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Which Fukuyama?

About the author
Shadia Drury is the Canada research chair in Social Justice at the University of Regina in Canada. She is author of Alexandre Koj̬ve: The Roots of Postmodern Politics (Palgrave Macmillan, 1994), Leo Strauss and the American Right (Palgrave Macmillan, 1997), Terror and Civilization (Palgrave Macmillan, 2004), and The Political Ideas of Leo Strauss (Palgrave Macmillan [updated], 2005).

At the heart of modernity stands the melodramatic Enlightenment dream that humanity would abandon ignorance and superstition in favour of a universal Empire of Reason in which sectarian violence based on religion, tribe, and ideology becomes a relic of a shameful past.

Those who shared this vision agreed on its inevitability, but disagreed on two things: the small details that would characterise the modern world, and – more consequentially – the desirability of its triumph.

The sunny rationalists – Immanuel Kant, GWF Hegel, and Karl Marx – were positively delighted at the prospect that human beings might finally exchange their irrational enmity, implacable hatred, and mutual suspicions in favour of the recognition of their common humanity.

And then there were those who lamented the impending realisation of the Enlightenment dream. Friedrich Nietzsche, Martin Heidegger, and Alexander Kojève imagined that a cold and arid rationality would take over the globe and that as a result, everything wild, irrational and unpredictable would disappear from it. Everything that made man interesting would be no more. Modernity would make women just like men – rational, tame, and predictable. They would hold out neither terror nor delight for the opposite sex. Those women who dared to dream would realise that the modern world had banished masculinity. They would find themselves lonesome in a world without real men. These sensitive souls would have no choice but to follow Gustave Flaubert's Madame Bovary and commit suicide.

Shadia B Drury is the Canada research chair in social justice at the University of Regina in Canada.

Also by Shadia B Drury in openDemocracy:

"Noble lies and perpetual war: Leo Strauss, the neocons, and Iraq" (16 October 2003) – an interview with Danny Postel

This article is part of an openDemocracy symposium on Francis Fukuyama's afterword in the second paperback edition of The End of History and the Last Man (Simon & Schuster, 2006)

For an overview of the debate click here

Also published:

Francis Fukuyama, "After the 'end of history'"
(2 May 2006)

Danny Postel, "The 'end of history' revisited: Francis Fukuyama and his critics"
(2 May 2006)

Saskia Sassen, "A state of decay" (3 May 2006)

Talal Asad, "A single history?" (May 2006)

Anthony Pagden, "The end of history, or history all over again?"
(May 2006)

Saad Eddin Ibrahim, "Politico-religious cults and the 'end of history'" (10 May 2006)

David Scott, "Fukuyama's crossroads: the poetics of location" (12 May 2006)

Olivier Roy, "The end of history and the long march of secularization"
(16 May 2006)

Charles S Maeir, "The intoxications of history" (18 May 2006)

Stephen Holmes, "The logic of a blocked history"
(23 May 2006)

Vinay Lal, "The beginning of a history" (25 May 2006)

Gavin Kitching, "The modernisation myth"
(30 May 2006)

Roger Scruton, "The trouble with Islam, the European Union - and Francis Fukuyama"
(1 June 2006)

The other women won't notice that man has been denatured, domesticated, and despoiled. They will not notice that man's savage instincts have given way to tame civility. Men will occupy themselves mainly with the pursuit of animal comforts. There will be no men willing to die for a god, an idea, or a flag. Men will no longer be willing to rush naked into battle and headlong to their death. Peace and happiness will prevail: but how dreadful it will all be.

There is a decidedly fascistic element in this lament. It was vividly expressed in Nietzsche's idea of the last man, Heidegger's concept of the night of the world, and Alexandre Kojève's notion of the death of man. Nietzsche hoped that a new breed of supermen would rise above our collective stupor by inventing new gods and new myths to spice up our lives. Heidegger hoped that the Nazis would usher in a "spiritual renewal of life in its entirety" and save us from the impending planetary nightmare. Kojève believed that there was no choice but to resign ourselves to the end of history and the death of man.

A choice of possibilities

In the voluminous commentary devoted since its publication to Francis Fukuyama's The End of History and the Last Man, it is striking how little has been said about this second half of his equation. In his deeply ambivalent book, Fukuyama echoes both the triumphalism of Kant, Hegel, and Marx, and the despair of Nietzsche, Heidegger and Kojève.

The ambiguity of the work is reflected in the title itself. On the one hand, Fukuyama celebrates America's triumph over her enemies, while on the other he worries that this very triumph will make Americans soft and decadent and fears that the only men still willing to risk their lives in a fight to the death are gangsters such as the Los Angeles gangs, the Bloods and the Crips. He bemoans that all the colourful warriors have washed off their war-paint, hung up their swords, and taken their places behind computer terminals.

Fukuyama and his fellow-travellers were both delighted and anxious about the fall of communism. They were proud that America had defeated its enemy in the cold war. But they were haunted by Scipio's dream: the realisation that what happened to Rome's great rival Carthage was bound to happen to Rome – because no empire, not even Rome, lasts forever.

The modernist thesis defended by Fukuyama was soothing to the frazzled nerves of his cold-warrior co-thinkers. It assured them that what happened to Rome will not happen to America, because America was the quintessence of modernity. And the triumph of modernity was the final triumph beyond which there is nothing left to achieve, because modernity is so uniquely superior and satisfying that it is destined to be universally embraced by all humanity. After all, America did not win the cold war by the barrel of the gun, but by soapy advertising, as Fukuyama pointed out; this was an indication that the world was hungry for American culture.

It is a relief to discover that Fukuyama no longer defends this thesis. But one would hope that he does not intend to spend the rest of his career redefining and misrepresenting it, either. He now heaps contempt on the triumphalism he once embraced, as well as on the aesthetisation of violence. He has restated his thesis so that it amounts to little more than the claim that the desire for wealth, prosperity, and well-being is universal, common to all humanity regardless of culture. This restatement of his original thesis seems so plausible, yet so prosaic, that one wonders what all the fuss was about.

Nevertheless, Fukuyama's repudiation of the modernist thesis that he once defended is a welcome development. For it inaugurates a new and more sober assessment of our geo-historical moment. It is high time to start a more reasonable discourse about western modernity, to start regarding it as a social order with advantages and disadvantages. Societies are mixed bags and we are forced to take the bad with the good. Modernity is no exception. There is no such thing as a society that is superior in every way. There is no progress that comes without costs. Contrary to the fundamental assumption of the modernist thesis, all good things do not come in one package and all the bad things in another.

To take an oft-noted example, both democracy and liberty are political desiderata. But they are not one and the same. Where one is found, the other will not necessarily be present; and it is not always possible to have them both at the same time. Iraq is a case in point: even if the dictatorship of Saddam Hussein is replaced with a genuine democracy, there is no guarantee that freedom will thrive. And it is absolutely clear that women will have much less freedom than they did under the ancien régime.

There are difficult if not tragic choices to make in politics, as in life. Modernity is not a political panacea. It is just one more complex set of possibilities in which the good and the bad are closely intertwined. And because we are forced to take the bad with the good, our task as thinkers and citizens is to identify the evils of modernity and to devise methods by which those evils can be mitigated.

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