Anthony Dworkin applauds the ambition of Francis Fukuyama's three synoptic books on the end of history, social capital and human nature, but finds them all wantingby Anthony Dworkin / July 20, 1999 / Leave a comment
Ten years ago, in the summer of 1989, a short article under the byline of Francis Fukuyama appeared in the neo-conservative American journal, the National Interest. At the time, few outside the world of Washington policy analysis would have been familiar with the author-a mid-level state department official and expert on Soviet relations with the third world. But almost overnight, the article transformed him into one of the most talked-about intellectuals in the US. It was titled “The End of History?” and proposed that liberal democratic capitalism had been established as the ultimate form of organisation for human society.
Fukuyama’s article was not particularly scholarly or rigorous, nor even original. He made no secret of his debt to the Frenchman Alexandre Kojeve. The article updated Kojeve’s ideas and applied them to the world at the end of the cold war. What set Fukuyama apart was his boldness and his timing. Even before the fall of the Berlin wall in the autumn, the tumultuous events of 1989 seemed to call for an intellectual response on a grand scale-and Fukuyama’s thesis stood alone in the sweep and ambition of its argument.
Fukuyama’s article developed into a book, The End of History and the Last Man, and his intellectual celebrity was established. It was not that his argument swept all before it; for all the attention it attracted, it was more often scorned than applauded. Fukuyama was accused of compla-cency, of na?vety, of liberal triumphalism. Yet, like a provocation that can’t be dismissed, his thesis has continued to exert a remarkable hold over public debate. In the past decade, think how often it’s been raked over: during the global economic turbulence of last year I counted seven references to the end of history in British newspapers in a single week. Despite everything that has happened since 1989, it has held its ground as a point of reference for anyone trying their hand at an over-arching theory of the times.
The End of History remains the work for which Fukuyama is best known, but his thinking has moved on. After history, he turned his synoptic eye on economics and culture. Trust, published a few years later, picked up the fashionable notion of “social capital” and used it to explain countries’ economic structures and success. Societies held together by bonds of trust could sustain a higher level of corporate development than those where strangers…