A mixture of Platonic and Hegelian psychology/historical teleology as well as offering a good explanation for the historical origins of bourgeois man in Hobbes and Locke, it misleads not necessarily in the assertion that we cannot imagine a better world than one where liberal-capitalist democracy is triumphant but in the positing of the factual statement that we do indeed currently live in such a world.
To be sure, there is much to be said for Fukuyama’s insistence (borrowed from Kojeve who borrowed it from Hegel) that the “riddle of History” is to be found in man’s desire for recognition. And in a sense, it could be said (as Hegel maintained) that the French Revolution was the beginning of the culmination of that struggle (the original end of history). But that would be a very superficial reading of what actually happened.
That people do indeed require, seek out, and desire proper recognition for who they are and their intrinsically felt worth is not in question. That the Western liberal democracies do a relatively (in historical terms) good job of delivering on this most political of psychological needs is also, more or less, not in dispute. What is in question are the actual dimensions of possible freedom for modern, ostensibly liberal man.
Robert Dahl once famously called into question theories of minority rule behind liberal democracies as well as Robert Michels’s famous “iron law of oligarchy” because they are hard to prove empirically. Of course, they are hard to prove! They are by nature indirect, subtle, hidden. The political and social structures within which we live are but the formal husk of a much deeper societal dimension, one which is neither accessible nor visible by the common “citizen”. It is the sphere where real power is exercised. Where the pretense of democracy is most fully revealed and true recognition is afforded to the very few.
Networks of surreptitious power course through the veins of all our allegedly “democratic” institutions. Nothing is easier to arrange in a free society than true unfreedom. Powerful societal interests (and not just economic) dictate the range, scope, agenda and the very look and feel of our “democratic” daily life. Through the use of concentrated power in the media, security forces, judiciary, financial centers, and political “representatives” (read: carefully groomed lackeys) the facade of democratic politics and life can be maintained while it does not in the least restrain the most powerful figures in the dim background that dictate its daily rhythms and perennial contours.
Conspiracy? Not exactly although there is most definitely some aspect of that. Rather it is the self-perpetuation of elites (and elite interests) through institutions and the careful maintenance and deepening of personal and professional ties. They know each others minds and most importantly they know each others material and political interests and the prohibitive (murderous?) costs of betraying them. And why betray them, since the benefits so far outweigh the costs?
To return to Dahl for a moment, he too, along with Sheldon Wolin, understood that the potential for “centralized coercion” had never been greater than precisely at this moment in time. That the setting up of an “inverted Totalitarianism” (to use Wolin’s phrase) would best serve the interests of the powerful few while the “demos” would be carefully spoon fed consumerism and various forms of populism, nationalism, and, yes, superficially packaged issues of human rights and identity politics (none of which could in the slightest damage the exquisite equilibrium of the dual system of de jure rights for the majority hiding de facto power for a minority).
Perhaps the most glaring proof of this system of invidious power comes in the seemingly unlikely form of President Trump. Actually, Trump is not the absurdity that he initially seems, rather he is the most natural, logical outcome of an absurd system. A system where the real issues of power are kept privately hidden and a consummate showman manufactures “public” issues on a daily basis while the “loyal opposition” feigns its daily shock, effectively hiding its deep complicity in the shadowy compacts of real power. The populace keeps its eyes and ears keenly upon the show placed before them and thereby becomes ever more oblivious to any real issue of political consequence or any possibility for the substantial remaking of the “iron cage” they inhabit. Yes, a multitude of questions are allowed but none with the slightest revolutionary import. But how could they, when ideologically we have reached the end of history?
After thirty years since its first appearance, Fukuyama’s thesis at the end of his article/book may have presaged a kind of an end after all. An end where ideologically man is satisfied with himself and the modicum of freedoms he has achieved. A Nietzschean Last Man that is tired of questioning, struggle, fame, glory, or intellectual exertion of any kind. Here, I would argue, Fukuyama is at his most provocative as well as perhaps closest to a disturbing truth: that the true end of history is a time where man is so materially comfortable that he prefers the simulation of truth over its active discovery and flourishing practice. That he would prefer the big lie of a system that more or less works for him rather than the uncomfortable revelation of a strict system of strategic micro-control masquerading as a celebration of democracy and freedom. The End of History may ultimately reside in the cowardliness of our present imaginations and our impotence in creating an autonomous collective political trajectory that leads beyond furtive, hierarchical control. We must realize, and soon, how History has tricked us into thinking that we are truly recognized and free.