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The End of History and the Last Man

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Subject: Francis Fukuyama, Philosophy of history, American exceptionalism, Clash of Civilizations, Ihor Podolchak
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The End of History and the Last Man

The End of History and the Last Man
Author Francis Fukuyama
Language English
Published 1992 (Free Press)
Pages 418

The End of History and the Last Man is a 1992 book by Francis Fukuyama, expanding on his 1989 essay "The End of History?", published in the international affairs journal The National Interest. In the book, Fukuyama argues that the advent of Western liberal democracy may signal the endpoint of humanity's sociocultural evolution and the final form of human government.

"What we may be witnessing is not just the end of the Cold War, or the passing of a particular period of post-war history, but the end of history as such: that is, the end point of mankind's ideological evolution and the universalization of Western liberal democracy as the final form of human government."[1]

Fukuyama's position contradicts that of Karl Marx, who imagined that antagonistic history would end with communism displacing capitalism.[2] Fukuyama himself identifies on some level with Marx, but identifies most strongly with the German philosopher Hegel, by way of Alexandre Kojève. Kojève argued that the progress of history must lead toward the establishment of a "universal and homogenous" state,[3] most likely incorporating elements of liberal or social democracy; but Kojeve's emphasis on the necessarily "post-political" character of such a state (and its citizens) makes such comparisons inadequate, and is irreducible to any mere "triumph" of capitalism.[4]


  • 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).

Some argue that Fukuyama presents "American-style" democracy as the only "correct" political system and argues that all countries must inevitably follow this particular system of government. However, many Fukuyama scholars claim this is a misreading of his work. Fukuyama's argument is only that in the future there will be more and more governments that use the framework of parliamentary democracy and that contain markets of some sort. Indeed, Fukuyama has stated:

The End of History was never linked to a specifically American model of social or political organization. Following Alexandre Kojève, the Russian-French philosopher who inspired my original argument, I believe that the European Union more accurately reflects what the world will look like at the end of history than the contemporary United States. The EU's attempt to transcend sovereignty and traditional power politics by establishing a transnational rule of law is much more in line with a "post-historical" world than the Americans' continuing belief in God, national sovereignty, and their military.[5]

Arguments in favor

This graph shows the number of nations in the different categories given by Freedom House in their survey Freedom in the World for the period for which there are surveys, 1972–2005. Nations are categorized as "Free", "Partly Free", and "Not Free". Freedom House considers "Free" nations to be liberal democracies. The trend is much weaker when counting population instead, as countries classified as "free" tend to be smaller and have lower population growth.
  • One argument used to support the theory is the dramatic rise in democratic nations over the course of the 20th century. An extensive study by Freedom House counted zero liberal democracies with universal suffrage in the world in 1900, but 119 (60%) in 2003. It counted 25 nations (19%) with "restricted democratic practices" in 1900 and 16 (8%) today. Additionally, in 1900 it counted 19 constitutional monarchies (14%), where a constitution limited the powers of the monarch and some power is devolved to elected legislatures, and none today. Other nations had, and have, various forms of non-democratic rule.[6]
  • Another argument in favor of Fukuyama's thesis is the democratic peace theory, which argues that mature democracies rarely or never go to war with one another. This theory has faced criticism, with arguments largely resting on conflicting definitions of "war" and "mature democracy". Part of the difficulty in assessing the theory is that democracy as a widespread global phenomenon emerged only very recently in human history, which makes generalizing about it difficult. (See also list of wars between democracies).
  • Other major empirical evidence includes the elimination of interstate warfare in South America, Southeast Asia, and Eastern Europe among countries that moved from military dictatorships to liberal democracies.
  • According to several studies, the end of the Cold War and the subsequent increase in the number of liberal democratic states were accompanied by a sudden and dramatic decline in total warfare, interstate wars, ethnic wars, revolutionary wars, and the number of refugees and displaced persons.[7][8]


There have been many criticisms of the "end of history" thesis.

Critics of liberal democracy

Some have argued against the book due to an ideological disagreement with the concept of liberal democracy.

  • Jacques Derrida criticized Fukuyama in Specters of Marx (1993) as a "come-lately reader" of Alexandre Kojève "in the tradition of Leo Strauss", who already described US society in the 1950s as the "realization of communism". According to Derrida, Fukuyama—and the quick celebrity of his book—is but one symptom of the anxiety to ensure the "death of Marx". Fukuyama's celebration of liberal hegemony is criticized by Derrida:
Derrida goes on to analyze Fukuyama's book as taking part in the intellectual branch of current Western hegemony and the spreading of its "New Gospel": "This end of History is essentially a Christian eschatology. It is consonant with the current discourse of the Pope on the European community: destined to become a Christian State or Super-State, this community would still belong therefore to some Holy Alliance." He claims that the book uses a "sleight-of-hand trick" of making use of empirical data whenever it seems to suit its message, while appealing to an ideal whenever the empirical data contradicts it. Derrida points out that Fukuyama himself sees the real United States and European Union as imperfect compared to the "ideals" of liberal democracy and the free market. Even the author understands that such ideals are not demonstrated by empirical evidence or ever could be demonstrated empirically. They belong entirely to the realm of philosophy or religion, owing their birth to the Gospels of Philosophy of Hegel. And yet Fukuyama still uses a movement toward empirical observations, which he himself grants are imperfect and incomplete, to validate an idea that is purely idealistic and transcendent of any empirical reality or possibility.[9]
  • Certain versions of Marxism can be conceived as "end of history" philosophies. Therefore, Marxists like Perry Anderson have been among Fukuyama's fiercest critics. Apart from pointing out that capitalist democracies are still riven with poverty, racial tension, and the like, Marxists also reject Fukuyama's reliance on Hegel. According to them, Hegel's philosophy was fatally flawed until Marx "turned it on its head" to create historical materialism. Fukuyama argues that even though there is poverty, racism, and sexism in present-day democracies, there is no sign of a major revolutionary movement developing that would actually overthrow capitalism. While Marxists disagree with Fukuyama's claim that capitalist democracy represents the end of history, they support the idea that the "end of history" will consist of the victory of democracy: communism, in the Marxist view, must necessarily involve a form of direct democracy.

Radical Islam, tribalism, and the "Clash of Civilizations"

Various Western commentators have described the thesis of The End of History as flawed because it does not sufficiently take into account the power of ethnic loyalties and religious fundamentalism as a counter-force to the spread of liberal democracy, with the specific example of Islamic fundamentalism, or radical Islam, as the most powerful of these.

Benjamin Barber wrote a 1992 article and a 1995 book, Jihad vs. McWorld, that addressed this theme. Barber described "McWorld" as a secular, liberal, corporate-friendly transformation of the world and used the word "jihad" to refer to the competing forces of tribalism and religious fundamentalism, with a special emphasis on Islamic fundamentalism.

Samuel P. Huntington wrote a 1993 essay, "The Clash of Civilizations", in direct response to The End of History; he then expanded the essay into a 1996 book, The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of World Order. In the essay and book, Huntington argued that the temporary conflict between ideologies is being replaced by the ancient conflict between civilizations. The dominant civilization decides the form of human government, and these will not be constant. He especially singled out Islam, which he described as having "bloody borders".

After the [12]

Fukuyama did discuss radical Islam briefly in The End of History. He argued that Islam is not an Imperialist force like Stalinism and Fascism; that is, it has little intellectual or emotional appeal outside the Islamic "heartlands". Fukuyama pointed to the economic and political difficulties that Iran and Saudi Arabia face and argued that such states are fundamentally unstable: either they will become democracies with a Muslim society (like Turkey) or they will simply disintegrate. Moreover, when Islamic states have actually been created, they were easily dominated by the powerful Western states.

In October 2001, Fukuyama, in a Wall Street Journal opinion piece, responded to the declarations that the September 11 attacks had disproved his views by stating that "time and resources are on the side of modernity, and I see no lack of a will to prevail in the United States today." He also noted that his original thesis "does not imply a world free from conflict, nor the disappearance of culture as a distinguishing characteristic of societies."[12]

In a 2008 Washington Post opinion piece, Fukuyama wrote:

Democracy's only real competitor in the realm of ideas today is radical Islamism. Indeed, one of the world's most dangerous nation-states today is Iran, run by extremist Shiite mullahs. But as Peter Bergen pointed out in these pages last week, Sunni radicalism has been remarkably ineffective in actually taking control of a nation-state, due to its propensity to devour its own potential supporters. Some disenfranchised Muslims thrill to the rantings of Osama bin Laden or Former Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, but the appeal of this kind of medieval Islamism is strictly limited.[13]

The resurgence of Russia and China

Another challenge to the "end of history" thesis is the growth in the economic and political power of two countries, Russia and China; China has a single-party state government, while Russia, though a democracy, has been described by some as de facto authoritarian.[14]

Azar Gat, Professor of National Security at Tel Aviv University, argued this point in his 2007 Foreign Affairs article, "The Return of Authoritarian Great Powers", stating that the success of these two countries could "end the end of history".[15] Gat also discussed radical Islam, but stated that the movements associated with it "represent no viable alternative to modernity and pose no significant military threat to the developed world". He considered the challenge of China and Russia to be the major threat, since they could pose a viable rival model which could inspire other states.

This view was echoed by Robert Kagan in his 2008 book, The Return of History and the End of Dreams, whose title was a deliberate rejoinder to The End of History.[16]

In his 2008 Washington Post opinion piece, Fukuyama also addressed this point. He wrote, "Despite recent authoritarian advances, liberal democracy remains the strongest, most broadly appealing idea out there. Most autocrats, including Putin and Chávez, still feel that they have to conform to the outward rituals of democracy even as they gut its substance. Even China's Hu Jintao felt compelled to talk about democracy in the run-up to Beijing's Olympic Games."[13]

Failure of civil society and political decay

In 2014, on the occasion of the 25th anniversary of the publication of the original essay, "The End of History?", Fukuyama wrote a column in The Wall Street Journal again updating his hypothesis. He wrote that, while liberal democracy still had no real competition from more authoritarian systems of government "in the realm of ideas", nevertheless he was less idealistic than he had been "during the heady days of 1989." Fukuyama noted the Orange Revolution in Ukraine and the Arab Spring, both of which seemed to have failed in their pro-democracy goals, as well as the "backsliding" of democracy in countries including Thailand, Turkey and Nicaragua. He stated that the biggest problem for the democratically-elected governments in some countries was not ideological but "their failure to provide the substance of what people want from government: personal security, shared economic growth and the basic public services... that are needed to achieve individual opportunity." Though he believed that economic growth and improved government and civic institutions all reinforced one another, he wrote that it was not inevitable that "all countries will... get on that escalator."[17]

Fukuyama also warned of "political decay", which he wrote could also affect established democracies like the United States, in which corruption and crony capitalism erode liberty and economic opportunity. Nevertheless, he expressed his continued belief that "the power of the democratic ideal remains immense."[17]

Posthuman future

Fukuyama has also stated that his thesis was incomplete, but for a different reason: "there can be no end of history without an end of modern natural science and technology" (quoted from Our Posthuman Future). Fukuyama predicts that humanity's control of its own evolution will have a great and possibly terrible effect on the liberal democracy.

Publication history

  • Free Press, 1992, hardcover (ISBN 0-02-910975-2)
  • Perennial, 1993, paperback (ISBN 0-380-72002-7)

See also


  1. ^ Francis Fukuyama, "The End of History?", The National Interest (Summer 1989)
  2. ^ "This social formation constitutes, therefore, the closing chapter of the prehistoric stage of human society." Preface to 'A Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy' (1859)
  3. ^ Strauss's term, from the Strauss-Kojeve correspondence, published in Leo Strauss, On Tyranny (University of Chicago Press, 1961)
  4. ^ Alexandre Kojeve, Introduction to the Reading of Hegel: Lectures on the Phenomenology of Spirit, (Basic Books, 1969), "Note to the Second Edition," p. 159.
  5. ^ Francis Fukuyama. (2007-04-03). The history at the end of history. The Guardian. Retrieved 2008-06-18
  6. ^ Democracy's Century: A Survey of Global Political Change in the 20th Century. Freedom House, Inc. (2003). Retrieved 2008-06-18.
  7. ^ Global Conflict Trends. Center for Systemic Peace. (2007-09-26). Retrieved 2008-06-18. Archived version
  8. ^ Human Security Report
  9. ^ a b Derrida, 1994.
  10. ^ Text of Hugo Chávez's address to the United Nations General Assembly, September 2006
  11. ^ Francis Fukuyama. (2006-08-06). History's Against Him. The Washington Post. Retrieved 2008-06-18.
  12. ^ a b History Is Still Going Our Way, Francis Fukuyama, The Wall Street Journal, October 5, 2001
  13. ^ a b They Can Only Go So Far, Francis Fukuyama, The Washington Post, August 24, 2008
  14. ^ Dmitry Medvedev's Russia still feels the cold hand of Vladimir Putin, Andrew Osborn, The Daily Telegraph, March 7, 2010
  15. ^ A. GAT, "The End of the End of History" in Foreign Affairs, July/August 2007.
  16. ^ Return of the Dog Pack (review of The Return of History and the End of Dreams), Michael Burleigh, Literary Review, May 2008
  17. ^ a b Fukuyama, Francis (June 6, 2014). "At the 'End of History' Still Stands Democracy". The Wall Street Journal. 


  • Morton Halperin, Joanne J. Myers, Joseph T. Siegle, Michael M. Weinstein. (2005-03-17). The Democracy Advantage: How Democracies Promote Prosperity and Peace. Carnegie Council for Ethics in International Affairs. Retrieved 2008-06-18.
  • Potter, Robert (2011), 'Recalcitrant Interdependence', Thesis, Flinders University
  • Mahbubani, Kishore (2008). The New Asian Hemisphere: The Irresisble Shift of Global Power to the East. New York: PublicAffairs

External links

  • The Essay
  • Islam and America... Friends or Foes?
  • Introduction to Text
  • , February 9, 1992The End of History and the Last Man interview with Fukuyama on Booknotes
  • The End of the End of History
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