In "Presentism," Graham Good argues that
Francis Fukuyama's brilliant Hegelian work called The End of History was dismissed unread by most theorists despite (or because of) its offer of a coherent and persuasive vision of where we are in human history. If any further justification were needed for the dismissal, it was provided by the news that Fukuyama worked fro the U.S. State Department. So why bother with study, argument or disproof? (288).
For reasons unclear to me then--and still murky to me now--I didn't buy it. I'd seen too many serious engagements with Fukuyama's argument for Good's claim to be true. So I did some fact-checking of the cursory but thorough sort beloved by bloggers everywhere. Here are the results:
A general search of JSTOR reveals 653 citations of Fukuyama's The End of History. Limit the database to "Language & Literature," and you're left with 57. "Not bad!" you yell? (Self-congratulation is so becoming.) Considering that the "Language & Literature" is one of the four largest sub-groups in the database (63 journals to History's 57, Business' 59 and Economics' 40), that means the vast majority of citations of Fukuyama appear in other fields. So how seriously have the folks who study "Language & Literature" taken one of the most influential theories--ideological inclinations notwithstanding--of the past 15 years? Well, they're not doing too well in terms of pure numbers. But maybe the literary scholars who take the time to challenge his argument do so seriously. A quick tour:
- Social Text's editorial board loves to publish articles that bash Fukuyama. To wit: David Scott argues that "Fukuyama's thesis (such as it is) is simply that the changes and transformations taking place around the world today ... should not be seen as isolated, contingent events" (12). Further condemnation: "it may be felt, rightly or wrongly, that The End of History, elegant and learned as it may appear, is merely the work of the U.S. State Department ideologue and therefore hardly worth reflecting on" (14). Scott's evalution (such as it is) is simply dismissive, merely the work of a Social Text ideologue and hardly worth reflecting on.
- In Specters of Marx, Derrida calls The End of History and the Last Man "the grammar school exercise of a young, industrious, but come-lately reader of Kojeve" who possesses a "sophisticated naivete" and a neoconservative "evangelism" (56, 62).
- Judith Butler doesn't diss so much as dismiss Fukuyama as Kojeve-lite, then says this about "their" theory: "On the contrary, in a sense that will become important to interrogate, the unrealizability of the end of history is precisely what guarantees futurity, for if history were to have an end, a telos, and if that end were knowable in the present, then the future would be known in advance of its emergence, and the futrue would be always already present" (4). This is a stunningly general argument: if we know exactly will happen, then the "future" is in some sense "present." As in: if I throw a ball up in the air, I have created the initial conditions which will allow me to peer into the future. The fact that she chose Fukuyama over all his fellow millenarians to push this argument backs Good's contention.
- According to Patrick Brantlinger, in Posthistoire: Has History Come to an And? (1992), Lutz Niethammer "treats Fukuyama as an intellectual lightweight, much of whose interpretation of Hegel relies on Kojeve, a major posthistoire speculator" (65). Brantlinger treats Fukuyama at length, but never seriously engages his argument. To wit: "Perhaps the wild 'Indians' who attack Fukuyama's wagon train of history are just such critical intellectuals as Marx, Nietzsche, and their descendents--present-day Marxist, feminists, environmentalists, etc. Meanwhile westward-ho go the wagons, headed for Disneyland" (76).
- Del Ivan Janik doesn't engage Fukuyama so much as mention him--once, in the introduction--to justify his title ("No End of History"). That could be considered a pat dismissal, but since Jameson and Baudrillard are also mentioned in that sentence only to disappear as the essay continues, it's not the sort of dismissal Good's concerned with.
- Instead of attacking him for his indebtedness to Hegel and Kojeve, Jerome Christensen, chair of Y.T.'s department, complements Fukuyama's profound humility: "The second arresting feature of Fukuyama's argument is its unembarrassed repetitiveness. Fukuyama freely acknowledges Hegel as his precursor, who announced the end of history in 1806" (454). Alright, so maybe it's not that complementary, but at least it acknowledges that Hegel was also mistaken about when history ended. (He also aligns Fukuyama with Jameson and Jerome McGann at other points in the essay.)
- Walter Benn Michaels, of course, takes Fukuyama really, really seriously.
So I suppose Good's right: literary scholars and/or theorists only take seriously the theories of those they want to take seriously. As for the ones the contemporary historical moment damn nears demands they take seriously? Not so much.