back to

e-flux conversations

Editorial—“The End of the End of History?” Issue One

In the summer of 1989, Francis Fukuyama published his infamous essay declaring the global triumph of free-market liberal democracy over communism as the end of ideology as such. Not only that, but he also claimed the world was on the cusp of realizing what Fukuyama’s mentor Alexandre Kojève called the “universal homogenous state,” which would be the climax of a particular Western idealist tradition stretching back to Hegel. It would be the endpoint of a human consciousness based in accumulative historical progress that also grounded the thinking of Marx himself, who pegged his own philosophy to a conception of time and human advancement as a constant moving towards a projected endpoint. But seriously, regardless of whether this endpoint has been reached, how advanced do you really feel? How many artworks have you seen in recent years that even struck you as being relevant as art? And the insane proliferation of regressive ultranationalist and ethnic or sectarian violence hardly points to historical progress either. This phenomenon is spreading nearly everywhere, from the EU parliament elections, to India, Iraq, Hungary, Russia, Japan, and so forth. The list is endless.

Since Fukuyama wrote his essay, he has been considered primarily a free-market ideologist seizing an early chance to declare the dismantling of the Soviet Union as the definitive moral victory of Western capitalist democracy—a kind of master ideology to end all ideologies. But those who once disregarded him should now look more closely at his essay, because it is absolutely prophetic. Of course, Fukuyama was not only writing as an intellectual, but also as a senior policymaker at the US State Department and a former analyst at the RAND Corporation. And while his essay did not officially reflect the views of the American state, it was nevertheless written by a man who was not only close to power, but also possessed the means to implement his declarations. So if it comes across as prophetic, it wouldn’t be a coincidence. The essay now reads as a crystal-clear blueprint for a peculiarly murky apolitical nonideological condition that has proven to be incredibly difficult to work from—particularly for artists.

And yet what rescues Fukuyama’s intellectual integrity from those who prefer to set him up as a free-market huckster is how he so beautifully expresses reservations about the very posthistorical condition he professes. He closes the essay by writing:

The end of history will be a very sad time. The struggle for recognition, the willingness to risk one’s life for a purely abstract goal, the worldwide ideological struggle that called forth daring, courage, imagination, and idealism, will be replaced by economic calculation, the endless solving of technical problems, environmental concerns, and the satisfaction of sophisticated consumer demands. In the post-historical period there will be neither art nor philosophy, just the perpetual caretaking of the museum of human history … Perhaps this very prospect of centuries of boredom at the end of history will serve to get history started once again.

Read the full article here.