Fukuyama's "End of History"-Thesis

Seminar Paper, 2018

23 Pages


Table of Contents


Background to Fukuyama’s Thesis

The Man Fukuyama

Fukuyama’s ‘End of History’ Thesis

On the conception of ‘History’ in Fukuyama’s Philosophy

‘End’ as conceived in Fukuyama’s philosophy

The Topos of Fukuyama’s ‘End of History’ Thesis

Appraising Fukuyama’s ‘End of History’ Thesis

Epistemological implication

Ideological implication

Political implication



Perhaps the most apt way to start is to hear Francis Fukuyama in his own words regarding the objective of his journey into the end of history thesis. With that, we would have been immediately, at least considerably, launched into the entire discourse and have a clear sense of direction altogether.

What we are witnessing is not just the end of the Cold War, or a 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.[1]

Fukuyama opens up the whole project of his thesis with a view not only to propagating the tenets of an ideology but also, and more fundamentally too, to order and put a seal to the views of his predecessors —Hegel and Marx —with whom he shares considerable degree of similar philosophical viewpoint vis-à-vis the journey of history and of the stages of evolution of human consciousness. Both Hegel and Marx had laid the foundation upon which Fukuyama would later build his theory of history and goal of its journey, or say development of human consciousness.

From this background, this paper sets to do an expose of Fukuyama’s philosophical standpoint on the concept of history, using as background Marxist dialectical master stroke as well as Hegel’s idealist ‘grundnorm,’[2] and do a critique of the entire thesis. The focus essentially here is to interrogate the multifarious philosophical implications of Fukuyama’s standpoint in relation to his declaration of the ‘end of history.’

Background to Fukuyama’s Thesis

The history and philosophies that birthed Fukuyama’s ideological and political conclusion on liberal democracy were replete with mixed events, and these events hang much of Fukuyama’s contention around them. His thought was immediately instigated chiefly by the collapse of communism in Eastern Europe, leading to the fall of the Berlin Wall, then the end of the Cold War, both events occurring just about the time Fukuyama, the cultural theorist, wrote his article, The End of History in 1989. Essentially, the end of the Cold War was greeted with a number of mixed reactions that ignited the ideological, political and intellectual circles, leading to the formulation of new paradigms and development of highly robust intellectual and political theories. In the first instance, Fukuyama had posited that the collapse of the war meant the consummation of human ideological history in the triumph of liberal democracy and capitalism. Although Huntington attempted in his Clash of Civilizations and The Clash of Civilizations and Remaking of the World Order published respectively in 1993 and 1996, to interpret the end of the Cold War as a literal collapse of conflicts in Western civilization, and a reconfiguration of a new global order that would be based on intercultural and inter-civilizational struggles.[3] At the ideological level, too, several attempts were made, at the turn of the new millennium, to reinvent and revive Marxism as chronicled in Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri’s trilogy: Empire (2000), Multitude (2004) and Commonwealth (2009). What these ideological shifts resulted into was a paradigmatic move from the old political structures dominated by Communism to a new order which will be dominated by tenets of liberal cum capitalist democracy.

Remotely, Fukuyama was influenced by Hegel and Marx conceptions of history and the end at which it aims. Both Hegel and Marx had argued that the movement of history is teleological (purposeful), and the evolution of history is intended towards attaining an ideal social and political environment. Also, both Hegel and Marx agreed that this evolution has not been open-ended, but would culminate when human consciousness had reached its peak in an archetype of society that satisfied man’s deepest and most fundamental longings. So, there is an end to history in the position of both Hegel and Marx. While for Hegel, the end and motor of history - which would also consummate the ultimate of human consciousness- is ‘struggle for recognition,’ in a liberal society, Marx opined that the end for which human history is intended is a communism society in which capitalism would have been completely degraded and private property would have become a thing of the past. Fukuyama agreed with both earlier philosophers that history has an end to which it aims and that the evolution of human consciousness, an idea that is more prominent in Hegel, will reach its peak in an ideological society where human longings would be fulfilled. He however, pitted his tent with Hegel’s position and insisted that such is more realistic.

The Man Fukuyama

Francis Fukuyama, a Japanese-American, is a senior researcher at the Rand Corporation and a fellow of the John Hopkins University, School for Advanced International Studies. Regarded as “court philosopher of global capitalism"[4] by John Gray, Fukuyama focuses on Middle- Eastern political-military affairs and the foreign policy of the former Soviet Union. He has occupied a number of positions in the last 15 years in the United States, beginning with Rand and the US Department of State. He has authored books on wide areas of issues including foreign policy relating to the Soviet in the Third World. He has also written on the principles of liberal democracy, democratization and political economy.

His most celebrated work “The End of History and the Last Man' (1992) was heralded by the article ‘ The End of History’, published in the National Interest in Summer 1989 following the end of the Cold War, the respective collapse of communist system in the Soviet and the Socialist regimes leading to the pulling down of the Berlin Wall. The article was conceived in a sanguine atmosphere, declaring the demise of a strong threatening alternative in socialism and the ultimate triumph of liberal democracy over all other ideologies and systems of government. This triumph for him "may constitute the end point of mankind's ideological evolution and the final form of human government and as such constitute the end of history."[5] In this piece, Fukuyama argued that liberalism and liberal states had freer and more stable mechanisms that facilitate democratic principles, respect for human rights and peace in international relations. His book ‘ The End of History and the Last Man ', was considered more as a counterattack to the criticisms (waged by the likes of Allan Bloom, Irving Kristol, Gertrude Himmelfarb, Samuel P. Huntington, and Daniel Patrick Moynihan) that trailed his 1989 thesis.

And in the book, Fukuyama made allusions to historical processes and philosophers' ideas, enunciating what his idea of ‘history’ means. Although he has written a somewhat retrospective article[6], which was prompted by the need to make clarifications to his own unidirectional interpretation of civilization[7] and ‘monocivilizational understanding of world history’[8], Fukuyama still insists that liberal democracy and market-oriented economic order are the only viable alternatives for modern societies.[9] Meanwhile, he makes his point more succinct when he insists that “I was using "History" in its Hegelian-Marxist sense of the progressive evolution of human political and economic institutions.”[10]

Fukuyama’s ‘End of History’ Thesis

On the conception of ‘History’ in Fukuyama’s Philosophy

Clearly, the opening paragraph of his classics End of History and the Last Man, launches us straightaway into a preliminary understanding of what Fukuyama intends by ‘history’ and thus gives us a cursory romance with the topos of his argument:

As the tumultuous twentieth century shudders toward its close — with the collapse of communism leading to a transformation of world politics — Francis Fukuyama asks us to return with him to a question that has been asked by the great philosophers of centuries past: is there a direction to the history of mankind? And if it is directional, to what end is it moving? And where are we now in relation to that "end of history"?[11]

Incidentally, that work forms the ground literature that will guide all that this paper will grapple with. Fukuyama is a man of many sides: a cultural, economic and political theorist, a political scientist and a philosopher. Difficult as it will be – and if not impossible though- to sever Fukuyama’s diverse academic perspectives, a greater energy of this paper will be exerted to the latter, that is, his philosophical positions. Rising from the two conflicting yet harmonizing thought lines of the teleological historicism and intellectual absolutism of Hegel as well as the historical materialism of Marx, Fukuyama had sought to glorify Hegelian conception of the role of consciousness in human affairs and superimpose it on what he calls ‘the poverty of materialist theories (championed by Marx and Marxist philosophers and thinkers) of economic development’[12] and its seeming contradictions. He argued that the ‘end of history’, which the earlier duo theorists have proposed, came to its final fulfillment in the realization of liberalism and post-ideological world.[13] Hegel had argued in his ‘ Phenomenology of Spirit’ that the ‘changing process of the intellect is dialectical in the sense that it involves conflict and opposition.[14] He holds the view that the dialectical history of philosophy will reach its terminal point when there are no contradictions, gaps, tensions, impossible assumptions, unfulfilled ideals, or further directions to explore.[15] This is the final point of history and philosophy itself. ‘History,’ as conceived by Fukuyama, should not be mistaken for conventional populism in the sense of it being ‘a chronology of events’ or ‘the whole series of events connected with a particular entity.’ Far from that. Uninterestingly, many of the hitherto criticisms, controversies and commentaries trailing his article did exactly this: to punch the unfounded contradictions in his argument by interpreting his conception of history from a pedestrian outlook. Fukuyama intended history in the manner in which Hegel used it. And for Fukuyama, history should be understood as ‘a single, coherent, evolutionary process, when taking into account the experience of all peoples in all times.’[16] Fukuyama intends history to entail among other characteristics movement, unity and unity of purpose, coherence, and evolution of experiences of all human being. History in this idealistic context is a universal concept which involves all peoples and is not limited to a particular group, race, gender, colour, or entity. Within this framework, for Fukuyama, history is considered a phenomenon that is teleological, that is, one that is not purely only human but also purposeful. For Hegel, there is a redeeming purpose for history:

[history] it has proceeded rationally, that it represents the rationally necessary course of the World Spirit whose nature is indeed always one and the same, but whose one nature unfolds in the course of the world.[17]

Let us consider Hegel’s understanding of history, at least as perceived by Fukuyama: ‘history is the progress of man to higher levels of rationality and freedom, and this process had a logical terminal point in the achievement of absolute self-consciousness.’[18] It must be noted here that Hegel did not intend the triumph of liberalism or conceive liberal democracy in mind when he declared the end of history in 1806, but his conclusion was rather based on the idea that freedom and liberty, equality and rights (which would later become the tenets and guiding principles of liberal democratic practice) was the last stage of human consciousness evolution. This stage of absolute self-consciousness is where liberal democracy stands. That stage is the liberal democracy stage in which man achieves all his nature ever desires, which are freedom, equality and rights. Neither would the totalitarianism of China, nor the socialist communism of Marx, nor the absolute monarchism of Hobbes has the answer to human freedom or serve as better alternatives to liberalism.

We may need to expand the idealist backdrop of the framework more to be able to get into nucleus of Fukuyama’s idea of history. Philosophical approach to history, at least, from idealist point of view, traces history’s overall direction (purpose) towards the ‘consciousness of freedom’. That goal is reached in three main stages of: ‘one is free’, ‘some are free’, ‘all are free,’ corresponding to Oriental, Classical, and Germanic civilizations.

Taking a cue from Hegel’s idea of history, Fukuyama sees history at the ideological level, as ‘a protracted struggle to realize the idea of freedom latent in human consciousness.’[19] The subjugation of a number of ideologies by the United States and Western allies through the forces of freedom, equality and economic prosperity is the final personification of the end of history. This final point could be considered as purely a political or ideological standpoint of Fukuyama in which Fukuyama sees the history of evolution of human consciousness as having come to an end at the level of ideas. However, such position has a strong epistemological implication, philosophically speaking. And that we shall see in a short while.

‘End’ as conceived in Fukuyama’s philosophy

The use of the term ‘end’ in Fukuyama’s submission must be properly construed; else, a great danger portends a misreading of his whole thesis. ‘End’ within this understanding means both the final point as well as the objective of history. Fukuyama deploys the term to mean, on the one hand, the final part of an epoch, and, on the other hand, the purpose of such epoch. Neither can be divorced from the other as they both explicate and represent one and singular thing in terms of their relationship with history and the evolution of man’s consciousness. However, the realization of one is potential while that of the other is actual. And in this sense, Fukuyama explains retrospectively that ‘end’, meaning the final point of history is already realized in actual sense; while ‘end’ in terms of purpose of history has been achieved only at the level of ideas, and will only come to its full actualization at the material level only gradually. Such terminal point is the idea - "that is, the end point of mankind's ideological evolution and the universalization of Western liberal democracy."

Fukuyama’s use of the term ‘end’ could be interpreted to connote a terminal point in the journey of consciousness; the idealistic final part of the evolution of ideological development in human political and economic lives. In another context, (from a philosophical point of view), the word ‘end’ also supposes purpose, meaning, objective, goal or aim of history. For Fukuyama, therefore, the end of history should be construed in both senses. In either case, history constitutes an objective evolution of human consciousness towards an end. Consciousness and culture are for Fukuyama, major ingredients necessary to drive ‘not only economic behaviour but virtually every other important aspect of human life.[20]

Like he would later on go ahead to accuse his critics of interpreting his position too simplistically and threading a wrong historical path, Fukuyama contends that his thesis should better be viewed from an epistemic, teleological and philosophical perspectives rather than through the kaleidoscope of politics and history in their materialistic or sociological definition. Fukuyama argues that his thesis is not intended towards a world that would henceforth be free from ideological tumult, political rivalries, or inflexible social problems. Far from that, he posited that “the victory of liberalism has occurred primarily in the realm of ideas or consciousness and is yet to be complete in the real or material world.”[21] We must pay close attention to this last understanding in order to fully comprehend Fukuyama’s thought line and the purpose of delving into this domain and arriving at such ideological solipsistic cul-de-sac. What he has done is to culminate the position of Hegel in the latter’s idealistic standpoint on the development of human consciousness that “the


[1] Fukuyama, F. 1989 . End of History? The National Interest (16): 3–18. Preface

[2] **Grundnorm** is a term borrowed from philosophical jurisprudence and it is a German word which means "fundamental norm." A coinage of German jurist and legal philosopher Hans Kelsen, Grundnorm refers to the fundamental norm, order, or rule that forms an underlying basis for a legal system. Our use of the term here is to expose Fukuyama using the ‘legal framework’ of Hegel.

[3] Huntington, S. (1996). The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of the World Order. London: Simon & Schuster, P. 32.

[4] Glaser, E. https://www.theguardian.com/books/2014/mar/21/bring-back-ideology-fukuyama-end-history-25-years-on uploaded on March 17 2014 an accessed on June 2018 in ‘ Bring Back Ideology: Fukuyama's 'End of History' 25 years on’

[5] Fukuyama, F. 1992. The End of History and the Last Man. New York: The Free Press. Introduction page.

[6] The article, titled ‘ Second Thoughts,’ was written to commemorate the tenth anniversary of the ‘ The End of History ’? It was published in the ‘National Interest’ in 1999.

[7] Davutoğlu, A. 2014. Civilization and World Order: Geopolitics and Cultural Difference. Eds. Fred Dallmayr, M. Akif Kayapınar, and İsmail Yaylacı, New York: Lexington Books, P. ix.

[8] Falk, R. 2014. Civilization and World Order: Geopolitics and Cultural Difference. Eds. Fred Dallmayr, M. Akif Kayapınar, and İsmail Yaylacı, Maryland: Lexington Books. P. 9.

[9] Fukuyama, F. 1999. Second Thoughts. National Interest, Summer 1999

[10] Fukuyama, F. Second Thoughts

[11] Fukuyama, F. 1992. The End of History and the Last Man, New York: The Free Press, Introduction

[12] Fukuyama, F. The End of History ? 1989

[13] Glaser, E. https://www.theguardian.com/books/2014/mar/21/bring-back-ideology-fukuyama-end-history-25-years-on uploaded on March 17 2014 an accessed on June 2018 in ‘ Bring back ideology: Fukuyama's 'end of history' 25 years on’

[14] Lawhead, W. (2002). The Voyage of Discovery, Canada: Wadsworth/Thomson Learning, P. 362.

[15] Lawhead, W. (2002). The Voyage of Discovery, P. 365

[16] Fukuyama, F. (1993) The End of History and the Last Man, P. xii

[17] Lawhead, W. The Voyage of Discovery. P. 373.

[18] Fukuyama, F. (1992) The End of History and the Last Man. P. 92

[19] Atlas, J. What is Fukuyama saying? And to Whom is he Saying it? In ‘The New York Times Magazine https://www.nytimes.com/1989/10/22/magazine/what-is-fukuyama-saying-and-to-whom-is-he-saying-it.html uploaded 1989, accessed June 2018.

[20] Fukuyama, F. End of History? National Interest Summer 1989.

[21] Kimball, R. Francis Fukuyama and the End of History: On Fukuyama, Hegel, and the world’s telos. uploaded on February 1992, accessed June 2018. Available on https://www.newcriterion.com/issues/1992/2/francis-fukuyama-and-the-end-of-history by Kimball

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Fukuyama's "End of History"-Thesis
University of Ibadan
History of Philosophy
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fukuyama, history of philosophy, end of history, liberal democracy, capitalism
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James Alabi (Author), 2018, Fukuyama's "End of History"-Thesis, Munich, GRIN Verlag, https://www.grin.com/document/435005


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