Francis Fukuyama: We remain at the end of history

'I remain right: modernity is a very powerful freight train that will not be derailed by recent events, however painful'

Share

A stream of commentators has been asserting that the tragedy of 11 September proves that I was utterly wrong to have said more than a decade ago that we had reached the end of history. The chorus began almost immediately, with George Will asserting that history had returned from vacation, and Fareed Zakaria declaring the end of the end of history.

It is, on the face of it, nonsensical and insulting to the memory of those who died on 11 September – as well as to those who are now participating in military raids over Afghanistan – to declare that this unprecedented attack did not rise to the level of a historical event. But the way in which I used the word "history" was different. It referred to the progress of mankind over the centuries toward modernity, which is characterised by institutions like liberal democracy and capitalism.

My observation, made back in 1989 on the eve of the collapse of communism, was that this evolutionary process did seem to be bringing ever larger parts of the world toward modernity. And if we looked beyond liberal democracy and markets, there was nothing else towards which we could expect to evolve. Hence the end of history. While there were retrograde areas that resisted that process, it was hard to imagine an alternative civilisation in which people would genuinely want to live – particularly after socialism, monarchy, fascism, and other varieties of authoritarian rule had been discredited.

This view has been challenged by many people, and perhaps most articulately by Samuel Huntington. He argued that rather than progressing toward a single global system, the world remained mired in a "clash of civilisations" where six or seven large cultural groups coexist without converging and constitute the new fracture lines of global conflict. Since the successful attack on the centre of global capitalism was evidently perpetrated by Islamic extremists unhappy with the very existence of Western civilisation, observers have been handicapping the Huntington "clash" view over my own "end of history" hypothesis rather heavily.

I believe that in the end I remain right. Modernity is a very powerful freight train that will not be derailed by recent events, however painful and unprecedented. Democracy and free markets will continue to expand over time as the dominant organising principles for much of the world. But it is worthwhile thinking about what the true scope of the present challenge is.

It has always been my belief that modernity has a cultural basis. Liberal democracy and free markets do not work at all times and everywhere. They work best in societies with certain values, whose origins may not be entirely rational. It is not an accident that modern liberal democracy emerged first in the Christian West, since the universalism of democratic rights can be seen in many ways as a secular form of Christian universalism.

The central question raised by Mr. Huntington is whether institutions of modernity will work only in the West, or whether there is something broader in their appeal that will allow them to make headway in non-Western societies. I believe there is. The proof lies in the progress that democracy and free markets have made in regions like East Asia, Latin America, Orthodox Europe and South Asia. Proof is also offered by the millions of Third World immigrants who vote with their feet every year to live in Western societies and eventually assimilate to Western values.

But there does seem to be something about Islam, or at least fundamentalist Islam, that makes Muslim societies particularly resistant to modernity. Of all contemporary cultural systems, the Islamic world has the fewest democracies (Turkey alone qualifies), and contains no countries that have made the transition from Third to First World status in the manner of South Korea or Singapore.

There are plenty of non-Westerners who prefer the economic and technological part of modernity and hope to have it without having to accept democratic politics or Western cultural values as well (for example, China or Singapore). There are others who like both the economic and political versions, but just can't figure out how to make it happen (Russia is an example). For them, transition to modernity may be long and painful. But there are no insuperable cultural barriers likely to prevent them from getting there.

Islam, by contrast, is the only cultural system that regularly seems to produce people, like Osama bin Laden or the Taliban, who reject modernity lock, stock and barrel. This raises the question of how representative such people are of the larger Muslim community. The answer that politicians East and West have been putting out since 11 September is that those sympathetic with the terrorists are a "tiny minority" of Muslims. It is important for them to say this, to prevent Muslims as a group from becoming targets of hatred. The problem is that dislike and hatred of America and what it stands for are clearly much more widespread than that.

Certainly the number of people willing to go on suicide missions and actively conspire against the US is tiny. But sympathy for them – feelings of schadenfreude at collapsing towers, an immediate sense of satisfaction that the US was getting what it deserved, to be followed only later by pro forma expressions of disapproval – is characteristic of much more than a "tiny minority" of Muslims. It extends from the middle classes in countries like Egypt to immigrants in the West.

This broader dislike and hatred would seem to represent something much deeper than mere opposition to American policies like support for Israel, encompassing a hatred of the underlying society. Perhaps, as many commentators have speculated, the hatred is born out of a resentment of Western success and Muslim failure. But rather than psychologise the Muslim world, it makes more sense to ask whether radical Islam constitutes a serious alternative to Western liberal democracy.

Even for Muslims themselves, political Islam has proven much more appealing in the abstract than in reality. After 23 years of rule by fundamentalist clerics, most Iranians, in particular nearly everyone under 30, would like to live in a far more liberal society.

All of the anti-American hatred that has been drummed up does not translate into a viable political programme that Muslim societies will be able to follow in the years ahead.

We remain at the end of history because there is only one system that will continue to dominate world politics – that of the liberal-democratic West. This does not imply a world free of conflict, or the disappearance of culture as a distinguishing characteristic of societies. But the struggle we face is not the clash of several distinct and equal cultures struggling amongst one another like the great powers of 19th-century Europe. The clash consists of a series of rearguard actions from societies whose traditional existence is indeed threatened by modernisation. The strength of the backlash reflects the severity of this threat. But time and resources are on the side of modernity, and I see no lack of a will to prevail in the West today.

 

The writer is a professor of international political economy at the John Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies. This article first appeared in the 'Wall Street Journal'

© Dow Jones & Company Inc

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

IT Project Manager

Competitive: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Our client based in Chelmsford a...

Business Intelligence Specialist - work from home

£40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: An established and growing IT Consultancy fir...

Business Intelligence Specialist - work from home

£40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: An established and growing IT Consultancy fir...

IT Manager

£40000 - £45000 per annum + pension, healthcare,25 days: Ashdown Group: An est...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

Letter from Asia: The battle for the truth behind five journalists’ deaths in Indonesia

Andrew Buncombe
'Irritatingly Disneyfied': fashion vlogger Zoella  

Sure, teenage girls need role models – but not of the Zoella kind

Chloe Hamilton
Two super-sized ships have cruised into British waters, but how big can these behemoths get?

Super-sized ships: How big can they get?

Two of the largest vessels in the world cruised into UK waters last week
British doctors on brink of 'cure' for paralysis with spinal cord treatment

British doctors on brink of cure for paralysis

Sufferers can now be offered the possibility of cure thanks to a revolutionary implant of regenerative cells
Let's talk about loss

We need to talk about loss

Secrecy and silence surround stillbirth
Will there be an all-female mission to Mars?

Will there be an all-female mission to Mars?

Women may be better suited to space travel than men are
Oscar Pistorius sentencing: The athlete's wealth and notoriety have provoked a long overdue debate on South African prisons

'They poured water on, then electrified me...'

If Oscar Pistorius is sent to jail, his experience will not be that of other inmates
James Wharton: The former Guard now fighting discrimination against gay soldiers

The former Guard now fighting discrimination against gay soldiers

Life after the Army has brought new battles for the LGBT activist James Wharton
Ebola in the US: Panic over the virus threatens to infect President Obama's midterms

Panic over Ebola threatens to infect the midterms

Just one person has died, yet November's elections may be affected by what Republicans call 'Obama's Katrina', says Rupert Cornwell
Premier League coaches join the RSC to swap the tricks of their trades

Darling, you were fabulous! But offside...

Premier League coaches are joining the RSC to learn acting skills, and in turn they will teach its actors to play football. Nick Clark finds out why
How to dress with authority: Kirsty Wark and Camila Batmanghelidjh discuss the changing role of fashion in women's workwear

How to dress with authority

Kirsty Wark and Camila Batmanghelidjh discuss the changing role of fashion in women's workwear
New book on Joy Division's Ian Curtis sheds new light on the life of the late singer

New book on Ian Curtis sheds fresh light on the life of the late singer

'Joy Division were making art... Ian was for real' says author Jon Savage
Sean Harris: A rare interview with British acting's secret weapon

Sean Harris: A rare interview with British acting's secret weapon

The Bafta-winner talks Hollywood, being branded a psycho, and how Barbra Streisand is his true inspiration
Tim Minchin, interview: The musician, comedian and world's favourite ginger is on scorching form

Tim Minchin interview

For a no-holds-barred comedian who is scathing about woolly thinking and oppressive religiosity, he is surprisingly gentle in person
Boris Johnson's boozing won't win the puritan vote

Boris's boozing won't win the puritan vote

Many of us Brits still disapprove of conspicuous consumption – it's the way we were raised, says DJ Taylor
Ash frontman Tim Wheeler reveals how he came to terms with his father's dementia

Tim Wheeler: Alzheimer's, memories and my dad

Wheeler's dad suffered from Alzheimer's for three years. When he died, there was only one way the Ash frontman knew how to respond: with a heartfelt solo album