Yesterday, I glanced at the introduction to Francis Fukuyama’s The End of History (1992). For about fifteen years, this book was a meme—it constantly recurred in the media; usually along with another now-forgotten term, “globalisation”. The End of History summed up the zeitgeist, another phrase inspired by Hegel that was popular at the time. When Fukuyama says “history” he does not mean “history” in its colloquial sense—a record of factual events that happened in the past. Indeed, journalists and even so-called public intellectuals would often snort contemptuously at End and say, “Things still happen, don’t they? Whatta about the fact I went to Benidorm last week? ‘Course history hasn’t ended. Bloody ridiculous.”
What Fukuyama meant by “history” is “History” with a capital “H”—Hegelian History, the idea that man’s existence has a direction to which it moves: in terms of civilisation, a final societal form that resolves all contradictions within previous human societies. The final form encapsulates all previous forms, takes each previous form to its highest development, and at the same time transcends all forms.
Marx, who worked from a Hegelian schema, thought we started with primitive communism (our tribal village) and then History was a series of dialectical moves that returned us to that same holistic life (unalienated labour, every man master of his own product) at a higher stage—the wholeness of the tribal village, except with technology and abundance. To reach this stage it was necessary to undergo various dialectical splits—of which capitalism and feudalism were two—in order to reach History’s final destination. The final state contains feudalism and capitalism and primitive communism within in it, albeit in transcended forms—as artefacts required to reach the whole.
For Fukuyama, the final end state was not communism, nor was it, as it was for Hegel, the Prussian state; rather, the final form in human history was liberal democracy—specifically, American liberal democracy. “Events” would continue; however, there would be no innovation in government: “The future is here, it just isn’t evenly distributed yet.” The only question, in 1992, was how long it would take liberal democracy to expand across the globe, as lava from a volcano spreads and suffocates everything in its path. One of Marx’s daughters once asked him what would happen after communism was established; he paused for a moment, then replied, “More communism.” Similarly, Fukuyama would say, “More liberal democracy—forever.”
To read Fukuyama today is valuable because his work reminds us quite how hubristic America (the wider West) was in 1992. Neocons, libertarians, and conservatives sometimes seem utterly naïve and out of touch when they parrot catchphrases about “liberal democracy” and “free markets”; yet to understand their attitude—now withered under populist assault—you must read Fukuyama. You have to understand how the world looked to people in 1992, with the USSR just defeated. The self-confidence—arrogance—is very apparent in Fukuyama; and yet, at that moment, it seemed warranted. “All fundamental problems about human existence are solved, all we face is a mopping up operation to make everyone an American. The answers: liberal democracy, free markets, science and technology.” Hubris.
This is why most self-proclaimed conservatives in the West are not conservatives; they subscribe to this view. The idea that the right should defend nation, race, faith, and tradition has been negated: there is one answer to the human condition—America. If it sounds a bit totalitarian, remember that Marxism and fascism were both inspired by Hegelian thought in the first place. Fukuyama reads Hegel’s politics as being about the quest for recognition, the master-slave dialectic—we come to know ourselves through our agonism with another, ultimately liberal democracy solves this by our recognition as individuals. This Hegelian quest for recognition is found, the flip side to Fukuyama, in identity politics—recognise my blackness, my femaleness, my queerness. In this respect, Western politics since 1992 has been a struggle between two Hegelian wings: the liberal democrats and the progressive identitarians. Time to burn Hegel?