Is This Still the End of History?
Jack Herrera

17 April 2017

In 1992, the political scientist Francis Fukuyama became famous for his provocative claim that history had ended. Though events would still happen, Fukuyama argued that History—with a big H—had ceased: by this, he meant that human societies had reached their highest level of development.

Like Hegel, who envisioned a world-spirit (a Geist) guiding History rationally forward, or Marx, who viewed the development of societies as a direct result of material relations, Fukuyama posited that there are forces in the world that have guaranteed the progress of History. He argued that the scientific method, technological developments, and the communication revolution allowed for liberal, capitalist, democratic societies to emerge.

For Fukuyama, this was the end of the line. Once a society was highly liberal and capitalist, no forces could develop it further into a more “advanced” society.

In the 25 years since Fukuyama made this argument in his book The End of History and the Last Man, many have criticized his thesis. Many on the left accuse Fukuyama of weakly defending the neoliberal order by declaring it inevitable. However, the most salient and common critique of Fukuyama comes from the claim that History—with a big H—is still moving. After 9/11, and now with the election of Donald Trump, the stability of liberal democracies seems to be in question. Already, it is easy to see that the world-order that existed in 1992 will not span across millennia.

However, some have come to the defense of Fukuyama. In a recent article in Aeon, Paul Sagar argues that Fukuyama more accurately predicted our current world than any other thinker. He claims that much of the criticism towards Fukuyama comes from a misreading of his book: one that simplifies his argument, and ignores the fact that Fukuyama himself predicts that societies may fall back into History, and way from liberal democracy. According to Sagar, Fukuyama’s thesis posits that the liberal age represents and end-point for progress; however, at no point does Fukuyama argue that progress is inevitable. We can always go backward.

You can read Sagar’s defense of Fukuyama by following this link:

Also, check out the episode we recorded in 2015 with Fukuyama on "Democracy in Crisis":