The End of History Revisited

fukuy3.jpgStew­art Brand, the cre­ator of the icon­ic Whole Earth Cat­a­log, heads up the The Long Now Foun­da­tion, an orga­ni­za­tion com­mit­ted to cul­ti­vat­ing “slower/better” think­ing and fos­ter­ing greater respon­si­bil­i­ty over “the next 10,000 years.” (Yes, they’re ambi­tious.) To help bring this about, Brand hosts a month­ly speak­ing series that you can down­load as a pod­cast (iTunesFeedMP3s), and, in late June, he brought in Fran­cis Fukuya­ma to speak. Fukuya­ma, a pro­fes­sor of inter­na­tion­al polit­i­cal econ­o­my at Johns Hop­kins, first made a name for him­self in 1989 when, dur­ing the wan­ing days of the Cold War, he pub­lished an essay called “The End of His­to­ry?” (Lat­er, he would turn it into a best­selling book, The End of His­to­ry and the Last Man.) Steal­ing a page from Karl Marx, Fukuya­ma main­tained that his­to­ry had a direc­tion to it. It flowed with pur­pose, always bring­ing progress. But the end point was­n’t com­mu­nist utopia. It was lib­er­al democ­ra­cy mixed with free mar­ket eco­nom­ics. That’s where human­i­ty was col­lec­tive­ly head­ing, with a vic­to­ri­ous Amer­i­ca lead­ing the way. (In his orig­i­nal essay, he wrote, “What we may be wit­ness­ing is not just the end of the Cold War, or the pass­ing of a par­tic­u­lar peri­od of post-war 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.”)

In the inter­ven­ing years, the world’s move­ment toward west­ern democ­ra­cy has­n’t exact­ly fol­lowed a straight line, and the 9/11 attacks and the ensu­ing “War on Ter­ror” have seem­ing­ly lent cre­dence to a dim­mer world­view, one out­lined by Samuel Hunt­ing­ton in the con­tro­ver­sial book, The Clash of Civ­i­liza­tions and the Remak­ing of World Order. Speak­ing 18 years after the pub­li­ca­tion of his orig­i­nal essay (iTunesFeedMP3Blog), Fukuya­ma revis­its, clar­i­fies and large­ly defends his the­sis that lib­er­al democ­ra­cy is still on track to pre­vail. And that’s because, in his mind, there are deep eco­nom­ic, sci­en­tif­ic and tech­no­log­i­cal trends in motion that dri­ve almost inex­orably toward these polit­i­cal ends. Whether he is right or wrong, it’s impos­si­ble to say. Regard­less, his talk is smart, hard­ly dog­mat­ic, and worth your time.

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