Francis Fukuyama:

"The End of History and the Last Man" (1992)

(Copyright © 2006 Piero Scaruffi | Legal restrictions - Termini d'uso )
Hegel was the philospher who famously thought that history had ended in his time (and philosophy had ended with him). Hegel figured that the liberal state born after the French revolution represented the goal of human history. There was nothing after it: humans had reached the final state of history. Fukuyama wonders if Hegel might, after all, have been correct. After all, fascism and communism have only been blips in the history of the last two centuries. We are back to an age of liberal democracy. In fact, we have more democracies than ever in history. To a distant observer, liberal democracy has constantly been spreading throughout the planet. What happens after the whole world becomes democratic?

Fukuyama shows that the progress of science implies a progress of society, so a sort of unidirectionality in history. Society could cycle back only if scientific knowledge were erased, something that he considers unlikely to happen (although we live in the age in which one powerful group, the Islamic revival, advocates precisely that and is waging war in multiple countries). He then shows that this linear progress inevitably leads to capitalism. However, liberal democracy is not necessarily the only possible realization of capitalism. In fact, mainland China in 2009 is an excellent example of capitalism implemented by an authoritarian regime. Scientific progress has an economic implication (capitalism), but not necessarily a political one (democracy or dictatorship). See "Reinventing State Capitalism" (2014) by Aldo Musacchio and Sergio Lazzarini.

Fukuyama interprets Hegel's theory of history as a "struggle for recognition" by humans who are, first and foremost, moral agents (driven by a moral goal rather than an economic or political goal). He refutes the notion (from Nietzsche) that democracy would create spineless humans because capitalism would still motivate that "struggle for recognition". There will simply be a shift from military confrontation to economic confrontation, like the one that happened after World War II in Germany and Japan.

My view of Anglosaxon democracy is more pessimistic. Hegel thought that history was due to the alienation of subjects who were enslaved by tyrannical regimes. That particular kind of alienation is not gone: the citizens of any democracy feel that the hierarchy of government is oppressive. Sure it is less oppressive than, say, the Soviet government. But everything is relative: if all you know is the USA in 2009, you feel that the USA of 2009 is oppressive compared with how it could be. In addition, Marx thought that the individual is still alienated in a liberal democracy because liberal democracies tolerate capitalism and capitalism inevitably divides society in classes, and the poor (e.g. the proletariat) inevitably feels alienated. That particular kind of alienation is not gone either: everybody is richer, and the odds that a poor person becomes richer have vastly increased, but every society still lives with a colossal wealth gap that certainly does not make the poor any happier. The proletariat is virtually non-existent, but a hierarchy of social classes still exists. No matter how rich a liberal democracy becomes, there will still be richer and poorer people, and therefore alienated individuals. Marx's critique still stands, even though his political predictions failed miserably. In addition, one can begin to see another kind of alienation that neither Hegel nor Marx had foreseen: liberal democracy tends to vastly increase the addiction to what used to be considered vices, e.g. alcohol/drugs and sex. These have caused all sorts of problems, from the collapse of the family unit to the vast increase of mental disorders. There is virtually no society that didn't see the number of drug addicts multiply after the transition to democracy. Ditto for the number of divorces. Last but not least, Fukuyama himself notes that humans desire, at a very fundamental level, to be diverse and superior. A "just" society that treats everybody the same is not what their genetic program makes them desire: humans desire inequality. You are what makes you different from your neighbor. In concluding, the transition from dictatorship to liberal democracy has not removed the old kinds of alienation and it has introduced at least two new kinds.

I also see two kinds of oppositions to Anglosaxon liberal democracy that might prove successful each in its own way. The authoritatian capitalism that was experimented by the fascist governments of Italy and Germany before World War II and that now, under a different banner, has taken roots in China is indeed a powerful economic force. Compare China with India: India (a democracy) has trouble planning just about anything, whereas China can proceed very speedily in whatever reforms make sense. A lot of developing countries (that cannot afford democracy's mess) are taking note. The second opposition to the Anglosaxon model comes from the Islamic world, where an increasing number of people view Islam as politics and not only religion, and view Islamic values as more relevant than democratic values. From the point of view of both China and Islam, the West is trying to impose liberal democracy by force. They both increasingly tend to view liberal democracy as Western propaganda, as a way for the West to oppress them. In both cases the meaning of technological progress is different from the West's. The Chinese show little or no interest for theoretical physics or higher mathematics: their main concerns are practical, and they mainly value practical technologies. Muslims are often hostile to Western science as if it represented an attack on the core values of their religion (an old attitude inherited from the Catholic Church). For different reasons their understanding of what "science" means is radically different from the Western one. Hence Fukuyama's argument that scientific progress inevitably leads to liberal democracy might be weakened by the fact that some places (China) practice a "non-scientific" sort of progress and some places are just plainly hostile to it. It might just be that not everybody's "struggle for recognition" leads to liberal democracy.