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The End of History Means the End of Freedom: A Reply to Francis Fukuyama
Harry V. Jaffa
In “A Reply to My Critics,” (The National Interest—Winter 1989/90) Francis Fukuyama writes:
We owe to Hegel our modern understanding of history as an evolution from
primitive to modern, through a succession of stages of “false
consciousness” during which men believed in the legitimacy of such things
as chattel slavery and the divine right of kings. There is hardly an educated
person alive who does not have a slightly patronizing view of those great
thinkers of the past who were “advanced for their times,” but whose views
have subsequently been superseded by more modern, less parochial ones.
Among “sophisticated” people, there is hardly anyone willing to assert that
the views of Aristotle, or of Aquinas, or of Locke, are true absolutely and
This assertion is far more fundamental than any of Fukuyama’s more highly publicized assertions about the relationship either of liberal democracy or of communism to “the end of history.” In the foregoing passage Fukuyama put the word “sophisticated” in quotation marks. However he did not do so in the case of “educated,” although referring to the same phenomenon. It is clear that he himself is as patronizing as anyone concerning the great pre-Hegelian thinkers of the past. What “we owe to Hegel. . .” is something that Fukuyama thinks is “true, absolutely and forever.”
The “modern understanding of history,” according to Fukuyama is of an “evolution” from the lower to the higher. To understand the past in the light of the present is—for him—to understand the low in the light of the high. Aristotle belongs to the low—and Hegel (and Marx) belongs to the high—ex hypothesi.
Fukuyama recognizes that this understanding of history might be thought merely to represent a short-sighted relativism in disguise.
Anyone who accepts the historicist premise—that is, that truth is
historically relative—faces the question of the end of history even if he is not
aware of it…Anyone who believes that earlier thinkers were simply “products
of their time” must, if he is honest and consistent, ask whether he and his
own historicism are not also products of their times…
For historicists, there are two ways out of this conundrum.* The first is
path chosen by Hegel, to declare that history had come to an end. Hegel
accepted the historical relativity of thought, but argued that in his system
opinion finally reached the status of truth and ideology turned into
philosophy. Hegel’s system also represented the end of philosophy,
because it would henceforth be impossible to state a philosophical
proposition that was both true and new. Hegel understood with full
philosophical clarity that the end of history was a necessary support for the
modern state, for otherwise its underlying concepts of right would have no
basis in truth. The other path was the one chosen by Nietzsche and his
twentieth-century followers like Heidegger, who accepted fully the radical
consequences of historicism and realized that it makes impossible any sort
of conventional ethics or morality.
The asterisk above is accompanied by this footnote: “Of course, one need not be a historicist; one can simply believe in a doctrine of natural right.” In this most remarkable of asides, Fukuyama simply dismisses the alternative to historicism as if it were unworthy of further consideration. In endorsing the thesis “that the end of history was a necessary support for the modern state “he rejects inter alia the natural right teaching embodied in the American Declaration of Independence, the Virginia Statute of Religious Liberty, and other documents of the American Founding. And at least one post-Hegelian modern statesman, Abraham Lincoln, found the necessary support for a modern state—a government of the people, by the people for the people—in “an abstract truth, applicable to all men and all times.” Commenting on the great crisis of his time—in his Peoria speech of 1854—Lincoln declared that
Slavery is founded in the selfishness of man’s nature—opposition to it in
love of justice. These principles are an eternal antagonism; and when
brought into collision so fiercely, as slavery extension brings them, shocks,
and throes, and convulsions must ceaselessly follow. Repeal the Missouri
Compromise—repeal all compromises—repeal the Declaration of
Independence—repeal all past history, you still cannot repeal human
nature. (Emphasis added.)
Lincoln clearly thought that the principles of political freedom were grounded in nature and eternity, not in history. And it is to the words of Lincoln and Jefferson—not of Hegel—to whom the peoples of eastern Europe are turning to vindicate their struggles today.
Mr. Fukuyama is a disciple of the late Alexander Kojeve, who re-interpreted Hegel’s version of the “end of history” to justify his support of the regime of Josef Stalin. Now Mr. Fukuyama re-interprets Kojeve’s reinterpretation to justify the principles of liberal democracy. If, however, “the end of history” can—depending upon the way things happen to be going—be used to justify the regimes hailed by Hegel (first that of Napoleon, then the Prussian monarchy), by Kojeve, and by Fukuyama, it is difficult to imagine anything that it could not justify. Thus I fail to see the difference that Fukuyama thinks he sees between the paths marked out by Hegel (and Marx and Kojeve), and those of Nietzsche and Heidegger.
Leo Strauss—whose best know work is Natural Right and History (1953)—is the philosophic representative in our time of natural right. The revised and enlarged edition of Strauss’s On Tyranny (Free Press, 1963) includes his debate with Kojeve on natural right and history, a debate that may very well be the greatest intellectual confrontation of the last century, at least. From the evidence of his footnote, this debate seems to have left no residue whatever in the mind of Fukuyama. At the end of the French edition of the Strauss/Kojeve debate, however, Strauss made these observations concerning their differences.
Philosophy in the strict and classical sense is quest for the eternal order
for the eternal cause or causes of all things. It presupposes then that there
is an eternal and unchangeable order within which History takes place and
which is not in any way affected by History. It presupposes in other words
that any “realm of freedom” is not more than a dependent province within the
“the realm of necessity.” It presupposes, in the words of Kojeve, that “Being
is essentially immutable in itself and eternally identical with itself.” This
presupposition is not self-evident. Kojeve rejects it in favor of view that
“Being creates itself in the course of History,” or that the highest being is
Society and History, or that eternity is nothing but the totality of historical,
i.e. finite time.
Here is a profound articulation of what is at stake. Philosophy “in the strict and classical sense” stands or falls, with the idea of “an eternal and unchangeable order.” If there is no unchanging ground of changing experience, the philosophical quest for meaning in experience is itself meaningless. Strauss quotes with approval Kojeve’s characterization of the philosophical presupposition, that “Being is essentially immutable in itself and eternally identical with itself.” I think it worth noticing that this definition of Being would apply equally, for example, to Plato’s Idea of the Good, and to the God of the Bible.
The eternity of the God of the Bible is not in time: He existed before the creation of the world, and will exist after it ceases to be. The world exists in time, but the God of the Bible does not. Hegel’s “God” is nothing but History, Being creating itself in time, but having no existence beyond time. Kojeve’s rejection of the idea of philosophy (“in the strict and classical sense”) is equally a rejection of the idea of revealed religion. To say, as Kojeve does, that Being creates itself, is to say that man and God are created by the same process. This is as much as to say that what is imperfect—whether man or God—creates what is more perfect. But how can this be possible? How can the unreal and the irrational be the cause of the real and the rational? In truth, there is no intelligible perfection in the Hegelian universe accepted by Kojeve (and Fukuyama), and hence no rational understanding of human perfection and imperfection, such as may found in the difference between man and God, as revealed in the Bible, or in “the laws of nature and of nature’s God.”
In the tradition of American constitutionalism, all men are equally endowed by their Creator with certain rights. The equality of man is understood in the light of man’s inequality with God: because men are not and never can become God or gods—because unqualified wisdom is never available to human beings—only government by the consent of the governed, and under the rule of law, is intrinsically in accordance with the eternal order.
Strauss says that the presupposition upon which classical philosophy—and natural right—depend “is not self-evident” and that Kojeve rejects it. Is this rejection reasonable? What we can observe, at this point, is that Fukuyama accepts the proposition that all pre-Hegelian “philosophy” is ideology or false consciousness, that philosophy only comes to be with the end of history, but that philosophy also ceases to be with the end of history! In short philosophy exists neither in the past nor in the future, but only in the moment that separates them! But clearly, such a “moment” can have no duration. Philosophy has no real existence, and neither does the end of history! Does Fukuyama realize that he is courting the fate of John Buridan’s ass?
Strauss we see conceded—nay, insisted—that philosophy rested upon a premise, or presupposition, that was neither self-evident nor (as he argues elsewhere) susceptive of proof. For that reason, philosophy is eternally skeptical of itself and can therefore never expect to transform itself from love of wisdom, or quest for wisdom, into wisdom proper—which Hegel (followed by Kojeve and Fukuyama) claimed to have done. Socrates, we know, conceded that he might be the wisest of men precisely because, knowing that he knew nothing, he did not think he knew what he did not know. This was Socrates’ human wisdom. It is this very wisdom which decides the case for the rule of law in preference to the arbitrary rule of any man or men, however wise they or others may deem them to be. Socratic wisdom is however perfectly compatible with the idea of human equality enshrined in the Declaration of Independence. For this idea of equality in no way disparages the genuine differences among men: in intelligence, virtue, talents, or strength of character. It rather marks off man as man from beasts and from God or gods. It denounces a priori as fraudulent any claim to superhuman virtue or wisdom, that might be thought to justify any right to rule human beings without their consent. We see accordingly that the case for liberal democracy (and political moderation generally) rests decisively upon the Socratic understanding of human nature—of the humbling but invigorating awareness of the limits of human wisdom and virtue. It rests, in short upon the idea of natural right as Leo Strauss expounded it.
According to Strauss,
On the basis of the classical presupposition, a radical distinction must
made between the conditions of understanding and the sources of
understanding, and the sources of understanding, between the conditions of
the existence and perpetuation of philosophy (societies of a certain kind,
and so on) and the sources of philosophic insight. On the basis of
Kojeve’s presupposition, that distinction loses its crucial significance: social
change or fate affects being, if it is not identical with Being, and hence
According to the classical or Socratic perspective, the conditions for thinking clearly and well—e.g. intelligence, health, a certain amount of wealth, freedom, leisure—do not guarantee that one will think clearly and well. Nothing can guarantee understanding. Indeed, from this perspective nothing can guarantee a successful outcome to any human enterprise, practical or theoretical. In Churchill’s phrase, one cannot guarantee success, one can only deserve it. To say that the conditions of success—in thinking or anything else—necessarily produce success, would be to reduce man to a cipher of his environment. This is what in effect, the idea of the end of history does. The existence—or comprehension—of truth, is held to be the result of a fate over which the thinker himself has no control. Human consciousness—whether wise or foolish—is no more the result of the individual’s intelligence and will responding to the conditions of the individual’s existence, that is the consciousness of a dog or of any other species of animal. “Truth” is something that happens to the individual as the result of an historical fate that owes nothing to his individual efforts at thinking. Accordingly, says Strauss,
On the basis of Kojeve’s presuppositions, unqualified attachment to
human concerns becomes the source of philosophic understanding: man
must be absolutely at home on earth, he must be absolutely a citizen of the
earth, if not a citizen of a part of the inhabitable earth. On the basis of the
classical presupposition, philosophy requires a radical detachment from
human concerns: man must be absolutely at home on earth, he must be a
citizen of the whole.
According to Fukuyama, Kojeve had erred in thinking that a universal homogeneous state presided over by Stalin, or one of Stalin’s successors, was what History had fated for its end. In truth, however, the distinction between Stalinism and liberal democracy loses its significance after history has come to an end. If, as Fukuyama (following Hegel and Kojeve) contends, philosophy ends with the ending of history, then politics also ends. Politics can subsist only so long as it is thought reasonable for men to differ as to what they ought to pursue. Liberal democracy is merely a civilized and civilizing method for pursuing such differences, substituting ballots for bullets. Once the final truth is proclaimed—as Fukuyama says it must be—then there is no more reason to have elections than there is to have wars. (Wars will be replaced by police actions against philosophers and other dissenters, who by definition will be held to be invincibly ignorant.) As Marx said—quite correctly, on his Hegelian premises—the government of men is transformed into the administration of things. Indeed, it was precisely in anticipation of this end of history that Kojeve, disdaining the fame and prominence that might easily have been his as a professor of philosophy, chose instead the career of a technician in the French bureaucracy. In this he was, of course, enacting in his own way the same kind of role as Lenin in Zurich, only at the later (and last) phase of history.
Of this however we may be sure. The bureaucracy that replaces political government at the end of history will, from the point of view of an unwise and invincibly philosophic human nature, be just as tyrannical, whether it has been preceded by a Stalinist or liberal democratic regime. If, as Fukuyama insists, the end of history means that philosophy has been transformed into wisdom, then—as we have noted—politics no less than philosophy must come to end. The disappearance of any reason for elections will be followed by the disappearance of constitutional government, since such government has no purposes apart from the purpose of elections. It goes without saying, of course, that all revealed religion must also come to an end. What possible role is there for faith or God if History has revealed all? The arch-criminal—the Dr. Moriarty of the future that has no future—will be anyone who, like Socrates, continues to question the wisdom of the rulers.
There are those who continue to believe, with Leo Strauss, in the unexhausted meaningfulness of the quest for “an eternal and unchangeable order within which History takes place and which is not in any way affected by History.” For them, both faith in God and skepticism towards all human claims to know must remain permanent—and indeed desirable—features of human life on earth. For them, the ultimate dwelling place of the soul is not in time, which is why “man must not be absolutely at home on earth.” They recognize that democratic politics, philosophy, and religion all stand or fall together. For them, not Marxism-Leninism, or its Stalinist form, is the greatest of delusions. Rather it is the belief in an end of history itself, which is ineluctably Stalinist. Mr. Fukuyama should realize that because Kojeve understood this, he was wiser than his disciple.
Harry V. Jaffa
January 17, 1990
 These words were written before the final disintegration of the U.S.S.R.
All pages copyright ? 2001 The Claremont Institute