Cultural Studies Essays - End of History

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The end of history and the success of Liberal Capitalism: reconciling today's social ills with the views of Francis Fukuyama.

In 1989, an article by FrancisFukuyama entitled End of History, which was featured in the Americanneo-conservative political journal The National Interest, exploded ontothe intellectual scene producing significant positive and negative commentary (Eatwelland Wright 1999; Atlantic Monthly 1999; Kimball 1992). Fukuyama'sassertion was that the world was witnessing the end of ideological evolutionwith the universalisation of Western-style liberal democracy and capitalism.Yet, as the twentieth century ended and new millennium dawned, Western cultureswere beset by social ills that are not only inconsistent with Fukuyama's assertionson what should have been the benefits associated with the end of historybut also are not fully explained in terms of their causes by Fukuyama's writings.

Beginning withan exploration of selected research on Fukuyama's views on liberal democracyand liberal capitalism in the context of the end of history, some of today'ssocio-cultural ills will be identified then analysed against explanationsoffered by Fukuyama and others. Finally, a conclusion will be presented.

Fukuyama's Views on the Endof History and the Success of Liberal Capitalism

Fukuyama (1992) describes historyas a single, coherent, evolutionary process. He refers to the claims of Hegeland Marx that societal evolution would end when societies provided theirmembers with satisfaction of their deepest and most fundamental longings.Marx believed this would occur when communist ideals were achieved; Hegelbelieved this point would be reached under a liberal state. Fukuyama cites thefailings of non-democratic, non-capitalist governments - themilitary-authoritarian Right and the communist-totalitarian Left -worldwide. These fallen governments have been largely replaced by liberaldemocracies and liberal capitalism.

At this point, descriptions ofliberal democracy and liberal capitalism may be of benefit in understanding Fukuyama'sviews. Democracy is a philosophy that insists on theright and the capacity of a people, acting either directly or throughrepresentatives, to control their institutions for their own purposes (ColumbiaEncyclopaedia 2004). Liberal democracy is an enhanced form of democracy incorporatinga constitutional requirement to protect civil rights and liberties (Austin1995). Fukuyama (1989) writes that democracy only exists with the consent ofthose being governed and that a liberal democracy protects the individual'suniversal right to freedom. Liberal capitalism, which is also termed economicliberalism and sometimes just capitalism, is freedom of trade in a freemarketanywhere, anyhow, in goods, in services, in labour, and in money(Schapiro 1950). In stressing the fundamental importance of freedom tocapitalism, Schapiro wrote that people must be not be restricted by governmentregulation in any form and must not be fettered or coerced by monopolies ofcapital or labour. Roberts (2002) combines the concepts of liberal democracyand liberal capitalism into a single term, liberal democratic capitalism,reflecting the interrelationship between the two concepts.

Fukuyama wroteabout the end of history in the late 1980s as communism was in retreatworldwide. He believed that this retreat was a signal of an unabashed victoryof economic and political liberalism with no viable alternative systemsremaining (Fukuyama 1989). Other systems were little more than obscurantbarbarism in Fukuyama's view (Williams 1994). Fukuyama wrote that liberaldemocracy was the best system for cultivating freedom and thus was the idealform of government. As liberal democracy was an ideal state, it would never bereplaced. (Fukuyama 1989) He did not believe that the end of history meantthat history was completed or finished; rather, he defined 'the end' as a stateof fulfilment (Kimball 1992) reflecting the satisfaction of human longings preceptadvocated by Hegel and Marx. Fukuyama (1989), who writes that democraticliberalism generally follows economic liberalism, adds that at the end ofhistory neither statesmen nor generals will be needed and, further, thatfor the most part only economic activity will remain.

Importantly, inclaiming the victory of economic and political liberalism, Fukuyama did notsuggest that there would no longer be conflict or social problems (Kimball1992), qualifying his position by stating that the victory of liberalism hasoccurred primarily in the realm of ideas or consciousness and is as yetincomplete in the real or material world (Fukuyama 1989). He added that theideological struggle would be supplanted by economic calculation - solvingtechnical issues, addressing environmental problems and satisfyingsophisticated consumer demands. The end of history would bringgeneral prosperity and, with that, general happiness (Eatwell and Wright1999) and perfect life (Fox et al. 1999). Despite these positive outcomes, Fukuyama(1989) acknowledges that boredom, resulting from the lack of ideologicalconflict, may also be an outcome. This potential downside result was highlightedby Fox and colleagues (1999) who add that, in attempting to attain the perfectlife, society has lost sight of what the perfect life is.

Social Ills in LiberalCapitalist Societies at the End of History: A Contradiction?

Liberal capitalist societies atFukuyama's end of history are facing significant social ills includingbut certainly not limited to crime, drug abuse, alcoholism, binge drinking,promiscuity, and excessive consumerism. How, if at all, can these social illsbe reconciled against Fukuyama's promise of general happiness resulting fromthe general prosperity achieved through liberal capitalism at the end ofhistory? The writings of Fukuyama and others will be used to explore thisissue.

In End ofHistory, Fukuyama (1989) poses the question: Are there, in other words, anyfundamental 'contradictions' in human life that cannot be resolved in the contextof modern liberalism that would be resolvable by an alternativepolitical-economic system? He seems to qualify this question with anotherquestion: [A]re there contradictions in liberal society beyond that ofclass [italics added] that are not resolvable? Yet class appears to be animportant issue to Fukuyama. He acknowledges the existence of rich and poorpeople and the growing gap between them, but does not assign the root causes ofthese conditions to the underlying legal and social structure of society;rather, he attributes them to the cultural and social characteristics of thevarious groups. For instance, he attributes poverty among black people in theUnited States to a legacy of slavery and racism.

In acknowledgingthe existence of social ills in his book The End of History and the Last Man,an expanded version of his 1989 article, Fukuyama (1992) writes that [t]hereis no doubt that contemporary democracies face any number of serious problems,from drugs, homelessness and crime to environmental damage and the frivolity ofconsumerism but, again, he avoids attributing these conditions to liberalprinciples although he does acknowledge that market forces vary significantly,producing varying degrees of inequality and injustice from place to place (AtlanticMonthly 1999). In The Great Disruption (1999), Fukuyama cites othermodern social ills in democratic, capitalist countries including an increase incrime, a decline in family stability, and an erosion of trust in theinstitutions of society. This time, however, instead of attributing these illsto political or economic factors, he points to the effects of theinformation-based economy and the birth-control pill. (Schneck 2000; Shi 1999;Griffiths 1999; Brooks 1999; Lloyd 1997) Specifically, Fukuyama's position isthat the information-based economy opened the door for more women to enter theworkforce and the birth control pill allowed women to control reproduction andpermitted women to engage in sex more freely, all of which promoted a cultureof intensive individualism that corroded virtually all forms of authority andweakened the bonds holding families, neighbourhoods, and nations togetherwhich he claims is unnatural and, thus, cannot continue (Fukuyama 1999;Newman 2001).

Unlike Fukuyama,others attribute social ills to the capitalist system. Bell (2001) contendsthat human desire does not find its satisfaction in the capitalist market, thusundermining a basic precept of Fukuyama. Roberts (2002) writes that Fukuyama'sposition is one in which the ancestral struggle between the strong and theweak becomes a matter of managed cultural adjustment, continuing that thestrong will tend to destroy the weak or risk having the universal capitalistworld order compromised by the weak. Farrell and Swigert (1988, cited in Henryand Lanier 1998) claim that crime and deviance are the inevitable consequencesof fundamental contradictions within society's economic infrastructure. Bell(2001) claims that some view global capitalism as a brutal and oppressiveforce responsible for the misery and premature death of much of the world'spopulation. Fleisher and Goff (1999) write that the combination of flatliving standards for the masses and rising standards for a privileged few hasreceived substantial blame for a variety of social ills. Murray (1999) writesthat the far Left blames increasing criminal activity and the breakdown of thefamily structure on the persistence of economic and social equality whilstother less extreme factions blame these ills on greater wealth and security. Cottle(1977) contends that there are numerous problems with capitalism involving theperpetuation of the cruel treatment of the powerless and poor by the powerfuland rich. Roberts (2002), perhaps referring to Fukuyama's own acknowledgementabout the residual boredom after the end of history, writes thatliberal democracy may still leave us fundamentally unsatisfied. Blevins andassociates (2001) write about the end of history: This is the age ofinsecurity. It is the age of disintegrating family. It is the age of anxiety.It is the age of atomistic persons who have lost their footing in afast-changing world. Finally, Mcinnes (2001) claims that [c]apitalism hasfailed as much as communism, adding that it lurches from one crisis toanother.

Yet othersattribute ills facing today's democratic, capitalistic societies to a variety ofpsychological and sociological issues that differ from those offered byFukuyama (e.g. the information-based economy and the birth control pill). Eatwelland Wright (1999), in writing about Fukuyama's naïve conviction that generalprosperity would automatically guarantee general happiness, claim that,instead of happiness, boredom, a drug cult, a rising divorce and illegitimacyrate, pornography, and violence resulted. Hamilton (2003) refuted theassertion that more money means more happiness in stating that Fukuyama andothers who are only concerned about politics and economics do not consider thegoals of actual societies and real people. Criminal activity has been blamedon wide ranging factors including heredity, glandular disease, mentaldeficiencies, psychopathic personality, unfulfilled wishes, family dysfunction,unhealthy recreation, lack of employment, and poverty (Reckless 1940) as wellas biological factors such as chromosomal combinations, defective genes,hormonal and chemical imbalances, low intelligence, and brain or nervous centremaladies (Henry and Lanier 1998). Drug abuse has been linked to certainpersonality types (Burns and Steffenhagen 1987) and to physiological, psychological,and social factors (Martindale and Martindale 1976). Alcoholism is primarilyattributed to psychological factors, although physiological and social factorscan also be blamed (Martindale and Martindale 1976). Binge drinking has beenblamed alternatively on unemployment (Neill 2002) and boredom (Arora 2004).Promiscuity can be attributed to the growing individual and socialacceptability of pre-marital sex (Schofield 1976). Contrary to Fukuyama'sviews, Woodward (1970, cited in Schofield 1976) found that the birth controlpill is used by the least promiscuous women thus it does not seem toencourage promiscuity. Finally, excessive consumerism has been blamed onadvertising, certainly an important capitalist tool, with its creation ofunrealistic expectations and feelings of inadequacy among those who cannot ordo not comply with the advertising messages and with its negative effectsextending to both the rich and the poor (Wood 1996).


Fukuyama claimed that with liberaldemocracy and liberal capitalism the world is at the end of history interms of its quest for ideal political and economic systems. Having reachedthis pinnacle, happiness was to prevail. Even Fukuyama admitted that boredomcould result from having reached the end of history, but this seems torefer to boredom among political and economic leaders, intellectuals, andothers who direct and study these issues, not to the majority of people whobear the effects - positive and negative - of the systems. Whilst Fukuyamaconceded that even at the end of history social problems exist, heattributed these in various writings, not to the effects of liberal democracyor liberal capitalism, but to cultural and social characteristics of thevarious groups who experienced these problems as well as to theinformation-based economy and the birth control pill. With more than a hint ofsexism, Fukuyama asserts that these factors contribute to the breakdown of thefamily structure because women were encouraged and able to enter the workforce.They could now perform less labour-intensive jobs, could limit their reproduction,and could engage in sexually promiscuous activities.

Fukuyama's position regarding thecauses of ills confronting today's cultures may offer a partial explanation -the breakdown of the family structure is certainly a contributing factor to manymodern social ills - but his explanation is too simplistic and his placement ofblame on the information-based economy, birth control pills, or on whole groupsof victims seems weak at best. His explanation fails to consider the negativeeffects of capitalism and complex individual and social causes. Most of theresearch indicates that the negative effects of capitalism, especially theresulting disparity between the rich and the poor and its destructive effects,at a minimum set an environment for social ills and, by some accounts, can beheld directly responsible for these phenomena. However, the primary causes ofsocial ills appear to be attributable to a variety of psychological andsociological factors that can be differentiated from political and economicfactors. For instance, criminal acts are performed by people on both ends ofthe economic spectrum (i.e. white collar crime by the rich and street crime bythe poor). Drug abuse is not restricted to the poor (e.g. crack cocaine use);the rich abuse drugs as well (e.g. cocaine use). Alcoholism is a malady sharedby the rich and the poor. Binge drinking, if caused by boredom, would mostlikely be associated with the rich and, if caused by unemployment, would mostlikely be associated with the poor. Promiscuity is a behaviour shared by peopleat all economic strata. Finally, as the research indicated, excessiveconsumerism, encouraged through advertising, affects the rich and the poor.


Unfortunately, the end ofhistory as claimed by Fukuyama did not bring the promised happiness. Manyof the social ills that existed before still exist today. Just as Fukuyama'sarticulation of the causes of social ills did not reflect the complexity of theissues involved, perhaps his declaration that the end of history hasbeen reached is too simplistic as well. Perhaps his views are fundamentally flawed.Perhaps liberal capitalism is not the pinnacle of ideological evolution, butrather just the conclusion of another phase in a continuing evolution. Forcertain, considering the downside effects of liberal capitalism, the idealstate has not been achieved. Fukuyama even seems to acknowledge in hisconcluding sentence of The End of History (1989) that the true end ofhistory has not been reached. He writes: Perhaps this very prospect ofcenturies of boredom at the end of history will serve to get history startedonce again.


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