Tuesday, April 03, 2007

Fukuyama's Reeducation Camp

In his ongoing quest to distance himself from neo-con policies, the Iraq catastrophe, the Bush administration, and his own words, Francis Fukuyama gives it all another go here at The Guardian. What a lousy career, having to race around saying that your ideas are not connected to current policy or that current policy is not a consequence of your ideas. Nevertheless, his pleas are becoming more desperate, so let's give the poor man a chance out of sympathy.

One way to begin defending yourself is to create a tautology in which your opponents find themselves pantomiming glass walls as they try to exit the bubbly circularity.
Fifteen years ago in my book The End of History and the Last Man I argued that, if a society wanted to be modern, there was no alternative to a market economy and a democratic political system. Not everyone wanted to be modern, of course, and not everyone could put in place the institutions and policies necessary to make democracy and capitalism work, but no alternative system would yield better results. [my emphasis]
OK, Fukuyama suggests that democracy and capitalism are necessary conditions for being "modern" or having "better results." Setting aside the normative issues (why we should be "modern," etc.), the statement does alert us to figuring out what Fukuyama means by modernity or "being modern." Apparently, it's also a normative goal. But what is the content of being modern? One way of viewing this is to see "modern" as synonymous with "liberal" (of course, in the politico-historical philosophical sense). We then might say that, if one wants greater levels of individual autonomy and liberty, robust regimes of rights protecting those liberties and others, and an anti-authoritarian bent. There are varieties of liberalism, despite the typical European critical conflation of liberalism with market economies, including later variants (Mill, Dewey) that can be viewed as rejections of capitalism as antagonistic to liberal principles (as antagonistic to robust notions of individual self-realization, for instance). The less libertarian notions of liberalism (Mill, Dewey, Rawls) seek more robust social and economic institutions that provide opportunities for individuals to develop in ways they see fit, and thus view the state as more active in the lives of citizens (as opposed to say, the libertarian minimal state of Robert Nozick, which views the role of the state as simply maintaining fair property transactions and nothing more). And there are variants that give pride of place to pluralism and self-governance that, by necessity, overlap with democratic political organization. Further, it is still disputed in some quarters whether liberalism implies any particular form of governance.

Since Enlightenment notions of modernity are perhaps inextricably intertwined with contemporary notions of liberalism, either Fukuyama has a very strict notion of modernity operating implicitly underneath his rhetorical gestures or he's simply equating modernity with that typically American version at the conjunction of generally weak representative democracy and institutions geared towards sustaining the market economy. If the latter is the case, he's simply giving us a tautology and his entire point is vapid.

But let's see if he clears up what he means by "modern," then.

Inspiring and hopeful as these events were, the road to liberal democracy in the Middle East is likely to be extremely disappointing in the near to medium term, and the Bush administration's efforts to build a regional policy around it are heading toward abject failure.

To be sure, the desire to live in a modern society and to be free of tyranny is universal, or nearly so. This is demonstrated by the efforts of millions of people each year to move from the developing to the developed world, where they hope to find the political stability, job opportunities, health care, and education that they lack at home.

But this is different from saying that there is a universal desire to live in a liberal society - that is, a political order characterised by a sphere of individual rights and the rule of law. The desire to live in a liberal democracy is, indeed, something acquired over time, often as a byproduct of successful modernisation.

Moreover, the desire to live in a modern liberal democracy does not translate necessarily into an ability to actually do so....
Whew, okay. It seems here that to be "modern" is now demonstrated in the desire to have "political stability, job opportunities, health care, and education" and "to be free of tyranny." This is considered different from "liberal society," characterized by individual rights and the rule of law. Rather, the latter is a "byproduct of successful modernisation." I find this confusing and welcome any efforts to clear it up. But it seems to me the tautology simply becomes more sophisticated here.

That is, Fukuyama appears to be saying that the desires of what are essentially conditioned or guaranteed by liberalism are distinct from the desire for liberalism. Why make this distinction? After all, if one seeks the things supposedly guaranteed in liberalism - and Fukuyama has already claimed that liberalism is the sole guarantee - it would seem that seeking liberalism as a general political means follows. Is he saying that people are stupid because they desire certain ends, then choose the wrong political means to achieve those ends? Further, isn't the "desire" itself an ideological position that mirrors or is equivalent to the ideology of liberalism? Not necessarily. An authoritarian regime could conceivably guarantee "political stability, job opportunities, health care, and education" and be relatively non-tyrannical. But Fukuyama asserts that there is no alternative to liberal-democratic market economies in materially supporting these desires. That is, the desire and its fulfillment are basically the same thing, although people apparently don't realize this.

So, we're modern if we desire liberal institutions, and the best liberal institutions will be ones that encourage democracy and open markets... but liberal institutions of this sort are a "byproduct of successful modernisation." Eh?

How about, in the context of his ongoing self-reeducation, the claims to have had little to do with Bush policy?
Long before you have a liberal democracy, you have to have a functioning state...

The End of History was never linked to a specifically American model of social or political organisation. Following Alexandre Kojève, the Russian-French philosopher who inspired my original argument, I believe that the European Union more accurately reflects what the world will look like at the end of history than the contemporary United States. The EU's attempt to transcend sovereignty and traditional power politics by establishing a transnational rule of law is much more in line with a "post-historical" world than the Americans' continuing belief in God, national sovereignty, and their military.

Finally, I never linked the global emergence of democracy to American agency, and particularly not to the exercise of American military power. Democratic transitions need to be driven by societies that want democracy, and since the latter requires institutions, it is usually a fairly long and drawn out process.

Well, this is perfectly acceptable. We have apparently mistaken Fukuyama's pronouncements as saying something about the role of American power in the world, rather than about power and history in more abstract terms. Fukuyama was at the very core of neo-con influence within the government, particularly in the State Department in the 1980s working alongside Wolfowitz, Libby, and Rumsfeld. Clearly, however, Fukuyama has changed his tune since the disaster in Iraq became undeniably apparent to proponents of the war. Fukuyama ought to be praised for his belated intellectual honesty on this count. But not regarding his role in the lead-up to the war.

Even if his general thesis of the "end of history" culminating in liberal democracy is detached from any specific espousal of the overt use of unilateral, self-interested power by the US (Krauthammer's position, for example), it nonetheless truncates the possibility of alternatives. Such is the nature of strongly teleological notions of political history. The ends of history become fixed targets. Fukuyama's - with, it must be noted, misgivings - is liberal democracy, often defined by him circularly as "modernization." This notion of history fits well with a vision of linear economic, political, and technological development, a line along which some countries/societies/cultures have advanced and others have not. It fits well with the American self-image as the vanguard nation along that line, leading the rest of the world into its own self-image (which, by the way, is entirely unsustainable and, for many, undesirable). And it serves to create a political and economic ideological context in which speeding up that advancement is encouraged. This is indeed what Fukuyama gains from Hegel, but especially Marx. Fukuyama was instrumental in furthering the influence of this notion of history, and the American place in it, in both the academy and in longer-term planning within Republican-led State Departments.

Maybe it would help Fukuyama to make his case if he were a bit clearer on what modernization actually is, why we ought to seek it, and how it is related to liberal democracy. Perhaps the reeducation might then involve reevaluating the most fundamental precepts of the Fukuyama thesis.


Cursed Tea said...

Thank you for your succinct analysis. I agree especially with the driving teleological force behind Fukuyama's thinking.

"The End of History" always struck me as being very much generated from a first world, American dominated perspective.

I found it almost comical that he should be going out of his way to back pedal so furiously in the Guardian today. I wonder what he would have written had Iraq been a success? I wish the means of finding this out hadn't involved so many innocent deaths.

Thank you for your blog - I will definitely return for more exercising of my grey matter!!
Best Wishes

Anonymous said...

Great post:

May I offer a friendly amendment? Fukiyama is also flat wrong about his economic understanding of the world. "Market" economics--deregulated capitalism is a known failure compared to Industrial Capitalism--the highly regulated variety. Because Fukiyama cannot grasp this distinction, his comments on economic reality are worse than useless.

For more information (an old Kos dairy) on understanding the reality of the various forms capitalism has taken, see:

troutsky said...

A friend and i were discussing the issue of accountability last night.Thanks for taking him to task. Apologetics aside, i don't see where he advances our understanding of liberal democracy, market economies or modernization for that matter. Seems like smoke (from burning oil wells?) and mirrors (the world as one ,big California) crammed with disclaimers and exit clauses.

Graeme said...

Is that how "intellectuals" say they were wrong?