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Why History No Longer Guides Us

by Greg Satell, from Digital Tonto

In 1992, Francis Fukuyama published his book, The End of History in which he argued that, with the cold war over and liberal democracy triumphant, the major historical narrative dialectic of history was over.

He was, of course, somewhat mistaken.  The world today looks much more like Samuel Huntington’s vision of The Clash of Civilizations than anything else.  There doesn’t seem to be any less division and strife now than before.

However, it’s hard to escape the conclusion that something has fundamentally changed, albeit the shift is technological rather than cultural (a fact which Fukuyama himself alluded to in a later book).  History, as we know it, is over not because we’ve figured it all out, but on the contrary because we’ve unleashed forces that render the future inscrutable.

1. From Linear Advancement to Accelerating Returns

For most of history, stasis was the rule.  There were different people, various empires, power struggles and perhaps the occasional discovery, yet life went on pretty much as it always had.  The events we read about in the history books had little impact on most who lived at the time.  A thousand years could go by and daily life would be much the same.

That’s changed in a resounding way.  Life is substantially different…[more]

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  1. Why Fukuyama chose to approach the thesis of the book in Hegelian terms is an interesting question. By 1997, the ‘end’ of history he spoke of had already reached a point of what Hegel called Gegenschuß (‘recoil’). By 2002, post-capitalism had already been born. Hegel himself posthumously refutes Fukuyama.

    In invoking the ‘last man’, Fukuyama, in 1992, could not have understood the extent to which he and the neocons were primed to take on such a description.

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