In the wake of our own “Orange Revolution,” Francis Fukuyama is taking a lot of flak. His End of History thesis is being blamed for the spread of little-“l” liberal complacency and the comfortable elitism that corrupted both left and right. He may not be such a deserving punching bag.
Fukuyama’s End of History did a pretty good job of anticipating Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin. It did a pretty good job of anticipating the anomie and aimlessness that might drive people toward self-destructive political choices. Almost thirty years after his original thesis, he still seems to have a better read on our political situation than either the Marxist theorists he was skewering or the emerging culture-warriors like Huntington who most fiercely opposed him. It may be a mistake to dismiss Fukuyama out of hand.
Here a few excerpts from The End of History to chew on over the weekend.
The end of history would mean the end of wars and bloody revolutions. Agreeing on ends, men would have no large causes for which to fight. They would satisfy their needs through economic activity, but they would no longer have to risk their lives in battle. They would, in other words, become animals again, as they were before the bloody battle that began history. A dog is content to sleep in the sun all day provided he is fed, because he is not dissatisfied with what he is. He does not worry that other dogs are doing better than him, or that his career as a dog has stagnated, or that dogs are being oppressed in a distant part of the world. If man reaches a society in which he has succeeded in abolishing injustice, his life will come to resemble that of the dog. Human life, then, involves a curious paradox: it seems to require injustice, for the struggle against injustice is what calls forth what is highest in man.
The revolutionaries who battled with Ceaucescu’s Securitate in Romania, the brave Chinese students who stood up to tanks in Tiananmen Square, the Lithuanians who fought Moscow for their national independence, the Russians who defended their parliament and president, were the most free and therefore the most human of beings. They were former slaves who proved themselves willing to risk their lives in a bloody battle to free themselves. But when they finally succeed, as they eventually must, they will create for themselves a stable democratic society in which struggle and work in the old sense are made unnecessary, and in which the possibility of their ever again being as free and as human as in their revolutionary struggle had been abolished. Today, they imagine that they would be happy when they get to this promised land, for many needs and desires which exist in present-day Romania or China would be fulfilled. One day they too will all have dishwashers and VCRs and private automobiles. But would they also be satisfied with themselves? Or would it turn out that man’s satisfaction, as opposed to his happiness, arose not from the goal itself, but from the struggle and work along the way?
With these thoughts in mind, take a look at a couple of headlines from the post-historical world:
We may face an evolutionary glitch that drives us back toward political failure. Material success and human satisfaction may be irrevocably at odds. No one has yet posited a persuasive alternative to liberal democracy, but we have also failed to tame the animal spirits that make representative government so difficult to sustain. Monarchy and Communism presented themselves as a philosophical alternative to representative government and failed. Trump, Putin and even the Islamic radicals of the Middle East seem less like an alternative to liberal democracy than a base human rebellion against the experience of being tamed.