Is History Really Over?

“In 1989, as the Cold War entered the bottom of the ninth inning, political scientist Francis Fukuyama wrote a memorable essay entitled “The End of History?” And despite the question mark in the article’s title, the argument resolved itself in a straightforward answer: “Yes.” It was a nifty bit of Hegelian reasoning, filtered through the thinking of a Russian-born Frenchman named Alexandre Kojève, and it fit the temper of the times perfectly: Communism was collapsing; the great debates of the past two centuries were being resolved in the victory of market-based economies and democracy over state-based economies and authoritarianism; “history,” understood in grand philosophical terms, was over; and while things were likely to be more peaceful, they were also likely to be more boring.

In a Wall Street Journal article two months ago, my friend Fukuyama revisited his 1989 essay and began with the obvious: “The year 2014 feels very different from 1989.” Indeed. Authoritarianism is resurgent in Russia and China. Radical Islam is roiling world politics along a band of political conflict and anti-Christian persecution running from the west coast of Senegal to the eastern edge of Indonesia. Various socialist experiments are trying a comeback in Latin America. But Fukuyama stuck to his analytic guns, arguing that, while he’s learned a lot more about political development than he knew a quarter-century ago, and while different peoples are going to get there at different times, democracy and the free economy would still characterize the “end of history.””

Originally published by George Weigel in First Things, August 13, 2014
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