As a young researcher, Francis Fukuyama changed the landscape of American political science discourse by his remarkably well timed and well argued description of a new paradigm to inform foreign policy in The End of History (1992). For our analysis of this seminal work and of the author’s later writings, read on…
Francis Fukuyama, from The End of History to After the Neocons
by Gilbert Doctorow, Ph.D.
Published in the year following the collapse of the Soviet Union and the apparent worldwide triumph of liberal democracy and free markets championed by the United States, Francis Fukuyama’s seminal work The End of History and the Last Man (1992) was the stone tossed into the water which created ripples of debate over what sense to make of the end of the Cold War which reverberate to our day.
In light of his remarkably good timing, which foreordained high interest among the general reading public as well as among foreign policy professionals, it is easy to overlook the fact that the author’s underlying thesis came out still earlier, in 1989, somewhat in advance of the most dramatic events it eventually explained, in the form of an essay entitled “The End of History?” The article appeared in the low circulation foreign policy magazine The National Interest published by a founder of the Neoconservative movement, Irving Kristol.
The positioning of the article for publication was by no means accidental since Fukuyama at the time held similar political views to his editor and his argument that history had reached its final resting place not in Socialism but in the democratic capitalism created by the French and American revolutions was highly supportive of the Neoconservative world view. The fact that his contention was at the time of its writing in 1989 still more tentative than demonstrable (hence the question mark) was no handicap in the mind of the ideologically driven publishers.
By contrast, the book rode a wave of events proving its thesis and came to play a major role in bringing Neoconservative ideas into the mainstream of American political thinking during the 1990s.
There is a compelling logic to the composition of The End of History which must command respect. The book opens with a description of the liberation wave spreading around the world in the previous two decades as authoritarian regimes of the Right and totalitarian regimes of the Left gave way to liberal democracies. This started in Southern Europe, moved to Asia and Latin America and culminated in Central and Eastern Europe with the collapse of Soviet Communism.
Fukuyama presents a table showing the rise and fall in the number of democratic states around the world at regular intervals since 1790. The current wave marks a high point in the trend. The fact that it has occurred in so many different countries with very different traditions suggests that we are witnessing the operation of universal laws and that perhaps the 19th century Positivists were right, that history is moving in a directional manner towards liberal democracy as the highest form of human society.
Fukuyama is challenging the mood of pessimism over the human condition which dominated the 20th century under the impact of its tragic cataclysms, the Holocaust and the Stalinist Gulag. In light of the new dawn of liberty now rising, he tells us that these were aberrations of irrationalism which must not deter us from seeing the dominant trend which has moved once again to the foreground.
The task he sets for himself in the book is to explain the march of humanity towards liberal democracy and free markets. For this he relies mostly on abstract argumentation, reasoning with his reader, walking him through a variety of possible causal factors before settling on those with greatest persuasiveness. Indeed we are treated to a masterly exegesis of 2,000 years of political philosophy beginning with Plato and pausing to reflect on Hobbes, Locke and Hume, Rousseau, Montesquieu, Kant, Hegel and Marx, among others.
As Fukuyama tells us, liberal democracy and free markets have two chief causal factors propelling them. They are intertwined in what might be likened to the DNA double-helix.
First there is natural science, which advances in a unidirectional manner and brings progressively greater material wellbeing to mankind. It is rational and as it advances leads to industrialization, urbanization, bureaucratization – in a word, a modernization that spells convergence in the economic organization of societies across the globe. The most productive expression of this economic mechanism pushing history is liberal capitalism, which brings in its wake the creation of an educated population and relatively prosperous middle classes, the agents of political liberalization.
However, the economic causal factor is not in itself sufficient to explain the shift to rule of law, recognition of freedoms and participation in political life which characterize liberal democracy. The driver here is an irrational component, the universal human yearning for recognition, as was described by Hegel in his dialectics.
Drawing further on points in Kantian and Hegelian theory, Fukuyama tells us that it is in the nature of liberal democracies to get along with one another peaceably. The closest possible approximation of satisfying human yearnings, material and immaterial, has been achieved and with this war and revolution have been vanquished
The antagonisms and conflict assumed to drive relations between states by the Realist school of international affairs that goes back to Macchiavelli is not relevant to relations between liberal democracies. Its only remaining application is to relations among non-liberal states and between them and the community of liberal democratic states. Here military power is the decisive determinant.
Given that liberal democracy is advancing around the world, that history is indeed directional and all states are set on the same road, some ahead, some behind, the future will ultimately be one in which conflict between nations entirely disappears.
In this essay I will not challenge Fukuyama’s thesis that we are at the dawn of a golden age. That has been done by a succession of his peers and several of the outstanding works in this genre will be examined separately in later chapters.
I must say, however, that the line of attack on Fukuyama’s book is typically focused on his reading of empirical data on the world we presently live in rather than the correctness of his abstract reasoning and his interpretation of the writings of the classics of political philosophy.
It seems appropriate to me to set out below what none of Fukuyama’s sparring partners has bothered to call attention to: the author’s very particular methodology in The End of History and how it drew upon his education and personal strengths.
How do you provide a new paradigm to a drastically changing world in a matter of months or even a few years? This is something which Fukuyama did and he achieved it the only way it can be approached – by synthesis of pre-existing models to match approximately what he saw around him. His achievement was that of a magnificent synthesizer rather than original thinker. He must be complimented for the boldness to take his audience straight where his discoveries led him, to reason with his readers and not lecture them in the manner of a senior professor. This is the sign of a young mind who still takes the world of ideas very seriously.
The principle source of Fukuyama’s ideas on the causal factor driving liberal democracy is Hegel as interpreted and popularized in the 1930s by the French-Russian philosopher Alexandre Kojève. The very notion of an ‘end of history’ – a global, universal social and political order towards which all humanity is striving – was posed precisely by Hegel and so frames the intellectual investigation Fukuyama pursues in his best-selling opus.
While getting his undergraduate degree in philosophy at Cornell, Fukuyama was a student of Allan Bloom, who in turn had studied under Kojève. It bears mention that these gurus also helped to shape the thinking of another iconic figure of the Neoconservative movement, Paul Wolfowitz, who was Fukuyama’s boss in a number of his government posts, as I note below.
Although it is common practice among scholars writing in the field of international affairs as well as other sub-fields of political science to show off their knowledge of the classics en passant, it is remarkable that a book intended to give immediate and practical meaning to the dramatic events shaping the global political landscape and to inform decisions of policy-makers in foreign and military affairs is argued almost entirely by abstract reasoning drawing on the classics of political philosophy. It is still more remarkable that the young author with such striking intellectual credentials as philosopher was at the time making his living in policy analysis within the State Department and in the country’s leading think tank, the RAND Corporation, dealing with regional security issues in the Middle East, European military-political affairs and other nitty-gritty.
Fukuyama took his undergraduate degree in the classics at Cornell in 1974, then spent a year at Yale in the department of Comparative Literature, and finally earned his doctorate from Harvard in political science, where one of his advisers was Professor Sam Huntington, the doyen of American political scientists whose own best known work, The Clash of Civilizations, was in many respects a riposte to Fukuyama’s End of History.
Fukuyama’s Ph.D. dissertation was on Soviet foreign policy. Sovietology was considered a very solid preparation for U.S. government service in the intelligence and foreign policy areas during the Cold War. His first career positions were in foreign policy analysis – in the RAND Corporation, a private contractor to the U.S. government in security matters, and in the State Department’s policy planning departments….
© Gilbert Doctorow 2009-2010
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For the full analysis, see the author’s 2010 book Great Post-Cold War American Thinkers on International Relations. G. Doctorow was a 2010-2011 Visiting Scholar of the Harriman Institute of Columbia University. He is today (2013) an occasional lecturer at St. Petersburg State University and a Research Fellow of the American University in Moscow. His latest work, published in April 2013, is Stepping Out of Line: Collected (Non-conformist) Essays on Russian-American Relations, 2008-12. Both works are available from amazon.com and amazon websites worldwide in paperback and e-book editions. They are also on sale at Barnes & Noble and other leading bookstores.