Monday, April 08, 2013

The End of Endism

The Washington Post ran an interesting article noting the plethora of "The End of (Fill in the Blank)" books and essays.
In doing so, they naturally mention the best known example of this type of thing, Francis Fukuyama's 1989 The End of History.  In The National Interest that same year, however, a wise Samuel Huntington cautioned against buying into the concept.
First, endism overemphasizes the predictability of history and the permanence of the moment. Current trends may or may not continue into the future. Past experience certainly suggests that they are unlikely to do so. The record of past predictions by social scientists is not a happy one....Given the limitations of human foresight, endist predictions of the end of war and ideological conflict deserve a heavy dose of skepticism. Indeed, in the benign atmosphere of the moment, it is sobering to speculate on the possible future horrors that social analysts are now failing to predict.
Second, endism tends to ignore the weakness and irrationality of human nature. Endist arguments often assume that because it would be rational for human beings to focus on their economic well-being, they will act in that way, and therefore they will not engage in wars that do not meet the tests of cost-benefit analysis or in ideological conflicts that are much ado about nothing. Human beings are at times rational, generous, creative, and wise, but they are also often stupid, selfish, cruel, and sinful. The struggle that is history began with the eating of the forbidden fruit and is rooted in human nature. In history there may be total defeats, but there are no final solutions. So 'long as human beings exist, there is no exit from the traumas of history.
To hope for the benign end of history is human. To expect it to happen is unrealistic. To plan on it happening is disastrous.
Fukuyama's battered thesis has suffered much abuse in the intervening years.  And yet, it remains the accepted belief of Western leaders--that our liberal democratic institutions are the end-result of history--"the end point of mankind's ideological evolution and the universalization of Western liberal democracy as the final form of human government."
Somehow I find Huntington's sober realism--the belief that we will no doubt discover new, innovative and as yet unforeseen ways to screw it all up--to be more reassuring.  "Situation hopeless, but not serious " I always say.


Benjamin Ekman said...

You might find this interesting:

The Stanton Lectures is an endowed series of lectures on the subject of the philosophy of religion in the Faculty of Divinity. The 2012-13 Stanton Lectures are given in the Lent Term by Professor Paul Griffiths, Warren Professor of Catholic Theology, Duke Divinity School, in the Runcie Room of the Faculty of Divinity, West Road, Cambridge, CB3 9BS, at 17.00 on Mondays:

21 Jan: The Grammar of the End
28 Jan: The End of Time
4 Feb: The End of Persons
11 Feb: The End of Experience
18 Feb: The End of the Flesh
25 Feb: The End of the Sacraments
4 Mar: The End of the Angels
11 Mar: The End of Nonhuman Animals

Audio here:

Earl said...

Just to let you know this post made the 9 April Dr B Blotter under "Politics" @

Link good today only, otherwise under Archives.

Great piece. Pleased to help spread the word.

John said...

Thanks, guys. I will check out each of the links.

Steve Hayes said...

Huntington made some remarkably accurate predictions about the post-Cold War world, which are still being fulfilled.