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New Left Review I/202, November-December 1993


Joseph McCarney

Shaping Ends: Reflections on Fukuyama

Francis Fukuyama’s The End of History and the Last Man has been widely regarded as a celebration of the triumph of the West. [1] Francis Fukuyama, The End of History and the Last Man(eh), London 1992. Its message, on the accepted view, is that, with victory in the Cold War and the death of Communism, the Western way of life has emerged as the culmination of humanity’s historical evolution. As the end state towards which that evolution has been tending it represents a pattern of universal validity, a light to itself and to all non-Western societies still struggling in history. It will be argued here that this interpretation is wholly misconceived and, indeed, that it must be stood on its head to obtain the true meaning of the book. The distinctive core of what the West stands for, in Fukuyama’s view, is liberal democracy. What his book tells us is that this is itself a transitory historical form, the process of whose dissolution is already well advanced. It is a verdict inescapably grounded in the logic of the argument, in the fundamental tenets of the philosophy of history Fukuyama espouses. Thus, in the classic style of that subject, he arrives on the scene too late, when a way of life has grown old beyond hope of rejuvenation. There is a sharp irony in the fact that philosophy’s grey on grey should be taken in this case as an expression of maturity and vigour. Something is owed here to the complex perversity of the times, but something also, it must be admitted, to the strangely half-hearted, double-minded and inadequately self-conscious way in which Fukuyama has approached his task. All this constitutes, however, a reason not for abandoning the agenda he has set but for taking it onwards towards completion.

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