March 26, 2011


Well Beyond the End of History (Evan R. Goldstein, 3/22/11, The Chronicle Review)

In conversation, as in his writings, Fukuyama is cool and understated. His sentences unspool slowly, the words carefully considered. This equanimity is shaken, albeit briefly, when I mention the idea for which he is most famous. "I've been trying to move beyond The End of History ever since I wrote the book," Fukuyama says with weary patience. "But no matter what I write, everyone wants to ask me about it."

And no wonder—few of the myriad efforts to interpret the post-cold-war world have so endured, and none has attracted as much attention. When the essay was published, a Washington news vendor reported that the journal in which it appeared was "outselling everything, even the pornography." Frequently described as a rock star, Fukuyama continues to draw large audiences around the world. His thesis, however, has never sat well in certain quarters. Margaret Thatcher supposedly quipped: "End of history? The beginning of nonsense!" More serious was the critique of the political scientist Samuel P. Huntington, who countered with his own vision of a future soaked in conflict between the world's major cultural groups—The Clash of Civilizations.

In the eyes of some, September 11, 2001, vindicated Huntington and exposed Fukuyama's declaration as, at best, premature. (In fact, Fukuyama never suggested that the "end of history" entailed the cessation of extreme violence or cataclysmic events.) Nevertheless, those familiar with Fukuyama and Huntington only as rivals might do a double take when they open The Origins of Political Order and find that it is dedicated to Huntington, who died in 2008. Turns out that the book took shape when Fukuyama, a former student of Huntington's at Harvard, was asked to write the introduction to a reprint of Huntington's 1968 classic, Political Order in Changing Societies, a book that Fukuyama regards as one of the most important in 20th-century international relations. But when he returned to the text, he says, it felt dated. For starters, there was hardly any mention of religion.

"We've seen a revival of religion in the world," Fukuyama says, noting that religion has played a central role in the historical development of political institutions as well. Early human sociability was limited to face-to-face interactions within close-knit kin groups, and trust didn't extend beyond a few dozen relatives. Large-scale cooperation didn't become possible until the development of religious beliefs, which allowed trust to transcend kin. And that paved the way for the big faith communities—Christianity, Judaism, Islam, Hinduism—capable of uniting tens of millions of people in collective action.

Case in point: the Prophet Muhammad. At the time of his birth, around 570, the Arabian Peninsula had been inhabited by tribal peoples for centuries. Muhammad preached his vision of a single ummah—gaining adherents, conquering others, and eventually uniting central Arabia into a single polity. "There is no clearer illustration of the importance of ideas to politics than the emergence of an Arab state under the Prophet Muhammad," Fukuyama writes. "The Arab tribes played an utterly marginal role in world history until that point; it was only Muhammad's charismatic authority that allowed them to unify and project their power throughout the Middle East and North Africa."

Fukuyama's portrayal of religion as a unifying force in history will irk some atheists, for whom religion is at all times a source of intolerance, conflict, and violence. He does concede, however, that religion's role in the contemporary world is more problematic. Pluralistic societies require religions to coexist in proximity. As a result, he says, "integration today has to be based on shared political values, not deep, religiously rooted cultural beliefs."

...that, despite a couple thousand years of effort by philosophers, monotheism remains the only basis for shared values.

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Posted by at March 26, 2011 5:47 AM

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