May 20, 2003

THE NO GLOAT ZONE

Why I fear today's brave new world: Francis Fukuyama, sage for the 21st century, predicted that liberal democracy would win over political totalitarianism. But new moral perils lie ahead and they may yet destabilise the world (Michael Gove, May 16, 2003, Times of London)
WHAT WOULD Karl Marx have thought if he had lived to see Lenin carry out his revolution? Prophets rarely have the chance to see politicians put their words into action. But Francis Fukuyama has. And he's far from delighted.

It was the collapse of Marxism that catapulted Fukuyama to global attention as a guru and seer. His book, The End of History and the Last Man, was published in 1992 while the dust was still settling from the collapse of the Berlin Wall. It was an instant success, commercially and intellectually, speaking of the need for a guide to the new world being remade after the Cold War.

Fukuyama's thesis, which has often been wilfully misinterpreted, was certainly sweeping but far from simplistic. He argued that the global struggle between different ideologies to assert that they were the best answer to modern man's needs had ended with decisive victory for liberal democracy. During the 20th century rival models, whether fascist, authoritarian, theocratic or communist, had all been tried. And all had palpably failed to deliver. All had produced misery rather than the freedom, and comfort, which the citizens of the West had come to enjoy.

Fukuyama did not argue that all would now be for the best in the best of all possible worlds, but he did maintain that history as it had been seen in the 20th century, as a competition between rival models of modernity, had ended with liberal democracy as the clear victor.

Now that another, briefer but hotter, war has ended, and another conflict has been concluded in which liberal democracies have emerged the victor, it might be expected that Fukuyama would be permitted a quiet gloat. After all, if he was the prophet of liberal democracy's eventual universal reign shouldn’t he be applauding George W. Bush and his neoconservative allies for giving history, and democracy, a powerful helping hand in Iraq? As the Marx of the West shouldn't he be delighted by the Lenin-like determination of Bush to revolutionise the Middle East?

"Actually, I'm a little pessimistic," Fukuyama declares, gently but firmly, when we meet for tea in a Soho hotel. "I'm sceptical of what Bush has done." [...]

The reservations Fukuyama goes on to raise are much closer to the European than the American consensus, and the slight, scholarly thinker seems much more at home sipping tea in a London drawing room than he would be quaffing a daily dose of Java in Dubya's West Wing. He explicitly sympathises with those continental Europeans who feel that the Bush bandwagon rode a little roughly over their sensibilities.

"I agreed with the view that something had to be done about Iraq. The case made by the Administration on the threat to world peace from terrorism, made more powerful because of weapons of mass destruction, was right. But the need to deal with this had to be weighed against alliance relationships. American arrogance undercut those other political relationships. I would have proceeded more slowly and deliberately, to bring the maximum number of people with us." [...]

"There are deep underlying differences between the US and Europe. But Americans should realise it's unhelpful to argue these are Europe’s fault.

"Europe’s reluctance to embrace military solutions is a consequence of historic factors. A continent ravaged by two great wars is going to be understandably more reluctant to endorse war. We should appreciate the historic roots of European attitudes. But because the Iraq war ended quickly there’s room to rebuild the transatlantic relationship and we should try. Ad hoc coalitions of the willing are all very well, but we should seek stability through international institutions. That makes life more predictable, and prevents us returning to a more unstable, 19th-century world."

This respect for international institutions such as the UN, and the plea for America to pay more heed to European sensibilities, sounds almost Blairite.

"I have a lot of admiration for Blair," Fukuyama says. "He made the right judgment on Iraq but he didn’t get a lot of help from the Bush Administration. He deserves credit. And his modernisation of Labour is impressive, too. He has detached his party from its trade union base in a way other European social democrats, like the Germans, have failed to."

The sense that Blair, and Britain, inhabit a middle ground between the US and Europe is reinforced in Fukuyama's mind by deeper factors.

"The US is built on Lockean principles (derived from the British liberal philosopher John Locke). There's a contract between state and people, and a belief in limited government. On the Continent their vision of the state owes more to (the French philosopher) Jean-Jacques Rousseau. They see the state as an expression of the 'general will'. The US is more individualist and entrepeneurial but also more disorderly. In the EU states have a higher degree of social solidarity but they’re less adaptable. The UK sits in between, tilting at the moment slightly closer to the EU."

That seems like a greater difference than Mr. Fukuyama is willing to concede, the statism of Europe vs. an America that places greater value on the individual and the society. Posted by Orrin Judd at May 20, 2003 8:00 PM
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