Francis Fukuyama: No, 9-11 Didn't Undermine His Thesis

Historians in the News

Jason Burke, in the Guardian (June 27, 2004):

IN THE SUMMER of 1989 a young American academic announced, in a relatively obscure conservative foreign policy journal, that history had ended. Or at least soon would. At the time, few had heard of Francis Fukuyama, then working in the US State Department. But then few people thought that the Berlin Wall would be hauled down within years, let alone months. Fukuyama, a modest, quietly spoken man who at 37 appeared to have correctly predicted the collapse of communism while simultaneously providing a perfect framework for understanding the post-Cold War world order, was catapulted to global attention.

Twelve years later, on 11 September 2001, Fukuyama was working in his seventh-floor office at Washington's Johns Hopkins University when a Boeing 757 with 64 people on board crashed into the Pentagon. He was able to watch the smoke rising into the clear blue air as the headquarters of America's defence establishment burned. History, at least in the sense most people understood it, had not apparently ended after all.

Smirking columnists and academic opponents circled like B-52s over Tora Bora. The Guardian wondered drily if Fukuyama would be writing a sequel to The End of History , the book he had published in 1992, ignoring the several books he had published subsequently on topics ranging from biotechnology to social capital and the market. 'Good to see historian Francis Fukuyama responding to the carnage in Manhattan (by) arguing shamelessly that it has left the world "irrevocably different" - the importance of the nation state reasserted, a re-energised America forced to forsake isolationism,' the Sunday Times sneered. 'All this from a writer who made his name with the sunnily titled The End of History . To paraphrase Attlee, a period of silence on his part would be welcome.'

In fact, the demise of Fukuyama's philosophy was regularly announced through the Nineties. With wars and genocide killing hundreds of thousands in the Balkans and Africa 'history' - at least in the sense that most people understood it - seemed as vibrant and vicious as ever. What made the attacks on Fukuyama more pointed was that the trajectory of his thinking, from unchallenged global dominance in the aftermath of the collapse of the Soviet Union to unsteady and threatened insecurity following the attacks on New York and Washington, was a metaphor, in the minds of many of his detractors, for American power itself. The fact that his book, unlike most works by American foreign policy specialists, had been a global bestseller, commanding a $ 400,000 advance, hardly helped.

But Fukuyama had never argued that the stream of daily events - history as war, peace, kings, queens, bombs and famines - would slew to a halt. When he spoke of history Fukuyama meant the grand tale of human society's evolution of a cultural - and thus political and economic - system that matches our species' collective aspirations and can fulfil them. Fukuyama, drawing heavily on Hegel, felt that our various civilisations' constant development of varying alternative forms of government and culture that had been the dominant theme in history ever since the earliest societies was over. The dialectic progression through thesis and antithesis was over. A synthesis, unchallenged by any coherent alternative, had finally evolved. The best example of that synthesis was, happily, to be found in America circa 1990. 'We are talking about. . . the endpoint of mankind's ideological evolution and the universalisation of Western liberal democracy as the final form of human government,' Fukuyama declared.

Mrs Thatcher was apparently unimpressed. 'End of history? The beginning of nonsense,' she is reported to have said. But then she, like so many of those who comment on Fukuyama, probably hadn't actually read his books.

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