Getting to Denmark

Reviewed by Tod Lindberg

State-Building: Governance and World Order in the 21st Century
by Francis Fukuyama
Cornell University Press, 2004, 137 pages.

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rancis Fukuyama was a little-known but respected researcher at the Rand Corporation when he burst on the intellectual scene in 1989 with an article in the National Interest called “The End of History?” The essay drew on the published 1930s lectures of the Russian-born French philosopher Alexandre Kojève on G.W.F. Hegel’s Phenomenology of Spirit.
Kojève was himself a thinker then little known in America outside the circle of students of Leo Strauss, who viewed him as the villain in a philosophical exchange with their teacher over the question of tyranny, in which Kojève offered a notorious defense of Stalin. Kojève, a Marxist of a kind, took hold of a section of the Phenomenology devoted to the master-slave dialectic, developing it into a clash between a class of masters, those willing to risk death over a matter of pure prestige, and a class of slaves afraid to risk death but willing to give their labor over to the masters in exchange for their lives. The dialectical solution to this class struggle was what Kojève called the “universal and homogenous state,” characterized by universal satisfaction in the mutual recognition of the freedom and equality of each—in other words, the end of history understood in the Hegelian sense as the progress of spirit. The universal and homogenous state was the necessary outcome of the combination of absolute wisdom Hegel claimed to possess and the political achievement of Napoleon in spreading the rights of man. Hegel claimed to have witnessed the “end of history” with the victory of Napoleon at the Battle of Jena in 1804.
Kojève did not disagree. What did Stalin represent but the smashing of the feudal system in Russia once and for all and its replacement with a universal class? What was Mao but the coming of the Napoleonic Code to China? The universal and homogenous state need not have arrived in order for those in possession of absolute wisdom, as Kojève maintained he himself possessed, to see it coming.
Fukuyama’s essay was generally thought to have stood Kojève on his head: With the collapse of the Warsaw Pact and of Soviet Communism, Fukuyama argued that the end of history had indeed arrived. With communism dead, no ideological competitor to democratic capitalism remained. In the place of the universal and homogenous state, Fukuyama postulated as the endpoint a world consisting of peaceful states all organized on the democratic capitalist model.
That a lengthy article devoted to a serious discussion of the question of the supposed end of history in a Hegelian-Kojèvian sense should capture the imagination of the world is implausible. Yet that is precisely what happened. Of course, most of the attention devoted to the article was dedicated to the proposition that Fukuyama was a fool: Look around and you can plainly see that history, bloody history, is still going on. But even after tossing out the remarks of those who criticized the article without having read it, one also had to discount the response of those who had read it but hadn’t understood it, a group to which no doubt many of his critics belong. Fukuyama fleshed out his argument to book length in The End of History and the Last Man (1992), in which he also drew out a description of Nietzsche’s critique of egalitarianism and the arrival of a world of “men without chests”: Would the price of the end of History and the arrival of Nietzsche’s “last man” turn out to be a leveling of human possibilities that precluded great achievement?
There are several points on which Fukuyama’s argument is subject to legitimate challenge. For starters, Fukuyama was not quite right in thinking that he turned Kojève upside-down: Fukuyama’s vision of the end-state is, in fact, not all that different from Kojève’s. The universal and homogeneous state is not a “state” in the sense in which we currently use the term but a comprehensive network of juridical relations allowing substantial local variance: A world of closely affiliated democratic states would fit the bill, and of course, to the extent that rising or at least steady prosperity would be desirable, market economics would be essential. Orthodox followers of Strauss held that Kojève’s vision of a “universal and homogenous state” was monstrous, in accordance with a remark of Strauss’ that any “universal” state would necessarily be tyrannical. Kojève’s Outline of a Phenomenology of Right, however,offers a detailed account of, among other things, how such a state could not be tyrannical and come into being.

Tod Lindberg is a research fellow at the Hoover Institution, Stanford University, and editor of Policy Review.

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