Francis Fukyuama: learns nothing, forgets nothing

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.

14 thoughts on “Francis Fukyuama: learns nothing, forgets nothing

  1. Fukuyama is a political scientist not an historian by training. Political scientists have a much greater tendency to use deductive rather than inductive logic. They also place a much greater emphasis on theory over empiricism than do historians. So I think part of his problem is disciplinary. I do not think that old fashioned political history really has this problem today. But, there are so few practitioners that it is hard to tell. The other problem with Fukuyama is that he lets his ideology guide his writing to make the facts fit into the outcome he desires. The reliance on deductive theories in political science rather than using induction makes this easy to do.


  2. Fukuyama is just Hegel for idiots. He cribbed the argument for “The End of History” from Alexandre Kojeve a crypto-Stalinist and European Commission functionary. No doubt he had to come up with another book so he could round up a few more speaker’s engagements on the rubber chicken circuit.


  3. Otto, thanks for that correction on Fukuyama–it all makes sense now. You are right that social scientists in general are much more comfortable with grand theories than historians are these days.

    I *do* think it’s funny that neocons have more in common with Marxists and Lenninists these days than anyone else.


  4. Since I am not in Poli Sci nor in History I fail to see the huge distinction between the two. I took quite a few logic courses and was never told that some use deduction and others use induction.

    As a layman the idea that history ends sounded to me at the time as either intellectual laziness or utter stupidity. (Or in logic allows both to hold, which would be my choice.)

    There are thousands of garbage books published annually; so we add one.


  5. The idea that history ends is based on a rather interesting idea that history is circular, rather than linear. So, ’empires’ have models of progress, where they rise and then fall, and then a new empire rises from the ashes (almost a sort of Kuhnian paradigm shift model). The end of history is a sort of utopian vision, where the circular pattern of rise and fall is broken, and we all live happily ever after.

    I quite enjoy it as a theoretical idea; like many fairy stories, its good to think with.


  6. A long time ago, I think when I was still in graduate school, the University of Idaho hosted a debate between Francis Fukuyama and Alexander Cockburn. I remember a few things:

    Fukuyama was arrogant.
    Fukuyama had not read Cockburn’s work with any attention, if at all.
    Cockburn had read Fukuyama’s work in great detail and was able to highlight a long list of gross errors, failures of logic, and clear contradiction.
    Fukuyama’s reply to Cockburn’s interrogation provoked questions concerning whether Fukuyama had read his own work.

    I think both men were paid for participating in the debate. Fukuyama thus gained the one thing he cares about: money. Truth did not appear to be among his interests.


  7. It’s embarrassing how self-centered and unaware of it this douchebagge is. I’m neither a historian nor a political scientist, but it’s obvious to me reading excerpts of this dudes blithering that all he is basically saying is “where *I* am and what *I* prefer in history and politics must be the apotheosis”. He’s like some fucken college kidde in 1987 telling you that the Dead Kennedys are the “end of rock and roll”.

    Oh, and DOY!


  8. I want to green light the guy on a non-sequel, or at least a non-linear sequel with the working title _The End of Geology_. In which, sediment remains suspended in seawater and stops depositing on the ocean floor. Water mysteriously loses its power to erode, even soil and sandstone, much less mica and schist. Then global warming in the atmosphere somehow results in planetary cooling at the core, so lava begins to look and behave like the pizza you forgot to collect after the party. That takes out three chapters on “metamorphics” right there. After that, literally everything goes loco. Speeding asteroids mysteriously swerve around Earth, cancelling several seemingly inevitable mass extinctions. The Appalachians go into reverse mode and begin growing in time-lapse fashion while (sorry, Historiann) the Rockies retract into the Earth, allowing the Great Plains to merge with the Sonoran Desert. People begin migrating down from the North land with the strange ability to “breathe quartz,” just like a weird kid in the lunch line at junior high school used to predict.

    Back in graduate school one summer while hitch-hiking I got a ride from a young woman who claimed to be the neice (or maybe the great-neice) of Immanuel Velikovsky, the legendary theorist of interplanetary chaos. And what I’ve sketched above is as nothing compared to what “Uncle Manny” apparently intended to write, if he had lived forever. I had read a lot of his stuff in tenth grade, mostly just for relaxation and diversion, and while I realized even then it had a lot of empirical problematics to it, who would want any discipline to “end” if it jumped around spectacularly like that? The students in our mandatory survey sections, on the other hand, who are scattering to the holiday winds as I write, have been praying for the end of history ever since they got here and realized they were trapped.


  9. As a historian of the USSR, I have to join in! Marx’s vision of time was fundamentally religious: Walter Benjamin pointed out that secular time was empty of the meaning that Christian eschatology bestowed, but Marxism restored the hope of universal salvation. For Marxists, History ended when the dialectical struggle over the means of production ended (as the proletariat seized permanent control). Fukuyama replaces global proletarian control with global liberal democracy, but the vision is the same [again, the ultimate blame goes to Hegel].

    Frankly, I can never keep straight in my mind which is “inductive” and which is “deductive” reasoning, but I can tell you that political scientists love their models, patterns, and huge generalizations while historians focus on the local-level details and particularities of a given event. I have worked in central and regional Communist Party archives, and I could talk the leg off Historiann’s horse about the importance of accident, stupidity, criminality, and just dumb luck in the development of this supposedly planned, scientific, and rational society!


  10. Hegel, Marx, and Benjamin are getting a bad wrap here- I don’t think any of them, especially the latter two, are the functional or intellectual equivalent of Fukuyama, nor are they unaware of historicity and contingency. Benjamin described not simply secular time but liberal, capitalist, bourgeois time of the market as empty and homogenous, and his work among other things lends itself to the identifications of the disruptions in the image of linear progress and development. Anyone confused about this could do worse than to read Marx’s Eighteenth Brumaire, Perry Anderson’s essay on the idea of the end of history in the NLR and his Zones of Engagement book, and Michael Meranze’s WMQ article “An Ethics of Early American History.”


  11. I remember hearing an interview with Fukuyama where he opined that the optimistic expectations for success in the Iraq invasion/nation building experiment stemmed from the stunning success of the velvet revolution. Perhaps his problems stem not from a selective memory, but an incomplete grasp of the complete geography of the Balkans. Then again he might simply not be listening to the words that are coming out of his mouth. I realize this might be cherry picking on my part, but I think that statistically it is remarkable that in the 5 minutes of total exposure to the guy me managed to have my jaw bouncing up and down off the floor within 2.


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