It is a pleasure to comment again on Fukuyama's remarkable article of ten years ago. I continue to think "The End of History" to be an overinterpretation of the fall of communism, but I also still wonder at the ingenuity and breadth of the author. Fukuyama, with his knowledge of philosophy, easily surpasses the political science theorists who possess nothing but second-hand Kant, or misread snippets from Thucydides, and whose constructions remind one of an immense suburban development of small houses, all built to be at once the same and different. He also seems to have read The Economist for the past several centuries, and remembered it. The best I can do, by contrast, is to speak from above the facts and arguments he marshals.
As Fukuyama says, his article and book on the end of history have been relentlessly criticized, but he is too modest to add that they have been universally read. The reason they cannot be ignored or dismissed is that they embody our hopes as well as our doubts, both of which Fukuyama has brilliantly expressed. The "end of history" makes sense of our belief in progress because progress, if it goes toward a better life, must have an end in perfect life. A society that is perfectible must have a perfection. Without an end to history we could never know whether history was going forward, as we believe, or going backward.
Yet an end of history also makes us uncomfortable. It leaves us with nothing interesting to do. Moreover, the path of progress was to have been a way around any set definition of the perfect life, any metaphysical or religious summum bonum. To acknowledge a perfect life at the end of history seems to reinstate the authorities claiming to know that life from which modernity wished to liberate us. When Francis Bacon said that the end of modern science was the "relief of man's estate", he did not tell us what man's estate was. But now, when science does so much for man, we need to know what man is, so that we can tell whether his estate has been relieved or aggravated. It does not matter that we did not start with a notion of the perfect life. We need one now as we approach the destination.
Fukuyama seems to me quite equivocal about the perfection of human life at the end of history. On the one hand he says that the perfect life, with its two elements of economics and esteem--the perfection of the body and the perfection of the soul--has been achieved in liberal democracy. (I exaggerate his words but not his claims.) The fall of communism confirms this truth and events since 1989 do not bring it into doubt. But on the other, he agrees with Nietzsche that humanity is close upon the Last Man--meaning not the best but the disappearance of the best. In this view the idea of progress has led us to disaster. Instead of attaining the perfect life we have lost sight of it.
Fukuyama concentrates his doubts on new developments in biotechnology, particularly on two new drugs, Ritalin and Prozac, illustrating the scary character of modern science. Such drugs may seem capable of creating a "new type of human being." But in fact they simply help to constitute the Last Man, whose definition has been available at least since the early writings of Marx. Ritalin tempers the high spirits of boys, and Prozac raises the low spirits of women. The result is that we will no longer be troubled by psychic sexual differences and all will be equally capable of the same equanimity. Anyway, why would we want to be troubled if, life being perfect, there is nothing to be troubled about?
Fukuyama can see that these drugs contribute to the belittlement, not the esteem, of man. Men are belittled when they do not feel joy or despair, even though, or precisely because, such sentiments are often mistaken or excessive. Nothing great is gained for us if nothing important can be lost. The modern project for reducing risk can be seen at work not only in economics but even in the element of esteem, where it moves us to equalize our chances and to smooth out life's ups and downs. Fukuyama rightly wonders whether, when you take such drugs or other soothing therapy, you are still yourself; or have you given your self away to keep it safe?
The situation gets worse if one were to push Fukuyama to decide whether esteem is really recognition in the Hegelian manner. Hegel conceived that recognition is equal because in recognizing what is other, one recognizes oneself. But if the other is always the alienated self, there is nothing in the universe except the self. Then what are we to say of a life devoted to finding the self that is always ready to abandon the self, that vacillates between desiring recognition and settling for prudent submission?
We know that the modern, well-adjusted self belittles man because we know from religions and philosophies wiser than Hegel that it cannot satisfy human nature. Men cannot be satisfied if there is nothing above them to admire and strive for. At the end of history we may decide to rob ourselves of our humanity, and indeed the most telling charge against American education today is that it gives our children nothing to look up to. But if we do that, it will have been our delusion and our fault.
Harvey Mansfield is professor of government at Harvard University.
In On Human Nature (1978) I also introduced the theme with which Professor Fukuyama closes his essay, and in Consilience: The Unity of Knowledge (1998) developed it in some detail. I am pleased that a political scientist of Fukuyama's caliber has now arrived independently at the same perception.
But there are differences, and my overall conclusion is a great deal more conservative. In On Human Nature I recognized three successive dilemmas encountered during the growth of scientific materialism. The first dilemma is the sapping of religious and ideological authority, leaving no clear transcendent alternative. The second is the choice to be made among the elements of newly understood human nature--which to constrain and which to enhance. The third dilemma is the one that Professor Fukuyama now recognizes, the choices that will be imposed by volitional evolution of the genetic basis of human nature.
To address the question of volitional evolution, which is on the near horizon of technical capability, it is necessary to define human nature. Fukuyama goes partway when he speaks of the statistical preponderance of hereditary temperament and ability, which is open to genetic fine-tuning. But human nature as newly revealed by cognitive neuroscience and anthropology is something much deeper and more interesting.Essay Types: Essay