Postscript on Liberal Democracy and the End of History

NOTE: Recently, Francis Fukuyama has been getting some play here at West Coast Reactionaries by the likes of P.T. Carlo and Argent Templar which has got me thinking quite a bit about Fukuyama’s ideas in relation to my own. This should not be regarded as an exhaustive critique on Fukuyama’s work (although I am critical of it), nor is it praise, I simply wanted to clear my head of some of the things I have been thinking about recently.

Karl Marx predicated that international socialism would rise from the ashes of capitalism whose demise would inevitably be brought about by a series of catastrophes resulting from its own internal contradictions. Just as capitalism would emerge from a post-feudal society, the dialectical process of history entailed socialism’s triumph over capitalism and the creation of a universal, homogeneous, and classless state. However, by the end of the twentieth century, the collapse of the Soviet Union concluded the fifty year Mexican standoff known as the Cold War, and liberal democracy  asserted its global hegemony as the ideological last man standing. Marx, as it turned out, was wrong about the End of History— that is, the end point of the ideological evolution of human societies.

For Hegel, whom Marx’s theory of historical materialism is deeply indebted to, the historical process was teleological in that it is directed at the absolute Self-consciousness of the Spirit (which can be thought of as the historical consciousness of mankind) whose goal is universal freedom. Hegel writes: “The history of the world is none other than the progress of the consciousness of freedom.” Universal freedom is the synthesis of the dialectical struggle for recognition between the Lord and Bondsman or Master and Slave, which is the story of human history.

If tension between the Master and Slave is the vehicle for the historical process, the question arises: How did this relationship come to be in the first place? Hegel asserts that individual Self-consciousness is only realizable in relation to another self-conscious being who acknowledges our personhood and agency. As Hegel notes: “They recognize themselves as mutually recognizing one another.” He has us imagine a state of nature in which two individuals fight to the death in the struggle for recognition and it is this desire to be recognized as a dignified human being, that separates men from animals. This desire arises out of the part of the soul which Plato calls thymos. Out of self-preservation, one combatant submits to the other, and it is from this submission that the relation between Master and Slave arises. Kojeve writes:

He must give up his desire and satisfy the desire of the other: he must “recognize” the other without being recognized by him. Now, “to recognize” him thus is “to recognize” him as his Master and to recognize himself and to be recognized as the Master’s Slave.

However, a state of Unhappy Consciousness arises out of this relation as the Master, who does not perceive the Slave as equal, cannot achieve true Self-consciousness which only arises from mutual recognition. “Self-consciousness exists in and for itself when, and by the fact that, it so exists for another; that is, it exists only in being acknowledged.” The Slave therefore is also unable to realize his own Self-consciousness; however, he begins to recognize it (albeit still fragmented) by creating the world through his labor. Arbeit macht frei. Kojeve continues:

If the human being is begotten only in and by the fight that ends in the relation between Master and Slave, the progressive realization and revelation of this being can themselves be effected only in terms of this fundamental social relation … the historical “dialectic” is the “dialectic” of the Master and Slave. But if the opposition of “thesis” and “antithesis” is meaningful only in the context of their reconciliation by “synthesis,” if history necessarily has a final term … — the interaction of the Master and Slave must finally end in the “dialectical overcoming” of both of them.

Kojeve’s interpretation of Hegel asserts that the End of History is this “overcoming.” In other words, universal freedom; a society in which the distinction between Master and Slave is abolished and is composed entirely of Masters (or as we shall see later, a society composed entirely of Slaves). Hegel believed that this “overcoming,” or at least the prelude to it, was realized in the aftermath of the French Revolution in which the abolition of the monarchy and aristocracy and the principles of “liberty, fraternity, and equality” spread like wildfire throughout Europe, finally abolishing the struggle between Master and Slave, between Ruler and Ruled. Such a society satisfies the desire for recognition because every individual’s dignity and worth is recognized universally by others and the State itself, which grants rights and liberties to all its citizens equally.

Hegel and Fukuyama recognize liberal democracy as the End of History not because it is without flaws or because of the economic prosperity it is capable of generating, rather, liberal democracy uniquely satisfies the desire for recognition in the thymotic part of the soul by recognizing the dignity of all humans as equals. This is the crux of understanding Fukuyama’s argument. Because the struggle for recognition is the vehicle for the historical process, the dialectic terminates producing the final synthesis, liberal democracy, which ends the struggle and thus ends History.

To better understand liberal democracy, it is necessary to understand how it spreads. Despite cultural and religious differences, liberal democracies can be found, with varying degrees of success, all over the world. From Iceland to India and from Israel to Indonesia. Liberal democratic values are seemingly universal despite originating from specific cultures in specific contexts, namely England, France, and later, Germany and the United States. The main vector which transmits the virus of liberal democracy is the market economy. Fukuyama calls this the “ultimate victory of the VCR,” he writes:

It is capable of linking different societies around the world to one another physically through the creation of global markets, and of creating parallel economic aspirations and practices in a host of diverse societies. The attractive power of this world creates a very strong predisposition for all humans societies to participate in it, while success in this participation requires the adoption of principles of economic liberalism.

Despite accusations that Fukuyama is a neoconservative (he did associate with them briefly), it is fairly apparent to anyone paying attention that he is in fact a liberal, which of course does not mean that his works should be ignored by us on the right (all his books are worth a reading in my opinion). But Fukuyama is not just a basic bitch liberal crying about how McDonald’s is erasing indigenous culture and capitalism is just finishing the HuWhite supremacist project of colonization. Fukuyama’s liberal power level is much higher than this; in fact, he believes that economic modernization being the driving force for societal homogenization is in fact a good thing. It is bringing Hegel’s vision of universal freedom that much closer into being.  Fukuyama is often accused of being a globalist shill. I do not entirely disagree.

The market economy fundamentally changes how societies are organized in that the bonds of tribe and kin are replaced with utilitarian, economic bonds valued for their efficiency. Utility thus becomes the organizing principle in a society under assault by the market, where anything without instrumental utility is discarded, including relationships with fellow human beings. As Christopher Lasch notes:

Sooner or later the market tends to absorb them (non-economic institutions) all. It puts an almost irresistible pressure on every activity to justify itself in the only terms it recognizes: to become a business proposition, to pay its own way … Inexorably it remodels every institution in its own image.

Philosophers of the Enlightenment thought that the market would create a bridge connecting different cultures and nationalities and perhaps even, with time, erase these differences. Instead of erasing cultural differences, globalism has intensified them. The eclipse of traditional values and norms by those of liberal democracy has produced an immune response in certain cultures to retain these traditional identities. For example, the Islamic Middle East has becomes more fundamentalist, not less in the presence of Western values of liberal democracy. This is the “Revenge of God.”

The global war of ideologies is over with the passing of the twentieth century into the twenty-first. The war of identity is just beginning, however. Lucius Varo, also here at West Coast Reactionaries, has a fantastic article called “On the Meaning of the Iranian Revolution” in which the Iranian peoples revolted against the modern world, so to speak, and established an authoritarian theocracy to replace the pro-Western Shah. Varo crucially notes “…its (the revolution) outcome represents an upward shift and not a downward shift from a spiritual perspective.” The Iranians could have had it all. They could have had McDonald’s, bike lanes, soy lattes, and atomized communities, yet instead they choose identity.

To his credit, Fukuyama  predicted the Revenge of God. The rise of religious fundamentalism and nationalism in his view was the manifestation of megalothymia, the desire to dominate and be recognized as superior to others. Fukuyama never promised us the post-Cold War geopolitical arena would be a utopia; despite its evident growing pains, he still holds that there presently exists no competing ideology to liberal democracy. In his view, religious fundamentalism and nationalism are not inherently in conflict with liberal democracy, except when the former diverges from the latter on the principle of egalitarianism. This betrays a pessimism that liberal democracy must suppress religion and nationalism in order to continue to exist but, as I have previously argued, liberal democracy undermines the very institutions that make it possible.

The market forces of liberal democracy undermine cultural identity and thus fails to satisfy the struggle for recognition. Don’t fret, dear reader; this means History endures. The struggle between traditional society and globalism, Jihad vs McWorld as Benjamin Barber terms it, is seemingly insoluble. The world, it appears, is caught in the middle of a tug of war between these two forces, but whoever wins, one thing is clear: the future of liberal democracy looks rather bleak. The task then, is to create a red eject button as Moldbug termed it. For reactionaries and ethnonationalists alike, creating an alternative is the imperative of our time.

Christopher Grant

3 thoughts on “Postscript on Liberal Democracy and the End of History

  1. Yes, this is an excellent piece. Going back to Hegel is always good, as Fukuyama openly identifies as a Hegelian. Fukuyama is a super smart guy who has a decent amount of intellectual honesty, he’s an opponent that should be respected. That being said he’s also a bit of a fanatic, he ends up overlooking a lot of evidence that undercuts his Thesis because as i’ve previously stated, he wants to believe. He gets paid quite well for his pro-Globalist writing, but he isn’t a shill because he actually believes what he writes. He drinks his own Kool-Aid. Fukuyama’s mistake was misunderstanding what human beings actually are, not utility maximizing atoms but Souls in search of meaning and group identity.

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