Jul 3, 2011

The End of History and the Last Man

I just finished reading this very popular and yet highly controversial book called "The End of History and the Last Man" by Francis Fukuyama. Written in the aftermath of collapse of communism in USSR and Eastern Europe, the author makes extensive use of Hegel's philosophy of universal history to present and vindicate his thesis that after the failure of communism, the liberal democracy remains the only viable form of government in the modern world and this form of government is most probably the end point of humanity's sociocultural evolution and the final form of human government. In his words,
What we are witnessing is not just the end of the Cold War, or a passing of a particular period of postwar history, but the end of history as such: that is, the end point of mankind's ideological evolution and the universalization of Western liberal democracy as the final form of human government.
 As per Fukuyama, liberal capitalist democracy is the final form of human government because unlike every other forms government tried till date, it doesn't suffer from any inherent contradictions. Liberal democracy with its most prominent characteristic of equal and universal recognition to all the citizens and the prosperity it brings satisfies all the three parts of human soul, i.e desiring part, reasoning part and the "thymos" part. Unlike the former two parts, the thymos part of human which demands recognition as a human being or superior to others is somewhat subdued by liberal democracy rather than fully addressed. This might pose a grave threat to the sustainability of liberal democracy.

Accompanying the triumph of reason and desire through liberal democracy is Nietzsche's vision of of a dark world full of men without chests. The men who are too indulgent in consumption and cozy security that they have forgotten the essential characteristics of being human- i.e. seeking freedom, ideals worth dying for and nobler visions. Content with their happiness and unable to feel any sense of shame for being unable to rise above those wants, Nietzsche's last men cease to be human. In the latter part of the book, Fukuyama, raises the inevitable questions with regards to Nietasche's last men: 
Is not the man who is completely satisfied by nothing more than universal and equal recognition something less than a full human being, indeed, an object of contempt, a “last man” with neither striving nor aspiration? Is there not a side of the human personality that deliberately seeks out struggle, danger, risk, and daring, and will this side not remain unfulfilled by the “peace and prosperity” of contemporary liberal democracy? Does not the satisfaction of certain human beings depend on recognition that is inherently unequal?
I don't know if the world is approaching towards the end of history as stated by Fukuyama as he too doesn't leave us with any precise conclusions but I can surely say we (Nepalese) are still a long way from reaching there. We are , in fact , trying to reach the beginning of history instead, the part which is full of savage bloody battles  entailing into creation of masters and slaves. 

I found the book fascinating in almost every chapter and frequently brilliant. It is one of those few books, that provides with the reader with such a deep insight that he/she feels like a genius. For me the book was also a crash course on Hegelian philosophy as well as an interesting introductory text to philosophies of thinkers such as Plato, Tocqueville, Kant, Marx, Nietzsche, and Alexandre Kojeve. With the tons of controversy it has generated, one can't say Fukuyama's book answered the question satisfactorily but there is no doubt that it adds immensely to our understanding of the question and its importance.