Summary of Francis Fukuyama’s ‘End of History?’ (1989)

“The End of History?” concerns the rise and fall of major ideologies such as absolutism, fascism and communism, and suggests that human history should be viewed in terms of a battle of ideologies which has reached its end in the universalization of Western liberal democracy. He argues that although its realization is still in process in the material world, the idea of Western liberalism has triumphed, as evidenced by the worldwide growth of Western consumerist culture and the gradual movement towards democratic or liberal reforms in countries that previously embraced alternate ideologies.

To evaluate whether, considering these specifications, history really has ended, Fukuyama looks next at whether any core conflicts of human life remain that could only be resolved by a political-economic structure other than modern liberalism. In terms of mankind’s “common ideological heritage”, two such alternatives have been fascism and communism. The seemingly self-destructive nature of fascism was revealed during World War II, and its failure has deflated further fascist movements. As communism’s case against liberalism has weakened with the rise of equality in the legal and social structure of the classless West, so has support for communism in the West, and elsewhere.

Communism is losing its power as a truly excepted ideology, and without a significant alternative a common market will continue to grow and large scale ideological conflict will fade away. IF WE ADMIT for the moment that the fascist and communist challenges to liberalism are dead, are there any other ideological competitors left? Or put another way, are there contradictions in liberal society beyond that of class that are not resolvable? Two possibilities suggest themselves, those of religion and nationalism.

From the religious point of view, it is the rise of religious fundamentalism. Modern liberalism itself was historically a consequence of the weakness of religiously-based societies which, failing to agree on the nature of the good life, could not provide even the minimal preconditions of peace and stability. In the contemporary world only Islam has offered a theocratic state as a political alternative to both liberalism and communism. But the doctrine has little appeal for non-Muslims, and it is hard to believe that the movement will take on any universal significance.

The other major “contradiction” potentially unresolvable by liberalism is the one posed by nationalism and other forms of racial and ethnic consciousness. A very large number of conflicts have their roots in nationalism, and two cataclysmic world wars in this century have been spawned by the nationalism of the developed world in various guises, and if those passions have been muted to a certain extent in postwar Europe, they are still extremely powerful in the Third World.

Fukuyama suggests that conflict will continue on another level. The world would be divided between a part that was historical and a part that was post-historical. Conflict between states still in history, and between those states and those at the end of history, would still be possible. Nationalist conflict and ethnic conflict have not played themselves out yet, and Fukuyama predicts they There would still be a high and perhaps rising level of ethnic and nationalist violence.

Crucial points:

  • History should be viewed as an evolutionary process.
  • Events still occur at the end of history.
  • Pessimism about humanity’s future is warranted because of humanity’s inability to control technology.
  • The end of history means liberal democracy is the final form of government for all nations. There can be no progression from liberal democracy to an alternative system.

According to Fukuyama, since the French Revolution, democracy has repeatedly proven to be a fundamentally better system (ethically, politically, economically) than any of the alternatives.

The most basic (and prevalent) error in discussing Fukuyama’s work is to confuse “history” with “events”. Fukuyama claims not that events will stop occurring in the future, but rather that all that will happen in the future (even if totalitarianism returns) is that democracy will become more and more prevalent in the long term, although it may suffer “temporary” setbacks (which may, of course, last for centuries).

Other major empirical evidence includes the elimination of interstate warfare in Eastern Europe among countries that moved from military dictatorships to liberal democracies.

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