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16 March 2006
Get it right, ye wankers for war.
First things first, I'm not a reader of Melanie Phillips' blog and was only drawn to it by a rather nice sarcastic comment from Neil Clark. However, it is amusing to see the warmongers fight amongst themselves; and it's even nicer when one - la Phillips - mangles the words of another - in this case Francis Fukuyama. Here is what Melanie Phillips has to say:
Has there ever been a more ridiculous public intellectual than Francis Fukuyama? First, he famously pronounced the ‘end of history’ and that democracy was now happily spreading across the entire planet. Then he decided that, far from history having ended, civilisation was in mortal danger and he became a prominent neo-conservative.
Well, no, and on all counts. Fukuyama did not talk about the end of history, his work was originally called The End of History? which is not quite the same thing. He never claimed that democracy was spreading across the globe, and he did warn from the start that the Iraq agression could end in tears.

(Sigh) Let's start with The End of History?. Fukuyama was writing about history in a Hegelian sense. The argument is that by understanding the past we can make sense of the present and, crucially, we can project that understanding onto the future. That we can see the future of human society in other words. Karl Marx took that idea and came up with the notion that communism was the inevitable outcome of the class war that he saw all around him in nineteenth century Britain. To Fukuyama, the end of the Cold War meant the triumph, in the future, of capitalist democracy throughout the world.

Now, historicism like this contains one fatal flaw: it is all bollocks. You cannot predict the future based on a reading of the past and an understanding of the present. As a trained historian, which I am, the most that I can say is that the past and present are a rough guide to the future, and we must always be aware that Lady History just loves to stick her foot out and trip up the unwary. It is rather like buying an insurance policy. The salesman looks at past performance in the stock market and tells you that based on those past performances the value of your policy when it matures in 20 years will be so much. Then you read the contract and see that past performance is no guarantee of future perfomance. Well, history is the same.

Almost 2,000 years ago more people in Britain had running water in their homes than they did in 1900. Sorry, that is just the way it was. The average Briton was far and away healthier, lived longer, and was more literate than he was in the year 1,000AD. A man looking forward from about the year 300 AD, could imagine all sorts of good, progressive things on the horizon. In reality what his descendents got was the Dark Ages.

Now then, you can criticise Fukuyama for his historicism, but that is not the same as saying, as this woman has, that history will just end, because that is not what he was talking about, was it?

Secondly, back in 1989, Fukuyama saw no alternative to liberal capitalism that could command mass support. He was wrong about that as well, but that is not the same as saying that liberal capitalism was then spreading across the planet. It wasn't and he never said it was. He said that it would do. Could he be right? I hope that he isn't, but that is not the point.

Finally, although Fukuyama did sign a letter calling for the overthrow of President Saddam Hussein, he also backed away from that position before the aggression against Iraq began. By December 2002 he was writing that any aggression against Iraq would look "come to look more like empire pure and simple". By the end of 2oo4 he was warning that the elections of early 2005 would not lead to stability and an early withdrawal of imperialist troops.

You can criticise Francis Fukuyama for many things - I have just done so. However, such criticism should be based on what the bugger actually wrote, rather than a mangling of it. Still, on the other hand, it is good fun to watch the right tear itself to bits. Even better fun to laugh at two right-wingers: one for what he said, the other for what she thought that he said.
3 Comments:

Well, no, and on all counts. Fukuyama did not talk about the end of history, his work was originally called The End of History? which is not quite the same thing.


Er, yes, but the question-mark was dropped when he wrote his book, so he did talk about "the end of history"...

17 March 2006 at 11:40  

Well, the book is called "The End of History and the Last Man," but it is still history in the Hegelian sense. The author never intended it to be read as meaning that history would just end and no men would exist.

17 March 2006 at 18:51  

Hey. I liked the Olaf Stapleton version.

Speaking of reading things: read Marx properly, Exile (and not in the PoMo sense). Marx is not guilty of the historicist error as you claim above. He extrapolated in the best scientific sense -- and no further. Not his fault all the liars and fools who came after.

Our future is still a classless, egalitarian society -- or a howling, radioactive wilderness. Our existential choice.

18 March 2006 at 01:16  

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