From: Global Power Europe
In mid-1989, Francis Fukuyama predicted the collapse of the Soviet empire and the fall of the Berlin Wall in his article ‘The End of History?’. But more than that, this (then) neoconservative intellectual claimed that the ideological defeat of Soviet communism—represented by Mikhail Gorbachev’s restructuring under perestroika and glasnost—meant that liberal democracy, as a form of political organisation, had triumphed over all alternative forms of government.[1] Here, a lot of silly people misunderstood precisely what Fukuyama meant by this: he did not mean that historical events would end; or, necessarily, that liberal democracy was a utopian form of government. What Fukuyama did mean, however, was that the idea of liberal democracy could not be improved upon—as such, it was a political omega point. As he put it:

What we may be witnessing is not just the end of the Cold War, or the passing of a particular period of post-war history, but the end of History as such: that is, the end point of mankind’s ideological evolution and the universalisation of Western liberal democracy as the final form of human government.[2]

Fukuyama expanded his thesis in a later book, entitled The End of History and the Last Man, which was published in 1992, during the height of the post-Cold War euphoria. Here, by invoking the ideas of Georg Wilhelm Hegel, he claimed that History had a progressive tendency; that the double forces of technological development and political innovation pushed people on a course towards greater emancipation from the forces of repression. According to Fukuyama, science unleashes ideas and enhances human power over the natural environment, producing ever-greater economic yields, while evolution in politics relinquished men from their need of recognition through superiority, and thus ended forms of servitude and slavery associated with despotism. The structures of liberal democracy, by providing the optimum solution for the pursuit of wealth and science, and the means to enable individuals to pursue their need for recognition—without recourse to violence—would lead, claimed Fukuyama, to peace, prosperity and untold levels of wealth and technological progress for all those lucky enough to live under such forms of government.

Yet Fukuyama also introduced a caution: He claimed that the forces produced by liberal democratic structures, could, in turn, lead to unforeseen consequences, not least the creation of the ‘Last Men’. He attributed the idea for these pitiful creatures to the thought of Friedrich Nietzsche, who claimed that socialism, democracy and progress could produce individuals so weak-willed and concerned only with their own self-comfort, that they would effectively stagnate and wallow in their own ignorance. John Stuart Mill also conceptualised something similar:

A man who has nothing which he is willing to fight for, nothing which he cares more about than he does about his personal safety, is a miserable creature who has no chance of being free, unless made and kept so by the exertions of better men than himself.[3]

Fukuyama warned that unless ways could be found to prevent individuals from falling into this dangerous trap, the centuries of struggle for democratic government could be in vain. At which point, what were once solid democracies might return to pre-History, back to an age of suffering, poverty and repression.

The End of History has been criticised heavily, not least by its own author, who has reneged to some extent over the original thesis. In many ways, it may have even been a product of its time, influenced by the collapse of the Iron Curtain and the globalising communications systems during the 1990s, which seemed to be offering a world of hope—which has become increasingly naïve, given the ongoing crises in so many parts of the world. So in his latest tour de force, The Return of History and the End of Dreams, Robert Kagan, another prominent neoconservative intellectual, questions the idea of a progressive History. Or rather, he questions the forces at work in pressing History forward. Kagan takes issue with the idea—prominent among many Europeans, and advocates of so-called ‘soft power’—that liberal democracy is itself an idea so powerful that it is able to diffuse itself entirely of its own accord. In his words: