AFTER SEEING the gallons of ink that been spilled over "The End of History?," I have come to realize that my real accomplishment has been to produce a uniquely universal consensus, not on the current status of liberalism, but on the fact that I was wrong and that history has not in fact ended. This consensus is all the more remarkable since it extends from Margaret Thatcher, William F. Buckley, and the Wall Street Journal on the right to the Nation, Andre Fontaine, Marion Donhoff, and other leading liberal lights in Europe and America on the left. Who was the last American Politician to have done that? There is no inconsistency between the interest in declinism one year and endism the next, since few have been persuaded by the latter. Nonetheless, as the Berlin Greens say, Wahrheit statt Mehrheit! ("truth rather than the majority"). None of the objections that have been raised to my thesis strike me as decisive, and the ones that might have been decisive were never raised.
Much of the criticism results from simple misunderstanding. It may seem a bit ungracious to begin my reply by complaining that I have been misunderstood, and I would normally try to make a self-deprecating remark to the effect that I had not been clear enough in my original exposition. But in the case of "The End of History?" it is quite obvious that many commentators have not bothered to read the article itself, only one of the condensations of it. Now, one could perhaps understand how some of those who saw fit to comment on Allan Bloom's The Closing of the American Mind or Paul Kennedy's The Rise and Fall of the Great Powers failed to work their way through those entire books, since the former was very profound and the latter very long. But not to have found the time to read to the end of a sixteen page article! One is at a loss for words when, after having written quite clearly that much of the Third World remains "mired in history," one is criticized for not recognizing that this or that Third World country is still stuck there. So, it will be necessary to peel through several layers of misunderstanding before getting to those who not only understood what I was trying to say but appreciated the spirit in which I said it.
The first and most common misunderstanding has been the persistent failure to comprehend or accept Hegel's use of the word "history." Many people become upset when one fails to employ the conventional definition of history as a random sequence of events, in which there is no inherent hierarchy or attempt to distinguish between the more and less important.
The notion that history can come to an end should surprise only those unfamiliar with the Hegelian-Marxist tradition. "History," for Hegel, can be understood in the narrower sense of the "history of ideology," or the history of thought about first principles, including those governing political and social organization. The end of history then means not the end of worldly events but the end of the evolution of human thought about such first principles. This apparent narrowing of the definition of history is in fact an attempt to make it deeper, to distinguish between the essential and the contingent in human affairs. From the perspective of Hegelian idealism the motor of history is the idea - that is, human consciousness thinking about itself and finally becoming self-conscious. The idea is expressed not just in the philosophic discourse of thinkers, but eventually comes to be embodied in concrete social and political institutions - for the young Hegel, the revolutionary Napoleonic state, and for the older Hegel, the Prussian monarchy of the 1820s.
READERS OF MY article were not the first to be astonished at the notion of the end of history. Hegel himself provoked considerable outcry by his own declaration of the end of history in the early nineteenth century, in particular on the part of the young Karl Marx who felt that the manifest injustices of the society of his time belied Hegel's confident assertion that "everything that is real is rational." Indeed, he spent his career trying to show that Hegel was wrong - not about the possibility of an end of history, but rather in his declaration that the end had already arrived. We are still living with the consequences of Marx's attempt to confront Hegel: in the decaying communist regimes in East Germany, Czechoslovakia, and Bulgaria, in the vast armies of bureaucrats that still hold arbitrary sway over the lives of millions of people in the Soviet Union and China, in the guerrillas in the jungles of Cambodia awaiting their return to power. The total and manifest failure of communism forces us to ask whether Marx's entire experiment was not a 150-year detour and whether we need to reconsider whether Hegel was not in fact right in seeing the end of history in the liberal-democratic states of the French and American revolutions.
What goes for communism is true for other ideologies as well. At the core of my argument is the observation that a remarkable consensus has developed in the world concerning the legitimacy and viability of liberal democracy. This ideological consensus is neither fully universal nor automatic, but exists to an arguably higher degree than at any time in the past century.
In order to refute my hypothesis, then, it is not sufficient to suggest that the future holds in store large and momentous events. One would have to show that these events were driven by a systematic idea of political and social justice that claimed to supersede liberalism. A nuclear war between India and Pakistan - horrible as that would be for those countries - does not qualify, unless it somehow forced us to reconsider the basic principles underlying our social order.
No one, of course, is obliged to use a Hegelian definition of history. On the other hand, no one else is entitled to an exclusive right to the term, least of all professional historians who frequently feel a proprietary interest in the word. A professional historian can tell us something about causality in history; qua historian, however, he or she cannot tell us whether a given historical event was good or bad, important or unimportant - whether the society of the Aztecs with its human sacrifice was higher or lower than that of the ancient Athenians, or whether we ought to pay more attention to the works of Schiller or Beethoven on the one hand or the peasant culture of sixteenth-century Vietnam on the other. Individual historians and different schools of historiography do in fact quarrel about such issues, but on the basis of considerations - most often simple political prejudices - external to their discipline. While so-called "value" questions can be informed by the study of history, they are finally accessible only through the architectonic science: philosophy. And the first philosopher to understand both the importance of history to philosophy and the importance of philosophy in history was Hegel.
Irving Kristol was certainly right when he said that most of us are, without knowing it, Hegelians - that is, believers in the historical relativity of truth. We owe to Hegel our modern understanding of history as an evolution from primitive to modern, through a succession of stages of "false consciousness" during which men believed in the legitimacy of such things as chattel slavery and the divine right of kings. There is hardly an educated person alive who does not have a slightly patronizing view of those great thinkers of the past who were "advanced for their times," but whose views have subsequently been superseded by more modern, less parochial ones. Among "sophisticated" people, there is hardly anyone willing to assert that the views of Aristotle, or of Aquinas, or of Locke, are true absolutely and forever.
ANYONE who accepts the historicist premise - that is, that truth is historically relative - faces the question of the end of history even if he is not aware of it. For unless one posits something like an end of history, it is philosophically impossible to prevent historicism from degenerating into simple relativism, or from undermining any notion of progress. Anyone who believes that earlier thinkers were simply "products of their time" must, if he is honest and consistent, ask whether he and his own historicism are not also products of their times. The present-day feminist who looks with condescension and disdain at the antiquated views of her grandparents regarding the role of women must ask whether her views are "absolute," or whether there are yet more progressive views that will render them just as quaint in the eyes of her granddaughter. And if that is so, why devote one ounce of effort, why argue passionately in favor of today's cause?
For historicists, there are two ways out of this conundrum. The first is the path chosen by Hegel, to declare that history had come to an end. Hegel accepted the historical relativity of thought, but argued that in his system opinion finally reached the status of truth and ideology turned into philosophy. Hegel's system also represented the end of philosophy, because it would henceforth be impossible to state a philosophical proposition that was both true and new. Hegel understood with full philosophical clarity that the end of history was a necessary support for the modern state, for otherwise its underlying concepts of right would have no basis in truth. The other path was the one chosen by Nietzsche and his twentieth-century followers like Heidegger, who accepted fully the consequences of radical historicism and realized that it makes impossible any sort of conventional ethics or morality. (This is in contrast to the easygoing historicists we see all around us, who are almost never able to rise above the conventional moralism of their times - be it concerning homelessness, Third World poverty, or smoking in public places.) Let me simply suggest that the attempt to work out the political implications of historicism without a concept of an end of history leads to consequences (fascism and the glorification of war) which few of us would be willing to stomach.
The second layer of misunderstanding of my article has to do with the way in which it was somehow related to the current policies of the Bush administration. It is perhaps not sufficient to note that the article was conceived and written well before I had any intention of joining the State Department, or that I am a relatively junior official with little impact on policy, or that my article has not been read by many of my superiors. I am constantly amazed at the parochialism of the political class in Washington (particularly those in the media), who cannot understand that there are more important and interesting issues than a given administration's foreign policy agenda, consequential as that may seem at the time. The more fundamental problem I was trying to address was the truth and adequacy of liberalism as such, a question which I am quite confident will survive the Bush administration and, indeed, most succeeding ones.
A related misunderstanding concerns my view of the relationship between developments in the realm of ideas and those in the real world. I have been accused of complacency in believing that recent gains for liberal democracy are permanent, of providing a justification for the alleged "timidity" or inaction of the Bush administration, and (in France) of signaling an impending American isolationism on the grounds that the Cold War has been won and that America can come home from Europe.
Here I admit I could have been clearer. When I said that "the ideal will govern the material world in the long run," I did not mean to imply that the process would be an easy or automatic one, or one which would take place without the active intervention of governments and individuals. Obviously, the democratic revolution is far from complete in the world and will, in Hegelian terms, require considerable work and struggle to implement more fully. The enormity of the tasks facing the reforming governments in the Soviet bloc is daunting and success is far from assured. The tasks facing U.S. foreign policy as it helps guide Europe through this transition are similarly great. It is absurd to think that either process will occur without setbacks and defeats along the way. Communism may indeed fight a rear-guard action that will, as Jean-Francois Revel predicts, consume an entire generation. The long run of which I spoke could last several generations, if not centuries. Recall that the end of history was originally declared in 1806. I, following KojÃ¨ve, believe in the essential correctness of this proposition insofar as the vanguard of human history arrived at the end on that date. But there has certainly been plenty of what is more conventionally known as history to preoccupy chancelleries and foreign ministries in the years since.
But we have to recognize that an important revolution is underway in the world, and that in that revolution, ideas count. It must be of some consequence to us when the general secretary of the Soviet Communist party announces that the essence of socialism is for the weak to get out of the way of those who are strong and productive, or when he says that his Party has no monopoly on the truth. Events of our century have understandably traumatized us and made us highly cynical about the possibility of progress. We have to be careful that this cynicism does not exceed the bounds of simple prudence and blind us to reality. For at some point, to deny that important changes are going on in the communist world is to fail to comprehend the enormous moral weaknesses in communism that the last few years have revealed. To assert that things cannot get better is to undercut the hopes for better lives of the people who actually live in those countries.
A FINAL WORD about the Third World, which I have been accused of disparaging. My remarks about Albania and Burkina Faso were not meant to denigrate the importance of these countries or of the Third World more generally, but simply to register the self-evident fact that the major ideologies around which the world frames its political choices seem to flow primarily from the First World to the Third, and not the reverse. I do not know why this should be so, but it is nonetheless remarkable how persistently Third World revolutionaries continue to study the works of long-dead white male philosophers and polemicists. Those readers who correctly understood my argument have posited several sources of ideological competition to modern liberalism: communism itself, Islamic fundamentalism, nationalism, and some new ideology of which we are not yet aware. Let me consider these in order.
The most common criticism of my article has been that I have been very premature in writing off communism, either as a force in the real world or as an idea. In support of this charge various writers have pointed to the incompleteness and fragility of the reform processes in the Soviet Union, China, and Eastern Europe, and the continuing vigor of hardline communists, most notably evident in the Tiananmen Square crackdown that occurred after my article had been written.
I would be the first to admit that the reform processes underway in the communist world are incomplete and fragile. The tragic repression that occurred in Beijing in June 1989 set back the cause of liberalization in that country many years, and one would be foolish to assert that such a reversal could not occur in any one of the countries currently undergoing reform. This includes the Soviet Union where, as many Soviets now fear, some combination of military, police, and Party conservatives may ultimately conspire to bring down Gorbachev, or where Gorbachev himself may suddenly take a turn toward repression.
Nonetheless, I question whether such a reversal could ever fully bring back the Soviet Union that we knew and feared. For the traditional Soviet threat arose not only out of the military power and material resources of the USSR, but out of the fact that it claimed to embody a universalistic idea that was inimical to our own way of life. It is the latter that drove the Soviet Union, even in its declining years, to far-flung involvements around the world. But it is precisely that messianic sense of mission that seems the least likely to be resurrected. Reciting the number of times that imperial Russia intervened militarily in European affairs is beside the point: so did imperial Britain and imperial France, but the classical age of great powers has been over in Europe for some time now. Indeed the very notion of great power status is being steadily redefined in the postwar period, and now it has much more of an economic than a military content.
While a conservative reaction remains quite thinkable, the likelihood that it could simply set the clock back to the Brezhnev years diminishes with every passing day. It is hard for me to understand how David Satter, for example, can maintain that the Soviet Union remains a totalitarian regime claiming to be the sole "source of morality and arbiter of truth." Gorbachev has succeeded spectacularly in undermining the moral basis of the Soviet Communist party's continued right to rule by airing the Party's historical dirty linen in public and by creating a new elective Supreme Soviet, which now functions as a competing source of legitimacy to the CPSU. Gorbachev would certainly like to use glasnost and reform as tools for his own power - political purposes as Khrushchev used de-Stalinization before him, but in doing so he has undermined authority as such and is manifestly losing control of political forces within the country (most evidently within the Union's republics).
A new conservative leadership in the USSR could use the traditional instruments of repression - the police and army - to restore order, but it will be very difficult to resurrect old Marxist-Leninist nostrums to
repair the Party's moral authority or fix the abiding problems of the economy. When General Jaruzelski declared martial law in Poland in 198 1, he found that the Polish army could not compel people to work harder, to innovate or take risks or do any of the things required to create a successful post-industrial economy. General Jaruzelski, moreover, did not have to preside over an internal empire eager to spin out of the center's control. And it is very hard to see how ideological decay will not have an impact on Soviet foreign policy. The half- or quarter-reformed Soviet economy is in some respects in worse shape than under Brezhnev - so much so that conservatives like Ligachev have admitted that the military will have to be starved for resources if reform is to succeed. When the counterrevolution occurs in the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe, we might see the emergence of a series of communist Pinochets and Stroessners, dictatorships devoid of larger ideas and lacking external dynamism.
THE BEST EXAMPLE of this is post-Tiananmen Square China. What was remarkable about the events in the PRC in 1989 was not that a group of octogenarian Party leaders and generals succeeded in ordering the army to shoot unarmed students, but rather the protests that led to the crisis in the first place. Until this spring, it was common in the West to say that the impulse behind the Chinese reform was economic rather than political, that the Chinese people were primarily interested in color television sets and not in political democracy as we understand it. But events in the spring of 1989 proved that liberal political ideas have a life and an appeal of their own, however heterogeneous the views of the students who occupied the square. And the crackdown has not brought a restoration of Maoism: For all of its archaic vocabulary of "bourgeois liberalization" and "counterrevolution," the current leadership seems to understand that it can neither abandon reform nor return to the isolation of the 1950s. The old men governing China today, realizing that they are sitting on top of a society for which Marxism-Leninism has lost all relevance, are fearful for their personal authority and for that of their discredited Party. Altogether, Chinese events confirm rather than deny my thesis.
Islamic fundamentalism is not only a competitor to liberalism in the Islamic world, it has won a clear-cut victory over liberalism in many countries. And yet, for all of Islam's pretensions of being a universal religion, fundamentalism has had virtually no appeal outside of communities that were not Muslim to begin with. It threatens the liberalism of the West only insofar as countries like France and West Germany have to deal with difficult-to-assimilate immigrant populations, or when those countries clash with Islamic groups on a national or subnational level (i.e., terrorism). Islam's total failure to attract adherents among, say, the young people of the United States or Japan is suggestive; and a plausible interpretation of the strength of fundamentalism is as a reaction to the powerful appeal of liberalism in its initial encounter with the Islamic world. Though the Islamic umma is rather large, with nearly a billion adherents, the present clash between the Islamic and liberal worlds seems something less than an even match.
One is inclined to take the threat of nationalism much more seriously, since national feeling is plainly evident in the post-historical world. As communism recedes from Eastern Europe, it is fascinating to watch the recrudescence of longstanding nationalist conflicts like that between Hungary and Romania over the Hungarian minority in Transylvania. The big test of the relative durability of liberalism and nationalism will come in Germany, which is why so many Europeans are looking at the prospect of German reunification with misgiving. Nationalist conflict will increase on that continent in the next decade or two. It is not too farfetched to imagine the return of military confrontations in Europe over national rather than ideological issues.
While this suggests that the post-historical era will not be free of significant conflict, we still have to put that conflict in perspective. Before a nationalist confrontation reaches the scale of the major ideological wars of history or becomes a serious threat to world order, several conditions must be met. First, it must turn into imperialism - that is, become systematized and universalistic, justifying not just the liberation of co-ethnics trapped on the other side of a border but the outright domination of other peoples. And it must take place in a relatively big, powerful, and capable country. In the absence of these conditions, nationalist extremism can wreak havoc on the citizens of the country in which it occurs and their immediate neighbors. But conflicts between Hungary and Romania, or Bulgaria and Turkey, or Armenia and Azerbaijan, tragic as they may become, simply do not begin to reach the scale of the big, continent-wide war between superpowers armed with nuclear weapons that we have been fearing and planning against these past forty years.
Local nationalisms may also spark conflict in a world in which the great powers are already in a highly competitive relationship with each other. Thus the endless national disputes in the Balkans served to draw the major European powers into World War I. But we are not now living in such a world, for the character of European nationalism has changed tremendously since 1914. Absent the central East-West rivalry, which of the major European powers today would seek to jump into the Hungarian-Romanian dispute to carve out a sphere of influence for itself? Human rights lobbies in France or the United States might call on their governments to intervene, but that would hardly lead to a Sarajevo-style process of escalation.
Allan Bloom has suggested that such a virulent nationalism could still arise even in the heart of Europe as an outgrowth of one of the existing right-wing anti-immigrant parties in France or Germany. Others have suggested that the Green movement has similar authoritarian potential. This is all possible, though I don't see any of these extremist parties upsetting their political systems in the near future. Actually, the country where fascism may have the greatest potential is perhaps the Soviet Union itself. The Slavophile authors who write for Soviet journals like Nash Sovremennik or Molodaya Gvardiya speak a language unheard in Europe for many years, and are uncomfortably close to the Soviet mainstream. If post-Tito Yugoslavia in some sense represents the Soviet Union's future, one should worry whether there is not some Russian Milosevic waiting in the wings - a Party apparatchik who one day blossoms into a fascist demagogue, rousing the dominant nationality to reassert its "rights" against all the others. This possibility is real, and we will have to watch for it.
The final competitor to liberalism is what could be called the "X-factor" - Gertrude Himmelfarb's new, less benign America waiting just over the horizon with an ideology undreamt of today. Such developments are of course possible. Hegel himself did not envision the appearance of either fascism or communism in 1806, and while KojÃ¨ve after the fact could explain them through the "cunning of reason," they delayed the arrival of the universal homogeneous state by a couple hundred years.
Hegel, however, raises the following larger question. He is the first major modern philosopher to deny that there is "being": human nature (indeed, nature more generally) is neither permanent nor universal; it is rather self-created by man in the course of his historical evolution. This process of self-creation is not a random or aimless one, however, but follows a clear directionality dictated by the unfolding of reason. It is also a very long process. The worldwide democratic revolution and the belief in egalitarianism on which it is based was not a product of the 1980s, or even of the period since the French Revolution. As Tocqueville noted when writing Democracy in America in the last century, progress toward democratic egalitarianism seems to be an inevitable historical process that has been underway for many centuries and which no one in the long run can resist. Human nature, in other words, has changed over the past couple of millennia: our modem democratic-egalitarian consciousness is in some sense a permanent acquisition, as much a part of our fundamental "natures" as our need for sleep or our fear of death.
WE ALL AGREE that the democratic-egalitarian trend can be resisted and even reversed on a local level (i.e., in large groups of countries) for considerable periods of time (i.e., for generations). The larger Hegelian question is whether the long progress toward modem democratic-egalitarian consciousness since at least the beginning of the Christian era in Europe can itself be regarded as a "blip" or accident in history that is itself completely reversible, or whether our underlying natures in this respect have changed. Is it conceivable that in another hundred years or so we will be living in a world in which the legitimacy of slavery will be generally accepted, or that we could pass through a cycle of monarchies and aristocracies whose moral foundations are as broadly secure as those of present-day democracies? Was Nietzsche right that our belief in human equality is a big fraud foisted upon us by Christianity, which a new generation of moralists will debunk? Will a future global cataclysm - either nuclear or environmental - wipe the slate clean, so to speak, and start the historical process over again? Or will we pick ourselves up from where we left off and rebuild our democratic-egalitarian world as it was before the crash, continuing our current arguments over the rights of women and minorities or worrying about the erosion of the First Amendment? I simply pose these questions without hopes of answering them.
A final word about the last paragraph of my article, which was so often quoted. The idea that one should be anything other than unconditionally happy about the victory of liberalism, or that one could be bored in a society that offered perfect security and material well-being, is one that has caused a certain amount of indignation, particularly among the space-travel lobby. Some of the more literal-minded of my readers have not recognized that one can be a supporter of liberalism, believe passionately in the superiority of liberal democracy over any alternative system, and yet be aware of certain fundamental tensions and weaknesses in liberalism. In this I am not referring to the continuing social problems of liberal societies underlined by leftist critics, which arise less from liberal principles than from their incomplete implementation. I am referring rather to the fact that liberal states do not refer their citizens to higher aims beyond the responsibilities of general civic-mindedness. Rather, they leave them to do as they please, and in fact discourage differentiation through their emphasis on equality and consensus. This failure to address the question of the content of the good life is of course why liberalism works, but it also means that the vacuum that constitutes our freedom can be filled with anything: sloth and self-indulgence as well as moderation and courage, desire for wealth and preoccupation with commercial gain as well as love of reflection and pursuit of beauty, banality alongside spirituality. Even the security that liberal societies bring is a two-edged sword, since there is a side of man that despises a riskless life, that seeks danger and heroism and sacrifice. The critique of liberalism from the Right, which was alluded to in the commentaries by Bloom and Hassner, has a long and respectable philosophical lineage. It is also politically dangerous, because it points to continuing "contradictions" in the Hegelian sense that liberal societies have not completely resolved, and which could yet result in their undoing. These problems are perennial and deserve to be studied by every generation that enjoys the benefits of our modern democratic-egalitarian society. But that is yet another story.
3. Needless to say, even that vanguard - the Prussian state that emerged after its defeat by Napoleon at Jena-Auerstadt - was itself subject to considerable backsliding in the succeeding two hundred years. (back to text)
4. I am fully aware, of course, that the Soviet Union remains to this day heavily involved in a worldwide network of client states inherited from earlier years, and seems quite determined to hang on to them. Whether they are interested in acquiring more such expensive commitments, however, is a more questionable proposition. (back to text)
5. Up to a certain point one would have said that criticism of the Soviet past came out of the liberal intelligentsia and not the regime itself, but even this is changing, as in the case of Shevardnadze's remarkable address to the Supreme Soviet in October 1989. (back to text)
** Fall 1989, The National Interest.
* Francis Fukuyama is the author of "The End of History?" which appeared in The National Interest Summer 1989 issue (Number 16).
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