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Guest Thinkers

End of History 101

So one of our BIG THINKERS, Daniel Honan, gave us a fine introduction to one of the biggest ideas around, THE END OF HISTORY.

Daniel is right that the idea is much more plausible than it seems at first.  He’s also right that it originates with the German philosopher Hegel.  So it is also found in Hegelians such as Karl Marx–who thought that communism would be the end of history.  The best of the Hegelians, though, is Alexandre Kojeve, who thought the end of history is already here.  Francis Fukuyama,  following Kojeve in part, also thought the end of history is already here. 

You can read a lot more on Kojeve and Fukuyama in my Postmodernism Rightly Understood.

It’ll take a number of posts to convince you skeptics about the plausibility of this big idea.  Let me bgin at the beginning:  What is History?

For Kojeve (and Marx), there are two realities–NATURE and HISTORY.  One can’t be explained in terms of the other.  Marx, among the Hegelians, says most clearly that at History’s end man has MASTERED nature or made it his own.  Natural scarcity, for that reason, disappears.  In this respect, Marx can’t be considered, of course, an anti-captialist;  it was the amazing productivity of capitalism–that Historical work to make nature our own–that eradicated scarcity.  Kojeve says at the end of History man becomes a merely natural being–or just like the other animals–again.  His satisfaction of his distinctively Historical desires cause his desire to return to  a natural (can we say Darwinian?) level again.  If distinctively HUMAN (or free) reality is Historical, it makes sense to say it would be temporary (or havie a beginning and end).

HISTORY is distinctively human reality–the record of human freedom from nature.  We make ourselves free over time, as the beings with time in us.  We NEGATE nature to provide evidence of our freedom.  The first historical act, for Kojeve (Hegel) is the fight to the death for pure prestige–to show our freedom from being determined by the instinct of self-preservation.  Our deepest Historical desire is to be free and to be recognized in our freedom.

HISTORY, to make a long story short, is driven by the COSMIC ACCIDENT that is man.  There’s no natural explanation for the emergence of the free human being. But the HISTORICAL being is not only a free but a rational being.  So history has a LOGOS.  It reveals that LOGOS at its END–the recognition of the equal freedom of every human being.

So as Marx noticed in “On the Jewish Question,” the POLITICAL end of history is THE AMERICAN CONSTITUTION.  There religion or God has disappeared.  God, for Marx or Kojeve, is evidence of a defect or incompleteness in History.  God is a projection of illusory satisfaction in an imaginary other world.  He is no longer needed when we achieve HISTORICAL satisfaction. 

In the Constitution of 1787, all human beings are recognized, in principle, as free beings or citizens.  There are no distinctions based on race, class, gender, religion, etc.  It’s true that the principle of the American Constitution didn’t immediately transform American or global reality.  But still:  It was, in principle, the end of History.  And American history isn’t really History, but merely the working out of the details of History’s end.  That’s also true of all of human History since the time of our revolutionary founding.

There’s a lot more to say, including:  The end of History with “democratic capitalism” (established in principle by our Constitution) only makes sense if we are fundamentally political (or maybe economic) beings.


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