The End(s) of History: Questioning the Stakes of Historical Reason

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The essays featured in this special issue stem from two workshops that took place in Montreal at Concordia University in 2011 and in Vancouver at the University of British Columbia in 2012. By entitling the workshops “The End(s) of History: Questioning the Stakes of Historical Reason,” we adopted a “big picture” thematic that we hoped would appeal to a diverse set of scholars working across sub-disciplines in law, the social sciences, and the humanities. The responses that we received exceeded our most ambitious expectations both in terms of their quality and indeed their number. Some of the essays that came from these workshops have been published as an anthology by Routledge Press, and now with this special issue, the Journal of Historical Sociology has provided us with a platform to present the complete set. We are grateful to SSHRC, and to Concordia University and the Faculty of Law at the University of British Columbia for hosting our events. In order to provide the reader with the context of these essays I have taken the liberty of placing the original call for papers below.

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I call disaster that which does not have the ultimate for a limit: it bears the ultimate away in the disaster.

– Maurice Blanchot, The Writing of Disaster (28)

Two decades ago, we were confronted by the end of the Soviet Union and collapse of the geo-political divisions that had defined much of the twentieth century. From this particular end, the “end of history” was proclaimed. But is it still possible to argue, in line with Fukuyama, that liberal democracy and free market capitalism are the final form of law and mode of production in human history? Recent events have called this thesis into question: from 9/11 and the War on Terror to the current global economic collapse and looming ecological crises, it seems that history is far from over. And yet, oddly enough, it seems the question of “the end” has returned. For example, in the often predicted, but still uncertain, establishment of either a new international American Empire or a new era of International Law, and the global resurgence of religion as a dominant source of political identification. On the other hand, perhaps the “end” is still yet to come, slowly accumulating, mustering at the periphery of the geo-political landscape and outside the productive sphere. Responses that are taking up these questions range from a return to universalism, political theology, messianism, and even the old specter of communism. In assessing these responses, we seek to explore what is at stake in proclaiming “the end” in the current historical moment. Is it a matter of reading the writing on the wall? Or is the proclamation itself a political act? Furthermore, is there a desire for the “end” that conditions the possibility of the proclamation(s)? By asking these questions, we seek to confront the various “ends” that we now live, and in so doing open new lines of sight into the future.

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