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February 12, 2005

End of History scholar updates his classic work

A hoard of students and faculty stood side-by-side and spilled out of Social Sciences 122 to hear world-famous celebrity, author, and political scholar Francis Fukuyama discuss "The End of History Fifteen Years Later."

Speaking at the John M. Olin Center for Inquiry into the Theory and Practice of Democracy on February 8, Fukuyama said he planned to address again the University in 15 years when he finishes the book's sequel.

"The End of History is not finished," he said.

In his much-debated political philosophy The End of History and the Last Man (1992), Fukuyama—the Bernard L. Schwartz Professor of International Political Economy at Johns Hopkins University—provided a new theory on modernization. Right before his book came out, Fukuyama said, "A large number of progressive intellectuals believed in history with a capital H."

The popular theory was that this History would end in some form of socialism. Fukuyama took this theory and wrote an article, claiming that said History will end in liberal democracy instead. Soon after creating heat across the globe, the article developed into the better-known book. He also integrated ideas into his more recent book, State-Building: Governance and World Order in the 21st Century (2004), which suggests that outside actors cannot significantly help countries strengthen their capacities toward statehood.

Fukuyama noted that, since September 11 and the Iraq war, he has revisited three issues from his 1992 book: the potential threats of radical Islam; the divide between Europe and America; and the alleged autonomy of politics, or the question of whether there is such a thing as a "theory of development."

In addressing Islam, he argued that religion was not the culprit, but instead pointed the finger at politics and social systems: "If you look at the ideology of Osama bin Laden, what's amazing is how little this is a religious issue. It's more political."

He said that he did not think radical Islam was an "existential threat."

"Political Islam is nothing more than a modern political ideology," he said. He talked about "moral spiritual leaders," and compared Osama bin Laden's role as an identity provider to that of Hitler in Fascist Europe. He said there was no "fundamental cultural barrier for Islam." He also touched on the simple but oft-made case that money, which helps establish madrasas and schools in Arab nations, could not be overlooked in seeking to understand the roots and workings of political Islam.

He said that political Islam was powerful in countries like Afghanistan and Saudi Arabia due to the fact that these are nations that were "culturally Muslim to begin with."

"It's not a Muslim problem so much as it is an Arab problem," Fukuyama said. "The real problem is in Arab countries." He cited Turkey, Indonesia, and Malaysia as nations with large Muslim populations that have "done well."

He acknowledged that when he wrote The End of History, he had spoken of the West as consistent, with a commonality of values and institutions. While he said, "I don't think we'll be going to war with France any time soon," he examined basic distinctions between Europe and America, including the idea that Europeans prefer a welfare state, while most Americans maintain a libertarian impulse. Citing the American abolition of slavery and the preservation of the union in the Civil War and the fight against fascist tyranny in World War II, he said, "We believe you can use power for good purposes and Europeans do not." He added, "I don't want to take sides."

He emphasized another distinguishing feature of American foreign policy: "The Belgians do not think their political system's going to be a model for anybody. It's just a different experience [with Americans]."

As for the issue of the autonomy of politics, he cited East Asia as a success story, offering popular theories as to how modernity may be attained, including the theory that there is no theory.

Fukuyama received laughs from the audience, with his occasional wry one-liners, like, "The end of history doesn't have an answer, y'know?" or "Well, I guess this is one area where my facility for global generalization fails me." He even referred to his specialization in comparative politics—as opposed to regional studies—as leaving him with "superficiality, I guess."