The Last Hollow Laugh

That is the title of a piece up at aeon.co that revisits Francis Fukuyama’s The End of History and the Last Man, which is one of those books (like The Bell Curve) that almost everyone with a ready critique hasn’t actually read. The book itself was an expansion of the famous article (pdf) Fukuyama published in 1989, also titled ‘The End of History?’ (note the question mark), which asked if liberal democracy was the end stage of human political development. That claim may or may not be correct; anyway, it’s far more nuanced than he is often given credit for.

There’s a small cottage industry these days in finding authors who ‘predicted’ the rise of Trump, the earlier the better. And this is where the ‘last laugh’ of the article’s title comes from. Fukuyama never argued that liberal democracy was stable; in fact his most recent book, Political Order and Political Decay, directly addresses the sources of instability to liberal democracy. But even 30 years ago he had some inkling of how things could go wrong:

In describing the shallow celebrity culture, the essential emptiness, of the habitat of the last man, Fukuyama had a particular example in mind. He went to the same individual for illustration when looking for an archetype of megalothymia – who else but ‘a developer like Donald Trump’. Fukuyama didn’t predict that it would be that very individual who would crash through the comforts of the end of History, turning the certainties of the post-Historical world upside down. But he got closer than most.

 

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