War, Progress, and the End of History

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And where would the forces that move history even come from? The past decade alone would seem to pose as great a challenge as we have seen to the Fukuyaman conceit. The very same empire that is supposed to lord over this end of history, forever and ever amen, can no longer seem to keep its story straight. Even as Donald Trump lauds himself as the very best president ever—an end-of-history sentiment if ever there was one—his presidency is nonetheless anchored to the message that the United States must be made great again.

Something has slipped; the end of history has gone too far, and we must try to go back, it seems—to Reaganism, to the cradle of the Greatest Generation, to the Confederacy, to Jacksonianism, and on and on. Either way, the presumption is that, regardless of what happens over the next two to six years, the great historical edifice of neoliberal rule will hold.

In the popular mind, history became a settled matter, a taken-for-granted fixture in the background of the new millennium. Gone were the days of Marxist dialectics, Trotskyite permanent revolution, Spenglerian life cycles, the rise and fall of civilizations charted by Arnold J. At last history had stabilized on the model of Western liberal democracy; everything thereafter, including the Trumpian takeover of government, has been a matter of content, not form. And yet, every day, all around us, the very meaning of history is eroding and dissipating.

On the barren shores at the end of history, even the victors wander like historical amnesiacs. History is only ever as good as its means of enforcement. The continuance of this domination is supposed to serve as proof that history has always been leading to this point and has nowhere to go from here. This vision of history, of course, has also been buttressed by a largely unchallenged arrangement of officialized cultural institutions, disciplinary practices, standards of expertise, and sanctified narratives of national progress, all of which have served to reproduce and reinforce notions of a settled history whose archive could always be expanded with new knowledge but whose regime of truth could never be upended.

But what good is this historical vision in a world where history as such has been unmoored and set adrift in the fickle, boiling rapids of the perpetual present? What security does history provide for the neoliberal status quo when the apparatuses of memory—from those officialized cultural institutions and practices to our own internal capacity for long-term historical consciousness—are the subject and the instrument of twenty-first-century political warfare?


As we are dragged further down the cragged gullet of the new millennium, we are experiencing more and more what it means to live and politick in a world in which the stilled machine of history has rusted under the monstrous weight of the permanent now. The reactionary Trump style, that is, has proven far more adept at navigating a political world that has adjusted to the fact that we are suspended in a hypermediated connection to an eternal present, in a permanent state of anxious distraction, bombarded by the new, the spectacular, and the self-affirming.

Moving within the slippery circuitry of such a world, Trump himself has become immune to the sting of his own history. He never pauses long enough to let history crush him; he and his administration just keep piling on more controversies, gaffs, lies, and atrocities. And, for our part, as we are forced to always be playing catch up, as we struggle to keep our heads above water in the flooded present, we become increasingly susceptible to forgetting what just passed, let alone holding anyone accountable for it.

Trump himself has become immune to the sting of his own history. He never pauses long enough to let history crush him; he simply piles on more controversies. It is no coincidence that the Trump-led right has harnessed this history-resistant style of politics to launch an all-out assault on history as we know it. Can we rest assured that the end of history will sustain itself, even if history cannot? We are now fighting on terrains where the old rules of historical warfare no longer apply.

1945 - End of World War II - The 20th century - World history - Khan Academy

In the hypermediated reality of an endless political now, the meaning of history is determined and enforced not by the myriad monuments reminding us of our past, but by those who employ enough blunt force to occupy our attention in the present. You might have noticed the absence of paywalls at Boston Review. We are committed to staying free for all our readers. Now we are going one step further to become completely ad-free. This means you will always be able to read us without roadblocks or barriers to entry. It also means that we count on you, our readers, for support.

Francis Fukuyama and the end of History

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Make a tax-deductible donation today. Like the article that occasioned it, The End of History also provides two quite disparate views of the world. On one side we have Francis Fukuyama the conservative political analyst, commenting in lithe, well-informed prose on the state of the world.

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This gentleman is hardheaded, wry, and full of quietly witty obiter dicta. One is not surprised to find endorsements on the book jacket from such well-known figures as Charles Krauthammer, George F. Will, and Eduard Shevardnadze. On the other side we have Francis Fukuyama the philosopher, impressively erudite, deeply committed to a neo-Hegelian view of the historical process. This Francis Fukuyama seems to put greater stock in ideas than facts indeed, one suspects that he would scorn the distinction between ideas and facts as an artificial construct.

Fukuyama have to say to each other, though their co-habitation clearly makes for sensational copy.

We have nothing but good wishes for Fukuyama 1; about Fukuyama 2, however, we have grave reservations, not least because of the threat his ideas pose to his more commonsensical twin. Once one is seduced, everything seems marvelously clear and, above all, necessary : all important questions have been answered beforehand and the only real task is to apply the method to clean up the untoward messiness of reality. It is very exiciting. As the philosopher Leszek Kolakowski observed in his book Religion ,.

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What one gains is an explanation; what one loses is the truth. There are good reasons—from the rise of multiculturalism to the state once known as Yugoslavia—to believe that what we are witnessing today is not the final consolidation of liberal democracy but the birth of a new tribalism. Among the unpleasant side effects of adherence to such doctrines is the habit of intellectual arrogance. Hegel offers the supreme case in point. Not surprisingly, such arrogance also expresses itself about competing doctrines.

Is it not rather that what one needs in order to discern progress is knowledge of where mankind has been , not where it is going? And in any case, whom should we trust to furnish us with accurate reports about where mankind is going? Hegel, for all his genius, really a reliable guide? Is Francis Fukuyama? No: history, a humble account of how man has lived and suffered, is what we require to declare progress, not prophecy.

It is important to stress that the issue is not whether mankind has made progress over the millennia. Surely it has. The exact nature and extent of the progress can be measured in any number of ways.

The End of the End of History

The material progress of mankind has been staggering, especially in the last two hundred years. As Francis Fukuyama points out, in there were only three liberal democracies in the world: the United States, France, and Switzerland. Today, there are sixty-one. That is remarkable progress. But it is also contingent progress, reversible by the same means that accomplished it in the first place: the efforts of individual men and women.

But how often, even before Hegel, has that end been proclaimed. And then they will say again that everything has been done and said. But in his view, evil, e.

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I submit that any theory which regards World War II as a momentary wrinkle on the path of freedom is in need of serious rethinking. For it is not at all clear that Hegel himself was a champion of anything like what we call liberal democracy. What about the rest?