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History Essay Summary

Francis Fukuyama’s “The End of History?”: A Summary

Francis Fukuyama’s essay is another useful resource for us as it represents a different aspect of the civilization exclusivity question. “The End of History?” concerns the rise and fall of major ideologies such as absolutism, fascism and communism, and suggests that human history should be viewed in terms of a battle of ideologies which has reached its end in the universalization of Western liberal democracy. He argues that although its realization is still in process in the material world, the idea of Western liberalism has triumphed, as evidenced by the worldwide growth of Western consumerist culture and the gradual movement towards democratic or liberal reforms in countries that previously embraced alternate ideologies.

To further explore the idea of history with a beginning, middle and end, Fukuyama discusses the work of the philosopher who proposed the concept, Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel, and the more recent interpretations of Hegel’s work by Alexandre Kojève. While his idea has been used to support other ideologies, Hegel saw the French Revolution in 1806 as the event that signalled the triumph of the liberal and democratic system. While the real world had yet to reach that state, the ideas of man’s universal right to freedom and of government by consent had been realized in the form of an ideology that could not be improved upon. When they became embodied in the world, Kojève argued that conflict over the type of “large” issues that characterized history would cease and mostly economic activity would remain. (Learn more about Kojève and his arguments here)

In order to appreciate Hegel’s theory, Fukuyama explores his assertions of ideas as the driving force of history. Hegel described these ideas as “ideology”, encompassing not just political doctrines, but the religion, culture and moral values of society as well. Unable to change the material world, these ideologies would still have affects on its future direction. According to Hegel, ideology is the “cause” in the long run, of the real world’s direction. This means that to properly view current events one must consider the history of ideology. The modern economic policy that views the world only in terms of needs and wants and rational maximizing behaviour can’t completely explain lifestyle choices by itself. To consider economic success in Asia as evidence of free market viability without considering societal aspects of work ethic, frugality and other moral qualities is to ignore the part ideology plays in all current world events. Fukuyama reveals the importance of this argument as it means that economic liberalism does not produce liberal politics itself, or vice versa, but that both of them are the result of a previous consciousness. (Learn more about Hegel and his arguments here)

To evaluate whether, considering these specifications, history really has ended, Fukuyama looks next at whether any core conflicts of human life remain that could only be resolved by a political-economic structure other than modern liberalism. In terms of mankind’s “common ideological heritage”, two such alternatives have been fascism and communism. The seemingly self-destructive nature of fascism was revealed during World War II, and its failure has deflated further fascist movements. As communism’s case against liberalism has weakened with the rise of equality in the legal and social structure of the classless West, so has support for communism in the West, and elsewhere. By extent of the Hegelian view, world-wide embracing of consumer culture can be seen as a move towards economic liberalism, and political liberalism must follow. Those countries still under communism are only an anomaly on the international front, and the important fact is that very few still believe in the ideology. Fukuyama expects this will result in a mounting pressure for change as alternatives to Western liberalism are exhausted.

Finally, Fukuyama explores what the end of history would mean for international relations. While the ideology has arrived, for the foreseeable future much of the world will continue to cause conflict as they move there. With the leading countries in a post-history state it is commonly thought there will still be little result because national interest is always a much stronger force than ideological theory. But as Fukuyama expressed with materialism and economics, international relations are also the result of preconceived ideologies. Nationalist inspired expansionism similar to that seen in nineteenth century Europe is what we are supposed to expect from “de-ideologized” countries. But the fact that they believed in imperialism disqualifies them from being considered truly liberal, and Fukuyama argues it was different forms of ideology that they used to justify their imperialism. Since fascism’s defeat in World War II all expansionism has been done in establishment of defence against others with overtly-expansionist ideologies. After liberalisation of market and economy, expansionism disappears.

Communism is losing its power as a truly excepted ideology, and without a significant alternative a common market will continue to grow and large scale ideological conflict will fade away. But Fukuyama suggests that conflict will continue on another level. Those areas that have not reached the end of history will continue to be in conflict with those that have. Nationalist conflict and ethnic conflict have not played themselves out yet, and Fukuyama predicts they will result in increases in terrorism. As we move to economic conflict and environmental issues instead of the powerful and inspiring conflicts of history, Fukuyama supposes a state of tediousness may even “serve to get history started once again.”

To read Fukuyama’s article in full, visit this link.

Krista

Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Guidelines for Essay Writing - History

Introduction

This is a summary of some ideas on the correct approach to preparing and writing history essays. It should be stressed that this is not a magic formula which must be followed to the letter. It is, instead, a set of guidelines which it is hoped will help students to gain more from their written work. It is also worth noting that every tutor has his/her own personal approach to essays and that if you are concerned about any particular points of detail you should contact them in person.

Reading

(i) General Points

  • Never leave your essay until the last minute. If you do you will almost certainly be unable to get hold of the necessary books.
  • Use bibliographies provided and/or consult your tutor in order to decide which books you should read
  • Make use of the Short Loan system and both the Class Library and the Main Library.

(ii) What to read?

Most of you will be used to reading, and perhaps relying upon, secondary sources (those written by historians, drawing upon primary evidence), in order to gather information. Modern secondary works might, for example, contain an up-to-date summary of the perceived narrative of the events with which they are dealing, and a detailed analysis of the importance and/or context of those events. But historians draw their information from a wide variety of primary sources, which might include chronicles, letters, or official documents, written at or around the time of the events to which they relate. A vital part of studying history at degree level is developing your own ability to use the primary sources. Therefore, although you will almost certainly have to read a variety of secondary works in order to give yourself a general over-view of a period, it is always also advisable to examine primary sources related to your topic if they are available.

(iii) Using a critical approach

Adopt a basic attitude of suspicion of everything you read. This goes for both primary and secondary sources. It may be fairly disconcerting to realise that history does not deal with hard facts, that there is no text book to which you can turn to find the truth about what happened in a given period. Appreciating this fact is, however, another key aspect of studying history at this level.

  • You must learn to question all primary source materials that you read, and to accept that different secondary works may well give different accounts of both the narrative and analysis of an event.
  • This does not mean that you can casually challenge the view of any historian. Clearly, if you wish to question the perceived norm you must have evidence to support your case.

(iv) How much?

Reading one book is NEVER going to be enough! If you are approaching a new subject you might wish to start by reading a condensed summary of the basic information in perhaps one or two general text books. At best this will give you an understanding of the bare bones of a topic and, sometimes, a summary of some of the historical problems involved. Be wary, however, of over-generalisation and out-of-date approaches. Then move on to consult at least two or three more specific secondary works. This may include what appear to be very daunting historical tomes, but do not be put off. Learn to maximise your productivity by reading selectively and skimming. With a basic understanding of a topic you ought to be able to identify what sections you should read by using the contents page and index. Also try to read primary sources in translation wherever possible to develop a greater understanding of a subject. This may help you to begin to form your own opinions and to question the approaches of current historians.

(v) Note taking

Once you have isolated a section or chapter which you need to read you should collect your information through an effective note taking process.

  • Read a paragraph or thematic section and then write down what you think were the most important points made, summarising both evidence and approach. This should help you to avoid unconscious plagiarism.
  • Then fill in any gaps in detail by re-reading specific bits of the text. Always note down page numbers as you go along, so that you can refer back to sections in your revision and can reference the evidence you use in an essay where necessary.

Writing

(i) General Points

  • Do not wait too long before starting to write! Actually writing may help you to identify the areas in which you need to do more reading.
  • Always try to write a first draft which you can then review.
  • All work will normally be word-processed.
  • Essays should be between 1500-2000 words in length at sub honours level and would normally be 3000 at honours level.

(ii) Focusing on the question

Perhaps the most important thing to do in an essay is to answer the question. This may sound very simple and obvious. However, there are a number of points you must bear in mind:

  • An essay question will ask you to focus upon one particular area of a topic and to pursue a line of argument. NEVER answer a question by writing everything you know about a subject! You must instead tailor your knowledge to the job in hand.
  • In order to avoid irrelevance you must first isolate what is being asked. Read the question very carefully. Analyse the meaning of each word and then write down a brief summary of which areas you will need to examine.
  • In order to write an effective answer you will usually need to come to some sort of conclusion about a topic. This is not a call for dogmatism. Your decisions can be multiple or relative, but try to force yourself to come to a verdict.

(iii) Structure

Once you have decided what a question is asking you must create an effective structure in which to place your argument. At a basic level a structure requires you to include an introduction and a conclusion and to order your material so that your argument progresses in a logical manner.

  • Before you start writing always work out an essay plan. As a bare minimum this should contain a brief list of the themes which you will cover and headings for the paragraphs within each theme. Make sure that the order in which you deal with things has a logical basis.
  • An effective structure should enable you to avoid repetition within your essay.
  • Once you have established a structure stick to it. Do not ramble and do not jump from one topic to another.
  • Establishing an effective structure can be a tricky business, so do not rush this aspect of essay writing. Be prepared to review and alter your structure after a first draft if it proves ineffective.

(iv) Substance

To write an effective essay you will need to marry the use of evidence and analysis. It is no good having page after page of fact with no interpretation or comment, or vice versa. Of all the areas of essay writing this is probably the one in which there is most variation in approach. Try to ensure, however, that you make use of both fact and theory in your answer. One approach is to illustrate every theme or idea you express with one or two pieces of detailed evidence. Basically, try to avoid just giving a long list of dates, or simply writing a vague and generalised answer.

(v) Your input

Writing degree-level history essays is not about regurgitation. It is generally agreed that the difference between a passable essay and a first class piece of work is the amount of original thought and input which the student includes. Writing an essay is not supposed to be a form of worship in which various historical text books are venerated. Although you must always back up your arguments with evidence, you should assume, until proven otherwise, that your mind is as good as anybody else's.

Key points

  • Question everything you read
  • Collect as much information as time allows from as wide a range of primary and secondary sources as possible
  • Always answer the question
  • Construct an orderly and effective argument which makes use of both evidence and analysis

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