XII. The End of History?
America's Unknown Enemy: Beyond Conspiracy
Editorial Staff of the
American Institute for Economic Research
If the thinking of Francis Fukayama is representative of that of our
State Department's best, then the country is in greater peril than we
might have imagined. Fukayama, who is deputy director of the State
Department's policy planning staff, is convinced that "the
ultimate triumph of Western liberal democracy" already has
occurred. As he asserted in the influential Washington publication
The National Interest, the 20th century "seems at its
close to be returning full circle to where it started: not to an 'end
of ideology' or a convergence between capitalism and socialism, as
earlier predicted, but to an unabashed victory of economic and
political liberalism." As we discuss below, these notions are "intellectualoid"
rubbish. In our view, Western-style democracy is today imperiled, not
only by anti-liberal trends in many reaches of the planet but also by
not-so-creeping socialism at home.
"What we may be witnessing is not just the end of the Cold War,
or the passing of a particular period of postwar 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." So says Fukayama. Although he
grants that "the victory of liberalism ... is as yet incomplete
in the real or material world," he insists that "there are
powerful reasons for believing that it is the ideal that will govern
the material world in the long run."
In fact, Fukayama closely follows a Hegelian teleological perspective
that tends to view the course of human history as both self-actional
and self-perfecting. Stated briefly, this view posits that human
affairs proceed in two separate realms, the "real"
(material) and the "ideal," which interact in complex ways
to shape the direction of history. The crucial question for Fukayama
is: which "realm" is dominant?
Marx, for example, subscribed to a similarly dualistic view, but
asserted the primacy of the material realm over that of the ideal (it
often is said that he "stood Hegel on his head"). Fukayama,
on the other hand, returns to the earlier "pure" Hegelian
notion that the "ideal" is the dominant force and that "Consciousness
is cause and not effect, and can develop autonomously from the
material world; hence the real subtext underlying the apparent jumble
of current events is the history of ideology."
Human history thus "is rooted in [a] prior state of
consciousness" conditioned by, say, religious and cultural
influences to the point that all behavioral phenomena are "essentially
ideal in nature." The triumph of any such state of consciousness
implies inexorable movement toward "the universal homogenous
state," whatever its actual content. Indeed, according to this
thinking, any contrary human actions or thoughts become
inconsequential once it is believed that a particular "ideal"
has "triumphed." As Fukayama says, "For our purposes,
it mailers very little what strange thoughts occur to people in
Albania and Burkina Faso, for we are interested in what one could in
some sense call the common ideological heritage of mankind."
There is much more that might be said about this interpretation of
events than can be accommodated in the space available here. However,
the irony (and possible implications) of Fukayama's choice of a
Hegelian model to celebrate the alleged planetary victory of "liberal
democracy" ought not to escape notice. Hegel was anything but a
classical "liberal." Indeed, his solution for coping with
the evils of the powerful state was to make it more powerful. In this
respect, one is left wondering what the "universal homogenous
state" contemplated by Fukayama might be like.
Be that as it is, let us accept for the moment his assertion that the
liberal ideal has "triumphed" for the present. There still
remain the larger questions of whether liberal democracy (according to
Fukayama's implied understanding of that term) will remain the
dominant ideology among those already formulated; or whether humans
really are so uninventive as to be at a loss for conjuring up any new
ideologies (his "end of history" implies that there will be
no new ideas).
With respect to the former, it should be noted that human history is
not a one-way street. World civilizations far more dominant than the
West is today, whose adherents also were zealous in espousing their
belief that their societies represented the ultimate in human
attainment, have come and gone with disturbing frequency.
Sometimes they were replaced by less-developed forms of social
organization and primitive "ideologies" as with, say, the
retrogression that followed the collapse of Greco-Roman civilization.
(As we discuss below, should today's liberal democracies begin to
crumble under the weight of their excesses, it would be surprising if
there were not at least some resurgence of previously discredited
notions.) At other times, even overwhelmingly predominant
centuries-old cultural, philosophical, religious and political notions
were successfully challenged by "upstart" types of human
behavior that eventually evolved into more-advanced societies, as when
the Renaissance revolution in science sounded the knell of theocratic
feudalism and ushered in the "modern era."
Today, many social critics, including ourselves hold the view that
liberal capitalistic democracy in many ways has retrogressed during
the past century (E. C. Harwood named this turn of events a "counterrevolution").
It is pretty clear, for example, that Fukayama's view of "liberal
capitalistic democracy is tainted with a strong dose of socialism. As
he says, "if the bulk of [Gorbachev's] present economic reform
proposals were put into effect, it is hard to know how the Soviet
economy would be more socialist than those of other Western countries
with large public sectors."
Have People Run Out of Ideas?
Although we eschew rigid ideological notions, it ought to be noted
that at least an incipient ideological revolution may today be
challenging the dominant liberal democratic view of the State
Department variety. A strong intellectual undercurrent has developed
in opposition to hybrid capitalism, perhaps most notably in today's
vaguely stated libertarian ideology, and more specifically in what
David Friedman has named "anarcho-capitalism." The point
is that, from a genuinely capitalistic viewpoint, the battle of ideas
has scarcely been joined, let alone won.
Beyond this, the prospect for the development of genuinely new ideas
(not necessarily useful ones) about the organization of human affairs
would seem to have been enhanced by very recent technological
advances. Indeed, there already are indications that thinking is
beginning to turn in that direction. The recent work of George Gilder
and other advocates of the age of the microprocessor would seem to
imply that "quantum" advances in information technology may
in the not-so-distant future permit the bypassing of many traditional
forms of social, economic, and political organization. Although it has
not been adequately specified, the most far-reaching implication of
some of this recent work is that intermediaries of all sorts including
the biggest middle-man of them all, government may, from an "ideal"
perspective, become largely obsolete.
In short, despite Fukayama's metaphysical attachments, it seems
highly unlikely that all human ideological battles have been settled
for all time or that history has come to a screeching halt. In our
view, it seems just as, if not more, probable that a century or so
from now intellectual historians may describe our time as one of
A More Useful Approach to Understanding History
The dawning century may hold as yet undreamed of intellectual
surprises. But in our view the rough outline of an open-ended approach
(not an "ideology") toward the attainment of human progress
has been developing for some time in fact, for about three and a half
centuries. Its successes to date have been impressive, but it has by
no means gained universal acceptance -- nor, given past human
behavior, can such acceptance necessarily be expected. Very simply, it
involves the application of modern scientific method to the problems
of humans in society.
As we have written extensively elsewhere, one of the primary
requirements of modern scientific procedures of inquiry is that
outmoded dualistic notions that consider the "real" and the "ideal"
as separate entities and ascribe to them metaphysical self-actional
powers must be abandoned. As employed by Fukayama, Western "ideology"
is a self-actional mentalistic construct that bears little practical
relation to actual human affairs.
This is not to say that ideas are not important. They are. Humans
often have been propelled to action by their beliefs, for better or
worse. But human thinking behavior is inseparable from other types of
behavior. Ideas do not possess "a life of their own," as so
often is assumed in the intellectual formulation of policy and the
interpretation of events - with the results almost invariably sheer
In our view, a most important revolution in human affairs would be
the abandonment of all metaphysical notions, including those involving
"ideology," and the rejection of what has been called "the
quest for certainty" in the pursuit of solutions to human
problems. Instead, modern science requires the closest possible
relation between observation and conjecture between theory and
practice) and the willingness to accept all results as tentative and
subject to modification and improvement, i.e., a method antithetical
to that employed by Fukayama. The battle for this "intellectual"
disposition has, for practical purposes, yet to be engaged on the
popular front. But even a brief review of the recent past using those
procedures suggests how different from Fukayama's are the results
The Recent Past Reconsidered
Disregarding possible future challenges, has liberal democracy
triumphed even in the present, as Fukayama confidently asserts? On the
basis of even casual observation, the answer would seem to be:
possibly not. First, Russia and China: at this time, the "democratization"
of the Soviet Union remains largely a fiction of the Western media,
and would seem to require heavy discounting until it is established
that proposed changes are carried out and sustained. And it is not
clear (their enthusiasm for Boris Yeltsin notwithstanding) that the
Russian people themselves are ready to embrace Western-style democracy
no matter what their leaders may want. Unlike some satellite
republics, they have little experience with democracy, and while they
want material progress, it is far from clear that they will be willing
to give up the meager security they have under communism (recall that
several years ago a planeload of Russian immigrants left New York for
home, having found themselves unable to cope with the strains of
living in a relatively free society). The attitudes of the general
population of mainland China are even less understood, but it seems
abundantly clear after the events of Tiananmen Square that China's
leaders are scarcely ready to relinquish their totalitarian control
over their subjects.
The recent events in Hungary, Poland, and the Baltic Stales, on the
other hand, seem to show convincingly that a majority of those
populations embrace a liberalization of the political and economic
structures in their countries. However, when one is seeking trends, it
is changes across time that count. In this respect, it should be noted
that Hungarians and Poles have been yearning for freedom for decades
(docs anyone remember the Hungarian Revolt of 1956?). The same can be
said of the Baltic states Latvia, Lthuania, and Estonia. Indeed, the
inhabitants of those states accepted their annexation only at
gunpoint. They have, at least since World War I, always been in the "liberal"
camp. In short, recent events in those countries do not represent an
intellectual shift from East to West.
Outside of Eastern Europe, "ideological triumphs" may have
been more frequent among the anti-liberal forces than among the
advocates of Western-style democracy. Thirty years ago, there was
considerable optimism that the forces of "modernization"
would quickly democratize Africa, Asia, the Middle East, and Latin
America. The triumph of "democracy" was being celebrated in
South Vietnam; the Shah was believed to be ushering Iran into the fold
of Western nations at breakneck speed; Brazil and Argentina were
supposed to be on the road to fulfilling the hopes of Latinos who
longed for a South American equivalent of the United States; and "democratic
modernization" was the key phrase bandied about in academic and
policy circles following the decolonization of the African continent.
At that time, many believed that the triumph of democratic capitalism,
hastened by massive commitments of aid from the Western powers, was
inevitable. We know now what happened in all of those places, and it
was not the creation of liberal democracy.
Of greater concern is the fact that current trends in the United
States itself suggest movement away from liberal capitalism. Despite
the free-market rhetoric of the 1980's, Government has continued to
intrude into more and more affairs of its citizens. And, as we have
repeatedly asserted in the pages of our publications, the statist
policies of the Nation's lawmakers seem to be creating the
preconditions for eventual collapse. If that does happen, it is
probable that the competition among "ideologies" that
propose a solution will be fierce and any notions that history has
ended may seem even stranger than those of Mr. Fukayama's Burkina
- See Francis Fukayama, "The
End of History?," The National Interest, Summer 1989,
pp. 3-18. All citations of Fukayama are from this work.
- See David Friedman, The
Machinery of Freedom; Guide to a Radical Capitalism, New York,
Arlington House, 1978.