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New Left Review I/193, May-June 1992

Michael Rustin

No Exit from Capitalism?

Francis Fukuyama’s The End of History and the Last Man is the book of its historical moment, of Western triumph, as Paul Kennedy’s Rise and Fall of the Great Powers (1988) was of a slightly earlier phase of American self-doubt. Its thesis, that capitalist democracy is the final stopping place of historical evolution, is of compelling interest, and one that it would be evasive to ignore. Whatever the quality of Fukuyama’s arguments, he does at least present socialists with the challenge of a coherent historical narrative, antithetical to that of their own tradition, and provokes us to question whether in the light of recent events we any longer have a tenable narrative of our own. The argument, implicitly deployed by some of Fukuyama’s critics in dismissing his book, that historicist arguments like his are simply misconceived, or that the future is inherently unpredictable, is a risky one. Socialism, as a system of ideas, was strong because of the intellectual claims that it made, and the hope that socialist conviction and influence will survive the tacit abandonment of many of these claims is unlikely to be fulfilled. As unlikely, in fact, as in the analogous case of Christian belief when it was challenged by scientific explanation of a world it had once sought comprehensively to account for. Residual moral sentiment is no substitute for definite and lucid understanding.

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Michael Rustin, ‘No Exit from Capitalism’, NLR I/193: £3

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