John Dewey's Philosophy of History as a Guide to the International Order

By Stone, George C. | Forum on Public Policy: A Journal of the Oxford Round Table, Summer 2008 | Go to article overview

John Dewey's Philosophy of History as a Guide to the International Order


Stone, George C., Forum on Public Policy: A Journal of the Oxford Round Table


Introduction:

Francis Fukuyama opened an interesting conversation in 1989 when he wrote an article entitled, "The End of History" that appeared in The National Interest. (1) His thesis was that liberal democracy as a system of government had prevailed over all others during the past several years in such a powerful way that it was in effect the final form of human government, and consequently, the end of history. Fukuyama was using "the end of history" in the sense of Universal history similar to Marx's reference to the end of history when Marx predicted the process of history will end in a state of communism. Fukuyama's argument met immediate opposition. He said that criticism "... took every conceivable form, some of it based on simple misunderstanding of my original intent, and other penetrating more perceptively to the core of my argument." (2)

Fukuyama made an immediate response to his critics in The National Interest, (3) but two years later he wrote The End of History and the Last Man (4) in 1992 which is a brilliant attempt at raising the age old question of whether there can be "a coherent and directional History of mankind that will eventually lead the greater part of humanity to liberal democracy." (5) Fukuyama argues that there can be such a historical process and he went on to base his argument on two principles, namely, one to do with economics and the other to do with the "'struggle for recognition,'" a struggle defined by Hegel in his "non-materialistic account of History." (6)

Larry Conde entered the conversation with The End of History (7) in 2001 to address the question, "Does history have meaning?" Conde makes an important contribution to the discussion by briefly laying out for us such matters as the following: definition of history; role of the historian; philosophies of history; and a few of the more important theologies of history. Conde's book is important for those interested in the subject of whether history has meaning.

Two excellent books that dealt with the meaning of history appeared in 2007. Those were as follows: John Burrow's, A History of Histories, (8) a brilliant account of the history of history, a book that is destined to become a classic. Walter Russell Mead's, God and Gold: Britain, America, and the Making of the Modern World (9) agrees with much of Fukuyama's thesis, but goes on to argue that capitalism will continue moving us toward a future of rapid change that will, in turn, cause economic and political relationships around the world to be in flux. Mead believes that the American society "is going to approach this new and so far rather unsettling century with the optimistic faith in the invisible hand that has long been our hallmark." (10)

The quest for the role of history in the modern world continues in 2008 with the publication of at least four books that are important. They are as follows: Parag Khanna's The Second World: Empires and Influence in the New Global Order (11) argues that a new geography of power is occurring in the modern world, and that the world must understand nothing can save us unless we can find a common ground in our minds. Strobe Talbott's, The Great Experiment: The Story of Ancient Empires, Modern States, and the Quest for a Global Nation, (12) demonstrates the dilemma of humanity's common fate, namely, "how to reconcile our tribal instincts with our common fate," a problem that is centered in the human condition, including human history and human nature. Gordon Wood, in his book, The Purpose of the Past: Reflections on the Uses of History, (13) takes a different position arguing that historians need to stay out of these conversations. Wood, one of America's outstanding historians says, "Historians who want to influence politics with their history writing have missed the point of the craft; they ought to run for office." (14) Although Wood ultimately agrees with that statement, his thoughts about history are broader than that and indeed are among the most poignant on the subject.

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