The End of History and the Last Man

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The End of History and the Last Man is a book by Francis Fukuyama that grew out of an earlier (1989) essay. In the book, Fukuyama argues that two forces, "the logic of modern science" and the "struggle for recognition" make liberal democracy a natural end state of historical development. If this is the case, however, he asks whether man will be satisfied with this, or if the "last man" will have a need to seek power and fulfillment through military or theological dictatorship.[1] It is thought-provoking but certainly has had mixed reviews.

The "last man" is the "creature that emerges at the end of history". Fukuyama writes that Friedrich Nietzsche, Karl Marx, and Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel all addressed the concept, which he restates in Men without Chests.

Fukuyama's model is not universally embraced in political theory, futures studies or political science. His teacher and friend, Samuel Harrington, has a quite different view in The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of World Order.

Strong vs. liberal states

While many think of the changes in authoritarianism in terms of the Soviet Union, he points to events fifteen years before, in Southern Europe:

  • 1974: Caetano regime in Portugal overthrown, replaced in 1976 by Soares government
  • 1974: Greek military government replaced by Karamanlis
  • 1975: Peaceful transition after the death of Francisco Franco
  • 1980: Turkish martial law triggered by terrorism, but return to civil rule by 1983

These transitions took place in a seemingly natural way, just as a series of Latin American totalitarian regimes were replaced by democracies in the 1980s. The new governments of Latin America withstood economic crisis.

The Philippines and South Korean governments reformed, with more subtle changes in Taiwan. In 1990, the Afrikaner-dominated government of South Africa peacefully moved to a power-sharing multiracial one.

What did all these events have in common? The strong states had a failure of legitimacy. The security organs of a totalitarian state, at least, must accept some legitimacy on the part of the dictator. They still do in Syria and Saudi Arabia. Fascism died with Hitler and Mussolini not being able to deliver on their promises of world domination; it was one thing to have torchlight parades and another to be overwhelmed.

Universal history

Even before looking at theories and examples of history, he poses the basic question: "do all or most societies evolve in a certain uniform direction, or do their histories follow either a cyclical or simply random path?" He mentions that Irving Kristol argued for the latter in his response to Fukuyama's original "End of History" article. [2] Teilhard de Chardin argued, for theological reasons, that it was indeed directional, but as a matter of faith not subject to proof. [3]

To support the hypothesis that history is directional, there is one human endeavor that is unquestionably "cumulative and directional": natural science. While some artistic work builds on earlier artists, scientific knowledge always builds on earlier work. Economic development also is directional and cumulative.

Science and the military

Scientific progress is not only an abstract influence on direction, due to its influence on military capability. No matter how brave a Zulu warrior with a spear might be, he could not win against an alert British soldier properly using a rifle. Diffusion of innovations, indeed, is how some Third World nations can regain sovereignty. While Fukuyama did not address it specifically, consider the relative position of a state with nuclear weapons.

Moving a step further, the threat of war forces a state to restructure in a manner that allows it to use military technology. Mobilizing resources is one aspect, but increasing education is necessary for high-technology militaries. Ethnic and kinship ties cannot interfere with military efficiency; consider the lack of common languages and the rivalries in the Soviet military, versus the increased human resources made available by racial integration in the U.S. military. A great deal of Russian modernization, going back to Peter the Great, was driven by military needs. The threats represented by Commodore Perry's Black Ships led to the Meiji Restoration and its replacement of the samurai with a large peasant army.

Economic development and efficient labor

He says that apartheid broke down due to a flawed assumption that black industrial labor could be kept apart from industry. While complex organizations are necessary, the organizations need not be large nor in one physical location, as demonstrated by software development. The rejection of the distinction between physical and mental labor led to catastrophic suffering under Mao and the Khmer Rouge.

Spain's economic development in the 1950s and 1960s came from moving markets into the countryside and disrupting traditional patron-client relationships.

By the end of the 1980s, China, the Soviet Union, and Eastern Europe accepted the economic logic of advanced industrialization. [4] China accepted markets and decentralized decisionmaking even after Tiananmen Square. While the timing varied, the Eastern European states all were moving to market economies by 1989. After Fukuyama's writing, Vietnam, while still officially Communist, was accepting doi moi reforms starting in 1988 and well developed by 2008.

Reversal of direction?

Could a science-driven direction be reversed? Fukuyama suggests it cannot, for several reasons. First, the expectations created by economic growth and the imperfect but real quality of life are hard to reject. Burma and Cambodia tried to stop development, which was hard alongside Singapore's and Thailand's.

Could simply freezing technology work? For small societies such as the Amish, yes. While radical environmentalism is seen as a real threat, the mainstream of the environmental movement sees development of alternative technologies as the most realistic way to reach their goals. [5]

The struggle for recognition

While Fukuyama agrees the term may not be familiar, he traces it to the earliest Western political philosophy.[6] Plato wrote there were three parts to the soul:

  • a desiring part
  • a reasoning part
  • thymos, or a spiritual part

Fukuyama wrote that "the propensity to feel self-esteem arises...out of the thymos. It is like an innate sense of justice."

When human beings are treated as being less than their sense of self-worth, they feel anger, while if they fail to live up to their own sense of self-worth, they feel guilt. The relative emphasis is dependent on the society, as in anthropological discussions of shame-based cultures and guilt-based cultures. [7]

He returns, again and again, to Hegel's ideas in this area

the desire to be recognized as a human being with dignity drove man at the beginning of history into a bloody battle to the death for prestige...[this divided society] into a class of masters, who were willing to risk their lives, and a class of slaves, who gave in to their natural fear of death.

He observes that while both Hegel and Marx thought in terms of classes, Marx saw them as economic, whereas Hegel saw them as the willingness to confront death. Fukuyama coins two Greek-derived words based on thymos, but adding Hegelian stuggle:

  • megalothymia, or tyrannical ambition; the compulsion to be superior to others, and
  • isothymia, "the desire to be recognized as the equal of other people". This is closely tied to the idea of dignity.

Technological innovation

An argument that socialism was the better vehicle for Third World development was strengthened, at first, by the failure of capitalism to bring economic growth in areas such as Latin America. The most recent attempt to continue Marxism as a rational approach was the dependencia or "dependency theory" that pitted the impoverished south, in the 1960s and 1970s, against an exploitative and industrialised North. Dependency theory traces back to Lenin's pamphlet, Imperialism, the highest form of capitalism.[8]The key spokesman was the Argentine economist Raul Prebisch, who worked with the UN Economic Committee for Latin America (ECLA) in the 1950s, and later for the UN Conference on Trade and Development. He said that the poverty of the south was tied to a need for the north to keep it in dependency.

Dependency theorists defended against multinationals with tariff barriers; more radical members of the movement supported withdrawal from the capitalist system and movement into the Soviet bloc, as had Cuba. While this may continue as an intellectual model, the economic growth of East Asia, according to Fukuyama, has destroyed its legitimacy. If Third World underdevelopment was due to staying in the capitalist system, how could South Korea, Hong Kong, Taiwan, Singapore, Malaya and Thailand be explained? These countries were not mineral-rich as were some nations of Latin America, but achieved their results with human capital.

Asian experience suggested that late modernization might well be an advantage, because the newly developing countries could obtain high technology and not be burdened with aging infrastructure. A counterargument is that East Asia has social institutions different than those in Latin America, which somehow interfere with growth.

Another counterargument is that capitalism has never really been tried in Latin America; the model remained mercantilist. Argentina, Brazil and Chile, in the 1930s and 1940s, avoided the labor-intensive industries that had been key in Asia. Brazil runs communications infrastructure, provides electric power, runs mines, and operates financial institutions that cannot go bankrupt. Prices were set less by the market than by negotiation between the state and strong unions. [9]

The unreality of realism

See also: Realism (foreign policy)

If history is directional, and implies universal recognition among people, it should also imply universal recognition among nations. Realism in foreign policy is a pessimistic view that creates a framework that international relations are inherently anarchic, and insecurity is a consequence; threat, and defense against threat, is a necessary consequence. Nations seek power, but may change the means of seeking power, as Japan changed from seeking military dominance to achieving economic power.

Men without chests

Were liberal politics to go too far in banning ambition, which is a manifestation of the struggle for recognition, something critical might be lost. C.S. Lewis wrote of "men without chests", who had desire and reason, but not the core of self-assertiveness needed to get things done. "The chest was what made man man, 'by his intellect he is mere spirit and by his appetite mere animal.'"[10] Were we to use a Japanese rather than an English metaphor, we might speak of "men without bellies", as the spirit of the martial artist concentrates there.

Democratic institutions control megalothymia. James Madison, in Federalist 10, recognized that passion and political interest are intertwined. They could not reasonably be repressed, but the mechanics of speaking on issues, of running for office, of debating, could move them into constructive directions. The wolves could evolve to be the sheepdogs proudly guarding the flock. While a politician might want to be Caesar or Napoleon, "the system would allow him or her to be no more than a Jimmy Carter or a Ronald Reagan."

He suggests that recognition based on nationality or race, while not rational, is a real and dangerous one. If a liberal state is trusted to protect rights rather than persons, dignity follows.

To Nietzsche, the "last man was, in essence, the victorious slave." This built on Hegel's position that Christianity was a slave ideology, and equality of all men was a Christian doctrine. Where Hegel called this a synthesis of slave and master morality, Nietzche saw it a victory of the slave; in liberal democracy, man had desire and reason, but no megalothymia. Marx saw the equality principally in terms of the end of class struggle.

Universal recognition is awkward, as demonstrated by the contemporary self-esteem movement, because people who want to hug everyone, telling them they are somebody, does not come back to recognizing accomplishment. It avoids all criticism. He cites the example of self-esteem after completing United States Marine Corps boot camp (to say nothing of far more difficult special operations selection, or the ordeal of medical residency), as opposed to lining up for a soup kitchen.

He also asks, "who esteems"? Who is the source of recognition? Nietzsche, in his view, saw it coming only from megalothymia. All leftist revolutions eventually suffer from "cults of personality", because there is a fundamental tension between the isothymotic goals of leftist egalitarianism, and the megalothymia of the Lenins and Maos that create revolutions.


A number of reviewers have explicitly compared and contrasted this book with Samuel Huntington's The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of World Order. Stanley Kurtz: "Philosophically and spiritually, The End of History and The Clash of Civilizations could hardly be more different (although each book can fairly be called 'conservative'). Read closely, unexpected areas of convergence emerge. Nonetheless, ultimately, neither Huntington nor Fukuyama tells us what we need to know in order to synthesize their perspectives — or to finally decide between them."[11]

Others review it on its own.

  • Andrew Pierre, Foreign Affairs: "But one wonders how this "feel good" thesis is viewed in Asia, Africa and Latin America, where liberal democracies are often fragile at best and where basic human needs are not being met... Yet whatever one's response, we are indebted to Fukuyama for such an ambitious work of political philosophy, more typical of the European intellectual tradition than our own, and look forward to his next thoughts-beyond the "last man."[12]
  • John Gray, National Review: "In his brilliant, ingenious, but nevertheless deeply unhistorical and ultimately absurd book, Francis Fukuyama argues that History-understood, in Hegelian-Marxist terms, to mean ideology-is over...Fukuyama is right that we are seeing the end of ideology-that is to say, of those secular religions, or political faiths, that we inherited from the Enlightenment and from its nineteenth-century followers, such as Marx. He does not notice, however, that the end of ideology encompasses the euthanasia of liberalism-that tottering political faith his book is devoted to propping up." [13]

Some reviews are book-length. "Surprisingly, in view of philosophy's recent willingness to engage with substantive questions, [Fukuyama's book] has been greeted more with criticism, from almost every point of view, than by any sympathetic attempt to understand its positive thesis and to evaluate it as an instrument for the analysis and resolution of contemporary concerns in world politics and in political theory. The present work is the first serious attempt to provide a rounded evaluation, which is sympathetic to Fukuyama's aims."[14]


  1. Francis Fukuyama (1992), The End of History and the Last Man, Free Press, ISBN 0029109752
  2. Irving Kristol (Summer 1989), "response to "End of History"", The National Interest, pp. 26-28
  3. Pierre Teilhard de Chardin (1975), The Phenomenon of Man, Harper Perennial, ISBN 006090495X
  4. Edward Friedman, "Modernization and Democratization in Leninist States", Studies in Comparative Communism, vol. 22, Summer-Autumn 1989, pp. 251-264, quoted on p. 96
  5. pp. 82-86
  6. pp. xvi-xviii
  7. Ruth Benedict, The Chrysanthemum and the Sword
  8. Vladimir Ilyich Lenin (1916), Imperialism, the Highest Stage of Capitalism: A Popular Outline, Marxists Internet Archives
  9. Werner Baer, The Brazilian Economy, Praeger, 1989, pp. 238-273, quoted on p. 105
  10. C.S. Lewis, The Abolition of Man, or, Reflections on education with special reference to the teaching of English in the Upper Forms of Schools, Collins, 1978, pp. 7-20, quoted on p. 188
  11. Stanley Kurtz, The Future of "History", Hoover Institution
  12. Andrew Pierre (Spring 1992), "The End of History and the Last Man", Foreign Affairs
  13. John Gray (May 11, 1992), "The End of History and the Last Man", National Review
  14. Howard Williams, David Sullivan and Gwynn Matthews (1997), Francis Fukuyama and The End of History, Demy