The end of The End Of History


Francis Fukuyama got famous, at least in the nerdy political circles, almost thirty years ago when he wrote an article for the neo-con magazine “The National Interest”, which he expanded a few years later into a book titled “The End of History and the Last Man”. The rather simplified summary of his thesis was that with the collapse of the Soviet Union and the international communism we have arrived at the end point of humanity’s ideological evolution with liberal democracy and free markets having survived as the fittest. The right loved the book as a vindication, the left hated it as triumphalism. There was more to it, including a lot more nuance, than the 25-word-or-less summary above, but for better or worse Fukuyama got stuck with the reputation as the guy who, in a sort of a ideological “Highlander”-style face-off, has called liberalism the final winner.

A lot has happened since 1992 and history did not end either in the Hegelian sense that Fukuyama argued for or in the more colloquial one that most of the rest of us would understand. There were certainly many who did not accept the apparent triumph (in hindsight merely the high point) of free societies and free markets. Five years after “The End of History”, the late Samuel P Huntington published his now equally famous (or notorious) and equally criticised “The Clash of Civilisations and the Remaking of the World Order”, which argued, contra Fukuyama, that the ideological struggles of the past are now giving way to the international competition based on ethnicity and associated religious and cultural values. Huntington is mainly remembered because the Islamists of Al Qaeda and ISIS have decided to play from his script soon thereafter.

Then there is China, with its decidedly un- and anti-liberal authoritarian state-controlled capitalism – what I have been calling Marketism-Leninism, since the Chinese Communist Party has ditched Marx in favour of the profit motive but has certainly retained the very Soviet notions about “the leading role of the Party” in all aspects of life. This model seems to be attractive to the Chinese people themselves (to the extent they can express their opinion about it) and to many others around the world who don’t like the liberal international order with the United States in the leading role and prefer their economic prosperity with a large dose of social and political control. Lastly, there is the revival of the idea of socialism throughout the developed world, largely championed by people who have no idea what socialism actually entails, but who are disappointed with the current system not delivering all the outcomes they want and/or not to the extent they want and socialism sounds like something cool that’s not the current system.

With that rather lengthy preamble in mind, it’s interesting to read what Fukuyama himself now has to say about the state of the world nearly 30 years after his original article and more than a quarter of a century after the book:

The End of History was a rebuke to Marxists who regarded communism as humanity’s final ideological stage. How, I asked Fukuyama, did he view the resurgence of the socialist left in the UK and the US? “It all depends on what you mean by socialism. Ownership of the means of production – except in areas where it’s clearly called for, like public utilities – I don’t think that’s going to work.

“If you mean redistributive programmes that try to redress this big imbalance in both incomes and wealth that has emerged then, yes, I think not only can it come back, it ought to come back. This extended period, which started with Reagan and Thatcher, in which a certain set of ideas about the benefits of unregulated markets took hold, in many ways it’s had a disastrous effect.

“In social equality, it’s led to a weakening of labour unions, of the bargaining power of ordinary workers, the rise of an oligarchic class almost everywhere that then exerts undue political power. In terms of the role of finance, if there’s anything we learned from the financial crisis it’s that you’ve got to regulate the sector like hell because they’ll make everyone else pay. That whole ideology became very deeply embedded within the Eurozone, the austerity that Germany imposed on southern Europe has been disastrous.”

Fukuyama added, to my surprise: “At this juncture, it seems to me that certain things Karl Marx said are turning out to be true. He talked about the crisis of overproduction… that workers would be impoverished and there would be insufficient demand.”  Yet the only plausible systemic rival to liberal democracy, Fukuyama said, was not socialism but China’s state capitalist model. “The Chinese are arguing openly that it is a superior one because they can guarantee stability and economic growth over the long run in a way that democracy can’t… if in another 30 years, they’re bigger than the US, Chinese people are richer and the country is still holding together, I would say they’ve got a real argument.” But he cautioned that “the real test of the regime” would be how it fared in an economic crisis.

And so, another friendly reminder that nothing ever stays still. The good fight never ends either, at least not until the Armageddon or a civilisation-destroying cometary impact. So get off your laurels, people. If you don’t continue to fight for your right to party, the Party will fight for their right to you.