Last year it was American decline. This year, Washington's newest intellectual fashion is the "end of history," the brilliant and outrageously provocative thesis of Francis Fukuyama. According to him, now that the Cold War is over and we have won, now that the rest of the world is bent on adopting Western ideas and institutions, history -- with its great crusades and wars and ideological struggles -- is over. The rest is commentary -- a peaceful, rather boring eternity during which mankind, through with fighting, turns the world into one big capitalist bazaar. Fukuyama is only half wrong. It is not history but politics, on the grand scale, that has come to an end. As I suggested here last March, the perennial political question that has been asked since Plato -- What is the good polity? -- has been answered. The debate is over, the answer is in: that system which combines political pluralism, democratic government, individual rights and a mixed economy. In short, modern Western democracy. The triumph of the Western Idea is total. From Luanda to Latvia, the watchword is reform, and today reform invariably means economic deregulation and political liberalization, i.e., adopting one or all of the elements of the liberal democratic idea. The Fukuyama fallacy occurs with the jump from the triumph of the Western idea (true) to the universalization of Western reality (false). He believes the world will ultimately come to be like us -- and thus become one large, peaceful Common Market. Why does he believe this? Because he believes in the Hegelian notion that the idea ultimately determines reality. Invoking the authority of Hegel is a weighty debating device. But it is hardly evidence. I would invoke, instead, 3,000 years of history which have amply and uninterruptedly demonstrated man's potential for evil. If evil is inherent in human nature, it will inevitably find its social and political expression. Hence conflict. Hence history. QED. The most baffling thing about the Fukuyama hypothesis is not its content but its popularity. That the summer issue of The National Interest (which features his article) should sell out is one thing. That the essay should be featured in publications in Britain, Australia, France, Japan, Italy, Brazil, Israel and the Netherlands is another. The French magazine Commentaire, for example, will devote most of its next issue to Fukuyama and his critics. How can a theory so extravagant, so tongue-in-cheek (if Fukuyama thought history was over, he should be a carpenter not a top State Department adviser) enjoy such a vogue? I have a theory. Every age has millennial tremors, a sense that the end is near, that we are history's last chapter. This premonitory feeling may wax and wane, but it is always there, and must (and does) find political and intellectual expression. The early '80s, for example, were quite engulfed by apocalyptic thinking. It is now a bit embarrassing to remember how gripped the country was by nuclear hysteria. Remember Ground Zero Day? "The Day After"? The wild popularity of Jonathan Schell's preposterous epic "The Fate of the Earth"? The warnings that unless something was done right away -- say, a nuclear freeze -- the world would not last past tomorrow? The nuclear apocalypse died with the INF Treaty and the Reagan-Gorbachev Moscow love-fest. The millennial impulse found a new outlet, however, a bit less dramatic but no less worrying: overextended by debt and speculation, the American economy was headed for collapse. It was 1929. What killed this particular strain of economic apocalypticism was, ironically enough, the stock market crash of 1987. At first, the doomsayers had a field day. Paul Kennedy's thesis about American decline appeared in the aftermath of the crash and flourished in its atmosphere of gloom and apprehension. But then -- nothing happened. No recession. No inflation. No collapse. In fact, the market recently surpassed its pre-crash all-time high. The apocalypse turned out to be a market correction. Foiled again, the doomsayers retreated and the Kennedy thesis fell out of fashion. But the millennial impulse does not die. So along comes Fukuyama to satisfy it in the most extraordinary way: with a positive, a happy, a cheery millennium. For once, we are offered an end of days that is not fire and ice but Elysian fields -- a future of permanent peace, of eternal triumph, of historical ennui. Utopia. The Fukuyama thesis is not just perfectly pitched to satisfy our millennial yearnings. It is perfectly timed. It appears at the turn of the last calendar corner before the literal millennium (the year 2000). And it captures the self-satisfied, inward-turning mood of a people that has just won a great (albeit cold) war. Fukuyama's is a classic of postwar utopianism, that genre of philosophical euphoria not seen since shortly after our last great victory 40 years ago when utopianism of another kind (end-of-power-politics, brotherhood-of-man, United Nations utopianism) flourished briefly. Alas, briefly. With Solidarity in power, with Yeltsin taking Manhattan, with unemployment at 5.2 percent, it is easy to believe that we have arrived at the fields of ambrosia. But let the tanks roll into Latvia, let the economy land hard, let the Exxon Valdez run aground this time off Cape Cod, or, better still, let the Kremlin issue a terse statement announcing Gorbachev's retirement for reasons of health -- and the fashion will change rather quickly. Enjoy the end of history while you can. It hasn't long to run.
Charles Krauthammer Charles Krauthammer wrote a weekly political column that ran on Fridays. He died on June 21, 2018. Follow