Sunday, July 16, 2006

The End of History and the Last Man, by Francis Fukuyama

If I have read this book correctly, the first man of history was the man who was willing to risk his life in battle, or any type of conflict against another man, in order to assert his supremacy and self-worth. Fukuyama readily asserts that this may seem a ghastly idea to us in this day and age, but at the beginning of history, this was how prestige was secured. Aristocracy followed on from sort of brutality.

The last man is economically free man, safe and secure in a liberal democracy, protected by laws and courts, this whole system of protections buttressed by democratically elected parliaments. Nor does the last man of history go to war much. Democracies may fight tyrannies and dictatorships, but they do not fight each other.

In short, the last man risks little, whereas the first man risked all.

Fukuyama’s book provides a compelling history of both these ideas, balancing Kant’s idea of a united nations of democracies (as opposed to what we have now, with non-democracies admitted), against Nietzche’s call for a brutal, almost survival of the fittest polity.

Fukuyama seems to be saying we have gone down the road of too much comfort (too much democracy and trying to give everyone an equal opportunity), and should try to go back to an idea of more personal sacrifice and more risk taking.

I recall Camille Paglia saying recently something along the lines of: elegant and sophisticated Rome was brought down by savage warriors, and that the same could happen to the West via committed, brutal and bloody Islamic idealists, ready to risk all for their particular vision of an Islamic caliphate.

This is a really good read, discussing two quite simple ideas: comfort versus risk. When societies don’t risk anything collectively, they become meaningless.

Surprisingly Fukuyama seems to be almost advocating war. For example, he discusses the responses of populations through Europe to the First World War. They all cheered for it. It gave them a feeling of common purpose. This sense of ‘community’ Fukuyama says is a good thing. But the flipside of this is of course pretty ugly: millions dead in a pointless war. You wonder if boredom is better than terror. I know which I’d prefer.

The End of History and The Last Man discusses the most fundamental questions of our existence and purpose, written in an accessible and enjoyable style.

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