The End of History and the Last Man, by Francis Fukuyama
Educated people have an extraordinary appetite for absolute answers to historical questions, answers which wise historians know cannot be forthcoming. It is astonishing that Hegel’s reputation survived his absurd declaration that history had ended with Bonaparte’s victory over Prussia at Jena in 1806. Yet Hegel went on to hold what was then the most enviable academic post in Germany, the chair of philosophy in Berlin, and to write much more clever and influential nonsense. In due course his thoughts were transmuted by Marx not merely into a set of absolute answers about where history was heading but into a program for accelerating the process. Until recently this moonshine was believed by millions of comparatively well-educated people, and indeed there remain corners of university campuses where it is still upheld and taught.
There was a time, too, especially in the 1920′s, when Oswald Spengler’s Decline of the West was the ultra-fashionable text for historical determinists, and that was succeeded, a decade or so later, by Arnold Toynbee’s A Study of History. It sold in prodigious quantities, despite its offputting length, and I am old enough to remember a time when it was still taken seriously, even though Toynbee changed his entire theory fundamentally, halfway through it.
About the Author
Paul Johnson is the author of Modern Times, A History of Christianity, and A History of the Jews, among many other books.