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Fukuyama, twenty-three years after: Some still unanswered philosophical questions (Part One)

By Mark Wegierski
web posted August 27, 2012

(Initial drafts of this response to Fukuyama's article go back to November 1989 – author's note.)

Francis Fukuyama, "The End of History?" The National Interest no 16 (Summer 1989), pp. 3-18 and Alan Bloom, et al. "Responses to Fukuyama." The National Interest no 16 (Summer 1989), pp. 19-35.

Fukuyama's article has caught the attention of many persons who study political philosophy, and who are deeply interested in questions of what might somewhat over-optimistically be called "the future of the West".

Fukuyama's article has been perceived as a daring éclat on "the end of history", but certain aspects of these matters, it could be argued, have been fairly poorly represented in the debate. There is the lack of a perspective rooted in the writings of thinkers such as Martin Heidegger, George Parkin Grant, Friedrich Nietzsche, and Jacques Ellul. Fukuyama has not entered into much of a dialogue with these thinkers in his thesis.

Generally speaking, the thesis on "the end of history" has been received in two main ways: most persons, while embracing the foreseen triumph of liberal democracy and capitalism, have expressed greater or lesser reservations about its completeness and permanence; while others argued that socialism, for example, was still a worthwhile, viable alternative.

Professor Bloom received the thesis very warmly and celebrated the future triumph of liberal democracy (albeit tempered with a curious reference to the "fascist" threat). Considering how vociferously opposed Professor Bloom appeared to be, to many aspects of contemporary American life, in his coruscating Closing of the American Mind, his embracing of full-blown liberal democracy seems somewhat odd.

It could be argued that there was, in Fukuyama's original article, a good deal of ambiguity about the total triumph of the liberal democratic model, an ambiguity that few of his critics seem to have picked up on, or properly understood.

Indeed, there is a vast intellectual tradition of "the critique of modernity", aspects of which might have also found their way into Fukuyama's article. Rather than seeing history as an upward progression, Heidegger basically saw it as a regression -- from a primitive, primeval state of bliss to the modern, soulless, anomic world, with technology playing the role of "the serpent in the Garden". In the late nineteenth century, Nietzsche wrestled with the problem of "the death of God" -- a God which man had killed -- and searched for a way out of the sterility and mechanism of the modern world. Already at the birth of the Enlightenment, Rousseau -- "the first Romantic" -- argued for primeval virtue over civilized reason, and criticized all forms of "progress", in his famous Discourse on the Arts and Sciences.

In more recent times, Ellul has formulated a critique of the rise of modern technology (which might largely be equated with the rise of capitalism and liberal democracy), as resulting in a totalistic, inhuman, technological framework from which all other viewpoints and perspectives are excluded. George Parkin Grant lamented the triumph of the universal "empire of technology", which, as he put it, "speaks with an American accent".  Echoing the point Fukuyama made about Iran and other "developing" countries, Grant states that, "…modern civilization makes all local cultures anachronistic. Where modern science has achieved its mastery, there is no place for local cultures."

On a more popular level, the dystopic possibilities of modernity are well-expressed in Aldous Huxley's famous novel Brave New World. Though some critics focus in on the biologically-engineered caste system as a symptom of "corporate conservatism", the essential point of Huxley, is likely much different. If, as Plato and Aristotle thought, each regime produces a certain predominant type of human being, then the predominant type of the Brave New World society is perhaps closest to (though not necessarily identical with) the modern, North American, liberal mass-man.

It might be argued that "the end of history" really signifies "the end of meaning in history", as suggested in this key passage of Brave New World:

"'You all remember,' said the Controller, in his strong deep voice, 'you all remember, I suppose that beautiful and inspired saying of Our Ford's: History is bunk. History,' he repeated slowly, 'is bunk.'

He waved his hand; and it was as though, with an invisible feather whisk, he had brushed away a little dust, and the dust was Harappa, was Ur of the Chaldees; some spider-webs, and they were Thebes and Babylon and Cnossos and Mycenae. Whisk, whisk - and where was Odysseus, where was Job, where were Jupiter and Gotama and Jesus? Whisk - and those specks of antique dirt called Athens and Rome, Jerusalem, and the Middle Kingdom - all were gone. Whisk - the place where Italy had been was empty. Whisk, the cathedrals; whisk, whisk, King Lear and the Thoughts of Pascal. Whisk, Passion; whisk, Requiem; whisk, Symphony; whisk..."

The point to be driven home is that anything resembling a premodern perspective, a meaningful memory of the past, and the slightest residue of a more authentic transrational stratum, is today being eliminated from North America and its global extensions. Therefore all history becomes "meaningless", and history therefore "ends".

To be continued. ESR

Mark Wegierski is a Canadian writer and historical researcher.

 

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