Friday, January 8, 2010

Rorty and "The End of History"

            Rorty writes on page 229 of Truth and Progress, ”We should concede Francis Fukuyama’s point (in his celebrated essay, The End of History) that if you still long for total revolution, for the Radically Other on a world-historical scale, the events of 1989 show that you are out of luck.  Fukuyama suggested, and I agree, that no more romantic prospect stretches before the Left than an attempt to create bourgeois democratic welfare states and to equalize life chances among the citizens of those states by redistributing the surplus produced by market economies.
            “Fukuyama, however, sees nothing but boredom ahead for us intellectuals once we have admitted that bourgeois democratic welfare states are the best polities we can imagine.  He thinks that the end of romantic politics will have the same dampening effect on our collective imaginary as the admission that contemporary Athenian institutions were the best he could imagine would have had on Plato.  As a follower of Strauss and Kojeve, Fukuyama regrets this dampening.  In the intellectual tradition to which he belongs, political philosophy is first philosophy.  Utopian politics, the sort of politics whose paradigm is Plato’s Republic, is the root of philosophical thought.
            “On a Straussian view, the hope of creating a society whose hero is Socrates, rather than Achilles or Themistocles, lies behind what Heidegger calls ‘Western metaphysics.’  So to damp down political romance is to impoverish our intellectual life, and perhaps make it impossible.  Straussians tend to agree with Heideggerians that the end of metaphysics means the beginning of a nihilistic wasteland . . . .”
            “So far I have been suggesting that what Fukuyama, like Nietzsche and Kojeve before him, is worried about is not the end of history, but the end of philosophy, and thus the romance, of history.  What bothers him is our diminished ability to use History as an object around which we intellectuals can wrap our fantasies.”
            COMMENT:   Rorty is wrong, in my opinion, to suggest that Fukuyama was worried about the end of philosophy rather than the end of history.  Fukuyama invoked the idea of Nietzsche’s boring “last man” not to suggest that there won’t be anything for philosophers to talk about, but to suggest that there won’t be anything of substance for nations to fight about.  There is some truth to the idea that Liberal Democratic nations won’t have anything to fight over inasmuch as they are all the same, but if a Nietzsche Ubermensche were to arise, he wouldn’t need a “political” reason.  He would come equipped with his own inspiring “fury.”  He could and, Fukuyama thinks, might very well start up history again (by warring against other nations) for no other reason than an exalted view of himself and his own destiny.  But that wasn’t something Fukuyama longed for; quite the contrary.  It was the one potential danger, the only one he could think of, that might render Hegel wrong after all.  Nietzsche’s bland “last man” wasn’t something Fukuyama regretted, but he thought a future Ubermensche might regret him.
            Rorty may be reading more of Kojeve into Fukuyama’s book than Fukuyama put there.  Fukuyama had every opportunity to state that he was more concerned about the end of philosophy than history in his subsequent writings, but we don’t find that in his America at the Crossroads, Democracy, Power, and the NeoConservative Legacy.  Fukuyama wrote that in 2006 as a rejection of the use to which his earlier (1992) End of History was put by the Neocons.  He intended his End of History to establish that Hegel was correct when he taught that Capitalism (aka Liberal Democracy) would be the “end of history.”  Up until 1989 Marx’s view that Communism would be “the end of history” and that Hegel was wrong held sway.  But after the failure of the Marxist experiment, it was time, Fukuyama thought, that we give Hegel his due.  The “end of history” was indeed Capitalism (aka Liberal Democracy) and would not be Communism.  However, Fukuyama intended his End of History and the Last Man to be a theoretical work and not a handbook for political action.  He did not believe in the active exportation of Liberal Democracy, especially not by military means.  Whether or not Fukuyama’s ideas inspired the Bush administration to hope that Iraq could be converted into a Liberal Democracy, some Neocons were speaking out as though there was a connection and Fukuyama could not abide that.

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