We Are Not (Yet) at the End of History

Almost three decades ago, one writer claimed Western liberal democracy had won out over all other forms of human society. Oops.

Twenty-nine years ago, a relatively unknown political scientist, Francis Fukuyama, published an essay in a small Washington journal called The National Interest. The essay, “The End of History?”, made him a superstar. In it, Fukuyama argued that we are experiencing “the end point of mankind’s ideological evolution and the universalization of Western liberal democracy as the final form of human government.” The triumph of the “Western idea” is evident as all the ideological competitors of liberalism are dead or dying.

A 'Higher form' of human society?

When his bestseller, The End of History and the Last Man, appeared three years later, the Soviet Union was gone. So was the qualifying question mark from the end of the title. History just ended. Western liberal democracy won. It is not, thought Fukuyama, that all societies would shortly become successful liberal democratic societies. But all will give up on “their ideological pretensions of representing different and higher forms of human society.”

Twenty-nine years later, it is quite obvious that Fukuyama was overly optimistic. History seems to have diverted from the linear track along which it was supposed to move forward. It is not only that democratizing countries did not make enough progress in adopting liberal institutions. They started to actively despise those institutions. And they started to claim that they know of something much better. Something that is indeed a different and higher form of human society.

Those who kept embracing Western liberal democratic values became enemies. Illiberal democrats (as they like to call themselves, but in fact, they are anything but democrats) need enemies. They tirelessly create and deepen divisions in society. They tell you that those who do believe in independent courts, free media, rule of law and the suchlike are not only the opposition. They are traitors. They are not willing to accept what the majority of the country wants, but want to have their own way. And their way is to sell your country to Satan himself.

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Stop fighting, start talking

This is wrong. And this is wrong not only because it is not true. This is also wrong because any kind of peaceful cooperation requires a basic social consensus. In order to peacefully cooperate, we need to be able to speak to each other. We need to be able to agree on what counts as an argument. And we need to argue for our positions and try to convince the other party that our position may not be the one they could fully embrace, but at least it does make some sense. It is simply bad for all of us to constantly fight. It does not help us economically, and it does not increase our general well-being.

In “The End of History?”, Fukuyama argued that the “end of history will be a very sad time. 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.” He also stated that he cannot help but feel nostalgia for the time when history existed.

I cannot help but feel nostalgia for the time when it ended.

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