Monday, February 20, 2006


Francis Fukuyama made some sense!

This morning, someone called my attention to Francis Fukuyama's opinion piece "After Neoconservatism" in yesterday's New York Times. I do not consider myself a Fukuyama fan. Not too many years ago, I would have gone out of my way to not read Fukuyama: I so completely disagreed with him that it infuriated me so see him published and read. I don't think I quite agree with him (nor he with me) yet; but he has good arguments against the war in Irak, and those I am glad to see published and read.

The essay is too long (six pages) and too well expressed for me to try to summarize it here. The highlights were, for me, these two paragraphs on pages 3/4:
I have numerous affiliations with the different strands of the neoconservative movement. I was a student of Strauss's protégé Allan Bloom, who wrote the bestseller "The Closing of the American Mind"; worked at Rand and with Wohlstetter on Persian Gulf issues; and worked also on two occasions for Wolfowitz. Many people have also interpreted my book "The End of History and the Last Man" (1992) as a neoconservative tract, one that argued in favor of the view that there is a universal hunger for liberty in all people that will inevitably lead them to liberal democracy, and that we are living in the midst of an accelerating, transnational movement in favor of that liberal democracy. This is a misreading of the argument. "The End of History" is in the end an argument about modernization. What is initially universal is not the desire for liberal democracy but rather the desire to live in a modern — that is, technologically advanced and prosperous — society, which, if satisfied, tends to drive demands for political participation. Liberal democracy is one of the byproducts of this modernization process, something that becomes a universal aspiration only in the course of historical time.

"The End of History," in other words, presented a kind of Marxist argument for the existence of a long-term process of social evolution, but one that terminates in liberal democracy rather than communism. In the formulation of the scholar Ken Jowitt, the neoconservative position articulated by people like Kristol and Kagan was, by contrast, Leninist; they believed that history can be pushed along with the right application of power and will. Leninism was a tragedy in its Bolshevik version, and it has returned as farce when practiced by the United States. Neoconservatism, as both a political symbol and a body of thought, has evolved into something I can no longer support.
Skip to end:
Neoconservatism, whatever its complex roots, has become indelibly associated with concepts like coercive regime change, unilateralism and American hegemony. What is needed now are new ideas, neither neoconservative nor realist, for how America is to relate to the rest of the world — ideas that retain the neoconservative belief in the universality of human rights, but without its illusions about the efficacy of American power and hegemony to bring these ends about.

Fukuyama is not the first or only one to note that installing democracy can be problematic. Democracy is not by any means the "natural" or "default" condition in the same sense that "health" is the absence of disease, obtained by curing the state of its tyrant infection. People develop in a hierarchical setting (the family) first, generally work in a hierarchichal setting (when did you last elect your boss, or her boss?); people understand pecking order. Perhaps riots and mob lynchings are the most spontaneous democratic instincts, the "democratic" behaviours that do not have to be learned.

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