Categories
Criticism

Fukuyama – Paris ’68

Having recently read Francis Fukuyama’s The End of History and the Last Man, I have been contemplating many aspects of the book, from its reading of Hegel by way of Kojève, the concept of thymos as motivation in human behaviour, to the Nietzschean logic of humanity whereby all humans are recognised as equal (something Nietzsche views as somewhat of an existential horror). A small passage near the very end of the book particularly caught my attention.

            In the final section of his work, Fukuyama contends that liberal democracy, in its almost plastic state of absorbing shocks, brings about a flatline ideal of which with every citizen capable of being equally recognised, individuals sink into a state of ennui. Here, he turns to the events of Paris in May 1968. He describes the students as ‘for the most part pampered offspring of one of the freest and most prosperous societies on earth.’ Certainly, the state of the French economy in 1968 was better than nearly every other country, but perhaps an aspect Fukuyama leaves out of this observation is that as noted by himself (and Marx), a bourgeoisie/middle class was necessary to the upheaval of society and social relations. 1968 France was better prepared in terms of the political engagement of its peoples and overall prosperity for a transition to post-capitalism than say 1917 Russia, a continent too vast in scale and severely materially and industrially underdeveloped.

            The interesting change since both 1968 and the publication of Fukuyama’s book, is that the situation has altered in certain ways and stayed fixed in others. For one, student and general protests are still popular and ongoing within France. But with the advent of neoliberalism, social safety nets have become undermined, and unemployment is significantly higher (particularly for poorer youth) today than in 1968. In an interview with the Guardian, two generations of striking students, a father and son, discuss the 1968 and contemporary protests. The father, Gérard, spoke of 68’s atmosphere as being ‘“constantly thinking of what we called dreams, and what could be called utopia … Everyone was convinced that something massive was happening.”’ Whereas the son, Antoine, concludes ‘“there is something inaccessible about the notion of a dream. Today is about profound convictions, how it’s possible to live in a nightmare, but to think about how we can and should be doing things differently.”’ Effectively, the 1968 generation had a relative amount of prosperity, albeit an ongoing confrontation with university administration and violent police forces, but also the ability to conceive at least in the abstract, transformative political projects to rise above capitalism and consumerism. The contemporary generation struggles against the prevailing ideology of the likes of Fukuyama, for instead of a project so powerful it breaks through the plasticity of capitalism and liberal democracy, this generation has to settle for the struggle for the mere temporary negation of neoliberal policies.

Further Reading:

‘France’s 1968 uprising, 50 years on: ‘it’s harder for the youth today”: https://www.theguardian.com/world/2018/may/01/paris-student-protesters-raid-1968-uprising-antoine-gerard-guegan