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Grayson Green
Grayson Green

The End of History Revisited: How Marx, Fukuyama, Hobsbawm and Anderson Explain the Past, Present and Future of the World

Ends in Sight: Marx/Fukuyama/Hobsbawm/Anderson

What is the meaning and direction of history? What are the forces that shape our present and future? What are the challenges and opportunities for humanity in a rapidly changing world? These are some of the questions that have fascinated and perplexed many thinkers across different disciplines and perspectives. In this article, we will explore how four prominent thinkers have addressed these questions in their works: Karl Marx, Francis Fukuyama, Eric Hobsbawm and Perry Anderson. We will examine their analyses of capitalism and socialism, their interpretations of the past and present, and their projections of the future. We will also compare and contrast their views and assess their strengths and weaknesses. By doing so, we hope to gain a better understanding of the world we live in and the possibilities for change.

Ends in Sight Marx Fukuyama Hobsbawn Anderson

The Sorcerer and the Gravedigger: Karl Marx

Karl Marx (1818-1883) was a German philosopher, economist, historian, sociologist and revolutionary who is widely regarded as one of the most influential thinkers of modern times. He is best known for his analysis of capitalism and socialism in his magnum opus, Capital, and his political manifesto, The Communist Manifesto, co-authored with Friedrich Engels. In these works, Marx developed a comprehensive and radical critique of capitalism as a system of exploitation, alienation, crisis and inequality, and a vision of socialism as a system of emancipation, cooperation, democracy and abundance. Marx's ideas have inspired and influenced many social movements, political parties, intellectuals and activists throughout history and across the world.

The Historical Materialism of Marx

One of the key contributions of Marx to social theory is his method of understanding history and society based on the mode of production and class struggle. Marx called this method historical materialism, which he contrasted with the idealist approach that focused on ideas, values and beliefs as the driving forces of history. According to Marx, the mode of production refers to the way human beings produce and reproduce their material life, which involves two aspects: the forces of production (the means and techniques of production) and the relations of production (the social and economic relations between the producers). The mode of production determines the structure and dynamics of society, which is divided into different classes according to their position in the relations of production. The dominant class owns and controls the means of production, while the subordinate class works for and is exploited by the dominant class. The class struggle is the conflict between these classes over the distribution of the surplus value (the difference between what the workers produce and what they receive) and the control of the means of production. The class struggle is the motor of history, as it leads to the transformation of the mode of production from one stage to another. Marx identified five main stages in human history: primitive communism, slavery, feudalism, capitalism and communism.

The Critique of Capitalism by Marx

Marx's critique of capitalism is based on his analysis of its mode of production, which he considered to be the most advanced and contradictory stage in human history. Capitalism is characterized by the dominance of the bourgeoisie (the capitalist class) over the proletariat (the working class), who sell their labor power to the bourgeoisie in exchange for wages. The bourgeoisie owns and controls the means of production (such as land, factories, machines, etc.), while the proletariat produces commodities (goods or services) for the market. The bourgeoisie extracts surplus value from the proletariat by paying them less than the value they create, which is the source of profit for the bourgeoisie. This creates a relation of exploitation, as the proletariat is deprived of the fruits of their labor and reduced to a mere commodity. Marx also identified other aspects of capitalism that generate alienation, crisis and inequality:

  • Alienation: The proletariat is alienated from their own labor (as they do not control what they produce or how they produce it), from their own products (as they do not own or benefit from them), from their own species-being (as they are prevented from developing their full human potential) and from their fellow workers (as they are isolated and compete with each other).

  • Crisis: Capitalism is prone to periodic crises of overproduction or underconsumption, as the bourgeoisie produces more commodities than what the market can absorb or what the proletariat can afford. This leads to a fall in profits, a rise in unemployment, a decline in demand and a waste of resources. Crises also intensify class struggle, as the bourgeoisie tries to restore profitability by lowering wages, cutting costs, expanding markets or increasing productivity, while the proletariat resists these measures by demanding higher wages, better working conditions or political rights.

  • Inequality: Capitalism creates a huge gap between the rich and the poor, both within and between countries. The bourgeoisie accumulates more wealth and power at the expense of the proletariat, who suffers from poverty, oppression and marginalization. Capitalism also generates other forms of inequality based on gender, race, ethnicity or nationality.

The Vision of Socialism by Marx

Marx's vision of socialism is based on his anticipation of the overthrow of capitalism by the proletariat through a revolutionary process. Socialism is defined as a system where the means of production are owned and controlled by the associated producers (the workers themselves) or by society as a whole. In socialism, the production and distribution of goods and services are based on the principle of "from each according to his ability, to each according to his work"1. This means that workers are rewarded according to their contribution to the social product, and that there is no exploitation or class antagonism. Socialism also allows for individual freedom and creativity, as workers are able to control their own labor process and participate in the democratic planning of the economy2. Socialism is not an end in itself, but a transitional stage to communism, which is the higher stage of human development. Communism is defined as a system where the mode of production is fully socialized and the principle of "from each according to his ability, to each according to his needs"1 applies. This means that there is no scarcity or inequality, and that human needs are fully satisfied. Communism also implies the abolition of the state, money, private property and classes, as well as the emergence of a global human community3. Marx believed that communism would be possible only after capitalism has developed the productive forces to a high degree and created the material conditions for a post-scarcity society.

Full Spectrum Dominance? Francis Fukuyama

Francis Fukuyama (1952-) is an American political scientist, philosopher and author who is best known for his thesis of the end of history and the triumph of liberal democracy. He first presented this thesis in an essay titled "The End of History?" in 1989, and later expanded it in a book titled The End of History and the Last Man in 1992. In these works, Fukuyama argued that liberal democracy is the final form of government that satisfies the human desire for freedom and equality, and that there are no viable alternatives or challenges to it in the foreseeable future. Fukuyama drew on Hegel's philosophy of history and Kojève's interpretation of it to support his argument. He also addressed some of the criticisms and counter-arguments that his thesis faced from his opponents and his own revisions.

The Hegelian Roots of Fukuyama

Fukuyama's thesis of the end of history is heavily influenced by Hegel's philosophy of history and Kojève's interpretation of it. Hegel (1770-1831) was a German philosopher who developed a dialectical method of understanding history as a rational process of development driven by the struggle for recognition. According to Hegel, human history can be divided into three stages: the ancient world, where only one person (the master) was recognized as free; the modern world, where all people (the citizens) were recognized as free; and the post-modern world, where all people (the humanity) were recognized as free4. Hegel believed that this process reached its culmination in the French Revolution and the Napoleonic Wars, which established the principles of liberty, equality and fraternity as universal values5. Kojève (1902-1968) was a French philosopher who popularized Hegel's philosophy in France through his lectures in the 1930s and 1940s. He interpreted Hegel's dialectic as a struggle between two modes of being: mastery and slavery. He argued that mastery is based on violence and domination, while slavery is based on work and production. He also argued that history ends when mastery is overcome by slavery, which leads to the emergence of a universal and homogeneous state that recognizes all people as free6. Kojève influenced many French intellectuals, such as Jean-Paul Sartre , Raymond Aron , Jacques Lacan , Michel Foucault , etc., who attended his lectures or read his works.

The Liberal Democracy as the End Point of History by Fukuyama

Fukuyama adopted Kojève's interpretation of Hegel's dialectic and applied it to contemporary world politics. He argued that liberal democracy is the end point of history because it represents the highest form of recognition that satisfies both aspects of human nature: reason and desire7. Liberal democracy combines two elements: liberalism (the recognition of individual rights and freedoms) and democracy (the recognition of collective sovereignty and equality). Fukuyama claimed that liberal democracy has proven its superiority over other forms of government by providing greater economic prosperity, social stability, moral legitimacy and human development8. Fukuyama claimed that liberal democracy has emerged as the universal aspiration of all peoples and cultures, and that there are no serious ideological competitors or challengers to it in the foreseeable future. Fukuyama based his argument on Hegel's idea of the universal recognition of human dignity, which he considered to be the driving force of history. He argued that human beings have a natural desire for recognition, which is the acknowledgment of their worth and status by others. He also argued that recognition has two forms: megalothymia (the desire to be superior to others) and isothymia (the desire to be equal to others). He suggested that liberal democracy is the best system to satisfy both forms of recognition, as it allows for individual freedom and achievement (megalothymia) and collective sovereignty and equality (isothymia)9.

The Challenges and Limitations of Fukuyama's Thesis

Fukuyama's thesis of the end of history has faced many criticisms and counter-arguments from his opponents and his own revisions. Some of the main challenges and limitations of his thesis are:

  • The rise of Islamist militantism or the persistent authoritarianism of Communist China and postSoviet Russia as evidence that some states have not been evolving toward liberal democracy. However, this was a misreading of Fukuyama and an unfair caricature of his argument. He never claimed that history had literally ended or that all countries had become liberal democracies. He acknowledged that there would still be conflicts, violence, backwardness and resistance to liberalism in some parts of the world. He also revised his thesis to take into account the role of culture, religion and nationalism in shaping political outcomes. He argued that these factors could delay or divert the process of democratization, but not reverse or stop it10.

  • The occurrence of periodic economic crises or the persistence of social problems such as poverty, inequality, corruption, environmental degradation and terrorism as evidence that liberal democracy has not delivered its promises or solved its contradictions. However, this was also a misunderstanding of Fukuyama and an unrealistic expectation of liberalism. He never claimed that liberal democracy was a perfect system or a utopia. He recognized that it had flaws, limitations and challenges. He argued that these issues could be addressed by reforming or improving the system, not by abandoning it. He also argued that liberalism was still preferable to any other system in terms of providing economic prosperity, social stability, moral legitimacy and human development11.

  • The emergence of new forms of political participation or contestation such as social movements, civil society organizations, digital media platforms or populist parties as evidence that liberal democracy has become obsolete or inadequate for the changing needs and demands of the people. However, this was also a misinterpretation of Fukuyama and an oversimplification of liberalism. He never claimed that liberal democracy was a fixed or final system or that it had no room for innovation or adaptation. He recognized that it was a dynamic and evolving system that could incorporate new elements or modify old ones. He argued that these phenomena could be seen as signs of vitality or diversity of liberalism, not as threats or challenges to it12.



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