Political predictions they got wrong (No4) – The end of history and the last man

The end of history and the last man is a great example of telling people what they want to hear, when they want to hear it. The author, Francis Fukuyama originally wrote it as an essay in 1989, but it struck such a chord with the public that he developed it into a full length book in 1992. Essentially he argues that the ending of the Cold War and the fall of communism signified the triumph of liberal democracy over other political-economic systems. He also predicted that in the long-term liberal democracy would spread across the globe replacing other ideologies. As he states in the book:

“What we may be witnessing is not just the end of the Cold War, or the passing of a particular period of postwar 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”

Unsurprisingly this idea was incredibly popular and Fukuyama sold an awful lot of copies. Many seized on this work as intellectual proof that American civilisation was now proven to be ‘correct’ and that all countries should emulate it. This is somewhat simplifying Fukuyama’s ideas but not by much. However, ever since it became apparent that other forms of government were not only still in existence, but thriving, e.g. Chinese state capitalism and Islamic Fundamentalism, he’s spent a lot of time in the media complaining that people misinterpreted his original ideas. Re-reading his speeches from this period along with the book itself I’d argue that if his ideas were misinterpreted then Fukuyama was complicit in this process. At the time he certainly seemed eager to endorse the concept that the end of the Cold War meant victory for Western values (would it be cynical it point out that he made a lot of money by doing this?)

If history does teach us anything, it’s that the future is going to be completely different then what we expect. While I’d suggest that liberal democracy will continue to persist for some time to come, advances in technology and human civilization will mean that in 200 years time we’ll probably have found an entirely new way to live our lives that we can’t even imagine now.

Fukuyama has a long history of tailoring his views to suit the times though. Along with several other neo-cons he wrote a letter to George W Bush encouraging him to invade Iraq to remove Saddam Hussein. Later once it became apparent that the invasion was a huge mistake he became one of the wars fiercest critics. He also supported George W Bush in 2000 and 2004 before later declaring that he had been one of the worst Presidents in living memory and that he was supporting Barack Obama in 2008. Because of this dubious track record, I think it’s fair to take most of his predictions with a pinch of salt.

For a full list of political predictions they got wrong click here

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About matthewashton

I'm a Politics Lecturer at Nottingham Trent University. I specialise in the fields of American, British and media politics.
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5 Responses to Political predictions they got wrong (No4) – The end of history and the last man

  1. If you think about it, things have been pretty interesting since history ended. People are naturally pretty awful at predicting the future, but this one was really comical (so much so that I used it as my alternate blog title). At least he didn’t coin “The Thousand Year Reich”.

    • He did make a lot of money out of it though and become an academic superstar so he must have been doing something right. My problem is that I try to avoid making predictions whenever possible as I’m usually wrong more often than I’m right. Perhaps as long as you sound confident it doesn’t matter how wrong you are. For instance I can think of several British politics and economics pundits who have been wrong on pretty much every issue for the past twenty years who are still incredibly successful.

  2. I think he was able to capitalize on something that people wanted to hear which seems to be a great way to become a successful. People were worn out from years of Cold War hysteria and really wanted to believe that there was no longer a world to be afraid of. But the world went on. I think he was mistaken in assuming not just that history was “over” but that it was even possible for history to ever be “over”. I’m sure this feeling was present for many people throughout history, but Fukuyama was just wacky enough to write it down.

    In your teaching, do you find that students have any recollection of what things were like during the Cold War? I teach high school and most of my students don’t remember that era at all. It’s a very strange thing trying to explain it, because I really remember being terrified of the potential for a major war with Russia. They often get it from an intellectual standpoint, but the visceral fear that was present is very hard to get across to them.

    • I find that modern students can’t really comprehend just how terrifying a lot of the 70s/80s were. When you show them nuclear holocaust dramas like Threads or The Day After they don’t seem to realise that a lot of us really thought that it was going to happen.

      In a similar way they don’t get just how frightened poeple in Britain were of the IRA. The fear of IRA bomb attacks was significantly greater then of terrorism today (at least in the UK). I suppsoe thats in part because they were such regular events. I remember my Father telling me about Birmingham int he 1970s when people just wouldn’t go tot he theatre because they were worried about the latest bombing campaign.

  3. Pingback: Ten mistaken political predictions | Dr Matthew Ashton's Politics Blog

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