Henry Porter

How all the Isms Became Wasms

The End of History and the Last Man

By

Hamish Hamilton 368pp £17. 99 order from our bookshop

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?

Sign Up to our newsletter

Receive free articles, highlights from the archive, news, details of prizes, and much more.

Follow Literary Review on Twitter

  • Last Tweets

    • 'Half-way through The Conquest of Water I felt as if I had been subjected to the literary equivalent of excessive c… ,
    • 'Volume five, then, but still no end in sight. Sandbrook is clearly enjoying himself so much he can’t bear the seri… ,
    • 'By the end of the book something so weighty, stylish and impressive has been built up that one feels far nearer to… ,
    • 'Her ensuing psychotic episode is described so convincingly ... that the reader will wonder if Dobrakovová did not… ,
    • 'The perspectives complement and contest one another, amounting to a glorious, atmospheric set of ventriloquisms.'… ,
    • RT : I reviewed The Testaments for . I will not be taking any questions at this time. ,
    • 'The Testaments is, first and foremost, a manual of resistance ... a type of resistance that is organised, articula… ,