The 'end of history' symposium: a response

Francis Fukuyama
24 August 2006

An openDemocracy symposium on Francis Fukuyama's work features leading critics who question the arguments of the renowned author's new afterword to "The End of History and the Last Man". Here, Francis Fukuyama answers their charges, reflects on how his views have changed since 1989, and revisits his hypothesis about the global historical trend towards liberal democracy.

I very much appreciate the discussion of the new afterword to my book The End of History and the Last Man that openDemocracy has hosted. The choice of commentators is thoughtful and imaginative, and the commentaries themselves are serious and respectful of my own work in a way that has not always been the case in recent months. The forum has given me a further opportunity to consider the critiques, and to perhaps restate an insight about my own intellectual development that I might not have fully understood at the time that I wrote the afterword two years ago.

The fact that several commentators differ among themselves actually saves me from having to defend myself on certain issues, since they do a better job than I could myself. For example, Roger Scruton makes a Huntingtonian agument that Islamist extremism is rooted in Islamic doctrine itself, and that it will resist the logic of history that has driven other parts of the world to economic modernisation and liberal democracy.

Olivier Roy and Saad Eddin Ibrahim, by contrast, both defend my position that there is no necessary Muslim exception to the logic of modernisation, and that despite the historical union of state and mosque, there will be long term forces pushing against politicised religion, just as in the history of the west. I take some comfort in the fact that Roy and Ibrahim know the world of Islam much better than I do. (This is perhaps not surprising since much of my interpretation of contemporary Islamism is drawn from my reading of Roy's brilliant Globalised Islam).

Similarly, Roger Scruton dislikes the European Union as an essentially anti-democratic project, while Anthony Pagden defends it as a serious attempt to construct democracy on a level that transcends nation-states. My position is somewhere in between theirs: I believe that we need accountable forms of international organisation, but that the EU, while a noble effort, will not serve as much of a model for how to get beyond the nation-state for the rest of the world.

Francis Fukuyama is Bernard L Schwartz Professor of International Political Economy and director of the International Development Program at the School of Advanced International Studies, Johns Hopkins University. He is also chairman of the editorial board of a new magazine, The American Interest.

Also by Francis Fukuyama in openDemocracy (an article which also forms the afterword to the 2nd paperback edition of his The End of History and the Last Man (Simon & Schuster, 2006):
"After the 'end of history'" (2 May 2006)

Francis Fukuyama’s other books include Our Posthuman Future: Consequences of the Biotechnology Revolution (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 2002) and State-Building: Governance and World Order in the 21st Century (Cornell University Press, 2004)

His latest book is America at the Crossroads: Democracy, Power and the Neoconservative Legacy (Yale University Press, 2006); in Britain this is published as After the Neocons: America at the Crossroads (Profile, 2006)

Francis Fukuyama’s homepage is here

The question of periodicity

The single area in which my thinking has changed the most dramatically from 1989 to the present concerns the likelihood and speed with which modernisation and democratisation will occur – what one might call the "timetable" question.

Stephen Holmes quotes back at me several lines from my original 1989 article "The End of History" and contrasts them with my more recent formulations to prove that I've changed my views. He also, like David Scott, tries to associate my 1989 position positing an imminent universalisation of liberal democracy with the George W Bush administration's national-security strategy and its over-optimism concerning the democratisation of Iraq. He's right that my views have changed; the Bush administration's use or abuse of my ideas is another matter.

I came to recognise how much my thinking had changed not in the course of the present forum, but in reflecting on some of the reviews of my latest book, America at the Crossroads: Democracy, Power, and the Neoconservative Legacy. In that book, I said the following: "Democracy in my view is likely to expand universally in the long run. But whether the rapid and relatively peaceful transition to democracy and free markets made by the Poles, Hungarians, or even the Romanians can be quickly replicated in other parts of the world, or promoted through the application of power by outsiders at any given point in history, is open to doubt."

Like Holmes, several reviewers who were supporters of the Iraq war noted the similarities between the language of my original 1989 article and the Bush administration's rhetoric about the imminence and universality of democracy. These reviewers argued that by expressing scepticism about the prospects for the near-term democratisation of Iraq, I was repudiating my own thesis, a Lucy who put the football of global democratic revolution in front of Charlie Brown, only to pull it away at the last moment. One reviewer said that in my new incarnation I had grown "passive and grim", and that I had forgotten about the "redemptive possibilities of human freedom."

(I should note that associating this optimistic position with neo-conservatism is itself not historically accurate. If one goes back to the initial responses to the 1989 article, virtually all of the reactions from people like Irving Kristol, Gertrude Himmelfarb, Daniel Patrick Moynihan, and Allan Bloom were sceptical. Most took the position that there was no such thing as a Hegelian-Marxist progressive history, that the ugliest forms of tyranny could always recur, and that history was essentially tragic for reasons rooted in human nature.

Some thought that Mikhail Gorbachev was just tricking the United States and its allies, and that communism wasn't about to disappear; others that it would soon be replaced by equally ugly forms of nationalism. Right after the fall of the Berlin wall, the mood was anything but triumphal, such that Commentary's Norman Podhoretz asked me to write an article entitled "Against the New Pessimism" in 1991. When exactly it was that neo-conservatives switched positions and started believing in the imminent universalisation of liberal democracy is an interesting question of intellectual history.)

The conditions of state-building

In any case, while my views on the timetable for global democracy have changed, this change is one that has been occurring continuously for the seventeen years since the publication of my original article. Anyone who has bothered to follow my writings over the years (not that I expect anyone to, but the record is there) should not have been surprised by the position I took in America at the Crossroads.

Indeed, there was already a substantial retrenchment on the timetable question in the book version of The End of History, whose final section has several chapters on economic, cultural, and political obstacles to democratic transition.

I have been particularly conscious of the timetable question over the past few years, as my focus shifted to the question of institutions and economic development. There has been a large shift in the thinking of development economists in the past fifteen-twenty years that has downplayed sound economic policies and emphasised the importance of institutions – that is, formal or informal rules constraining human choice, which are the basis of social cooperation.

The book I wrote prior to America at the Crossroads – State-Building: Governance and World Order in the 21st Century (2004) – surveyed this literature, and then argued that while we can demonstrate the importance of institutions like property rights and rule of law, we know very little about how to bring them about.

Way before you can have a liberal democracy, you have to have a functioning state. But state-building has been extraordinarily difficult in practice; we take for granted in the west a process that took centuries of often bloody struggle to complete. The practical problems mirror a deeper lack of theoretical understanding, and the relatively thin comparative historical literature on state formation. Charles Tilly's familiar theory of European state formation doesn't tell you very much about why strong states appeared in parts of Asia, but not in Africa or parts of Latin America.

This is part of the "autonomy of politics" problem that I refer to in the new afterword to the second edition of The End of History. There is a reasonably strong connection between development and democracy at relatively high levels of per capita income, but this correlation doesn't explain how the modernisation process gets off the ground in the first place. The chicken of economic growth precedes the egg of democratic politics, but must in turn be preceded by the egg of state-formation, and we don't really know what chicken lays that egg.

This problem is particularly acute in a region like contemporary Africa; Gavin Kitching should understand that he has written not a critique but an elaboration of what I would argue myself.

Before the arrival of European colonialism, Africa had both political structures and cultural norms that provided for collective action and some degree of stability, though relatively few institutions that looked like those of modern states with their centralised enforcement mechanisms.

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

For an overview click here

Also published in the symposium:
-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)
- Shadia Drury, "Which Fukuyama?" (8 June 2006)

The Europeans disrupted all of these indigenous institutions, but in contrast to their state-building in India, South Africa, north America, and a few other places, were too mean or preoccupied to replace local institutions with modern ones (in Economic Origins of Dictatorship and Democracy, Daron Acemoglu & James A Robinson argue that Europeans didn't want to settle in places where the tropical disease burden was too great, which may have been another factor).

So, post-colonial Africa had the worst of all worlds. This is one of the powerful reasons for its descent into poverty over the past five decades – and, in the cases of Sierra Leone, Liberia, Congo, and Rwanda, utter political depravity. Having arrived at this condition of absent states and extremely weak institutions, we do not have anything approaching a workable formula for getting them out of this trap and promoting development.

I currently direct my school's international development programme. One thing I have heard people in the development field say repeatedly is that if the architects of the Iraq war had had more direct experience in promoting development, they would never have been under any illusions that Iraq could be democratised easily, or believed that the kinds of levers that outside powers could pull would be sufficient to bring about the political transformation of the sort they expected.

Observing the development business over the decades since the emergence of the "third world", it is hard not to be cynical about the well-intentioned efforts of outsiders to promote modernisation. Miracles do indeed happen, like the growth of South Korea and Taiwan, or the east-central European transitions, or the success of Botswana or Mauritius. But it is very hard to know where and when these are going to happen, or to understand the factors making such transformations possible.

Moreover, given the ever-present possibility of political decay, democratic gains cannot be taken for granted; witness contemporary Venezuela and Bolivia. If recognition of these realities makes me "grim and passive", so be it.

The varieties of modernisation

A final set of objections to my restated hypothesis are those of Shadia Drury, Talal Asad, Vinay Lal, Saskia Sassen, and David Scott. All argue in different ways that my version of modernisation is too narrow, doesn't recognise other approaches to social organisation, and glosses over weaknesses and defects in modern liberal democracy, particularly as implemented in the contemporary United States.

These arguments have been made repeatedly since the initial article in countless variations, and I'm afraid that this new group of critics hasn't paid sufficient attention to some of the answers I've already provided.

Shadia Drury, for example, seems to think it hasn't occurred to me that there is a trade-off between liberty and equality, or that modernity is a "mixed bag" of gains and losses. In fact, there is a long discussion of the liberty-equality trade-off in The End of History and the Last Man, where I argued that America and Europe chose different relative weights that in my view were equally legitimate. Moreover, my 1999 book The Great Disruption is all about the loss of community and values that accompanies the transition to a post-industrial economy.

Vinay Lal thinks that I am unaware of the discourse of decolonisation or of Gandhi's critique of modernisation. What I am aware of is the fact that contemporary Indians themselves have definitively rejected Gandhi's fantasy of a return to an imagined agrarian past; what they seem to want most of all is some version of the end of history, toward which they, along with over a billion Chinese, are racing headlong.

Stephen Holmes suggests that suicide-bombers are understandable as manifestations of Hegel's slave proving he is human by risking violent death. This is right; the post-historical world is threatened by those still trapped in history, only today they are empowered by technology which makes their discontent much more dangerous. Hegel could consign entire peoples and regions to being outside of history, but globalisation itself has eroded the line he saw between the centre and the periphery.

Charles Maier suggests that the centre itself may not be stable, and that some irreconcilable conflict of values within its pluralistic clatter, or the sheer desire to re-enter history, may some day drive the historical world backwards. It would be an even greater refutation of the "end of history" hypothesis if it is not young Arab men who strap on suicide-belts and blow themselves up, but Europeans, Chinese, Indians, or Americans who follow in their path. But I don't think that I ever denied the possibility of any of these depressing futures.

Had enough of ‘alternative facts’? openDemocracy is different Join the conversation: get our weekly email


We encourage anyone to comment, please consult the oD commenting guidelines if you have any questions.
Audio available Bookmark Check Language Close Comments Download Facebook Link Email Newsletter Newsletter Play Print Share Twitter Youtube Search Instagram WhatsApp yourData