Friday, August 04, 2006

A bit from the draft introduction: Goodbye to All That? A requiem for neoconservatism

A bit from the draft introduction, full draft available at SSRN, here.

Now that the hoopla has died down – the charges and counter charges, accusations of betrayal and bad faith, angry denunciations and bitter recriminations, ruptures of friendships and breaking of intellectual alliances – perhaps it is possible to give sober consideration to Francis Fukuyama’s farewell to neo-conservative foreign policy, After the Neocons: America at the Crossroads.[1]

The bitter arguments over Fukuyama’s book have taken place not just among conservative think-tank intellectuals in Washington DC, however, and it would be a mistake to write them off as simply internecine warfare of no special moment among one sector of the chattering classes. The most incendiary moment of debate occurred when the conservative pundit Charles Krauthammer (who in 2004 delivered an address cited by Fukuyama as a proximate cause of his apostasy) accused Fukuyama in the Washington Post of grossly misrepresenting his speech.[2] Krauthammer, by my reckoning, appears to be right about the specifics of his lecture, and yet I also reckon Fukuyama generally right about the ideological triumphalism generously spread among American conservatives even at a time when it was obvious that Iraq was more than a matter of removing the dictator and letting democracy take its lovely course.[3] Remarkably, too, the White House entered what might have been thought purely an intellectuals’ brawl, sending off emails quoting Fukuyama’s past statements in contradiction with the new positions in his book, particularly his 1998 support of the overthrow of Saddam – joining the melee for the very good reason that, as Tod Lindberg, editor of the Hoover Institution’s Policy Review, put it, the Bush administration has “been more influenced by Mr. Fukuyama’s work than by that of any other living thinker.”[4] Betrayal, bad faith, denunciation, recrimination, and rupture, indeed.[5] Meanwhile, liberal commentators and reviewers watched the feuding with a mixture of prim righteousness and undisguised glee at the long-awaited conservative crackup over the intellectual bases of the Bush administration’s foreign policy.[6]

The work that Lindberg had in mind as influencing the Bush administration was of course Fukuyama’s 1992 The End of History and the Last Man, a volume that began as an article while he was at the Rand Corporation, the quintessential Cold War think tank. (Which is not to say, conservative, but rather ‘anti-communist’ in the Cold War sense that shaped the American political center, in domestic as well as foreign policy, from Democratic presidents Truman and Kennedy to Republican presidents Nixon and Reagan.)[7] That book, written in the flush of victory in the Cold War and the collapse of Soviet Communism, argued that we were on the cusp of a historical moment in which history itself – at least “history” in the sense of fundamental arguments over political ideology – was essentially over. Liberal democracy, market capitalism, and the welfare state had won, for the reasons that they are both right in principle and have been proved right in practice, while their 20th century totalitarian, collectivist competitors, Communism, Nazism, and Fascism, have all been seen off. Despite the disdain of some academics, The End of History hit the intellectual zeitgeist of the 1990s in the US perfectly – as perfectly in tune with the post-ideological tenor of the Clinton administration as with conservative celebration of democratic capitalist victory – and Fukuyama eventually became a celebrity professor at the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies in Washington DC.

The Balkans, Somalia, Rwanda, Chechnya, North Korea, Cuba, Haiti, Chinese communism, failed states, authoritarian states, backsliding in Russia, Saddam’s Iraq, the mullahs in Iran, and the Taleban executing women qua women in Kabul – well, okay, everyone understood that progress would only be gradual and there would be setbacks. But the basic institutions and values of democracy, human rights, liberalism, the secular public-private divide, free markets, the emancipation of women, and social protections were accepted worldwide and not really open to question. The nightmare of modernity – 1984 – had been successfully avoided. Fukuyama himself moved on, partly to fleshing out certain of the institutions of cultural values that made liberal capitalism work (Trust: The Social Virtues and the Creation of Prosperity, 1996), partly to working out the problems of failed states (State-Building: Governance and World Order in the 21st Century, 2004), and partly to arguing how to avoid that other dystopia of modernity – Brave New World – which, while infinitely more pleasant, challenged the underlying premises of being human (Our Posthuman Future: Consequences of the Biotechnology Revolution, 2003).[8]

Alas, as we now know, other intellectuals were also at work in those same years. They too were dreaming their dreams of a politics and history. Theirs, however, were dreams not of the end of history, but instead its re-birth, the re-birth of politics and history on the march, a march long stalled by centuries of Western expansion but reinvigorated by contemporary global demography. A history simultaneously older than old and newer than new, pre-modern in its deployment of ancient Islamic doctrines but post-modern in its highly selective use of them and in its deployment of the cutting edge of the West’s very own anti-Western ideologies of multiculturalism, anti-colonialism, and ressentiment, all at the same time – a distinctly pre-modern, post-modern alternative to modernity and particularly its secular liberal capitalist form. It too conceived of an end-time of ideology – not our polished, commercial, secular, capitalist, democratic civil society writ global, but instead the worldwide umma. Pre-modern and post-modern, yes – but never modern in that term’s formal sense, the way in which we are modern. But they wrote down their visions and grand strategies in languages few of us understood, even as they took full advantage of modernity’s technologies to post their manifestos on the Internet. They lived in grimy, slummy, unglamorous places in the second and third worlds few of us visited as we went about with our Lonely Planet guides, admiring reformed South Africa, its game parks and lovely Cape Town, so full of multicultural promise, went to the beach in Thailand, climbed Kilimanjaro and lamented the loss of primate habitat to war and poaching, hiked from Cuzco to Machu Piccu where we heard stories of the ancient Incas and not-so-ancient Sendero Luminoso, and worried about the decline of the Cloud Forest in Costa Rica. They, meanwhile, organized among modernity’s resentful left-overs in the great cities of Europe where, it is true, many of us also lived, only they lived in neighborhoods few of us ever visited, the banlieues of Paris and the storefront mosques of Bradford and Hamburg, and they, those same intellects, vast and cool and unsympathetic, regarded this earth with envious eyes, and slowly and surely drew their plans against us.[9] Great believers in praxis as well as Allah, patiently connecting theory to action, umma to jihad, preacher to terrorist, liberation to the burqa, what had they to do with the end of history conceived as the triumph of the complacent bourgeoisie?

The End of History and the Last Man, in other words, is indeed a splendid disquisition on the end of alternatives to liberal democratic capitalism within modernity – Communism, Nazism, Fascism. But what does it offer if the alternative is not genuinely modern? After all, it only briefly, passingly mentions Islam. Much of the anger directed at Fukuyama’s After the Neocons by neoconservatives and by Bush administration intellectuals arises from the perception that Fukuyama intended The End of History, in the rosy glow of the fall of the Wall, to be a universal pronouncement, applicable across the world and history, not limited merely to the ideologies of modernity. That is how they took it and sought to implement it as an Ur-text of neoconservatism. In his new book, however, Fukuyama does not appear to say that he now recognizes that The End of History was in fact limited to the 20th century’s struggle among modernity’s ideologies whereas, post 9-11, we all recognize that something new is in play. Instead he suddenly and unexpectedly appears to believe that neoconservative policymakers and intellectuals misread him, and that he never meant it to be universal after all.[10] (F 53-55) The result being that it is their fault, not his, for not recognizing the limits of what a policy of promoting democracy and liberalism in the Middle East can get you and, more pertinently, what it cannot. The neoconservatives, in the Bush administration and out, on the other hand, accuse Fukuyama of profoundly changing his mind but refusing to admit it. In what Lindberg calls the “Lucy, Charlie Brown, and the football analogy,” the administration faithfully tees up the Fukuyamian football of liberal democracy in Iraq and the Middle East only to have Fukuyama himself snatch the ball away at the last moment.[11] And then, adding insult to injury, Fukuyama goes and denies having done so and says instead that if only he were read properly, it would have been clear that the ideological possibility of liberal democracy was never really there, or anyway so hedged up by the long term Burkean requirements of culture slowly, slowly accreting social preconditions conducive to democracy that it amounts to it not really being there at all.

Notes (this is a draft and they are very incomplete ...):

[1] [Footnote some of the nasty fighting reviews] [be sure to note FF leaving various boards and journals, founding new journal, etc.] See, e.g.,

[2] Charles Krauthammer, “Fukuyama’s Fantasy,” Washington Post (opinion), March 28, 2006, A23, (“It was, as the hero tells it, his Road to Damascus moment. There he is, in a hall of 1,500 people he has long considered to be his allies, hearing the speaker treat the Iraq war, nearing the end of its first year, as "a virtually unqualified success." He gasps as the audience enthusiastically applauds. Aghast to discover himself in a sea of comrades so deluded by ideology as to have lost touch with reality, he decides he can no longer be one of them. And thus did Francis Fukuyama become the world's most celebrated ex-neoconservative, a well-timed metamorphosis that has brought him a piece of the fame that he once enjoyed 15 years ago as the man who declared, a mite prematurely, that history had ended.”).

[3] Charles Krauthammer, “Democratic Realism: An American Foreign Policy for a Unipolar World,” The Irving Kristol Annual Lecture, 2004, American Enterprise Institute, February 10, 2004, ; the text of the address can be read at []

[4] Tod Lindberg, “In Full Pursuit of Democracy,” Washington Times (opinion), March 21, 2006, at [] (“there's the White House firing back by e-mail quoting Mr. Fukuyama's past statements in contrast to his current ones”).

[5] Fukuyama was not slow to respond to Krauthammer’s Washington Post attack; see [cite].

[6] See, e.g., Martin Jacques, “Critical Thinking: Francis Fukuyama turns on Bush’s foreign policy in his brutal critique,” Guardian, March 25, 2006, at []; Anatol Lieven, “Bookshop: After the Neocons,” New Statesman, March 27, 2006, at []; Paul Berman, New York Times book review; Michiko Kakutani, New York Times; Louis Menand, “Breaking Away: Francis Fukuyama and the Neoconservatives,” The New Yorker, March 27, 2006, []; Perry Anderson, “Inside Man,” Nation, April 6, 2006, at [] .

[7] Francis Fukuyama, The End of History and the Last Man: [] ; cite to original article

[8] [footnote all those books]

[9] H.G. Wells, The War of the Worlds (1898) (Dover 1997), at 1.

[10] To be exact: “Many people interpret my book The End of History and the Last Man (1992) as arguing … 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 liberal democracy. This is a misreading of the argument. The End of History is finally an argument about modernization. What is initially universal is not the desire for liberal democracy but rather the desire to live in a modern society, with its technology, high standards of living, health care, and access to the wider world … Liberal democracy is one of the by-products of the modernization process, something that becomes a universal aspiration only in the course of historical time.” (F 54) To which neo-conservatives retort, that is how you interpret yourself now, but what you said in The End of History in 1992 is much, much stronger than that. Although, like Lindberg, I regard myself as friendly to both camps, on this point, I believe the neo-conservatives have the more accurate reading of Fukuyama in 1992.

[11] Tod Lindberg, “In Full Pursuit of Democracy,” Washington Times (opinion), March 21, 2006, at [].

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