63 pages • 2 hours read
A modern alternative to SparkNotes and CliffsNotes, SuperSummary offers high-quality Study Guides with detailed chapter summaries and analysis of major themes, characters, and more.
The End of History and the Last Man by political scientist Francis Fukuyama is a widely read and controversial book on political philosophy published in 1992. In it, Fukuyama argues that the end of the Cold War in 1991 established Western liberal democracy as the final and most successful form of government, thus marking the conclusion of “mankind’s ideological evolution.” Since its original release, the book has been updated in 2006 and 2019 with reassertions and some modifications of the original thesis. At the time of its original release, The End of History inspired lively debate in academic circles and among media commentators. This guide references the 2006 Free Press Kindle edition.
Get access to this full Study Guide and much more!
The book asserts that the end of the Cold War signals the end of history. The term “history” does not refer to a series of events, which, of course, continue to occur. Instead, the text focuses on an endpoint in the evolution of history. This approach is akin to a linear, secular eschatology, the branch of theology concerned with God’s final judgment and the afterlife. According to Fukuyama, this endpoint constitutes the eventual political transition into liberal democracies and their economic system, capitalism, all around the world. He believes that the world would still comprise different states as individual political entities with certain national characteristics. However, their internal dynamics would be similar in terms of their relative material abundance, equal and free elections, and egalitarianism in the legal system. The author also suggests that the transition of all countries to this political model may signal the end of military conflicts because during the Cold War liberal democracies maintained amicable international relations.
The book is divided into five parts. Each part addresses an important theme or group of themes. The first part focuses on general ideological trends in in the Modern period and the possibility of a universal history of humankind. The second part discusses in more detail the ideological battle that took part during the Cold War between Communism and Liberalism, as well as the question of prerequisites for establishing a liberal democracy such as education and technological growth. The third part of the book examines the question of identity and its recognition, and how this question transformed throughout the history of Western thought. Part 4 describes attitudes toward work and obstacles to liberal democracy such as political nationalism and religion. Finally, the end of the book examines the negative aspects of liberal democracies, including socioeconomic inequality.
The SuperSummary difference
The author situates his argument about the end of history in the work of 19th century German philosopher Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel. Specifically, Fukuyama borrows Hegelian historicism and its evolutionary approach driven by the Spirit of History but adapted to the realities of the 20th century. To establish Liberalism as the optimal ideology, Fukuyama examines the Modern period in broad strokes, including: the scientific revolution and the Enlightenment, European colonial conquest, world wars and the Holocaust, the Cold War, and nuclear weapons. He asserts that the Modern period produced three key ideologies: Liberalism, Communism, and Fascism. The author examines each ideology. They feature a distinct focal point and a historical driving force like Hegel’s Spirit of History. For Fascism, this focal point was the state or race. Communism focused on class. Liberalism, the oldest and the only remaining ideology of Modernity, on the other hand, uses the individual as its historic subject. Fukuyama then underscores the collapse of Fascism in 1945 and Communism in the late 1980s by characterizing them as ideologies with global ambitions. He concludes that it is not coincidental that Liberalism remained the only Modern ideology capable of conquering the world.
Hegel is not the only philosopher of note in The End of History and the Last Man. Fukuyama examines other Western thinkers including Thomas Hobbes, John Locke, Karl Marx, and Friedrich Nietzsche. By examining the transformation of key concepts in political philosophy, such as the question of individual human identity and the social contract between the state and those it governs, the author ambitiously seeks to establish a universal history of humankind. He outlines this universal history strictly from a Western perspective and then applies it to non-Western parts of the world. The author assesses non-Western regions using several categories such as technological innovation. In doing so, he automatically places the West in the Modern period ahead of the curve and ranks many countries in Latin America, Southeast Asia, and Africa as underdeveloped. The author’s assumption that there is a single, unified human history written from a Western perspective, rather than culturally specific local and regional histories, is in line with Modern thinking. This runs counter to the Postmodern destruction of such a “grand narrative.” Yet technological advancement is not a guarantee of moral behavior, as the examples of the Holocaust and the U.S. atomic bombings of the Japanese cities Hiroshima and Nagasaki demonstrate.
Whereas equal rights, education, and economic development are key rational elements in a liberal democracy, the need for recognition of one’s identity by others is another, less rational, feature. The author typically uses the ancient Greek term thymos to denote this concept. He traces the Modern development of thymos from Hegel’s concept of a bloody battle, in which recognition was worth dying for, to the present-day, peaceful way of recognizing the Other as an equal.
Fukuyama believes that the two essential obstacles to establishing a liberal democracy are nationalism and religion, especially in their political expression. He asserts that these traditional forms of communal relationships should be made compliant with liberal democracies. For example, for culture this would mean removing its political aspects and reducing it to benign forms like ethnic cuisines. At the same time, Fukuyama admits that traditional ties are what made communities strong, and there is a danger of atomization and loneliness in the most advanced liberal democracies.
The author dedicates the final chapters to examining some of the drawbacks of his preferred political system. These drawbacks include economic inequalities, crime, and substance abuse. On a deeper level, Fukuyama wonders whether the material abundance and the safety and security of liberal democracies would produce the so-called last men whom Friedrich Nietzsche disparaged. These are passive individuals solely focused on material comforts rather than risk-taking and great creative passions which made humans great in the past.
The End of History and the Last Man is an important contribution to 20th century political philosophy. The author is well versed in the history of Western thought which he presents in an accessible way. The book comprises dozens of historical examples to back up his claims showing the author’s erudition. At the same time, The End of History sparked discussion and criticism. In the three decades since its initial publication, the world transformed significantly and not necessarily in favor of liberal democracy. For example, the rise of China with its alternative social and political system in the 21st century presents a serious challenge to the end-of-history thesis.
By Francis Fukuyama