Francis Fukuyama and the Left: 'The worse, the better'

Many will know about Francis Fukuyama's thesis about the “end of history”. This is how Fukuyama himself expressed his position way back in 1989:

“What we may be witnessing is not just the end of the Cold War, or the 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.”

Of course many commentators have offered various reasons as to why Francis Fukuyama's well-known (or notorious) prophesy never came to pass and, indeed, could never come to pass.

Last year, for example, a New York Times writer, Ross Douthat, saw it in terms of whether or not there's a genuine rival to “capitalist” or “liberal democracy” that “isn't merely different but fully owns its difference”. That rival, he believes, is the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria. Slavoj Žižek (the Slovenian philosopher) also believes that his own “global alternative to capitalism” (i.e., communism/socialism) will be a “self-consciously different” to what we have today in Europe and the United States.

Not that Fukuyama is a typical conservative or right-winger. (Perhaps there aren't many typical ones.) Indeed he publicly endorsed Barack Obama in the 2008 election. This was after he'd accused the Bush administration of -- amongst other things -- exaggerating the threat that radical Islam posed to the United States. Thus he also called for the “demilitarization” of the War on Terror. That was before the Boston and the Fort Hood massacres, Obama's increased public and private sympathy for Islam and indeed for Islamism (particularly the rise of CAIR and the Muslim Brotherhood in the U.S.), the emergence of the Islamic State, Boko Haram, al-Shabaab, etc. Though in many ways some of those changes can still be regarded as not posing a direct threat to the U.S. (In this, surely, Fukuyama aligns himself with the conservative “isolationist” position.)

Fukuyama had a lot of distancing to do in 2008. After all he'd been a major contributor to what was called the Reagan Doctrine. He'd also been active in the Project for the New American Century. Indeed he even co-signed that organization's 1998 letter to President Bill Clinton which urged support for Iraq's insurgents against Saddam Hussein. Furthermore, he was among the co-signers of William Kristol's letter (of 2001) to President Bush which urged the President to "capture or kill Osama bin Laden" and make "a determined effort to remove Saddam Hussein from power in Iraq".

Hegel & the End of History

Even some of those who bought the End of History (with Germanic capitals) idea were often unimpressed by Fukuyama's Hegelian extravagance.

Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel believed that the Prussian state had embodied his/the Absolute Idea around about 1818, which, coincidentally, was where and when Hegel lived.

Francis Fukuyama believed that History had ended (again) in 1989 with American capitalist democracy; which, coincidentally, was where and when Fukuyama lived at the time.

Hence the scepticism.

America has been called “the best system in the world”. Though I can't really say whether or not this is the inevitable result of some kind of Hegelian dialectic.

Fukuyama put some meat on the bones of his End of History thesis by saying that democracy tends to exist side by side with technological advance. These two things are also found together in capitalist societies. Thus he saw a link between capitalism and democracy; as well as between capitalism and technological advance.

In these regards, all the historical data is on Fukuyama's side. Though perhaps you don't need the Hegelian flamboyance to go with it.

Nonetheless, the End of History thesis was criticised and even ridiculed when the conflicts in the Balkans, Congo, Algeria, Rwanda, etc. burst on the scene. Those criticisms didn't make that much sense, however, because Fukuyama was referring exclusively to Western Europe and the United States. In other words, these other places weren't “at the end of history”. Or, to put that another way, they weren't fully-fledged capitalist democracies. (This also applied to most of the Balkans.)

“The Worse, the better”

Leftists hate optimists like Francis Fukuyama. That's because -- as endtimers (or prophets of doom) -- they have to pretend that things are terrible (or getting worse) in order to fuel the revolutionary fires.

Sir George Monbiot, for example, said that Matt Ridley's book The Rational Optimist “tells the rich what they want to hear”. Similarly, it was said that Fukuyama made Voltaire's Dr. Pangloss (who lived in “the best of all possible worlds”) look like a pessimist. They also classed him as the official spokesman for the rich and powerful (again, just like Matt Ridley). Fukuyama himself, on the other hand, said that he's simply being “realistic”. I'm not sure if “realistic” is the right word here. Fukuyama is simply trying to be honest about today's realities; which isn't also to say that he always gets things right.

As I said, Fukuyama says things which dowse the revolutionary fires. One way he does this is with what he says about poverty and inequality. He writes:

“The shift towards freerer markets and more open, democratic political forms has been broadly empowering for many people, and not just for the crowd that stands at the top of the social hierarchy. If you look at the economic development of East Asia you look at millions and millions of people who were living in poverty who are now leading middle-class lives and have done well.”

(Of course Leftists can change tack here. They can focus, instead, on the sins of 'consumerism', 'materialism', etc. -- as they did in the 1950s and 1960s.)

Despite what Fukuyama says, Leftists deliberately fail to comprehend that when the rich get richer, it's often the case that the poor get richer too.

This reality is complicated (if it is complicated) by the simple fact that even when the poor become better off over time, it may still be the case that levels of  inequality (or the gap between rich and the not-quite-so-rich) becomes wider. To many, of course, that sounds terrible when this context is ignored.

Let's take an extreme example which deliberately includes exaggeratedly low figures in order to simplify the basic point being made.

Say that the poor in country X began by earning (on average) £20 a week and the rich earned £60 a week (3 times as much). Move forward only five years. At that point the poor are earning £60 a week, and the rich are earning £300 a week. So even though the poorer have become three times richer in only five years, the rich have become five times richer (per week) over the same period.

That also means that the gap between £20 (for the poor) and £60 (for the rich) was narrower than between the later gap of £60 (for the poor) and £300 (for the rich). Or, alternatively, the “pay gap” has risen over five years even though the poor have £40 more to spend each week. Thus even though poor are much better off, the gap between rich and poor has widened.

It will be this gap that Leftists will obsessively focus on; despite the fact that “the poor”, on the whole, are often no longer as poor (or poor at all). It's the gap that matters to Leftists who want to fuel the revolutionary fire; not the poverty. (The term which is often used to describe this state of affairs is “relative poverty” rather than “absolute poverty”.)


There's an interesting story about this revolutionary progressive/socialist belief in Nikolay Chernyshevsky's idea “the worse the better” (i.e., “better” for their own revolution or in order to bring about “radical change”).

Fukuyama's The End of History and the Last Man (1992) started out as a 1989 lecture to the University of Chicago. I'll let Fukuyama tell the story. He says:

“I was asked to lecture in a series on the decline of the West. I said I would give a lecture but that it would not be about the decline of the West, it would be about the victory of the West…”

You get the feeling, then, that revolutionary progressives/socialists are attempting to bring about a self-fulfilling prophesy here. It's indeed the case that the West is declining in certain respects. And many of the respects in which the West is declining is largely a result of Leftist, postmodernist, and post-structuralist politics, ideology and actions, as Fukuyama himself soon realised after overdosing on Derrida, Lyotard, and Baudrillard in France. Yes, by saying that the West is declining (or that “capitalism isn't working”), it's hoped that this will indeed become the case. So it's hoped that the decline of the West (or capitalism) will precipitate (yet more!) radical change or even revolution. Or to repeat the phrase: “The worse, the better.”