A little over two years ago on a cold Sunday morning I stood with a group of journalists at a gap in the Berlin Wall and watched thousands of East Germans file through to the West for the first time in their lives. I clearly remember our conversation that morning. Everyone agreed that communism in the Eastern bloc was dead, and that it was just a matter of time before the regimes in Hungary, Bulgaria, Romania and Czechoslovakia would be toppled.
What we did not discuss was how we had come to be witnessing this extraordinary event, which seemed to have been sprung upon the world with virtually no warning. True, there had been enormous demonstrations in Leipzig every Monday evening for several weeks, but nobody suspected that the East German government would just fade away and that the wall would be breached as easily as a wicker hurdle. Two years on it still seems a miracle and the question of how it all came about has become ever more compelling.
One writer, Francis Fukuyama, began answering the question before the East European revolutions had even happened. In the summer of 1989 Fukuyama, then an employee in the American State Department published a paper entitled ‘The End of History’ in an obscure periodical called The National Interest. Probably because of its title the paper was widely read and then ridiculed, particularly after the -Tiananmen Square massacre. Critics were irritated at what appeared to be his foolish presumption: how could he possibly announce the end of history when history was being made before us on every television screen?
This was unjust because Fukuyama was using an idea which would be familiar to students of Hegel and Marx, but not perhaps to journalists who simply read the title and protested. Both philosophers had proposed that mankind would eventually arrive at an agreement on the best form of government. This