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Has the End of the Cold War Meant the End of History and the End of Political Ideas

In 1989 the fall of the Berlin wall represented the thawing of relations between the two world super powers; USA and Russia, bringing with it a change to the international order and political environment for states across the globe. Fukuyama, writing in 1992, argues that the end of the Cold War not only brought with it great change but ended history and political ideas; an idea that has come under strong criticism. This paper will look at the argument he put forward in ???The End of History and the Last Man??? and demonstrate how his argument is flawed and prove that the end of the Cold War, as important as it was, is just another point in history that examples how the world and politics is constantly transitory; history has not ended and political ideas are just as alive now as they were pre-Cold War and even when they were written.

To understand Fukuyama??™s argument further it is important to indentify the three main arguments of what drove the Cold War. Political ideologies, geopolitics and technology have all been seen as driving forces of the Cold War. It is important to understand these arguments as it demonstrates the importance of political ideas in the cold war, but also lays foundations for looking at Fukuyama??™s argument as he appears to deal with all three aspects in his writings.

Briefly; Gaddis argues that the Cold War was driven by political ideologies between the Soviet and the USA based upon which side had the answer to what could be considered the ???good life??™. He argues that political ideologies were more important to the Cold War otherwise why would ???the Kremlin leaders retain a system of collective agriculture that has shown itself not to work??? (Gaddis, J.L. 1997, p.289-291).

Stimson??™s argument is that technology was the main aspect of the war, based upon the Waltz??™s realist approach to international relations; the country that had the most capacity would have the most power in the political system, and through this would ensure a greater degree of survival in the system that is based upon anarchy. (Stimson, H.L. 2003, p.32-34)

Both of the above two arguments are in contrast to the third, put forward by Keylor, that the Cold War was fixated on issues of geopolitics. Each side tried to gain greater influence with other states creating an eastern and western block. (Keylor, W.R 1996, p.252-7)

Fukuyama??™s approach to Gaddis??™s argument that political ideologies were the driving force behind the Cold War is to say that the USA won the cold war and therefore their ideology is the one that won; ???liberal democracy remains the only coherent political aspiration that spans different regions and cultures across the globe??? (Fukuyama, F. 1992, p. Xiii ??“ 316). This argument suggests that as the only remaining superpower the USA is a model for what other states are aspiring to. This argument holds some validity, from the western perspective in international relations, in that the UK, EU and USA are pushing liberal democracies in other fragile states such as Iraq and Sudan. However it disregards the notion that political systems are a result of historical experience and that states are predisposed to a certain political system. Gray suggests that this notion is ???ultimately absurd??? (Gray, J. 1992, p.46-7) and uses the argument of the post-Soviet peoples who have ???not shaken off one nineteenth-century ideology, Marxism, to adopt another, liberalism, none of the accepted the former, and few the latter??? (Gray, J. 1992, p.46-7). Criticisms of Fukuyama??™s argument can been seen more clearly in current global issues such as those in Sudan where imposing a liberal democracy upon a people whose history does not pre-dispose them to such has done little to improve the conflict and help rebuild the fragile state. In fact in situations such as the Sudan there are whole groups of peoples who are excluded from entering into the political process such as the Misseriya tribe whose history as a nomadic tribe mean that they have been unable to be included in the political processes creating, not as Fukuyama would suggest a conflict free environment, but an increase in individuals becoming in the conflict.

The above argument from Fukuyama also implies that the end of the Cold War was an outright for the USA, however this is not entirely true, and is based more in his western perspective than the intricacies of the ending of the war. An example would be the Cuban Missile Crisis when the USSR turned their ships around, however, much less reported, was that this was a deal with the USA for the removal of USA missile bases in Turkey.

Furthermore Fukuyama implies strongly that political states will become more detached from their cultural and religious roots as these are incompatible with liberal democracies. This is not the case that is seen in places such as Germany and ???a surprise to the ordinary citizen of Belfast??? (Gray, J. 1992, p.46-47). It can be argued that within tradition and religion state??™s can become more liberal such as Muslim liberal countries and Christian liberal countries.

Fukuyama??™s argument was written in 1992 during a time where economics was driven by unprecedented and uncurbed technological advancement. Whilst the knowledge of the peak oil crisis and the effects it would have on economic growth were known they were not widely publicised. Therefore it easy to understand why Fukuyama believed that the ???chief axis of interaction between states would be economic??? (Fukuyama, F. 1992, p. Xiii ??“ 316). He goes further to state that the ???economic rationality…will erode many traditional features of sovereignty as is unifies markets and production??? (Fukuyama, F. 1992, p. Xiii ??“ 316). This argument has not been shown to be a true representation of what is happening as the global environmental crisis has developed meaning that the scarce natural resources have become highly fought for and protected. The political spheres have not been untouched by such economic developments, as governments have had to use political influence to not only interact internationally to gain all that they need to fulfil their own economic commitments, but also have to become part of a state??™s political institution as citizens of the state are adjusting to higher prices and more or less availability.

Fukuyama also argues that with a liberal democracy there is automatically a liberal economy, based upon free markets and less protectionist practice; however this is not the case in China, a less than liberal political system but a liberal economy which has produced immense growth.

Samuelson argues that technology development will increase instability in the international political arena, as seen with so called rogue states such as Iran gaining nuclear capabilities. (Samuelson, R.J. 1999). The spread of technology also creates a divide between those who have capabilities and those that don??™t. This will not help to homogenise the international political system but may drive states to further stick to their political ideologies and create conflict.

Fukuyama??™s argument that liberal economies will be the way that the international system interacts has further been disproved by the protectionist??™s policies imposed by those states already in a liberal political and economic system that are facing major economic crises. Given that the majority of the world??™s natural resource originate in states that are not western then it is possible in the future that this protectionist approach may increase, reducing capabilities of states and providing more opportunity for conflict. The argument that liberal economies will contribute to the end of political ideas and history does not acknowledge that man cannot have imposing power over everything such as nature and increasingly economies and technological advances will contribute to the re-emergence of political ideas and to the moving on of history.

Fukuyama??™s arguments of liberal democracies as the only reasonable political system, and liberal economies as the only way for economies to stabilise leads onto the argument that geopolitics would also change; ???the world in which we live is less and less the old one of geopolitics??? (Fukuyama, f. 1992, p. Xiii ??“ 316). The Westphalia perspective is one that not entirely dismissed by the western states in the international order. It argues that liberal states have the only credible answer and therefore the pursuit of geopolitical power is not as important as all states will eventually become liberal. Under the previous USA president, G.W. Bush, this argument was accepted as valid to some extent meaning that the conflicts that the USA involved themselves with were less about political ideologies, though they may have some element of that in them, and more about economic survival and securing resources.

There was no end to geopolitics following the end of the Cold War and whist the two superpowers became one and the threat of nuclear war diminished ???lower-scale conflicts and hostilities have proliferated over many areas??? (Martynov, V. 2000). In fact the geopolitical arena is perhaps more defined by liberal democracies and economies than others in that the geopolitical struggles are now more focused on inequalities between states. In this sense the liberal democracies and economies that Fukuyama suggests will become world-wide seem to be less likely to end history and political ideas and are more likely to help history continue to evolve and political ideas possibly become less homogenous as states will struggle to find more geopolitical power within their own capabilities.

The geopolitical struggles can be seen clearly in African nations currently who have to choose between aid from western countries which brings with it political and economic ties that challenges their sovereignty and China whose aid is only ties to an ideology and does not challenge the essence of sovereignty.

Moving on from the specifics of whether the Cold War ended political ideas and history, it is important to note just how political ideas stay alive, or to put the question another way do political ideas die Most political systems in a country are pre-supposed due to the history of the state. For example in the UK we are pre-supposed to democracies due to the 300 years struggle for a democratic system. Whilst this system may change over time, and indeed it has, there would have to be a dramatic shift in ideologies to move away from a democracy which would not be possible in one generation making any change a gradual shift.

Political regimes may die. For example had Stalin died then the course of the Cold War could have been dramatically different, the same is said of Hitler and Nazism, Mao and communism and currently Mugabe and Zimbabwe. This brings in the question about the importance of personalities in political ideas. Political leaders can bring to life political ideas just through their charisma. And when those personalities die then so too can the political regime that they inspired. However this does not mean that the ideas have died, they will be documented, remembered and used to inspire political debate in the future. They may resurface as the main influence for a state??™s political system, but as new personalities come in the ideas will be changes a little, implemented in a different way, and reinstitutionalised in a different way.

Political ideas live in other ways than just through personalities, they are in constitutions and institutions, and in the debates that exist in such places. They constantly change in such a transitory political sphere and have consequences such as ???the Cold War…structured liberation struggles, wars, diplomacy, and economics??? (The Open University, 2008a, How do political ides live) One of the ways to view this is to look at the issues of refugees from the East to the West before the end of the Cold War where they were welcomed as people who had escaped, to the refusal of refugees from East to West when the Cold War ended because it was not politically appropriate. Political ideas played a part in this decision and go further to demonstrate the many different ways political ideas have lived since the collapse of the Berlin Wall.

Political ideas helps to create history, and so it easy to see why Fukuyama has linked the end of history to the end of political ideas. But the end of the Cold War seems to have not ended political ideas, and whilst the struggles may have changed slightly the collapse of the Berlin Wall and the Cold War seems to have brought the world no closer to being homogenous as Fukuyama argues.

In conclusion Fukuyama??™s argument that the end of the Cold War meant the end of history and politics appears almost naive. There may have been a slight shift towards liberal democracies however this is not as widespread or as succinct as Fukuyama would believe. Political ideas, ideologies, geopolitics and technology are still as debated now as they were during the Cold War. The Berlin Wall may have come down in Germany, but a wall very similar is currently being build between Israel and Palestine; physically dividing the political ideologies of the two groups of peoples. Unlike Fukuyama??™s suggestion that these countries are based in history and can be ignored by the modern liberal democracies, this new wall is being built with the funding of those from the liberal democracies demonstrating their need for geopolitical power in world that is constantly changing.

Part Two,

Having studied before I have a knowledge of how to reference but sometimes struggle with how to reference the course material intext when the course material is only a collection of other references.


Fukuyama, F. (1992) The End of History and the Last Man, London, Hamish Hamilton

Gaddis, J.L. (1997) We Now Know: Rethinking Cold War History, Oxford, Oxford University Press

Gray, J. (1992) ???Cleopatra??™s nose??™ National Review, 11 May, p.46-7

Keylor, W.R, (1996) The Twentieth Century World: An International History, Oxford, Oxford University Press

Martynov, V. (2000) ???the end of east-west division but not the end of history??™, UN Chronicle, vol. 37, no. 2, (accessed 20 November 2007)

Samuelson, R.J. (1999) ???Responses to Fukuyama??™ in National Interest, summer 1999, no. 56, htpp:// (accessed 20 November 2007)

Stimson, H.L., ???Henry L. Stimson on sharing the atomic bomb, September 1945??™ in Hanhimaki, J.M. and Westad, O.A. (eds) (2003) The Cold War: A History in Documents and Eyewitness Accounts, Oxford, Oxford University Press, p.32-34

The Open University (2008) How do political ideas live Audio Material