Academic journal article Sarmatian Review

The Past and Present Ends of History

Academic journal article Sarmatian Review

The Past and Present Ends of History

Article excerpt

Francis Fukuyama's thesis about the end of history (1) is sometimes invoked as an example of extreme naivete. However, in his famous book Fukuyama did not say that nothing new would happen in history. He merely stated that it is inconceivable for a more perfect organizational structure to appear than one embedded in liberal democracy and market capitalism. Most of Fukuyama's critics agree with his thesis. Often they are more "Fukuyamist" than Fukuyama himself, although they may not realize it. Poland in particular is replete with such "Fukuyamists." They are not only convinced that the present "Western" forms of political and economic life are perfect, but also that they themselves have always advanced the thesis that the Third Republic [Poland since 1989] is the final and ultimate end of the history of Poland, and that nothing better could ever conceivably happen to the Poles. This last belief has recently been shaken by world events, but the opinion that the telos of history finds its fulfillment in the European Union is still very popular.

On second look, however, Fukuyama's opus does not inspire optimistic conclusions. His description of the "posthistoric" state was penned largely under the influence of Friedrich Nietzsche. Like Nietzsche and like Alexandre Kojeve, a Russian emigre whose interpretations of Hegel influenced many French and American intellectuals, Fukuyama maintains that at the end of history man ceases to be human in the traditional sense, and instead reverts to the essentially animalistic stage of contentment with the world, becoming similar to a well-fed dog rolling about in warm sunshine. "The last man," or the man of the liberal democracy, is interested first of all in his own health and security. This seems to have been borne out by practice--today's German youth are interested mainly in the question of who will pay for their dentures during their years of retirement. Contrary to the nightmares of many Poles, even Erika Steinbach would not be able to rouse them up to battle.

For Nietzsche, such a stage of animalistic contentment was a frightening vision, for Kojeve a positive one, while Fukuyama seems to have placed his hopes in a variety of social inequalities which liberal democracy continues to manufacture. As long as these inequalities exist, people will want to stand up and struggle in order to be more highly regarded than others, and by that means avoid becoming like generously fed dogs sunning themselves. However, the possibilities of "standing out" and getting ahead of the pack seem to be diminishing both in the economy and in politics. There remain substitutes such as sports and a broad range of snobberies.

It is worth remembering that history was supposed to end many times in the past. These aborted endings are instructive. It was Hegel, the same philosopher who stated that he "discovered" History, that was the first to announce its demise. However, his pupils soon found that their master made excessive promises and that history did not end. This caused no less confusion among them than among the early Christians when the Kingdom of God failed to arrive. However, according to Kojeve, Hegel committed only a slight mistake--he was in too much of a hurry. Hegel's philosophy is not yet true, but it will become true. The master and slave dialectic has not yet reached its final point. Like Tadeusz Kronski in Poland and many other admirers of Hegel elsewhere, Kojeve was of the opinion that only the Soviet Union would finally bring to fruition Hegel's reasoning about the end of History. While Hegel admired Napoleon as a person of great historical significance, Kojeve admired Stalin as the man leading History to its fulfillment. He maintained that one can understand Phenomenology of Spirit only insofar as one comes to understand Stalin. (2)

Kojeve was born in 1912 into a well-to-do intelligentsia family. His real name was Kozhevnikov, and Vassilii Kandinsky was his uncle. …

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