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The End of History

David Cowles

Jun 1, 2024

“Fukuyama proclaimed ‘The End of History’ with a celebratory flourish. But be careful what you celebrate!”

In 1992, Francis Fukuyama, in a famous essay of the same title, proclaimed the ‘end of history’. He wrote in the halcyon days immediately following the Cold War. But he was only the latest in a long line of self-proclaimed social prophets, including Nietzsche, Marx, Hegel, and yes, Jesus, to proclaim the end of our familiar social dynamics.

History! I’d rather study it than live through its perpetual cycle of war, conquest, subjugation, exile, slavery, genocide (‘ethnic cleansing’), and only finally…Revolution – you can keep it, thanks!   

Of course, the ‘end of history’ implies arrival at a relatively stable state-of-affairs in contrast to the vicissitudes of the historical process. For Jesus the end of history was the coming of the Kingdom of God, inaugurated in the first century CE but only ‘fully realized’ at the Eschaton. For Judeo-Christians, history ends where it began, in Paradise (aka The Garden of Eden).

Ironically, the social contradictions inherent in Paradise, as it was created, gave rise to the historical process in the first place: malevolent snakes, forbidden fruit, secret knowledge, and a naïve citizenry – what could possibly go wrong?

Eden is recreated at the Eschaton…with important changes: Satan has been vanquished, bans have been lifted, knowledge is shared, and we see God face to face. The contradictions have been resolved, once and for all. Like it or not, Reconstructed Eden is the dominant model of Paradise in Western thinking.

For Marx, history ends with the Dictatorship of the Proletariat, followed by the withering away of the state and the advent of pure communism. Marx looked forward to a permanent resolution of the contradictions inherent in capitalism. In other words, What Jesus Said

For Hegel, history ended in 1806 (Napoleon defeated) with the ‘proper state’ now governed by the principles that inspired the American and French revolutions. He must have drunk Rousseau’s Kool-Aid! Did he really imagine that Liberalism was the moral equivalent of the State of Nature? Apparently! Like Jesus before him and Marx to follow, Hegel saw lumpy history dissolving into smooth harmonies.

Fukuyama seems to agree with Hegel on this…except for the date. He prefers 1989 to 1806. He recognized that nationalism, fascism, and communism still had to be thoroughly vanquished before the world could do its ‘happy dance’ in the end zone. For Fukuyama, tearing down the Berlin Wall is what defeating Napoleon was for Hegel.

Unfortunately, Hegel and Fukuyama were willing to settle for a lot ‘less’ than Jesus…or even Marx. For Fukuyama, society’s ‘end state’ is Democratic Capitalism, not an ‘end’ in the sense of utopia but in the sense of stability. For better or worse, the Liberal state sufficiently, if not perfectly, resolves the socio-economic contradictions that inspired periodic upheavals over the prior 10,000 years. 

As presented (above), this is an attractive theory, but Fukuyama goes overboard: “But surely, the class issue has actually been successfully resolved in the West… the egalitarianism of modern America represents the essential achievement of the classless society envisioned by Marx…” Really, this is the ‘classless society envisioned by Marx’?   

For Fukuyama, “the root causes of economic inequality do not have to do with the underlying legal and social structure of our society, which remains fundamentally egalitarian and moderately redistributionist…” 

On the contrary, he blames society’s ongoing socio-economic conflicts on “the cultural and social characteristics of the groups that make it up…” 

“But at the end of history it is not necessary that all societies become successful liberal societies, merely that they end their ideological pretensions of representing different and higher forms of human society.”

 “…The People's Republic of China can no longer act as a beacon for illiberal forces around the world, whether they be guerrillas in some Asian jungle or middle class students in Paris. Maoism, rather than being the pattern for Asia's future, became an anachronism.” Especially in China itself!

Fukuyama might be excused for his bit of excessive euphoria. It was 1992 after all! Politicians were seriously talking about a peace dividend, i.e. the redirection of funds from defense to infrastructure and social welfare. How has that worked out?

The notion that historical conflict ended with the collapse of the Berlin Wall is contradicted by the Nightly News. Conflict in the world has not subsided…not the least bit. If anything, the lack of super power balance has created additional breathing room allowing regional conflicts to intensify and expand. 

I can’t resist the superfluous urge to do some scrap-booking here: The new 30 years’ war over the Fertile Crescent, the rise of militant Islam (Jihad), 9/11 (Afghanistan, Al-Qaeda, ISIS), the chaos that was Palestine, the proliferation of ‘failed states’ (e.g. Somalia, Haiti), often replaced by narco-terrorist gangs, the reemergence of an Axis of Evil, the tragedy of Ukraine, the collapse of the U.S. border, and the supply driven Fentanyl epidemic. There, done!

What happened to the Golden Age? Where’s the peace dividend? And yet, one could also ask, “Where is the revolutionary spirit?” These days, however much someone might want change, they are unlikely to risk their lives, and the welfare of their families, to effect that change. How different this is from 1776, 1789, 1848, 1871, 1917, 1968 or 1989!

How come? Has socio-economic conflict, if not yet resolved, at least been defanged? Has Liberalism led to a society where there is just enough popular input into social policy and just enough economic opportunity to keep folks coloring between the lines? 

In fact, no modicum of actual popular input or real economic opportunity is required – the mere perception will do fine – and today we are masters of our collective perceptions.  (Propaganda, Jacques Ellul)

Given the level of injustice in the World today, it is a bit surprising that ‘revolution’ is not on the tip of every tongue. Well, not all that surprising. A successful revolution requires 4 elements:

  1. A sober analysis (critique) of the status quo.

  2. A concrete notion (image) of how things could be different.

  3. A practical program (What is to be Done? – V.I. Lenin) to get us from A to Z.

  4. A ‘revolutionary’ ideology that explains the injustice of the present, grounds our vision for the future, and justifies the less palatable aspects of the program.  

I would argue that none of these conditions is present today, at least not in the First World. Our analysis is cock-eyed. In the place of an in-depth reflection on society and its contradictions, we have bumper stickers:

“Down with Halliburton,

Crush the 1%,

Bush lied/people died,


Our concrete image of ‘better days’ is just “More, please” (Oliver Twist): more democracy, more prosperity, an even bigger Big Mac!

So were Hegal and Fukuyama right after all? If so, they were right for reasons they did not fully understand. For the most part we live in a world where things move. Everything flows! (Heraclitus) Unimpeded, things tend to move in straight lines. (Newton) 

We frantically build structures designed to limit that flow and protect the status quo: The Great Wall of China for example, or Constitutional Government.  Now imagine a subatomic particle. Normally, it speeds through space at close to the speed of light; but we can put an end to its cosmic wandering; we can trap that particle in an EM lattice, effectively converting its linear motion to oscillation within a narrow range. 

Once ‘captured’, our particle cannot leave the lattice unless energy is injected from outside. It does not have enough native energy to overcome the restraints. Unliberated, it will persist in its current state ‘until the 12th of never’. It is trapped in a so-called energy sink

Fukuyama’s eschatology could be understood in these terms. While most people are not satisfied with today’s status quo, we may well be satisficed.  Imperfect as things are, it is not worth the energy (or risk) required to change them in any significant way. The devil we know…

Once upon a time we were addicted to progress: our children will always be better and do better than us. No more. Now we are content not to go backwards. We are happy to oscillate within a fixed range. Doubt me? Just look at the electoral history of the United States since 1988. 

Fukuyama proclaimed ‘The End of History’ with celebratory flourish. But be careful what you celebrate! Might we be left with all of history’s horrors, without the balm of revolutionary hope?


David Cowles is the founder and editor-in-chief of Aletheia Today Magazine. He lives with his family in Massachusetts where he studies and writes about philosophy, science, theology, and scripture. He can be reached at


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