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The End of History and the Last Man.

Francis Fukuyama. Hamish Hamilton. 20.00[pounds].

Francis Fukuyama, a Japanese American, became an American celebrity when his article |The End of History?' appeared in the American journal The National Interest in the summer of 1989, and captured the mood of excitement surrounding the collapse of the Soviet Empire. His essay was singularly well-timed. He expanded it into a book, and was sufficiently sure of his case to remove the query he had attached to the thesis. The book has won even wider acclaim than did the article. But it has also received criticism: the Left recognises that Marx, who also was a student of Hegel, is now demode (in Britain the C.P. changed its name to the |Democratic Left,' as did its twins in Europe); Hegel's intellectual heirs in Europe do not recognise the golden age, for which they have long struggled, as being merely the Great American Way, with bourgeois hedge-enclosed villas in the affluent white suburbs, equipped with McDonalds and supermarkets in plenty near at hand. British academics-turned-politicians, many of whom, like Denis Healey, started off on the far Left but worked their passage to the Centre-Right, wince at the reflections of a fellow-traveller who finds the middle-class way of life all too acceptable.

It was Fukuyama's hero, the German philosopher Hegel, who saw history as ending in 1806, when Napoleon's revolutionary (or Imperial?) France defeated the Prussians at Jena; this, for Hegel, represented the triumph of the Right of Man over effete monarchies, aristocracies and the ancien regime. It may not be the happiest of parallels to invoke, since France after 1806 has had at least four Revolutions and five new Constitutions; and much of it has twice been over-run by foreign occupying armies. So Hegel as prophet bluntly got it wrong. It was another of Fukuyama's heroes, Freidrich Nietzsche, who lamented the fate of the last man, condemned as he saw him to comfort and democracy. Why will it now be totally different? What is Fukuyama's secret? Or have we been here before?

His answer is: Science and Technology. The knowledge gained since the Renaissance is now vast, accessible, widely dispersed, and cannot be lost. There can be no more Dark Ages. The world has become one single scientific community. Unlike previous ages, ours is an internationally-oriented and technological era: the USA won the Cold War not by superior arms and the space race, but because Eastern Europe and Asia liked what they saw of the strange New Trans-Atlantic World on the TV screen, and set off walking, or -- if they were so well endowed -- driving, towards it, stimulated by the technical inefficiency, the food shortages, the waste and inefficiency of central planning, the cruelty and barbarism of Marx' and Lenin's, Stalin's and Khruschev's Utopias that they willingly abandoned. Hegel and Marx have been discarded. The future will be one of permanent liberal democracy, happily equated also with consumerism, urbanism, the automobile and the aeroplane, and the conquest of disease. Now all will be steady progress, world-wide and remorseless: Hegel's synthesis has been reached.

This is a planner's happy vision; and Fukuyama has been a planner in the US State Department until leaving for the Rand think-tank. His argument, however, is riddled with false assumptions: democracy is a more fragile plant than he recognises. It requires a minimum economic base on which to develop; when that is absent -- as in India and Brazil, the Far East and much of Africa -- the word is meaningless. Fukuyama dismisses all too easily the emergence of Hitler and of Pol Pot; even today in contemporary Poland, many are worried how long democracy can survive.

There are many aspects of recent history that do not accord with Fukuyama's neo-Hegelianism. He admitted on his recent tour of Europe that he had been surprised by the force of contemporary nationalism. He minimises the significance of one billion Moslems, already irrupting into France, Spain and Italy like the North Africans of nine and ten centuries ago, breeding with abandon and marching to a very different drum. Islamic fundamentalism is a faith and an emotion at least as powerful as |democratic liberalism'. A similar demographic explosion will in due course hit North America from the South. There are many more themes and problems in our uneasy world than have been dreamed of in Mr. Fukuyama's too-comfortable philosophy.
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Author:Wright, Esmond
Publication:Contemporary Review
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Aug 1, 1992
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