liberal eschatologists like Fukuyama.