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Francis Fukuyama's The End of History and the Last Man seems to be chiefly distinguished by the fact that almost all of those who feel the need to criticize it have not actually read it. Here, I hope to present a somewhat more grounded analysis.

Fukuyama's thesis is essentially this: with the disappearance of communism and right-wing authoritarian governments around the world, there are no longer any serious alternatives to liberal democracy. The latter has proved itself superior to any alternatives because of its economic performance and the more ambiguous factor of "recognition." "Recognition" Fukuyama explains by way of the Platonic thymos--the part of the spirit responsible for vanity, pride, self-respect, and so on. Liberal democracy, via equality before the law, universal suffrage, and so on, achieves maximum recognition. The teleological Mechanism that allows Fukuyama to claim a law of historical development (toward liberal democracy) is modern science, which, Thomas Kuhn aside, is a linear and accumulative process. But, of course, once liberal democracy has been achieved, problems remain. Universal tolerance and the absence of struggle turn life into a homogenous tapioca sludge, and the increasing lack of opportunities to risk one's life creates a danger of new and catastrophic wars.

There are several incomprehensible myths about this book. The first is that Fukuyama has somehow been proven wrong by events subsequent to 1993. This is idiotic: the world still beats on, boat against the current, borne forward ceaselessly into liberal democracy. In fact, Fukuyama deliberately indicates Islamic fundamentalism as one of the few remaining alternatives, albeit one without a future. To deal with this problem of unequal development, he even erects a whole edifice where some states achieve post-historical status and the rest straggle on in later (like the final turns of a game of Civilization II, when a city builds every conceivable building, it switches to Capitalization and the other cities gradually do likewise). This in itself is a little problematic, of course: if development is unequal anyway, what was the point of writing this book after the fall of communism? The other myth is that Fukuyama is claiming that events will stop happening after the End of History. This is even more ludicrous--Fukuyama is talking about historical development, not history as a sequence of events.

The most amusing thing about this book is its uncritical devotion to Hegel/Kogeve. There is nary a hint of the century of philosophical development--Continental or analytic--that preceded the book's publication. That having been said, however, it makes an excellent case, and one with which it is hard to argue.

Fukuyama is at his worst when he echoes the typical preoccupations of post-Reagan American conservatives. There is, for instance, an utterly meaningless chapter about work ethic (which parenthetically includes an observation that the reason blacks are so much worse off in America than whites is dem durned welfare hippies). Similar attitudes are scattered throughout--for example, he invariably finds arguments from the Right "more convincing" than arguments from the Left, without any rational justification. This sort of thing renders Fukuyama blind to the fact that the liberal democracy at the end of history is far more likely to be the heavily socialized French type than the American type, of which the United States is more or less the sole remaining exponent.

The more serious problem, from my anarchist perspective, is that Fukuyama assumes that the sort of recognition and political participation offered in contemporary liberal democracy is substantial and meaningful. While perhaps one's opinion means more today than in the Middle Ages, I think that most people, consciously or unconsciously, do not believe that their vote and their views will have any significant effect on the way society is run--certainly less than the millions of dollars spent each year by lobbyists. In the Middle Ages, it was easy to withdraw entirely from the socioeconomic system--today, it is all but impossible. These, in my view, will be the core contradictions facing post-historical liberal democracy. Nevertheless, I remain pessimistic about their prospects for turning it into something better (or at least different), and thus I agree with Fukuyama that further historical development in a hitherto unforeseen direction is unlikely.

Overall, Fukuyama has written an erudite, thought-provoking, unreconstructedly intellectual book with a clear and convincing argument. It is infinitely more worthwhile than almost all of the reams of politically tinted garbage littering the country's libraries and bookstores, from The Closing of the American Mind to Stupid White Men.

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