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SPECIAL REPORT: Seeking a New World : Background : Does Democratic Wave Signal History's End?

December 11, 1990

When Francis Fukuyama published his essay "The End of History?" in the summer of 1989, he ignited the first real debate about the future of the post-Cold War world.

Fukuyama, a RAND Corp. analyst, accepted the prediction of 18th-Century philosopher Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel that mankind's progression from the Stone Age was destined to end when "a final rational form of society and state became victorious."

Liberal democracy is that victor, Fukuyama declared.

"What we may be witnessing," he wrote, "is not just the end of the Cold War, or the passing of a particular period of postwar history, but the end of history as such: that is, the end point in mankind's ideological evolution and the universalization of Western liberal democracy as the final form of human government."

Fascism and Marxism failed, and there is no other ideology ready to challenge Western liberalism, he contended. In the future, only the rapidly diminishing number of states that do not participate in the "common marketization" of the world will find differences worth fighting about.

Critics immediately rose to the bait, contending variously that communism may yet revive, that liberalism may schism in unpredictable ways, that new ideologies may be ready to emerge and that Eastern European nations may yet turn their backs on liberal democracy in favor of more authoritarian governments.

Fukuyama conceded that it is possible that history may resume.

"The end of history will be a very sad time," he wrote. "The struggle for recognition, the willingness to risk one's life for a purely abstract goal, the worldwide ideological struggle that called forth daring, courage, imagination, and idealism, will be replaced by economic calculation, the endless solving of technical problems, environmental concerns, and the satisfaction of sophisticated consumer demands.

"Perhaps, this very prospect of centuries of boredom at the end of history will serve to get history started again."

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