History and the Idea of Progress

History and the Idea of Progress

History and the Idea of Progress

History and the Idea of Progress

Excerpt

An old New Yorker cartoon depicts a man and his wife in their bedroom as dawn breaks. From their furniture and the clothing they wear, we can see that it is the late Middle Ages. While the woman slowly rouses herself from bed, her husband stands at the window, staring intently. He points to a faint glow issuing from beyond the horizon and says, "Look, dear. It's the Renaissance!"

Today, we all find ourselves in the position of that man. At the dawn of the third millennium, with the end of the Cold War, the sudden collapse of communism, and the apparent decline of socialism, we know that one historical epoch has come to an end. We strain to understand the world that will replace it.

This inarticulate wonder, which developed slowly along with events, was suddenly ignited into a headline-grabbing debate in the summer of 1989 by the publication of a brief, fifteen-page article titled The End of History? byFrancis Fukuyama. No one agreed with its thesis, and yet everyone felt a driving need to say so in print and at length. Many dismissed it as intellectual sensationalism or an ill-mannered display of Western triumphalism. But, in fact, it raised important, indeed inevitable, questions. The furor has now died down, but the questions remain--as they will for a very long time to come. This book represents an early attempt to clarify and address some of them.

In a situation such as ours, it is best to begin by posing the largest possible question, on the assumption that later it will be easier to . . .

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