A foreign policy expert and proponent of liberal democracy, philosopher Francis Fukuyama (born 1952) gained wide fame for his thesis that the present time may be "the end of history."
Francis Fukuyama was born October 27, 1952, in the Hyde Park neighborhood of Chicago. His father, Yoshio Fukuyama, a second-generation Japanese American, was trained as a minister in the Congregational Church and received a doctorate in sociology from the University of Chicago. His mother, Toshiko Kawata Fukuyama, was born in Kyoto, Japan, and was the daughter of Shiro Kawata, founder of the Economics Department of Kyoto University and first president of Osaka Municipal University in Osaka, Japan. Fukuyama's childhood years were spent in New York City. In 1967 his family moved to State College, Pennsylvania, where he attended high school.
Fukuyama received his B.A. in classics in 1974 from Cornell University where he studied under Allan Bloom. After spending a year in the Yale University Department of Comparative Literature in 1974-1975, he went on to receive his Ph.D. in political science from Harvard University in 1981, writing a dissertation on Soviet foreign policy.
Fukuyama was a member of the Political Science Department of the RAND Corporation, one of the oldest American "think tanks," researching public policy in Santa Monica, California, from 1979 to 1980, and then again from 1983 to 1989. There he did research on a variety of defense and foreign policy issues concerning the Middle East, East Asia, and elsewhere. In this period he wrote widely on Soviet foreign policy and regional security issues and edited the book The Soviet Union and the Third World: The Last Three Decades (with Andrzej Korbonski, 1987). Fukuyama was also a guest lecturer at the University of California, Los Angeles, during this time.
In 1981 and 1982 Fukuyama was a member of the Policy Planning Staff of the U.S. Department of State where he worked on Middle Eastern issues and served as a member of the U.S. delegation to the Israeli-Egyptian talks on Palestinian autonomy. He returned to the Policy Planning Staff in 1989, this time as deputy director for European political-military affairs.
While working on the Policy Planning Staff in 1989, Fukuyama published an essay entitled "The End of History?" in a small foreign policy journal, The National Interest. This essay suggested that with the spread of liberal political and economic ideas throughout the communist world and in much of the Third World, mankind had reached the end of its ideological evolutionary process. While history in the ordinary sense of "events"—even such important events as wars and revolutions—would continue, "history" in its Hegelian-Marxist sense of a broad evolution of human societies had reached its culmination not in socialism but in the ideals of the French and American revolutions.
Article Sparked Debate
The National Interest article, coming as it did five months before the fall of the Berlin Wall, sparked an extraordinary amount of debate and controversy both in the United States and abroad. Critics on the left argued that socialism remained a viable alternative; critics on the right charged that communism was still dangerous; and others said that the article underestimated the forces of religion and nationalism in the contemporary world.
After leaving the State Department in 1990, Fukuyama expanded the themes in the National Interest article into the book The End of History and the Last Man. Published in 1992, this book was translated into over 20 different languages. The American edition was awarded the Los Angeles Times Book Critics Award, and the Italian edition won the Premio Capri.
The End of History and the Last Man poses the question of whether it makes sense at the close of the 20th century to reconsider the possibility of writing a "universal history" of human development that in some way culminates in liberal democracy. Such a universal history—that is, a broad account of human social and political evolution, taking into account the experiences of all peoples in all times—was proposed by Kant, and versions were written by Hegel and Marx, among others. The End of History and the Last Man argues that there is in fact ground for such a project, based on two underlying forces driving the historical process: "modern natural science and the struggle for recognition." It concludes, however, on a more somber note. While many of the usually noted failings of contemporary liberal democracy (e.g., crime, poverty, racism, economic inequality, and the like) involve failure in the implementation of liberal principles rather than in the goodness of those principles themselves, the problem of the "last man"—that is, the individual whose horizons extend no further than the "equal recognition" that is the underlying ideal of modern democracy—is inherently unsolvable on the grounds of liberal principles.
Trust Essential to Prosperity
In his 1995 book Trust: The Social Virtues and the Creation of Prosperity, Fukuyama articulated the belief that faith in one's trading partners is necessary for commerce to prosper. "People who do not trust one another will end up cooperating only under a system of formal rules and regulations, which have been negotiated, agreed to, litigated, and enforced, sometimes by coercive means … Widespread distrust in a society, in other words, imposes a kind of tax on all forms of economic activity, a tax that high-trust societies do not have to pay," he wrote. In discussing his theories on trust with Forbes, Fukuyama noted the implications of trust, or the lack thereof, for electronic commerce and the "virtual corporation" said to be a developing phenomenon of the Internet. "I resist the idea put forth by some of the information revolution enthusiasts that the technology itself will create communities. Obviously there's something to that in the way that it can empower people to communicate that's not dependent on geography. But trust relationships and the existing social networks remain basic to the success of computer networks."
From his home in McLean, Virginia, Fukuyama served as a resident consultant to the RAND Corporation in Washington, D.C. He was Hirst Professor of Public Policy at George Mason University. In 1986 he married Laura Holmgren, and they had three children, Julia, David, and John. He was a member of the American Association for the Advancement of Slavic Studies and of the Council on Foreign Relations.
Further Reading on Francis Fukuyama
For an introduction to the Hegelian source of Fukuyama's views, see Alexandre Kojève, Introduction to the Reading of Hegel (1969), and Leo Strauss, On Tyranny, Including the Strauss-Kojève Correspondence (1991). For an introduction to Kojève's Hegelianism, see Allan Bloom, "Alexander Kojève," in Giants and Dwarfs (1990). Also see Burns, Timothy, After History?: Francis Fukuyama and His Critics, Rowman and Littlefield, c1994.