The Logic of Exclusion, Reviewed by Tristan

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Fukuyama uses a body of empirical evidence to support the thesis that history has an inner universal logic, and, unlike many historians, is self-consciously moralizing historical events. My purpose is to understand the dynamics of Fukuyama’s narrative using Hayden White’s theory. In White’s view, in any historical discourse facts do not have a pre-given meaning a priori, but are rather are constituted as meaningful within a web of significant narrative relations. I want to in particular examine how one concept––the concept of a universal history as a process––is structured by, and constitutes, the explanatory paradigm chosen, and to a limited extent the particular ethical commitments and the narrative strategy used My argument is that Fukuyama’s interpretation of empirical data strongly favours White’s claims about the nature of narratives, namely that the historian attempts to make reality coherent, unambiguous, and desirable by appealing to a social authority. I show how Fukuyama deploys ethnocentric tropes to construct a notion of desirable and authoritative reality––the superiority of the so-called West––to diminish the threat of different possible narratives.

Fukuyama’s philosophy of history is indebted to G.W.F. Hegel’s construal of history as a unified process. In the Philosophy of History, Hegel identified a single metaphysical principle behind the process of history, namely the drive of the rational historical community coming to know itself.[1] The end of history, in a Hegelian sense, would eventuate when rational freedom is obtained and the inner purpose of history’s logic is satisfied.

Fukuyama, taking the general thrust behind Hegel’s theory, identifies two metaphysical principles behind history. The first is economic: the expanding free-market is the most efficient distributor of ideas and technology, favouring both progressive scientific advancement and increasing conformity to economic liberalism.[2] Fukuyama’s second principle is on the level of ideas. This principle Fukuyama borrows from Hegel. Some commentators interpret Hegel as arguing that as rational beings, humans have desires above somatic urges––namely rational desires, which include desire for recognition of our personhood as valuable.[3] For Fukuyama, various political ideologies have competed to provide satisfactory rational recognition. Fukuyama argues that the two principle threats to liberal democracy in the twentieth century––Fascism and Communism––were outright contradictory, or at least ideologically unsustainable. They did not provide satisfactory political recognition, and, as a result were defeated in the march of history.[4]

According to Fukuyama, liberal democracy therefore remains “the only coherent political aspiration that spans different regions and cultures.”[5] Fukuyama makes the strong claim that there is a “move toward political freedom around the globe.”[6] Due to the ubiquity, success, and coherence of liberal democracy, there will be “no further progress in the development of underlying principles and institutions, because all of the really big questions have been settled.”[7] Fukuyama’s end of history thesis is easily misinterpreted. The end of history for Fukuyama does not “mean that the natural cycle of birth, life, and death would end, that important events would no longer happen, or that newspapers reporting them would cease to be published.”[8] Rather, the driving principle behind history’s logic has been satisfied––the achievement of rational freedom––and therefore history as an “evolutionary process” has been superseded by the tranquillity of the liberal eschaton.[9]

Fukuyama’s mode of explanation fits quite neatly within White’s organicist paradigm. The organicist historian necessarily relates “various contexts that can be perceived to exist in the historical record as parts to the whole which is history-in-general” striving to “identify the principles by which the different periods of history can be integrated into a single macrocosmic process of development.” What white describes is precisely what Fukuyama is attempting.[10] Moreover, although Fukuyama bemoans the “banalization of life under consumerism,” Fukuyama nevertheless ends his narrative with liberalism’s triumph.[11] Consequently, within Fukuyama’s world-history, historical events are morally meaningful inasmuch as they represent this progressive logic towards the proliferation of liberal democracy. Therefore, we can say confidently that a moral authority behind Fukuyama’s text is liberalism, which he understands as the free market and formal legal equality.

Fukuyama faces a problem establishing the authority of his moral system. There are multiple narratives that conflict with this optimism. Even if we accept his highly contestable claims about the putative completeness of liberal democracy and its facilitation of scientific progress, there are numerous political dilemmas at the time of his writing. What about the authoritarianism within the Islamic world, or even the proleterianization and impoverishment of minority populations in post-industrial countries owing to neoliberal policy?

As Hayden White notes, the very impetus for narrativizing reality is because of a disjuncture in interpretations like the one Fukuyama is facing: the disjuncture between the emptiness and discontinuity of the sequence of real events, and our desire to give human experience a fixed and coherent meaning. The authority behind some notion of reality, White thinks, is what the historian assumes to be significant in virtue of her situation within a particular system of social authority.[12] By constituting historical reality within a structure of cultural significance, the author makes reality desirable to the reader, “imposing upon [reality’s] processes the formal coherency that only stories possess.”[13]

Fukuyama is constrained by his totalizing organicist mode of explanation. To give his narrative continuity, and therefore desirability, he must somehow interpret all of world-history within his story. Fukuyama resolves his contestable interpretation by suggesting that “if we look not just at the past fifteen years, but at the whole scope of history, that liberal democracy occupies a special kind of place.”[14] The question is what constitutes the “whole scope of history.” In a graph supposed to demonstrate the emergence of democracy, Fukuyama lists European, North American, South American, and a few East Asian Countries.[15] All Middle Eastern and African countries are excluded on the graph. Yet the Middle East and Africa are not excluded from Fukuyama’s discourse. To be sure, the regions are included, and are essential for the intelligibility of the idea of progress.

Fukuyama constitutes the web of significance in his narrative so that facts that conflict with his grand-narrative are included within world-history, but interpreted so that they are excluded from threatening the intelligibility of a progression towards freedom. There are a set of binary oppositions operating within Fukuyama’s text that play a role in constituting the web of significance within his narrative. As he writes, when the Eastern Europeans overthrew communism they “proved instead to be adults who could tell truth from falsehood.”[16] In other words, becoming ‘democratic’ involves ‘growing up’ from infancy into adulthood, the implication being that most of the undemocratic world is in cultural immaturity. Moreover, Fukuyama always describes universal history as the universal history of man and mankind. In fact, Fukuyama does not mention a single woman in the book. The only time the signifier <woman> vaguely comes to the reader’s awareness (but is not used) is in his criticism of feminists.[17] Women are present as an absence.

Fukuyama also divides the planet into the “historical” and “post-historical” world.[18] He uses historical to describe the so-called Third World, still undemocratic “stuck in history” and in its effeminate infancy. Post-historical describes the democratized free market countries in masculine adulthood, languishing at the end of history.[19] Africa is mentioned in the discourse, not by name, but rather as an absence, coming to the reader’s attention generally within the historical Third World.[20]

The constitution of Fukuyama’s narrative as continuous relies on the imposition of these various ethnocentric and androcentric idioms. To illustrate my point, let’s return to a thorny empirical obstacle to Fukuyama’s argument: Islam. The radicalization of Islamic political society is a response, in Fukuyama’s view, to the failure “to maintain their dignity vis-à-vis the non-Muslim West,” a response which is nevertheless inconsequential for the march of world-history, because Muslim “values, corrupt and latitudinarian, had been soundly defeated in the course of the previous hundred years.”[21] Because, in Fukuyama’s discourse, ‘historical’ connotes irrationality and infancy, the Islamic world is dismissible as unworthy to be considered within his masculinist narrative of the historical process. The Islamic world is comprehensible as a ‘part’ of the ‘whole’ scope world history only inasmuch as the Islamic world represents the absence of progress, and therefore the cultural superiority of the so-called West. As he puts the matter succinctly himself, “the universal historian must be ready to discard entire peoples and times as essentially pre- or non-historical, because they do not bear on the central plot of his or her story.”[22]

In sum, Fukuyama’s popular historiography is less a convincing depiction of an actual historical logic than an attempt to lend coherency to liberal dogma. Fukuyama incorporates empirical evidence when it justifies the moral prerogatives of the narrative, using ethnocentric tropes to distort the frame of world-history to fit a particular set of mostly so-called Western countries. Interestingly, Hegel, and Marx also were predisposed to heavily ethnocentric explanations in their theories of history as well. I do not think that a general history must fall in to these tropes, but certainly such a notion of history predisposes one to such racialized explanations.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Works Cited

 

Fukuyama, Francis. The End of History and the Last Man. New York: The Free Press, 1992.

 

G.W.F., Hegel. Philosophy of History. Mineola: Dover Publications, 2004.

 

Kojeve, Alexandre. Introduction to the Reading of Hegel: Lectures on the Phenomenology of Spirit. New York: Basic Books, 1969.

 

White, Hayden. “Interpretation in History.” New Literary History 4, no. 2 (Winter 1973): 281–314.

 

———. “Value of Narrativity in the Representation of Reality.” Critical Inquiry 7, no. 1 (1980): 5–27.

 


[1] Hegel G.W.F., Philosophy of History (Mineola: Dover Publications, 2004).

[2] Francis Fukuyama, The End of History and the Last Man (New York: The Free Press, 1992), 108.

[3] Such as Alexandre Kojeve, whom Fukuyama draws upon. See Introduction to the Reading of Hegel: Lectures on the Phenomenology of Spirit (New York: Basic Books, 1969).

[4] Fukuyama, The End of History and the Last Man, 143-210.

[5] Ibid, xiii.

[6] Ibid, xx.

[7] Ibid, xii.

[8] Francis Fukuyama, The End of History and the Last Man (New York: The Free Press, 1992), xiii.

[9] Ibid.

[10] Hayden White, “Interpretation in History,” New Literary History 4, no. 2 (Winter 1973), 302.

[11] Fukuyama, The End of History and the Last Man, 4.

[12] Hayden White, “Value of Narrativity in the Representation of Reality,” Critical Inquiry 7, no. 1 (1980): 5–27.

[13] Ibid, 23.

[14] Fukuyama, The End of History and the Last Man, 48.

[15] Ibid, 49.

[16] Ibid, 235.

[17] Ibid, 296-99.

[18] Ibid, 276.

[19] Ibid.

[20] He does, however, bring up the continent––again, but does not name it––only in the context of the White South African Afrikaner population on two occasions; see Ibid, 15, 111.

[21] Ibid, 246.

[22] Ibid, 139.

One response to “The Logic of Exclusion, Reviewed by Tristan”

  1. Ashley says:

    Dear Tristan,

    Excellent. This is a bcoherent review. You have eloquently illustrated the link between White and Fukuyama on connecting disjunctures and the task of historians to make reality coherent. I do see the problems with Fukuyama’s “end of history” thesis as you have pointed out. My biggest issue with this kind of thesis is that it brings all phenomena into the interior of the narrative, leaving zero exteriority and little to no space for differentiation between unintended outcomes and intended outcomes. It emphasises so much on the so-called structural driving forces that it overlooks the objectives of the actors on the ground. There certainly were many utopianisms in history that intended to lead the world towards one way, say Fascism, but then it turned out to be another, say liberal democracy; however, saying that the Fascism of course would eventually become liberal democracy because liberal democracy just had to win can be problematic: that simply was not what the Fascists were thinking and a historian would have to come up with a good reason to ignore that fact. The quote “the universal historian must be ready to discard entire peoples and times as essentially pre- or non-historical, because they do not bear on the central plot of his or her story” sounds almost mechanist and anti-humanist to me. Personally I find this overemphasis on a metaphysical principle established by the author combined with blatant disregard of human agency rather disconcerting. Such irony Fukuyama’s moral authority is liberalism.

    I am curious whether Fukuyama has anything to say about periodisation – in his thesis there seem would not be a need for periodisation at all since all history is one coherent “evolution process” towards liberal democracy. I don’t know if he actually explores this aspect in the book.

    By the way, thanks for your feedback on my review.

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