The End of History and the Last Man (1992)

The End of History and the Last Man is a book of history and political science written by Francis Fukuyma. It originally was expanded from an essay in the National Interest which appeared in 1989. Fukuyama’s thesis is that there are no longer alternatives to liberal democracy and this represents the final form of humanity’s political development. What it means is that there is an “end of history.” This does not mean history and events will stop, but competing political models will no longer be present. Francis Fukuyama supports in the text a teleological narrative of history in the tradition of G.W.F Hegel and Karl Marx. This thesis has problems when considering certain factors. It should be realized that new political ideologies and models could emerge in the future. There are still nations that are under some form of authoritarianism, but have the institutions of a democratic government. Even Francis Fukuyama admits that there are certain nations that have difficulty in transition to a democratic model. If the author wants to see humanity reach the highest form of freedom, the final product would be anarchism. Between the period of 1989 and 1992 it may have appeared as if liberal democracy was the triumphant model. However, many nations of Asia, Africa, and Latin America either maintained authoritarian regimes or were unstable. Myanmar, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Sudan, and Columbia are just a few of a various examples of failed attempts at liberal democracy experiments. It would seem this monograph would be a relic of a post-soviet world of the 1990s, but it became highly influential. Its Western triumphlism resonated with neoconservative circles in the United States. The End of History and the Last Man may have influenced US foreign policy in regards to nation building  and a mission to “spread democracy around the world.” This becomes a major contradiction; you cannot force people to be free or impose a system by force . Fukuyama then claims a new man emerges out of this ideological struggle. The “last man” emerges from this with a new state of recognition. The historical and political realities do not point to a direction of liberal democracy.

            Francis Fukuyama’s thought is based in neoconservative ideology. Since 2006 he has distanced himself from the movement when it demonstrated that the nation building project in Iraq was a failure. His background is in political science and political economy. While it is clear he has an immense knowledge of political philosophy, his historical analysis is selective and ignores crucial points.  Many ideologies have preached a doctrine of being the final form of humanity’s social, political, and cultural development. He favors free market capitalism, but fails to realize that it could be a threat to democratic societies. The poor will always have less power than the rich. The upper class can afford to form lobbying groups, interest groups,  and organizations. The working and middle class do not have this at their disposal. An American election can be bought. Campaign finance and how it is conducted favors wealthy individuals. The emphasis on money and profit in a free market capitalist society seems to become more important than actual democracy. Democracy in its purest form is rule by the people. No such government has ever existed in reality. The United States for example is a representative republic, which functions like a plutocracy. These lugubrious facts Fukuyama ignores entirely, or gives limited mention to.


Fukuyama’s convictions are influenced by  Leo Strauss, Samuel P. Huntington, Allan Bloom, Alexandre Kojeve , and  Harvey Mansfield. These were political philosophers that contributed to the neoconservative ideology and continental philosophy.  The biggest influence is that of Hegel in the text, because Fukuyama is applying teleology to his arguments. The neoconservative vision of the world is one that believes democracy should be spread and citizens must adopt certain values. It see foreign policy in terms of definite righteousness and evil. These ideas are dangerous for several reasons. The attempt to establish and build democratic societies can easily morph into oppression. The people living in certain nations should be allowed to chose what form of government they want, rather than have it forced upon them. A government system must be designed according to the socio-cultural and political circumstances of a state.  The United States has tried to “liberate” countries form what it views as oppressive regimes, but finds its self functioning like an imperial power. Neoconservatives believe that the United States should be the world policeman. Here lies the internal contradiction. Fulfilling this role of enforcer it becomes a hegemon and oppressor. The End of History and the Last Man  eloquently reveals that it was internal contradictions in fascism and communism that resulted in their down fall. It appears that liberal democracy has met this contradiction when the West attempts to impose its will on global south nations. The developing countries are subject to military intervention and forced democratization under the banner of human rights. This may just be the old form of imperialism updating itself for the 21st century. Francis Fukuyama claims that it is not fair to state he favors American hegemony over the the globe. Often he claims that many readers and critics misinterpret his work and ideas. It is elucidated in the text that there are issues with Western society, which could be a threat to democracy. Transhumanism, environmental issues, and hyper consumerism are cited  as possible internal threats. Then there are issues that Francis Fukuyama is conscious of, but does not consider as serious. Racism, sexism, homophobia, religious intolerance, and extreme poverty are consistent challenges. They are major world threats that are constantly victimizing people and determining life outcomes.  Francis Fukuyama’s central belief is that history proves liberal democracy and classical liberalism are the cure to humanity’s woes. When examining history before the 19th century and to present it provides a narrative of constant conflict.

           Francis Fukuyama writes that many have been taught to be pessimistic when studying the 20th century. Two World Wars, a Cold War, and the aftermath has made this assumption credible. Fukuyama attempts to paint an optimistic perspective saying that progress often will face challenge in development. He obviously is against the realist perspective of foreign policy. Fukuyama reveals that on both the political left and right communist collapse in Europe in the 1980s caused some disarray in foreign policy circles. It was true that many in the West believed that the Soviet Union was to remain a permanent fixture. Henry Kissinger one of the most prominent realist was convinced that it was misguided utopian ideology to attempt to reform countries that were hostile to democracy. Fukuyama rejects this idea and states that the major competitors of fascism and communism allowed for a more democratic world. This optimism lacks cogency. Another problem that arises in the first chapter is that he defines totalitarianism, but does not give the denotation for authoritarianism. It almost appears through out the book he uses terms interchangeably, when it is pivotal to distinguish the difference. The simplest definition of authoritarianism is ” a form of government that has immensely powerful centralized power and limited political freedoms.” Totalitarianism requires that citizens submit to one political ideology and the government controls all aspects of a society. Nazi Germany, Fascist Italy, and the Soviet Union under Joseph Stalin are examples of totalitarian regimes. Although totalitarianism is a political system that was part of the 20th century authoritarianism still functions. The newly formed “democracies” in Central Asia were just regime changes not, radically altered political systems.

Central Asian states have not democratized. Emomali Rahmon  has ruled Tajikistan since 1992. Nursultan Nazarbeyev has ruled Kazakhstan since 1990. Islam Karimov also came to power in Uzbekistan around the same year, officially taking the presidency in 1991. Only his death ended his rule.   Gurbanguly Berdimhamedow took over after President  Niyazov’s death in 2006. There has been no deomcratic reform. Kygystan since the fall of Askar Akayev in 2005 has been in political disarray with rotating leaders.

The developments in Central Asia demonstrates that the pessimistic view seems more credible. Newly independent states will not adopt a democratic system. Instead what occurs is an authoritarian presidency in which the institutions of democracy are present, but are there to present an illusion of freedom.  These authoritarian governments restrict press freedom and political rights. South Sudan due to civil war, ethnic conflict, and regional instability may never develop a democratic society. Salva Kirr could remain president for decades, just like his counterpart Omar Al-Bashir in Northern Sudan.There is a good reason to be pessimistic about society’s historical development. Fukuyama then explains that “if the early twentieth century;s major political innovation was the invention of strong states of Germany and Russia,  then the past few decades have revealed weakness at their core. “He the expounds in chapter one that people should rethink the course of human events. There has emerged a strong state, more powerful than any other the world has ever seen. The United States has a potential to become a global threat just like Nazi Germany or the Soviet Union. Being engaged in perpetual warfare can only allow for more instability and opportunities for the rise of more political extremism. Certain developments that have occurred in the 2010s cause the end of history thesis to have weaknesses.

         To understand the thesis of the end of history, one must have a broader understanding of John Locke, Thomas Hobbes, and G.F.W Hegel. These political philosophers articulated the relations between citizen and state. Fukuyama mentions Marx and Nietzsche to an extent, but only to demonstrate from his perspective how their arguments were not as convincing.The basis of teleological theories of history is that at some point the world will develop a unified and universal homogeneous state. The unified homogeneous state for Marx would be communism were ownership of the means of production would be in the hands of the working class and social stratification would not exist.  Hegel’s vision was different in which he wanted a liberal society in which individuals were free. When discussed  in this context, it refers to classical liberalism. It should not be confused with political factions within a government system. Classical liberalism was a product of the Enlightenment which supported individual freedoms and a limit on government power. Using this definition of that political ideology would mean that both American conservatives and American liberals are in fact both classically liberal. Absolute monarchy was challenged by Enlightenment philosophers who produced new ideas in the field of political thought. Fukuyama delineates  further that these ideas were becoming more popular and common in the 19th century  : “For Hegel the French Revolution was the event that took the Christian vision of a free and equal society, and implemented it here on Earth.”

It should be understood that Hegel’s liberalism relies on the concept of rational  recognition. This means that everyone values that each person has right to have their dignity recognized as a free individual. Generally stated by The End of History and The Last Man :  ”  the liberal democratic state values us as at our own sense of self-worth.” This was in a way Thomas Hobbes and John Locke were attempting to articulate in their writings. Thomas Hobbes would not have been an advocate of modern day liberal democracy. He did favor monarchy, but believed that human selfishness and self interest could be manipulated to create a functional government. However, the basis of a healthy society was a social contract between members of society. Locke also believed in social contract theory, but was convinced that rulers needed consent of the people to govern. Hobbes did not believe consent in terms of governance was essential. The most important element of society was to maintain order. What emerged from Hobbes and Locke was the idea people had natural rights that should never be violated. Fukuyama summarizes this vast body of thought  being understood as the right to self preservation, happiness, and property. Through this philosophical development, Europe went through rapid political transformations. Monarchies were being challenged and the revolutions of 1848 spread across Europe.

The old aristocracies and monarchies were being challenged more so than during the French Revolution. It appears that at this point in the 19th century, the movement toward liberal democracy would seem to be a inevitable transformation. However, the Russian Empire, Austro-Hungarian Empire, and the German Empire did not make reforms. Fukuyama explains that England developed a tradition of democratic political culture starting with the Magna Carta to the Glorious Revolution of 1688. Here there is a problem with the teleological thesis. Another issue that arises is that these philosophers were thinking primarily about Europe when discussing political ideas. A product of their racist environments to them Europe was the only place that mattered. Hegel once said “that Africa did not have a history.” This blatant myth was a demonstration of the European view that people of African descent were inferiors. Karl Marx said that Asia was too backward, lacked organization, and feudal to produce a successful socialist revolution. History at its core is the tale of the global human experience. To ignore certain peoples does not give a sufficient world view. Hobbes limited his range by only focusing study on governments in Europe rather than looking abroad. John Locke never really addressed the contradictions between his ideas of freedom and the Trans-Atlantic slave trade. John Locke’s hypocrisy comes from the fact he had significant investments in the slave trade through the Royal Africa Company. The founders and foundation in which this universal homogeneous state seems to only apply to Europe. Francis Fukuyama does not acknowledge that in the perspective of these philosophers only certain people deserve freedom( Europeans). The racist and Eurocentric element is present even in how these thinkers thought their possible societal revolutions would turnout. Karl Marx  believed that socialist revolution would only happen in the industrialized countries of Western Europe. The teleological thesis is then weakened, because communism spread to Asian nations like Laos, Vietnam, Cambodia, and China. Latin American and African nations experimented with socialist and communist governments. History can be more unpredictable than some scholars realize.

            These emerging ideas over the centuries come from some form of human motivation . The End of History and the Last Man explains it in terms of thymos. It is a Greek word from the ancient world expressing the nature of human spirit and the desire to be recognized. To Fukuyama this is what drives human societies. There is also a counterpart to this that Fukuyama coined a neologism for called megalothymia  which goes beyond simple recognition, but the desire to feel superior or prominent when compared to others. While the arguments for these concepts do have truth, that is not the sole motivation of humanity. Besides wanting to be recognized, nation-states want to demonstrate that they made a mark on world history. Knowing that your society and civilization contributed to the world is in many ways psychologically gratifying. It is more than just a struggle for recognition; it is one of meaning. Individuals as well as states question their existence. This ontological debate does not have a simple answer. This constant search for meaning can result in either negative or positive actions. Aggressive nationalism can be described in megalothymic terms, but it is a nation attempting to demonstrate its place in the world by force. Nazi Germany did not want only recognition; it wanted to find its meaning through showing the world it was powerful and there for had the right to dominate the globe. This new found meaning to its military and political missions had horribly devastating effects. The United States still is struggling to find meaning as a nation by either acting as a world policeman, enforcer, or attempting to present itself as a protector of human rights. The struggle for meaning and purpose are not discussed in the text, which really gets to the heart of human behavior.  There are individuals who behave the way they do not for the sake of recognition, but enjoyment and passion. Dr. Charles Drew and Albert Einstein did not invest much of their lives in science for thymos and megalothymia. They were curious about the world and passionate about their work. There is a drive in humanity which is beyond the desire for fame or recognition. Fukuyama then reduces human beings down to simple seekers of gratification and attention. He then applies thymos to work ethic. If one works in an occupation that is unsatisfying the argument of thymos  is dismantled. If there is no love or motivation to contribute to a company one is not passionate about, then recognition becomes irrelevant. Some leaders are not solely driven by megalothymia. A new vision for society and challenging certain forms of injustices can be major motivators. Kwame Nkrumah  and Gamal Nasser were motivated to free their countries from imperial powers and build a future that was acceptable to their people. Both leaders had a political vision of Africa being united as an international force.

These concepts of thymos and megalothymia may explain some elements of human nature, but not all. The world is driven my ideas and the people who develop them. Nationalism is more than just these two concepts; it is a mental transformation for the people of a certain land.Anti-colonial nationalism ( referred to as “third world nationalism” but this would not be accurate considering the collapse of the communist second world ) sought to free the peoples of Africa, Asia, and Latin America from the imperial domination of Europe. This was not just physically removing colonizers from the land, but developing new ideas about their sense of self. The desire to embrace ingenious culture rather than the values of the West broke the psychological control from Great Britain, France, and Belgium.  The desire to contribute to a cause larger than one’s self is more than thymos and megalothymia.

           When reading The End of History and the Last Man  one question emerges. Can democracy really work ? As we have seen through out history it has been an unstable system. The ancient Greeks were the original developers of democracy. Athens experimented with the political system, but it would usually descend into oligarchy. The biggest challenge to democracy is that society is hierarchical. Through out history there has always been a ruling class in civilizations. This may not have been the case in hunter-gather societies in which everyone’s contribution was needed for the survival of the group . The ancient world had the monarchs, a priest class, warriors, and an underclass. The peasantry was present being dependent on their landowners and the nobility. The nobility became more powerful in the Middles Ages keeping the peasants under control. The industrial revolution allowed fro the rise of a middle class which acted as a buttress against the underclass in certain societies. The peasants were gradually being transformed into a working class, except the difference was they were working in factories rather than on farms. The hierarchy is still present in modern societies and it probably will not disappear. If this is true, it means that democracy is not actually natural to human behavioral instinct. Neoliberal capitalism also makes functioning democracy impossible. The system favors the elite class over other social classes. Globalization outsources jobs for the sake of profit maximization. Wages do not increase, even for skilled workers. Francis Fukuyama even admits ” for many sectors of the population, real living standards and job security in the 1980s declined, and people found themselves working harder just to stay where they were.”  The free market only works for a select few. Fukuyama claims that the best capitalist societies are organized around their cultural structure. This may be true for Japan or Singapore, but not every nation. Some states are better of developing economic systems that solve their material needs. Cuba and Libya did not adopt a capitalist model when developing their nations. Libya through oil revenues were able to improve healthcare, education, and infrastructure under Muammar Qaddafi . Fidel Castro was able to do similar projects by nationalizing the sugar plantations. These were socialist governments that tailored economic policy to socio-cultural conditions. Fukuyama then makes pronouncement that is far from reality : ” economic liberalism provides the optimal route to prosperity to any people willing to take advantage of it.” According to this logic,  the world’s poor should be reaching economic prosperity. Structural adjustment programs of the International Monetary Fund  have brought Africa into more debt, while limited banking regulations put international markets at risk. The international financial crisis is literally tearing Europe apart through fiscal austerity. Capitalism and democracy one would conclude are not compatible, because they are generating conflict. The internal workings of a democratic system also has limits. For a government to run, it must have a some form of consensus. The numerous political parties that emerge in such a system make this insuperable to achieve. The two party system in the United States is in crisis as Republican and Democratic leaders fail to reach an agreement on various forms of legislation. This has angered the public so that it is either disengaging from the political process, attempting to promote a third party as another option, or turning to people who are extremist in political ideology. These are a just a few reasons why democracies do not function. Legislative bodies require members to cooperate and be negotiable to maintain proper governance. If this is not the aim of  the legislative bodies, the government will be ineffective.

          The two chapters that generate a level of skepticism are the “Free and Unequal” and ” Immense Wars of the Spirit.” Here a reader can see that Francis Fukuyama stretches the truth. While it is true some individuals want to be recognized as being “superior” there is a desire for imposing forms of oppression. Freedom and equality to Fukuyama will always be in conflict. Fukuyama favors freedom over equality. Yet, it should be realized without equality there will be no freedom. The struggle of the African American people against slavery and segregation are a painful reminder of this. Having unequal access to education , housing, and jobs limits a groups freedom. If the rule of law is equally applied to all members to society, only then can it be considered free. The criminal justice system in the United States favors whites over other ethnic groups. Fukuyama criticizes Nietzsche’s new morality which favors the strong over the weak, but really is not concerned about oppressed groups. As long as several groups have their rights denied, there will be no freedom for anyone. It could have been that Nietzsche’s disdain for liberal democracy came from its flaws and contradictions. It cannot be simply reduced to the struggle for recognition. The Nietzsche philosophy believes that certain individuals will rise to higher levels than other people, because of their skills and talents. He believed that a super man would lead Europe to a new age and sense of purpose. This conviction was then perverted by the Nazis for their own political gain in the 20th century. It seems unlikely that if Nietzsche had lived to see the rise of the Nazis, he would be a supporter. The Nazi philosophy was based on race hatred and aggressive nationalism.  This leads to another troubling proclamation in The End of History and the Last Man . 

      Francis Fukuyama underestimates how warfare is a constant and persistent threat to humanity. He then claims in prosperous liberal democracy warfare takes less violent forms.The current political situation in terms of international affairs reveals a different story.   The United States continues military intervention around the globe, even though the nations it attacks would never pose a formidable challenge. NATO has now been involved in the Balkans, Libya, Afghanistan, and possibly at some point Syria. Then he expounds upon a scenario in which liberal democracy is triumphant. Fukuyama writes “they may struggle for the sake of struggle.”  Francis Fukuyama then explains ” they will struggle of of a certain boredom: they just can’t imagine living in a world without struggle.”  He then attempts to claim public boredom was a factor to what led to World War I. The fact was that Europe was not at peace even before the war. Its empires were fighting each other for colonial possessions. The Berlin conference  allowed for an understanding of the colonization of Africa. The open door policy for China also prevented war. Yet, the tension and global military contest for territory continued. The Ottoman Empire found itself victim to the British, French, and the Russians. When the Balkan Wars occur, it only added to the possibility of war on the European continent.Around the year of 1914, most of the world  was dominated by European empires. This was not done out of ennui from leaders or populations. It was aggressive nationalism, which viewed other countries and races of people as being lower beings. The excitement and fervor that got men to march off to the trenches was the product of patriotic  upbringing. It was a time in which war was viewed as honorable and a  citizen’s duty. This image that Fukuyama presents of a  Europe in equanimity  is a misrepresentation. Warfare was conducted against African and Asian peoples with intensity, while the inevitable mass conflict in Europe was delayed by meticulous diplomacy. When the British, German, French, Russian, and Austro-Hungarian Empires were confident in their military strength, they attacked one another. The rival alliance systems are shifting again, this time with a US- European Union block against a Russia- China block. This is not because these countries are uninterested in peace; it is because warfare has been a part of human society since the beginning of civilization. It seems that war will not disappear anytime soon, but will be a constant threat.

           The thesis of  The End of History and the Last Man lacks cogency for several reasons. The obvious reason is that there have not been any other ideas or political models experimented with to make such a claim. New political ideas, philosophies, and systems could emerge in the future. One other problem that emerges is the emergence of the last man and the final stage of human political development. If the ultimate goal is for freedom of an individual in the highest form, liberal democracy would not provide this. Anarchism would make more sense as a logical end to this proposed teleological process. That ideology believes in a society in which there is limited or no government and rule is conducted by voluntary associations. As humanity enters the 21st century it becomes clear that their is no end of history in sight. Radical political Islamism does not constitute an ideological competitor to liberal democracy, because it is only active in certain parts of the globe. Fukuyama erroneously says that assimilated   religious and ethnic groups could become a threat, if they are not assimilated. This is untrue, due to the fact they are victims of discrimination and institutional racism. It is more likely they will see their rights violated rather than the majority white population. Which leads to another reason why this evolutionary process will not end with liberal democracy. The West has waged war against its former colonies under the excuse of fighting terrorism or promoting human rights. African nations such as Ivory Coast, Libya, and Somalia are subject to invasion by the EU nations and the United States. The result of these attacks creates a enormous refugee population that flees to Europe. When these refugees reach Europe they face violence and hostile treatment from the same nations that destroyed their land. Countries like the UK, Germany, and France do not behave democratically in regards to the rights of refugees. The crisis brought on by war threatens to dismantle the EU. The countries that have what appear to be democracy just use the institutions to disguise authoritarianism. The Arab Spring was the perfect paradigm of why liberal democratic revolution is not sustainable. Tunisia and Egypt saw mass demonstrations which deposed longtime leaders. However, more extremist elements took over and in some cases the old order was restored . Libya’s situation was a civil war combined with a military intervention by NATO. Algeria and Morocco did not have any mass uprisings. The Gulf monarchies remain intact. It seems Africa and West Asia are not experiencing an end of history. China, Laos, and Cambodia still are one party states, when political observers examine East Asia. India has a democratic system, but it is fragile due to the caste system, conflicts with Pakistan, Muslim-Hindu tension, and ethnic hatreds. The only system emerging in the world is illiberal democracy, which is a readjusted form of authoritarianism. The End of History and the Last Man is more of a documentation  of attitudes that dominated political and foreign policy circles in the 1990s to early 2000s. The rapid transformations in human society make such a thesis more of a prediction rather than an academic study.


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