I was, a few weeks ago, somewhat critical of Francis Fukuyama’s most recent book, Identity. Critical, but not – I think – unfair. For I did use the opportunity to pay tribute to other portions of his oeuvre. Not least his first – and most famous – book, The End Of History and the Last Man.
Unlike most of the people who name-drop the book, or attempt to ridicule what they believe to be its thesis, I read it closely many years ago and am still in awe of its achievement. Not least because it has that hallmark of a great book: parts of it strike you at unusual moments.
Like what you’re reading? Get the free UnHerd daily email
Already registered? Sign in
Such a moment occurred when I noticed the latest philosophical musings of Teen Vogue last week.
Teen Vogue is a fascinating window onto the confusions of our time. Even the greatest fans of Vogue know it is not the place to go for in-depth analysis on political or fiscal issues. You’d think the teen version would be an even less suitable venue for considering the historical dialectic. But once again John O’Sullivan’s famous law (that any institution or enterprise that is not explicitly Right-wing will become Left-wing over time) is being vindicated.
You might imagine Teen Vogue to be as aspirational as its parent-brand and so betray some sympathy for the free market. But, in fact, it is less about living the free market lifestyle, than promoting the oligarchical levels of wealth necessary to live a life of the kind portrayed in its pages. And it appears that such oligarchical aspirationalism can now sit comfortably alongside ‘luxury’ socialism and communism.
In July this year, the publication ran a fluffy, admiring interview with self-styled “literally a communist” Ash Sarkar. Teen Vogue seemed intent on elevating Sarkar as a role model for their readership, putting the “cool” back into communism, and the “glam” into gulag. This wasn’t, however, a one-off and not simply the result of everyone but one communist-chic intern being out of the office that day.
Even earlier this year, in April, Teen Vogue published an article headlined “What ‘Capitalism’ Is And How It Affects People“. It was an explicitly anti-capitalist piece written by a campaigning anti-capitalist called Kim Kelly. On social media, the publication promoted this piece under the heading “Everything you need to know about capitalism”. A surprising claim, and – some might say – presumptuous. After all, is it really possible to write everything that people might need to know about capitalism in one article? And if so would the likely source of such an article really be Teen Vogue?
In recent days, the publication has once again brought itself to the notice of people who would not otherwise normally investigate the political stances of Vogue world. Last week, Teen Vogue’s Twitter account re-published its April article – so important they obviously believed it to be. They did so with the teaser: “Can’t end poverty without ending capitalism!”
— Teen Vogue (@TeenVogue) October 17, 2018
Fortunately, Twitter was also on hand to point out that rather than being the cause of poverty (and the eradication of capitalism therefore being a good thing), capitalism has in fact lifted more people out of poverty – and faster – than at any other time in human history.
Perhaps Teen Vogue felt a smidgen of self-awareness, for they re-tweeted a message from the author of their April capitalism piece. Clearly stung by the widespread use of facts to counter her original thesis, Kelly simply tweeted:
Good morning, capitalism is still bad ☀️
— Kim Kelly (@GrimKim) October 18, 2018
Which Teen Vogue thought worth sending out to their 3.4 million followers.
Many people will be baffled. They will wonder how any publication or individual could be so lacking in cognitive skills that it would repeatedly wallow in all the conveniences of capitalism (and promoting, it must be said, some of its worst aspects) while also lobbying for that system’s destruction.
Which brings me back to Fukuyama. At the conclusion of The End Of History, the author mused on the likely behaviour of the people who find themselves at the end of the historical process as delineated by Hegel and himself. Fukuyama posits, among other things, that some people may become enraged at the end stages of the historical synthesis because they will have too little to struggle against.
As a result they may struggle “against the just cause”, and “struggle for the sake of struggle”. Fukuyama warned that in this situation, “if the greater part of the world in which they live is characterized by peaceful and prosperous liberal democracy, then they will struggle against that peace and prosperity, and against democracy”1.
Anyone doubting that there are people currently in the position of Fukuyama’s “last man” would do well to study Teen Vogue – a publication which struggles out of habit amid the only system on earth which could ever allow such a publication to exist.
A publication which can promote the most extreme covetousness of luxury lifestyles and goods, while simultaneously advocating the end of capitalism raises many questions. Some of them must be counted above Vogue’s paygrade. Such as the question of how post-free market economies are meant to be run. But perhaps the questions could also be posed at a more local level. Such as, how exactly are people to buy luxury handbags in the post-capitalist world?