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Endgame

COMMENTARY

Endgame
Joseph McCarney
Every now and then an event occurs which brings a shift of
perspective on the intellectual scene, relating familiar components in new ways and by its oblique light revealing the
contents of dark corners and alleys. Such an event is the
publication of Francis Fukuyama’s The End ofHistory and
the Last Man. Even the verdicts on its intellectual stature,
the strength of its claim on our attention, have been instructively and entertainingly diverse. Connoisseurs of academic bile should turn first to John Dunn’ s TLS review
(24.4.92). In its opening sentences the book is described as
‘dire’, a work of ‘palpable mediocrity’ and an ‘unenticing
and puerile volume’ . Much of it, Dunn asserts, is ‘cast at the
level (and in the accents) of the worst kind of American
undergraduate term-paper’. The ‘blame’ for the widespread
public attention it has secured lies largely, he believes, with
the publishers who committed so much energy and capital
to its launch. Although cast at the level and in the accents we
have come to associate with Cambridge, England, these
opinions are surely too wildly over the top to be persuasive.

Yet they exemplify a strong tendency in establishment
responses to the book in Britain, one of brutal dismissal
laced with snobbery and envy. In sharp contrast Perry
Anderson hails it in A Zone of Engagement as a work of
‘conviction and elegance’ ,of’ graceful fluency’ and’ original
argument’ , a ‘remarkable feat of composition’ in which ‘for
the first time, the philosophical discourse of the end of
history has found a commanding political expression’. ‘It is
safe to say,’ he adds, ‘that no one has ever attempted a
comparable synthesis – at once so deep in ontological
premise and so close to the surface of global politics.’ These
generous words may also be taken as illustrating a larger
tendency. Clearly, the reception of Fukuyama ‘s book offers
a rich field of inquiry.

It becomes richer still when one turns to more overtly
political responses. The most obvious feature is the way the
book has cut across and shaken up conventional Left-Right
divisions. Its ‘official’ thesis, as it may be called, is that
history has now come to an end with the triumph of
capitalism and liberal democracy. This might be expected
to be music to the ears of the Right. Yet in the range of
commentary from, say, The Daily Telegraph to The National Interest one finds little enthusiasm but rather lukewarm, largely formal, acceptance, mingled with downright
Radical Philosophy 62, Autumn 1992

hostility. The reasons for this are no doubt complex. Yet it
surely has something to do with the fact that Fukuyama’s
project of a ‘Universal History’ has come to have an
ineradicably bad smell for the traditional Right, however
fragrantly it seeks to present itself. The point may be put
more concretely in terms of the details of his procedure. He
relies on two kinds of regulative mechanism to carry history
forward and ensure a happy ending. The first is the logic of
modem natural science as embodied in the productive
forces and, hence, bringing the possibility of indefinite
economic growth. This is, as Fukuyama acknowledges,
essentially an economic interpretation of history, indeed a
kind of Marxist interpretation that leads, he insists, to ‘a
completely non-Marxist conclusion’. It may well be that
many on the Right will be sceptical of his, or anyone’s,
ability to pull off this feat of supping with the devil. Such
doubts find clear-cut expression in some comments by
Samuel Huntingdon, a name well-known to older RP readers, on the essay which was the germ of the present book:

‘Fukuyama’s thesis itself reflects not the disappearance of
Marxism but its pervasiveness …. Marxist ideology is alive
and well in Fukuyama’ s arguments to refute it. ‘ This hits the
authentically paranoid note of the old-style Cold Warriors.

Yet the underlying attitudes will surely have a wider currency, even today.

The situation on the Left is a kind of distorted reflection
of all this. The most prominent tendency has been to see
Fukuyama’s work as expressing the triumphalism of the
capitalist world over victory in the Cold War and the death
of communism. Moreover, as the contribution of a former
State Department official now with the RAND Corporation, it seems to emerge quasi-officially from the very
entrails of the beast. There have, however, been exceptions
to the trend. Perry Anderson gives the principle of them in
remarking that the Right’s charge of ‘inverted Marxism’ is
grounds for tribute on the Left. His own tribute is delivered
in A Zone of Engagement with an intellectual force and
authority that risks incongruously overshadowing its subject. Other dissenting voices have been raised in Britain,
and indeed a pattern is discernible in them. For they include
a significant number of those who came in personal contact
with Fukuyama during his visit here in Spring 1992 to
publicise the book. It seems to have been his prime concern
35

on public occasions to correct his image as the complacent
apostle of the new and everlasting gospel of the American
way of life, the prophet of the global shopping mall. Instead
he sought to convey his actual doubts and reservations
concerning the present world order. This was done with
impressive seriousness, modesty and willingness to entertain criticism and self-criticism. In addition it was difficult
in human terms not to sympathise with his dignity and
restraint under often severe provocation. He seemed to have
the better of things intellectually and morally on several
such occasions and many who witnessed or participated in
them must have had their perceptions altered as a result.

Fred Halliday’s report in New Left Review 193 on ‘An
Encounter with Fukuyama’ is the product of one of those
unsatisfactory confrontations. This was a television discussion which was, as Halliday says, ‘somewhat deviated by
the interventions of a bibulous Labour dignitary’ . Hence, it
did not even begin to get the measure of Fukuyama’ s ideas
and Halliday now seeks to make amends on his own
account. He does this by graphically outlining some of the
‘many questions of interest and challenge to historical
materialism’ raised by Fukuyama’s work. For present purposes, however, it may be enough to note his conclusion in
which, echoing the ‘inverted Marxism’ theme, he suggests
thatthe ‘problem with Fukuyama’s theory’ might be solved
by doing to him ‘what Feuerbach did to Hegel, namely turn
him on his head’. Halliday takes it to be a measure of
Fukuyama’s breadth of reading and tolerance of his critics
that he did not seem ‘too perturbed’ by the suggestion. Such
equanimity deserves to be probed further. But first one
should take account of the record of a meeting with a
representative of historical materialism that is even warmer
in tone and undeviated in its significance. This is Andrew
Chitty’S interview in the second issue of Analysis, by far the
most revealing document for Fukuyama’s thinking to have
emerged from his British visit. In it Chitty refers to the
vitriolic tone of much right-wing and establishment comment on the book, contrasting it with his own view as a
Marxist that it is ‘one of the most developed expressions’ of
bourgeois thought in the last twenty or thirty years. For the
most striking vignette of Fukuyama’ s encounter with the
British Left one has, however, to look to the occasion of his
debate with Terry Eagleton. It came at question time when
a speaker from the floor asked whether Fukuyama realised
that the only friends he had in the world were orthodox
Marxists like himself. Once again Fukuyama did not seem
too perturbed. He seemed rather to endorse the suggestion
in a complex reaction which united insight, resignation and
humour. In the interview with Chitty he had declared
himself proud to be an exemplar of bourgeois thought. Yet
the responses to Halliday and to his anonymous questioner
hint at levels of self-consciousness not adequately captured
in that description, at a sensibility less flatly bourgeois than
he likes to profess to the world.

A Dual Inheritance
To pursue this idea one has to consider the intellectual
background to Fukuyama’ s book. The most prominent
figure there is the Russian emigre, Alexandre Kojeve, best

36

known for his seminar in 1930s ‘ Paris on the P he nomenolo gy
of Spirit. This was attended by Bataille, Breton, Lacan,
Merleau-Ponty and Eric Weil, among others, and played a
key role in the Hegel revival in France. After the war Kojeve
joined the Ministry for Economic Affairs, becoming a
major influence on the French side in the negotiations
leading to the GATT Treaty and the formation of the
European Economic Community and in the shaping of
policy towards the ‘Third World’. As a student in Germany
in the 1920s he had made the acquaintance of Leo Strauss,
a relationship renewed a decade later in Paris. It resulted in
an important correspondence, extending over 33 years,
which has recently been published in the new edition of
Strauss’s On Tyranny. Strauss, for most of this period a
professor at the University of Chicago, was in his own way
as extraordinary a figure as Kojeve. This fact gets a backhanded acknowledgement in Stanley Rosen’s considered
verdict that he was ‘one of the most hated men in the
English-speaking academic world’. Rosen hints rather touchingly at part of the reason for this when he adds that ‘the
sweetness of his nature was seldom visible to any but his
circle of students and close friends’. In addition to Rosen
himself this circle included Allan Bloom, editor of the
English version of the work that emerged from Kojeve’ s
seminar, An Introduction to the Reading of Hegel, and
Fukuyama’s teacher at the University of Chicago. Strauss’ s
influence on Fukuyama, mediated by Bloom, is less obvious than that ofKojeve, surfacing only in copious footnotes.

Yet, one may argue, it is no less significant. Indeed
Fukuyama’s book can plausibly be read as the record of a
struggle for his soul between Kojeve and Strauss. This
unacknowledged and unresolved drama may go some way
to account for the impression of generalised ambiguity the
work has made on many readers.

Much of the interest of the Strauss!Kojeve correspondence lies in its combination of mutual respect, lavishly
expressed, and the most unyielding conflict of views. Strauss
speaks for both in saying ‘we are poles apart’, adding that
‘the root of the question is that you are convinced of the truth
of He gel (Marx) and I am not.’ For all that, there is at another
level, not of substantive theses but of general conceptions of
what is involved in putting any such theses forward, a
curious affinity, even agreement. The common element is
the conviction that philosophy cannot present its truths to
the world in direct and literal terms. In Strauss’ s case this
was the basis for a theory that became his distinctive, indeed
notorious, hallmark. Some at least of his unpopularity in the
academic world derived from his insistence that philosophers of the past spoke and wrote ‘exoterically’ as a cover
for their true, ‘esoteric’ doctrine. This state of affairs reflected, in his view, a basic and permanent tension between
philosophy and the city, as the ancient world, though not our
shallow post -Enlightenment times, understood very well. A
number of factors combine to point Kojeve in what is for
practical purposes the same direction. There is his habitual
recourse, especially in later years, to irony, a habit that, as
Fukuyama observes, makes it difficult ‘to uncover his true
intent’. It can, of course, claim to have deep roots in
dialectical thought, given that any version of ‘the cunning
of reason’ must tend to imply that irony is the proper,

Radical Philosophy 62, Autumn 1992

indispensable mode of historical understanding. More specifically, there is Kojeve’ s belief that in our time the
Hegelian philosophy is less the revelation of a reality than
an ideal, a project, to be realised. Hence any serious interpretation of Hegel must be ‘political propaganda’, a kind of
work in which, for instance, ‘it is perfectly legitimate to
employ certain artifices, while at the same time reproaching
one’s adversaries for making use of them. ‘

It appears that Fukuyama is heir to an intellectual legacy
at once liberating and burdensome. It is liberating just in
virtue of the range of voices it makes available as a tradition
not of plain dealing, but of deviousness and dissimulation.

That it brings responsibilities as well as freedom is sufficiently shown by the Strauss-Kojeve debate. They speak as
champions ofthe ‘ancients’ and the ‘modems’ respectively,
of Plato and Hegel, of eternal order and historicist circularity. The point that concerns us here may be approached by
noting that neither speaks even in the most distantly prefigurative way for postmodernity. It is true that for both
philosophy is the love that dare not speak its name, but it is
still incontestably the love of wisdom. If their procedure
sometimes takes on the aspect of a game, it is always one
whose underlying purpose is deadly serious. Thus, they
remain incorrigibl y metaphysicians of appearance and reality, not would-be virtuosos of mere appearances that are not
appearances of anything. Even the playfulness of the later
Kojeve is, in its self-conception, that of a ‘sage’, or, as he
sometimes prefers, a mortal’ god’ (‘I tell my secretary I am
a god, but she laughs ‘). It is a world away from postmodernist
whimsy, from all those invitations to be ludic that chill the
blood with their promise of tedium and inanity. Complex
patterns of thought and expression were forced on Strauss
and Kojeve just in virtue of their deep seriousness, their felt
need to convey vital truths against the pressures of the city
and the age. It seems all too easy to suppose that Fukuyama
may be subject to similar pressures. Earlier it was suggested
that he is equipped with a self-consciousness of himself and
his project several degrees richer than his public persona,
his cover, as one might call it, of scholar bureaucrat strictly
requires. It is now natural to wonder whether he may not
have assumed the Strauss-Kojeve inheritance in its full
range and depth, its cult of irony and the hidden as well as
its external forms. Such a hypothesis has, like any other, to
be tested by its fruitfulness. To discover this one has to ask
what is the esoteric meaning of The End of History and the
Last Man.

history. The unavailing struggles for recognition of fighting
masters and toiling slaves that comprise the substance of
history are in the end dialectically overcome through the
agency of the French Revolution. Mastery and slavery are
alike swallowed up in what Kojeve calls the ‘universal and
homogeneous state’ whose prototype is the Napoleonic
Empire. This brings history to an end because it provides a
fully satisfying form of recognition, universal recognition
by the state of the individual ‘as a citizen enjoying all
political rights and as a “juridical person” of the civil law’ .

It is a conception which will not, in Strauss’ s view, bear the
theoretical weight laid on it, and his objections have set the
pattern of much subsequent comment. They are in essence
an attempt to persuade Kojeve of the significance of qualitative differences between kinds of recognition. True satisfaction cannot, Strauss believes, consist in abstract, formal
recognition of equal citizenship by the state. It needs a
recognition geared to the specificity of individuals, to their
own sense of self-worth and self-identity, having in some
sense to be earned, not simply a right of birth. It is an
argument which Kojeve never seriously tries to address. He
will neither fill out nor deviate from his schematic vision of
the end-state in terms of what the universal, homogeneous
state universally and homogeneously affords its individual
citizens.

For much of the time Fukuyama seems simply to have
taken over Kojeve’ s position. The universal, homogeneous
state can, he suggests, be understood as liberal democracy,
and its mode of operation is wholly Kojevian: ‘modem
liberal democracy recognises all human beings universally
… by granting and protecting their rights. ‘ In defending this
form of recognition he sometimes out-does Kojeve, as in the
preposterous claim that ‘the liberal democratic state values
us at our own sense of self-worth’ . But doubts of a Straussian
kind also begin to surface ever more pressingly as the
discussion proceeds. They are crystallised in his citing of
Nietzsche’s description of the state as ‘the coldest of all cold
monsters’. Eventually they lead him to speak of the ‘inherent contradictions’ in the concept of universal recognition
arising precisely from its inability to deal with the question
of quality. Still more revealingly, he comes to acknowledge
that ‘private associationallife is much more immediately
satisfying than mere citizenship in a large modem democracy’. For recognition by the state is ‘necessarily impersonal’ and for’ a much more individual’ sort of recognition,
based not on universal ‘personness’ but on ‘a host of
particular qualities that together make up one’s being’, one
has to turn to ‘community life’. It seems here that Kojeve’ s
Can’t Get No Satisfaction
abstract statism is being decisively abandoned.

This turn in the argument brings, however, problems of
If there is such a meaning it seems likely to be bound up with
Fukuyama’s chief item of borrowing from Kojeve, the its own. A strong community life is, Fukuyama realises,
concept of recognition. Its significance derives from the ‘constantly threatened’ in contemporary societies and spefact that the logic of natural science merely ensures that we cifically in those within the ambit of Anglo-Saxon liberalarrive at capitalism as the only satisfactory vehicle of ism. There all forms of community figure merely as coneconomic growth. What takes us on to liberal democracy is tractual devices to minister to the self-interest of individua second regulative mechanism, the age-old struggle of als. The principles of liberty and equality fundamental to
human beings for recognition of their worth and dignity. such societies are themselves conceived in individualistic
The classic statement of the theme, according to Kojeve, is terms that undermine the possibility of ‘meaningful comthe Master-Slave dialectic of the Phenomenology, an epi- munity’. This possibility is further attacked by liberal
sode that is for him the key to Hegel’ s entire philosophy of economic principles which ‘tend to atomise and separate

Radical Philosophy 62, Autumn 1992

37

people’ . Hence it is that all communal forms from the family
to the country as a whole come to have a precarious
existence. The situation is quite different in the countries of
East Asian capitalism. There, under the watchful eye of the
state, the blessings ofthe market-place are enjoyed together
with those of traditional social life. Thus, the most significant challenge to liberal universalism today is, Fukuyama
believes, posed by those societies in Asia which ‘combine
liberal economies with a kind of paternalistic authoritarianism’. The viability of this model is, one might suggest, the
spectre which increasingly haunts the pages of his book and
which he knows no effective way to exorcise.

The outlook so far as world history is concerned is, in
Fukuyama’s view, crucially dependent on the role of Japan.

That country now stands at a critical turning point, poised
either to go further down the Anglo-Saxon road or to take
the very different one best exemplified at present by Singapore. Although Fukuyama seeks officially, as it were, to
treat the options as genuinely open, the tone and drift of the
discussion are markedly pessimistic. Thus, he believes that
the beginnings of a systematic Asian, and specifically
Japanese, rejection of liberal democracy as a ‘Western
imposition’ can already be heard. In an interview during his
British visit he suggested that in ten or fifteen years time’ we
may see in Japan an explicit rejection of the constitutional
trappings ofthe post -war period’ . These speculations reveal
an unease which has deep theoretical roots. Indeed, if one
consults the inner logic of Fukuyama’ s argument a more
decisive, and decisively gloomy, verdict will be found to
emerge.

That logic rests on two pillars, the twin mechanisms of
economics and recognition. The second of these is, so far as
appearances go, subject to conflicting claims and counterclaims. A closer look reveals, however, only one line of
thought that is developed with any conviction and vitality.

It tells us that a humanly satisfying recognition is in principle not to be obtained from the state and is not available in
Western civil society either, corroded as that is by economic
and political liberalism. To this may now be added the
weight of the other historical mechanism. For Fukuyama
quite consistently maintains the view that liberal democracy is economically dysfunctional. It is so partly for the
familiar reason that democratic politics tends to indulge in
growth-restricting, inflationary policies that favour redistribution and current consumption. Moreover, the ‘highly
atomistic economic liberalism’ of the United States and
Britain becomes counterproductive at a certain point. This
happens because the individual self-interest that is at its
heart is destructive of the work ethic on which economic
success ultimately depends. Thus, both of the mechanisms
at the heart of Fukuyama ‘s philosophy of history point away
from liberal democracy towards the system he calls ‘market -oriented authoritarianism’. If history is now ending, the
logic of his argument requires that it end in something like
Lee Kuan Yew’s ‘East Asian Confucian capitalism’. The
radical individualism of Western societies serves by contrast to undermine the possibility both of meaningful recognition and of continued economic progress. These societies
cannot represent an end-state but are instead transitory
historical forms. They are just as doomed as communism,

38

and for essentially the same reasons. For they contain
fundamental contradictions, the contradictions which activate and sustain the dynamics of the historical process. So,
far from being a celebration of the American way of life,
Fukuyama’s book is actually a long good-bye to it, an
assiduous painting of grey on the grey of its decrepitude.

This will not be welcome news at the State Department or
the RAND Corporation and may well be regarded as a poor
return on their investment in Fukuyama. They will just have
to console themselves by reflecting on the dialectical uses
of irony and the inescapable tension between the philosopher and the city. But the irony here has a still deeper layer
and the tension is not simply external but is active within the
philosopher also.

This is so because the esoteric message of Fukuyama’s
book is not at all personally congenial to him as a patriotic
American liberal. His problem is that he lacks the theoretical resources to put up any serious resistance to it. Yet such
resources are available in the tradition from which he claims
indirect descent. For Hegel history is emphatically not to be
characterised as essentially a struggle for recognition. It is
rather ‘the progress of the consciousness of freedom’. A
proper articulation of this view would surely enable one to
see why the end of history is not, in principle, on offer from
any kind of collectivist authoritarianism. That this is not
clear to Fukuyama should be put down to the fact that, as
various commentators have noted, the idea of freedom has
no significant role in his theoretical scheme. The occasional
references to it are the merest lip-service without any sense
of intellectual or normative pressure behind them. This is
perhaps not too surprising in view of the immediate provenance of his work, as outlined here. A living concern with
freedom is scarcely to be acquired from a· conservative
elitist such as Strauss. On the other hand, an interest in it as
an ideal is, notoriously, not to be found in Kojeve either, ‘un
Stalinien de stricte observance’, as he described himself.

Nothing could better illustrate Fukuyama’s own distinctive
brand of irony than his deadpan attempt to explain the
problems in seeing Kojeve ‘as a liberal’. For Fukuyama to
escape from his dilemma here he would need direct access
to Hegel, unmediated by such an interpreter. An important
lesson of his book is that his critics and admirers on the Left
need this access too, now more than ever. As Kojeve’ s
pupil, Lacan, remarked, it is just when we think we may be
moving further away from Hegel that he may be sneaking
up behind us. His understanding of how individual freedom
may be concretely realised in a rationally-ordered community is still an indispensable starting point, indeed an as yet
untranscended horizon of thought. The case for a welcome
for Fukuyama from the Left rests on the assumption that his
project and some of his methodology can be adapted in the
service of quite other conclusions. From this standpoint it
appears that the Right shows a sound instinct in being
suspicious of him. The philosophy of history is our subject,
and, now that Fukuyama has helped to put it back on the
agenda, we have to take it over and revivify it. Our entire
intellectual tradition rests on the belief that the truth of
Hegel’s dialectic is socialism. This truth urgently needs to
be demonstrated once again in the accents of our time.

Radical Philosophy 62, Autumn 1992

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