In 1960, the American political scientist Daniel Bell wrote in his seminal study of the American post-war experience: ‘The intellectual rehabilitation of American capitalism is being completed while the reality itself is rapidly changing; the newest ideologies may become outmoded and require new revisions long before they have had time to get themselves widely understood and accepted.’ (Bell 1960: 94)
Bell observed a phenomenon that has since become a condition of social existence on a global scale. The old allegiances of intellectuals to their modes of understanding were loosened gradually and, in the course of the twentieth century gave way to a highly selective, if not eclectic, bag of diverse political and moral convictions and theoretical commitments. Bell in fact points out that for the survival of an ideology, a particular social group needs to identify itself with it; any decline in the status of that group or a transformation of its social role within society inevitably entails the demise of that ideological perspective.
Ideas require individuals who formulate, perpetuate and distribute them throughout society through various media. Often the identity of a given social groups depends on the viability and fertility of that idea. Bell thought he could discern the gradual disappearance of clear cut ideological frameworks since the groups that had defined themselves through their position within society and their concomitant ideology had given way to a much fuzzier picture of society where interests crosscut and influenced each other and social identities were re-forged along previously unknown lines.
In short, Bell intimated that we witness a new era, in which ideology as an interpretative framework had lost its usefulness. Modern society had become too complex to be understood according to simplistic patterns of foe and friend in the battle for economic power. The old dichotomies that had so often generated easy answers in the past, had given way to confusing and vexed hard choices in economics and social justice. Bell’s book was greeted with an inordinate amount of skepticism and found many outspoken critics (cf. Waxman 1968).
As audacious as his thesis was, subsequently the debate died down and played no role in the academic discussions on ideology and its potential as a framework for human understanding. Although Bell offered his book as an interpretation of the contemporary American society, it was published in a period of resurgent international conflict, a conflict that was seen as the quintessential clash of ideologies. Bell’s thesis thus failed to resonate with realities in the international arena.
This is something that cannot be said about the book that makes no reference whatsoever to Bell’s well researched and well articulated work, Francis Fukuyama’s ‘The End of History’. Although Fukuyama quotes Bell’s work on economics and the overwhelming evidence for the superiority of capitalism, he makes no mention anywhere in his article (Fukuyama 1989) or in his book (Fukuyama 1992) of Bell’s thesis on the end of ideology. There should be little surprise for this enormous oversight though. Fukuyama’s argument is at best diametrically opposed to Bell’s at worst, Bell’s thesis is irrelevant to the way Fukuyama wants to interpret the history of Western societies.
What unites them, however, is an acute sensibility for the role of ideologies in modern societies. What divides them is their role they attribute to ideologies in the future. While Bell thinks ideologies have served their purpose and are being superseded by other more useful interpretative frameworks, Fukuyama thinks that liberal democracy as one ideological model has lost nothing of its attraction and offers us a unique way of understanding current affairs. The contrast could not be greater and it is the purpose of this essay to reveal the fault lines that run between Fukuyama and Bell’s view of modernity.
The essay is divided into two sections. The first section presents and examines critically Fukuyama’s thesis of the ‘End of History’. The second section deals with the effects of globalization and how far Fukuyama’s argument can accommodate or takes into account the various processes of globalization. The argument will be that the complexity of globalization should echo the complexity of our understanding of ideologies in the modern world; something Fukuyama fails to recognize.
In 1989 an article in the journal National Interest appeared that motivated the editors to invite an illustrious sample of commentators to respond to the arguments in the same issue of the journal. They deemed the arguments and opinions put forward in the article so important that they also invited the author of the article to issue a counter-reply in the same issue (Responses 1989).
Fukuyama later remarked that despite many benign comments on his article and his book on the same theme, he generally felt misunderstood (Fukuyama 1994: 239). In fact, writing in a later publication he argued that there is little point in replying to any of his critics since it was now probably simply too late to rectify any of the misconceptions that had been ingrained in public and academic consciousness (Fukuyama 1994: 239). Undoubtedly the title of the publication captured very much the imagination as well as shaped the interpretation of what Fukuyama (allegedly) had said in his article and book. In a way he had become the victim of his own success, insofar as the title of his publications had resonated so deeply and profoundly with Western public opinion that any subtlety of his thesis was drowned out
Notwithstanding the various opinions on what the public believed Fukuyama had said, what was his thesis? In a later response to his critics Fukuyama succinctly captures the main argument of his book and article thus:
‘At the core of my argument is the observation that a remarkable consensus has developed in the world concerning the legitimacy and viability of liberal democracy. This ideological consensus is neither fully universal nor automatic, but exists to an arguably higher degree than at any time in the past century.’ (Fukuyama 1989b: 22)Two aspects seem important to highlight in the context of this extract. Firstly, Fukuyama speaks of a consensus, not of a relationship structured by domination and subordination. He stresses the nature of this consensus that extends to the legitimacy of liberal democracy, not the exact content of it. Secondly, he indicates that this consensus is not automatic in character, thus may fail to exert hegemonic influence for some time to come.
Nor may it be universal at any given time. These points remove an important issue that has aroused a lot of debate amongst his critics. It seems clear by this passage, that Fukuyama did not equate liberal democracy with cultural or political imperialism. The word consensus hints at the voluntary consent to, and its attractiveness of, liberal democracy rather than any messianic call for domination or ideological conquest. His rejection of any automatism in the process of attracting more countries to liberal democracy means that Fukuyama does not intend to attach any form of determinism to this process. With these aspects in mind let us sketch the big parameters of his thesis.
In his article, Fukuyama says surprisingly little about the role of capitalism besides the obvious efficiency of market capitalism to generate wealth that then ensures the flourishing of Western societies. The exact link between market economy and liberal democracy remains somewhat obscure, a defect that is not alleviated in the fuller, more elaborate version in his book either. His main point however is well made. Planned economies have failed to be even remotely as efficient as free market economies have. In the long run, dirigist economic policies have therefore contributed to the demise of other political regimes, be they fascist (as long as they were not market orientated like Chile under Pinochet) or Communist.
His argument is that liberal democracy with its concomitant type of economic organization, the free market, is generally free from any internal contradictions and hence represents ‘an end point of mankind’s ideological evolution.’ (Fukuyama 1989: XI). Liberal democracy is the ‘final form of human government’ (Fukuyama 1989: XI) and ‘the ideal of liberal democracy cannot be improved upon’ (Fukuyama 1989: XI).
This characterizes what he calls the end of history. For Fukuyama, the end of history does not mark the absence of any historical events. Events will still continue to occur. What has come to an end according to Fukuyama is 'History as a single coherent, evolutionary process' (Fukuyama 1989: XII). But what does he mean by History with a capital 'H'? Fukuyama subscribes to an Enlightenment notion of history that posits history as a continuous evolution of human potential. This evolution is generated by the use of reason and our rational faculties.
Certain political regimes display this use of reason in various forms. Tyranny is the subjection of public reason to human self-interest while liberal democracy offers us a glimpse of the highest possible embodiment of reason in political organization. In short, Fukuyama reasserts the controversial Enlightenment thesis about human progress. We will see later that this is an argument that sits uneasily with certain interpretations of globalization. For now, we need to ask what evidence Fukuyama musters to support his claim about progressive human development.
Overall the empirical evidence is very patchy. Fukuyama make several references to natural science, the quintessential model of progressive human understanding of the world (Fukuyama 1992: XV), but this argument remains an analogy or works by inference rather than working conceptually or analytically. By drawing a comparison between natural science and human social evolution, Fukuyama only gets so far. The crux of his conceptual work rests on the social theories of Marx and Hegel.
For Fukuyama, Hegel correctly identified the main motivator of human progress when he pointed to the ongoing struggle for recognition (Fukuyama 1992: 143-208). The highly abstract notion introduces a certain inevitability into the path of human development leading from lower forms of social organizations that comprise social and political hierarchies to higher forms of human association in which subjugation in any form is ideally eradicated. For Hegel, and likewise for Fukuyama, any human state of affairs that contains elements of inequality is necessarily contradictory in nature and lead to their own downfall.
Since humans seek above all recognition for themselves, any form of hierarchy that enshrines notions of higher and lower worth of individuals deprives both those at the top of the hierarchy as well as those at the bottom of the opportunity to receive appropriate recognition for themselves. By subordinating others, the masters deprive themselves of the chance to receive recognition from another human beings; their notion of slaves as embodying less human value than themselves, rules them out as resource for recognition. The slaves are being denied recognition in any case.
The struggle for recognition therefore leads to a dilemma that can only be resolved if any types of hierarchical structure are removed and the equal worth of any human being is recognized. For Hegel, and Fukuyama adopts his argument, human societies therefore exhibit a natural drive towards the ideals of equality and social justice. This prompts Fukuyama to assert that liberal democracy is 'free from internal contradictions' (Fukuyama 1989: 10), something no other political regime can claim for itself. In liberal democracy the basic principles of liberty, equality and justice are being harmoniously accommodated as in no other form of society. Once the equilibrium between these values has been established in modern society, there 'can be no progress in the development of the underlying principles and institutions.' (Fukuyama 1992: XII)
Fukuyama adds that the ideals that inform and structure liberal modern society have received their highest and most complete formulation. He writes: ’The theoretical truth [of the ideals of the French and American Revolution] is absolute and could not be improved upon.' (Fukuyama 1989: 8)
So, the end of history is reached when 'no fundamental contractions in human life [exist] that cannot be resolved within the context of modern liberal democracy.' (Fukuyama 1989: 8)But has capitalism reached a state were it harmoniously interacts with the principles of social justice and equality? Is capitalism not invariably in conflict with these principles? Was not the essence of the Marxist project that these inherent contractions of capitalism should be removed and replaced with a harmonious non-contentious type of economic production? So, did Marxism not represent a higher form of social organization?
The problem of capitalism and its congruence with liberal democracy is one of the crucial issues that Fukuyama fails to address sufficiently. In the wake of the collapse of the Communist regimes in Eastern Europe, he manages to muster a wealth of empirical evidence that planned economies never created the momentum and dynamism to sustain modern societies. But was it therefore wrong to believe that the Communist doctrine in theory represented a further stage in the development of human social life?
In fact, Marx wrote his theory of capitalism and its internal contradictions with Hegel's philosophy of history in mind. For Marx, it were exactly the internal contradictions of capitalism that would bring about the ultimate change from a bourgeois regime to a proletarian one. According to Marx the capitalist economy implodes on its own contradictions, it produces its own gravediggers. This is Hegel's dialectical method in pure form. Should Fukuyama not take more account of Marx's argument?
Capitalism creates, so Marx a class structure that encapsulates and enshrines fundamental inequities that must eventually lead to the destruction of the liberal democracy. Fukuyama addresses this when he writes:
'The class issue is successfully resolved in the West. The root causes of economic inequality do not have to do with the legal and social structure of our society [but] with the cultural and social characteristics of the groups that make it up.' (Fukuyama 1989: 10)
In a brilliant critique of Fukuyama's complacency about this problem, Gertrude Himmelfarb sarcastically notes:
‘Fukuyama contends that social problems are not a function of liberalism but the historical legacy of pre-modern conditions. But the problems continue to plague us and the solutions continue to evade us. Black poverty may subvert liberal democracy perhaps even more so because liberal democracy does not understand it, let alone know how to cope with it' (Responses 1989: 26)
If liberal democracy has proved unable to deal with those fundamental issues of inequality, how can Fukuyama claim that the twins of liberal politics and capitalist economics represent the highest possible stage of human development in history? Fukuyama's claim that capitalism is not only the most efficient economic mode of production but is in congruence with the basic principles of equality and social justice is highly contentious. To make such a claim may seem plausible in euphoria in the wake of the collapse of the communist system in Eastern Europe. Yet, Fukuyama adorns his argument with a philosophical edge. One, I believe that does not stand up to scrutiny. And it is not the Marxian analysis of the internal contradictions of capitalism alone that poses problems for Fukuyama's thesis. It is the effects of globalization that reveal that Fukuyama's notion of Western liberal democracy is inordinately simplistic.
The following section aspires to do two things. It will take at its starting point the complex relationship between identity formation and globalizing processes and will then transpose this interpretation to the question of whether Fukuyama's theory of liberal democracy is adequate.
In 1960 Daniel Bell wrote that 'ideology is the conversion of ideas into social levers and [that it is] the commitment to the consequences of ideas' (Bell 1960: 340) that is missing today. This, so Bell and other observers at that time noted, went hand in hand with the reappraisal of capitalism in the Western world. The fusion of ideological positions somehow seemed only to mirror the renascence of capitalist economic thought. In an insightful critique of Bell's book on the end of ideology, Edward Shils writes:
'The once unequivocal distinction between 'right' and 'left' had been damaged by the knowledge that combinations once alleged by extremist doctrines to be impossible - combinations like collective ownership and tyranny, progressive social policies and full employment under capitalization, large-scale governmental controls with public liberties - are actually possible. The obscuring of the once clear distinction between 'left' and 'right', the discovery that over the past thirty years the extremes of 'right' and 'left' had disclosed identities which were far more impressive than their differences, ..., had all left a residue of skepticism among many intellectuals ... regarding their inherited doctrines... [and] contributed to disillusion intellectuals of these countries of the notion that one side or the other had a monopoly of the care of freedom and welfare.' (Shils 1968: 52-53)
The difference between this acute and subtle observation and Fukuyama's almost doctrinaire insistence that liberal democracy and capitalism exist in a undiluted form could not be starker. Bell as well as Shils point to the mutual influence of systems of government and socio-economic organization in human societies. Fukuyama's thesis thrives on the hyperbole of distinctive characteristics of capitalism and liberalism. He may, unwittingly and despite his repeated denials, reflect much of the general political approach that prevailed at that time in the Reagan administration for which he worked in a minor position. (Responses 1989: 23)It is this contrast between the willingness to highlight subtleties in socio-economic reality and using the big brush in painting the ideological conflicts that give us a first hint at the assumptions upon which Fukuyama rests his interpretation of capitalism. Let us relate his thesis to the notion of globalization.
At a first glance Fukuyama's thesis about the ideological superiority and universal beneficence of capitalism and liberal democracy seem to be borne out by the processes that are conventionally subsumed under the idea of globalization. Freedom is the rallying cry of many people still oppressed by tyrannical political regimes, while on the other side, those countries have fared economically best that have opened up their market to world trade and liberalized their economic system. In a way, these strategies of economic and political liberalization may echo the wider globalizing processes that are under way in the world and therefore may lend support to Fukuyama's thesis of the victory of liberal democracy and capitalism.
Globalization originally denotes the 'compression of time and space of the world and the intensification of consciousness of the world as a whole' (Barker 1999: 34). In fact, critics note that globalization may effectively be another form of imperialism insofar as it exports forms of socio-economic organization form the West into other countries of the world; a process that would echo Fukuyama's notion of the prevalence of liberal democracy and capitalism although couched in a voluntary and deterministic mode in his work. Globalization exhibits various dimensions. A greater economic integration is paralleled by further political co-operation and mutual cultural influence. Callinicos remarks that globalization is a 'complex, multi-dimensional process rather than a primarily economic phenomenon'. (Callinicos 2001: 18)
It is this multi-dimensionality of globalization that interests us here. Let us combine a brief analysis of the effects of globalization with the notion of identity. Subsequently, we can then subject Fukuyama's concept of liberal democracy to an interpretation that treats this idea as an ideological resource for identity building. Enlightenment philosophy thought of the individual as consisting of a core of identity. It posited the self as an immutable and unified whole (Hall 1992: 275). This is an approach that Fukuyama subscribes to as well when he talks about liberal democracy and capitalism (cf. Knippenberg 1994).
For him, just like for Enlightenment thinkers, capitalism consists of certain traits that can be identified and listed. Likewise for philosophers, identity and the human self is fixed, it reveals the same characteristics independently of any cultural context. It is unconditioned and unencumbered as it were by any socio-economic or cultural factors. This notion of the unified and unconditioned self however is problematic. Although it allowed philosophers to assert the essential equality and sameness of every human being, and hence served useful political purposes in the struggle against political oppression, it failed to recognize that the self and human identity does not exist outside the real world. Hall distinguishes thus three phases in the development on the notion of the self (Hall 1992: 274).
The first, coming to pass with Enlightenment philosophy insists on the unity and wholeness if human identity. Such a concept has serious shortcomings however. It cannot grasp the multidimensional aspect of globalizing processes. Fukuyama fails to notice that and adopts this highly outmoded notion of identity in his theory of history. The second phase in the conceptualization of human identity is occupied by what Hall calls the sociological subject. With it, sociologists move into focus the processes through which identity is constructed over time. For sociologists the self is paradigmatically pieced together by external influences that condition human conduct. We are determined in what we think and who we are by where we live and how we happen to live. Sociologists therefore put more emphasis, in contradistinction to the Enlightenment model, on the contingent and transient nature of identity.
Fukuyama's thesis is far from accepting such a model of understanding human nature. The crucial difference between the Enlightenment and the sociological notion of identity and the human self evades Fukuyama and creates a serious tension in his theory. Why can the Enlightenment model of the self not accommodate the processes of globalization and modernity? The answer lies in the character of globalization as a reciprocal process rather than a one way street as Fukuyama happens to see it.
The advantage of the sociological model of the subject lies in its responsiveness to socioeconomic realities. The Enlightenment notion of the subject cannot explain how we came to be the way we are. It rejects any idea of becoming and conditionality of the human self. Not so the sociological subject. This model asserts that we have become what we are through the influences to which we have been exposed. And we change as and when crucial transformations in your world take place.
The self is 'not a set of attributes which a unified core self possesses' as Barker writes, but 'identity is an ongoing description of ourselves marking a process of becoming.' (Barker 1999: 8)
The inner core, so sociologists, is not 'autonomous and self-sufficient but was formed in relation to 'significant others' who mediate to the subject the values, meanings and symbols of the world.' (Barker 1999:14)
Anthony Giddens puts it thus:
'Self-Identity is a consistent feeling of biographical continuity that allows us to sustain a narrative.... Self identity is not a distinctive trait, ... possessed by the individual. It is the self as reflexively understood by the person in terms of her or his biography.’ (Giddens 1991: 53)
The next step is to understand the role language plays in the formation of identity. Postmodern thinkers contend that the self is not a coherent whole at all, held together either by a unified core as in Enlightenment philosophy, or by a consistent biographical narrative, but a blend of influences and practices that condition our conduct. Arguably then we should speak of identities in the plural.
How does this relate to globalization and Fukuyama's theory of the end of history? Postmodernism allows us to grasp more profoundly the nature of the processes that are going on in globalization. Human identities are shaped by a multitude of often conflicting influences, and the resources for the construction of meaning are produced increasingly by a global media. In Fukuyama's frame of mind, countries come under the influence of the ideological model of liberal democracy and capitalism and succumb to it sooner or later. What he fails to recognize is that these models themselves are subject to the processes of identity formation in a globalized world.
Fukuyama treats them as fixed entities, determined for ever in their meaning and involving an identifiable and stable set of principles. But this is nothing else than the reiteration of the outmoded model of identity as developed by Enlightenment thinkers. It cannot comprehend the mutual influence and malleability of these abstract principles and concepts. Liberal democracy is in a state of becoming, not one of static being.
As a consequence Fukuyama must cling to an essentialist definition of liberal democracy and capitalism, something that sits uneasily with our notion of identity formation in the modern world. Cultures adapt and change and the seemingly abstract and fixed principles and values are being subject to a process of appropriation and transformation to make sense of them in diverse and often contradictory situations. Fukuyama can claim that the end of history has come because he believes that the ideas of liberal democracy and capitalism represent something eternally immutable. How much this contrasts with modern interpretations of globalizing processes and identity and culture building is paradigmatically expresses in his remark on the chances to repudiate his thesis. He writes:
'To refute my hypothesis one would have to show that future events ... were driven by a systematic idea of political and social justice that claimed to supersede liberalism.' (Responses 1989: 22)
He simply cannot envisage that the concepts of liberalism and capitalism would undergo themselves substantial revision and change in a globalized world.
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