In 1989, Francis Fukuyama published his famous study, entitled The end of History and the last Man (1), which quickly achieved global renown. We recall that at the time when Fukuyama wrote this work, the USSR was still in existence as a ‘massive state’, before the decisive events that we all remember.
Fukuama undertook to conceive of the historical process that from 1985 was called ‘glasnost’, then later ‘perestroika’, and to situate it in the framework of universal history. The notion of ‘universal history’ needs to be clarified. Thus a clear distinction between History and the philosophy of History must be made, but also between the philosophy of History in the traditional sense and ‘universal history’. The difference between these two ‘philosophies of History’ is considerable. A ‘true’ philosophy of History is called on to rethink the whole process of human evolution from a philosophical point of view. The fundamental task of universal history is quite different, it is not there to represent integrally the totality of the historical process, but it must express this process under the form of a unique concept, able to enlighten itself completely.
To illustrate this difference, Hegel, in his Conferences on the Philosophy of History speaks as an ‘elaborator’ of the philosophy of History in the classical sense. Simultaneously, his concept of the fight for acknowledgement between master and slave – that we find again in the Phenomenology of the Mind, in particular – represents one of the key-conceptions of modern universal history in a European context. This proves that the same author can articulate two types of philosophy of History.
Besides, the most widespread point of view on the definition of History is precisely that it materialises through the widely interpreted relationship between master and slave (through ‘class wars’, for example), and that the end of this eternal fight would mean the end of History.
The question that must be asked at this point is to know if the global importance of Gorbachov’s ‘perestroika’ and the process which flows from this was truly essential from the point of view of universal History. Given that several responses to this question are possible, we will leave the definitive response to the generations to come. Thus, it will be enough to underline that, to judge the ‘essentialness’ of this historical process from the point of view of universal History, it is necessary to be able to say if it was able to put an end to the division of the world in two, which was the most decisive factor in Universal History after 1945, and which engendered a ‘latent’ and ‘omnipresent’ war: the so-called ‘cold’ war. A division in two that would reverse slowly according to the different stages of the ‘détente’.
Indeed, the ‘cold war’ gave rise to confrontation between two parts of the world. A confrontation of two political systems topped by a confrontation of ideologies and world visions. In this world split in two, in reality we saw two distinct worlds. Once we succeeded in crossing the borders, this move was considered as a major crime, and contacts between the two worlds were prohibited. The image of the enemy became a daily reality, and personal identity was exclusively defined by this concrete and total link of enemy and friend.
The Soviet-Marxist ideology considered the Western World as principally ruled by the relationship between master and slave, and this was the same for all the triumphs of liberalism. Fukuyama thinks that the refusal of this relationship is to interpret as a symptom vital to universal history. On its side ‘the Western World’ defined itself inversely as the form of a society which (metaphorically) surpassed the master slave relationship, and which thus equally constituted (always metaphorically) an ‘end to History’. However, from the confrontation between these two hemispheres (each considering themselves as ‘the end of History’) results a unity that does not represent ‘the end of History’ yet.
So, what was the impact of the end of the division in two, achieved by Gorbachov? Just as from the scission in two resulted the ‘infrastructure’ of globalisation, in the same movement a concrete form of globalisation was produced, which is effectively that of our era. The world split in two appeared thus like a creative factor in the history of globalisation. This is why the end of the split in two seems to be a decisive factor. And, from this point of view, ‘ the end of the split in two’ clearly represented ‘the end of history’.
(1) Paris, Flammarion, 1992 (first published in The National Interest, Summer 1989).