Hey, kids: don’t be Whig historians! And especially avoid being Francis “The End of History” Fukuyama.
Via RealClearBooks, we learned recently that he’s got a new book called The Origins of Political Order, and unsurprisingly, he is completely wrong again. But you have to admit that it’s pretty cute that he has more in common with Karl Marx and with the first generation of Soviet historians than his modern peers because of his unshaken, dumba$$ theory of history’s inevitable destination. Reviewer John Gray asks,
[H]ow could laws of history underpin human progress when views about what constitutes progress are so ephemeral and so divergent? Some human values are universal and enduring, but ideas of progress come and go like fashions in hats. Theories of convergence reflect disparate and incompatible ideals of human betterment. What all such theories have in common is that they have come to nothing. None of the regimes that was believed to be the near-inevitable end point of modern development has emerged anywhere in the world.
Fukuyama shows no sign of being discouraged by this record of failure. The faith that the world is set to converge on a single type of government is central to his view of things, pervading this bulky and tiresome book of nearly six hundred pages, the first of two projected volumes. The same faith animated the celebrated essay that he published in The National Interest in the summer of 1989, called “The End of History?,” in which he proclaimed that “the universalization of Western liberal democracy” is “the final form of human government.” To any detached observer at the time, it was perfectly clear that history had not stopped but resumed: like the past, the future would be shaped by ethnic and religious conflicts and resource wars, while more complex types of ideological conflict would replace the cold war stand-off. Yet three years later, when Fukuyama published a book-length version of his claim, called The End of History and the Last Man, the question mark attached to the essay had disappeared. Like Sidney and Beatrice Webb, whose monumental eulogy to Stalin’s Russia, Soviet Communism: A New Civilization? (1935), appeared in later editions with the question mark removed, Fukuyama was completely confident that a new era in the history of humanity had arrived.
Like, no doy! How do books like this get published and taken seriously? (Personally, I think it’s an occupational hazard of doing extremely old-fashioned political and diplomatic history, but YMMV. No one with any familiarity with archives or with the experience of creating new knowledge can escape being amazed by the role of chance and contingency in history.) Read Gray’s whole review–it’s pretty windy on the first page, but the next two are actually about Fukuyama’s book and so are much more effective.
Personally, I say that Fall Break (next week for us) and an enormous cocktail (tonight!) are the end of history. At least they sound more believable to me than the notion that liberal democracy is truly where the world is spinning.