The Corner

Fukuyama

Stan – I used to be a  big fan of The End of History, and I still admire it greatly,  but ultimately I don’t think history itself will be kind to it or to Fukuyama (if you think that’s too harsh, you haven’t read John Lukacs’ review of it — which I can’t find online). First, a minor point:  His protestations notwithstanding, his recent declarations that he never believed you can accelerate History (in his terms, the Leninist version) and that you just have to let it unfold (the Marxist version; again his term) are unpersuasive and very convenient. Fukuyama favored accelerating History in Iraq until very late, for example. And he associated with the history accelerators for a long time. If they were so wrong in theory, and if they were so wrong in their understanding of his work, he might have said so a long time ago. 

More importantly I think that History has more surprises in store for us. Yes, I know that he wasn’t saying that consequential “historic” events were never going to happen again, he was merely (or perhaps not merely) saying that the Hegelian process by which the best political system is revealed has reached an end.  But this strikes me as unsound or at least unknowable.

First, there’s the issue of technology, which changes history more than ideas do. Consider in particular biotechnology and neuroscience. These fields have enornous potential to overturn History as we’ve known it (this is a criticism I believe Fukuyama has acknowledged). If, as I’ve long bleated around here, conservatism is the idea that human nature has no history, then the fact that we are in the process of rewriting (not merely better investigating) human nature holds the potential to overturn many of our assumptions about liberal democracy and the like — and about many of these assumptions we are all conservatives. I don’t know how the change might come, but I think it would be foolish not to see the potential there.

Second — and I have not read the book cover-to-cover in more than a decade –  it seems to me that Fukuyama doesn’t/didn’t account for religion sufficiently. For decades the assumption among intellectual elites of all flavors was that religion was being crowded out by the secularizing forces of modernity, capitalism, liberalism etc. That assumption is now in the dustbin of history. Obviously, some religions — and interepretations of same — are more accomodating of liberal democracy than others, but it seems foolish to imagine that liberalism will always and forever triumph against religion. Indeed, as you note, the mere demographic tide of anti-liberal populations is itself a significant challenge to the West. My guess is there are many other such challenges. 

Also: it seems to me there’s an inherent tension between those who think the War on Terror is all it’s cracked-up to be and those who express deep admiration for Fukuyama: If, as a matter of Hegelian “science,” the argument of history has been settled in liberalism’s favor, it should not be possible for another system to best it. But, at the core of the War on Terror school is the conviction that America and the West could actually lose and, hence, plunge the world into darkness. A Fukuyamaist (Fukuyamian?) might reply: “Sure, but that darkness will be temporary and eventually liberalism will prevail.” To which a normal person might reply: “Well, spank my fanny, that’s great news! We’ll just have to wait a few centuries for the Jihadis to get their act together. We’ll all be dead, but things will work out in the long run.”

In other words, because Fukuyama’s dagnostic predictions will always be proven true eventually, he can never be wrong. But he can also never be of much use for those of us operating on a shorter timeline.  

In short, I think Fukuyama’s book is often  brilliant as theory and intellectual history, but as a prescriptive tool for the actual world we live in  it’s awfully airy and almost literary in its utility. 

Oh, and for those interested, here’s my review of Fukuyama’s latest book , which touches on some of this.  

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