Book: The End of History

This book has a similar problem as The Selfish Gene, namely, both authors chose as their title a provocative phrase that is easily misunderstood without reading further, thus inviting a host of criticism from people who did not bother to read between the covers.

That being said, this book does have a number of flaws. The basic premise is that Hegel’s conception of dialectical history (as interpreted by a later philosopher, Alexandre Kojeve) is true as given and liberal democracy represents the end point of history in the sense that it contains none of Hegel’s contradictions which lead to the next stage in history. So, while history seen as a flow of events will continue, History as the directional progression of societal forms stops essentially with modern day Western civilization. Lucky for us!

Fukuyama does raise a number of interesting and sometimes forceful arguments for his case. Sometimes, though, his argument boils down to a failure of the imagination in which a better alternative to liberal democracy is inconceivable to those of us living today.

The oddest theme in this book is a heavy reliance on Plato’s metaphysical concept of the thymos, or the thymotic soul, which Hegel understood as the “struggle for recognition”. The thymos seems to be the metaphysical source of all the social emotions, like pride, shame, anger, etc. It’s a bit like picking up a modern work on physics and finding long passages about the Ether.

I found myself mentally subsituting ‘the social emotions’ every time I read ‘thymos’ and that seemed to make the argument more understandable and plausible. I do wish that Fukuyama had made some effort in updating thymos to a modern conception of human nature, but he seems to be restrained by that strange conservative fear that a biological basis for human drives and emotions will rob us of the possibility of moral choice. Silly conservatives, metaphysics is for kids.

At the very end, in an odd parable involving a wagon trail, Fukuyama seems to back off his strong claim and allow for the possibility of something new to come.

Anyway, I do recommend this book. Fukuyama’s not the best writer, but he’s good enough and this book is thought-provoking if nothing else.

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