April 16, 2011


From Dynasty to Democracy: Nations did not find stability, or sustained prosperity, until they became accountable to their citizens (David Gress, 4/15/11, WSJ)

For Mr. Fukuyama, politics are decisive. The ways in which societies govern themselves, he believes, create paths that may last for centuries, even millennia. Unlike the libertarians, he does not believe the state is a second-order phenomenon, a mere enabler or protector of what people choose to do in civil society or, alternatively, a saboteur of their freedoms. On the contrary, the form the state takes is of first-order importance: It can allow for human flourishing or thwart it mercilessly.

Mr. Fukuyama condemns the "curious blindness" of serious thinkers, including economists, to "the importance of political institutions." He notes, for instance, that it matters more to the destiny of a society which conqueror takes power—and when and how—than what its people's supposedly innate qualities might be or what perfect model of rational self-interest its scholars may endorse.

The narrative direction of "The Origins of Political Order" is not a Whiggish one of inevitable progress— there is too much back-and-forth variation, over the centuries, for so simple a scheme. But it is true that Mr. Fukuyama tracks a quest for "order" that often falls short of its goal until a decisive threshold is reached around 1800.

By then the Industrial Revolution—even at its earliest stages—had unleashed the forces of production in ways hitherto unimaginable, allowing for abundance rather than scarcity, not least in the production of food. But the threshold proved to be more than a matter of escaping "the Malthusian trap" of hunger and overpopulation. In the years surrounding the French Revolution, Mr. Fukuyama believes, politics began to shape itself—at last—into an orderly and sustainable form.

Obviously, political order had been achieved before then, but in a fitful and incomplete way. In Mr. Fukuyama's view, a durable political order can arise, and societies can fully thrive, only when a state is formed, when the state itself operates according to a rule of law, and when the state becomes accountable—that is, when it must answer to its citizens. Until the threshold point around 1800, he says, all three properties rarely existed together.

Francis Fukuyama’s Theory of the State: a review of THE ORIGINS OF POLITICAL ORDER: From Prehuman Times to the French Revolution By Francis Fukuyama (MICHAEL LIND, 4/17/11, NY Times Book Review)
“I believe that Kojève’s assertion still deserves to be taken seriously. The three components of a modern political order — a strong and capable state, the state’s subordination to a rule of law and government accountability to all citizens — had all been established in one or another part of the world by the end of the 18th century.”

By chance, these three elements were united for the first time in Britain, although other northwestern European countries that were influenced by the Reformation, like the Netherlands, Denmark and Sweden, “also succeeded in putting together the state, rule of law and accountability in a single package by the 19th century.” [...]

Drawing on recent work in sociobiology as well as older critiques of abstract natural rights liberalism, Fukuyama writes: “Human beings never existed in a pre­social state. The idea that human beings at one time existed as isolated individuals, who interacted either through anarchic violence (Hobbes) or in pacific ignorance of one another (Rousseau), is not correct.”

Some readers, however, may think that Fukuyama goes too far in de-emphasizing the natural rights tradition that inspired the Renaissance and Enlightenment liberalism. Here Fukuyama’s historicism and his insistence that ideas themselves shape political order are arguably at odds. He takes the theology of ancient Brahmins seriously as an explanation for the organization of Indian society, but does not do the same for the thinking of 17th-century English Levellers and Lockeans who influenced the English, American and French revolutions. Like 19th-century historicists, who accepted much of modernity while seeking to trace the origins of modern Western institutions to the customs of Germanic tribes or the corporations of medieval society, Fukuyama is in the position of favoring a democratic political order while arguing that the theories that first justified it, like universal rights and moral and epistemological individualism, were mistaken. It will be interesting to see how Fukuyama deals with the ideas that shaped the republicanism of the American and French revolutions in his promised second volume.

That said, “The Origins of Political Order” is a rigorous attempt to create a synoptic view of human history by means of a synthesis of research in many disciplines. Even those who doubt that such an enterprise can succeed or who take issue with particular details or conclusions can be impressed by Fukuyama’s audacity and stimulated by his arguments. Ambitious, erudite and eloquent, this book is undeniably a major achievement by one of the leading public intellectuals of our time.

One can imagine how much heat Mr. Fukuyama has taken from the intelligentsia over the years for the End of History, which essentially states that the Anglo-American system of democracy, capitalism, and protestantism is the ultimate arrangement of human affairs. But pretending that other cultures contributed to this development is kind of silly. And, being a neocon rather than a conservative, even when he wrote the earlier essay and book, he had failed to reckon with the degree to which the End was dependent on Christianity. After all, strong states are rather routine in history and, likewise, the rule of law, but the notion that the law should apply universally to all individuals in a society and that the state exists for that purpose, is exclusive to the West, while the morality undergirding that notion is exclusive to the children of Abraham.

It is this problem, the origins and maintenance of human dignity, that seems permanently elusive to Mr. Fukuyama. Recall that the "Last Man" he worried about in the book version of End of History is basically bereft of any meaning to his existence at the End. While this accurately describes the crisis of secularism, as we can see in the continental Europe that is willingly dying off, it ignores the thriving citizenry of the faithful Anglosphere. Peter Augustine Lawler's new collection, Modern and American Dignity, offers a powerful corrective to Mr. Fukuyama's blindness in this regard. [Interestingly, both were members of W's Council on Bioethics.] Consider, for example, the discussion in an essay that appeared first in The New Atlantis, Nations, Liberalism, and Science:

What is the relationship between liberalism and the nation? Does liberalism threaten the very existence of the nation? Can liberalism have a future without the nation, without a definite and limited political form? Do we have to choose between being liberal and being national or political? And how has our changing understanding of the natural world and man’s place in it—from natural theology to modern, mechanistic science—changed personhood and politics?

From the beginning, liberalism and political devotion have, of course, been in tension. The nation—or nation-state—is the modern form of the polis or political community. The polis came into existence when human loyalty ceased to be wholly personal or despotic. Loyalty shifted away from the personal rule of the despot to the way of life—the system of justice—of the place. Personal loyalty is fundamentally nomadic; it travels with the despot. Political loyalty is to a community occupying a particular territory.

The polis or nation inspires and depends upon political loyalty. The citizen, strictly speaking, finds his identity as a part of a political whole. He is formed by the process of “political socialization” of a particular polis. The citizen exists to serve the cause of his country—a reality much bigger and greater than himself. The virtue of the citizen is loyalty—even unquestioning loyalty.

Liberalism has its origins in opposition to that comprehensive understanding of citizenship. Each particular human being—the person—is not part of a political whole. The person himself is a whole, with personal responsibility and a personal destiny. A person can also be a citizen, of course, but being a citizen expresses only part—and not the highest part—of his being. He has the freedom to form or integrate himself according to what he can see for himself about who he is, both in terms of his capabilities and limitations and about what and whom he knows and loves.
Christian Liberalism

Liberalism begins on a big scale with Christianity. St. Augustine, for instance, criticized the theologies of ancient Greece and Rome from a liberal view. Civil theology involved the polytheistic gods of Athens and Rome, who existed to give divine sanction to the polis’s view of justice and to the loyalty of citizens. This civil theology, Augustine explains, does not give people the security for which they long: the city, so to speak, does not care about you the way you care about the city; there is no political recognition of your unique and irreplaceable being as a particular person.

What’s more, Augustine continues, civil theology is degrading. The truth is that every human being is more than a citizen—and we are all free to be open to the truth about who we are.

St. Augustine also criticized the philosophic natural theology of the Greeks and Romans. According to natural theology, we are all part of the impersonal process of nature. Aristotle’s God, for example, is not a person but a principle. Our moral pretensions and desire for personal significance are not supported by nature. The natural theologians—philosophers and scientists—are incapable, Augustine claims, of seeing the irreplaceable existence of every particular human being. They cannot account for our desire to be more than merely biological beings—to be personally significant, to be known and loved as persons. Our irreducible personal longings—which exist in every being born with both logos and eros—point in the direction of a personal God Who knows and loves us as persons. When each of us “relates” to that God, we remain a whole person relating to a whole person.

St. Augustine says that each human being is to some extent a pilgrim in his earthly city, and he obeys the law in the spirit of an alien or captive. Deep down, the particular person does not understand himself as a citizen or think of his country as his truest home. The person is also alienated, to some extent, from nature, knowing that nature is not his truest home either. Although man knows himself as a who, to both nature and the polis he is only a what.

Not that persons are not partly natural, partly political, partly familial, and so forth, but as a unique whole, a person is more than the sum of his parts. That is not modern liberalism, though. Distinctively modern liberalism is Christian or personal liberalism without belief in the Bible’s personal God.

Modern liberal philosophers, such as John Locke, side with the Christians in opposing civil theology. We are by nature free individuals—whole or, in a way, emotionally self-sufficient beings—and we invent political life—we institute government—to serve our individual needs. I do not exist for the city; the city exists for me. I ask first what my country can do for me, not what I can do for my country. The modern separation of church and state is an unreligious way of expressing the Christian view that our deepest devotion is not to our country, and that our political obedience can be separated from love or profound emotional loyalty.

The modern liberals also agree with the Christians that natural theology does not provide an account to the individual of his freedom. We are free from nature and dissatisfied with nature. We can and should use our freedom to master nature, to create a world more in accord with our own longings. Modern liberals make use of their technology to counter the impersonality of natural theology. But while each person should regard himself as unique and irreplaceable—as a whole and not merely a part—there is no corresponding personal God Who lovingly provides for each of us. There is no evidence for the existence of such a God, just as there is no evidence that any of us survives our biological demise. The truth is that we are all alone in a hostile environment and must provide for ourselves. This is not to say that Locke was necessarily an atheist; let us say he was a Deist who believed in an emphatically “past-tense” God Who set the universe in motion and left us alone. The God of the Deists may be different from the Aristotelian principle insofar as we can hold Him to be a Creator mysteriously responsible for our freedom, but He, like Aristotle’s God, is not personally concerned with any of us in particular.

Thus the good and bad news for the modern liberal is that each of us is really on his own—truly, absolutely free. The free human person brought into being the impersonal state. To maximize our freedom, we do not think of government as deserving of our personal love or loyalty, and patriotism becomes much less instinctive and more calculating. The free citizen sees that government is part of what is good for him. But the territory or tradition that his political community occupies is much less important than its capacity to serve his personal interests. Except for extreme libertarians, nobody denies that the modern state still requires some measure of loyalty. But the source of loyalty becomes more problematic. As the modern world becomes more “Lockeanized,” loyalty is the virtue that most obviously deteriorates. The “right of secession” is more consciously and deliberately applied to all the relationships that are parts of our lives. Even friendship becomes a temporary alliance, or “networking.”

The modern state has also suffered, since its beginning, from the growing contradiction between liberal personal longings and increasingly impersonal or mechanistic science. The cost of freeing the person from nature and God is freeing nature and theology from the person. “Nature’s God” is not a guide for human thought and action, and nature is hostile to our personal beings. The tension between the apparent accident of personal existence and the impersonal laws that govern science produces a loneliness that becomes harder and harder to bear. [...]

The American nation, we can also see, has a more promising future. There are many reasons for the American difference. The two world wars and the Cold War were not as traumatic for us; in fact, they reinforced our national self-confidence. The human cost of the monstrous twentieth century was not exacted on our continent. In each of these wars we also rightly think of ourselves as having been a force for good, defending personal freedom and human rights against terrible evildoers.

We can also see that America has not really engaged in the effort to stabilize free, personal life in the absence of a personal God. The American view has tended neither toward the death of God nor His reconfiguration as the foundation of some American civil religion. Writers often discuss the American civil religion, but generally describe it as some variant of Biblical religion with an active God.

From the beginning, Americans have not grappled in the same way with the contradiction between intense personal longings and impersonal science or theology. Consider our Declaration of Independence. The theoretical core of the Declaration—on self-evident truths, unalienable rights, and instituting government—speaks of “Nature’s God,” a Deist creator, the source of the impersonal laws of nature. Christian members of the Continental Congress insisted that two other references to God be added to the eminently modern Jefferson and Franklin’s draft, and so the rousing conclusion, ending with “sacred Honor,” speaks of a Creator-God as the “Supreme Judge” of us all and as the source of “divine Providence.” Thanks to this legislative compromise, the Declaration offers up a “Nature’s God” Who also knows and cares about each of us. Through most of our history, such compromises between modern and Christian Americans have considerably reduced the distance between Christian and modern views of the person’s natural and theological environment.

So Americans view political life, in part, as the free construction of self-interested individuals securing their material being in a hostile natural world. But they also, in part, regard it as limited by the conscientious duties persons have to their personal Creator. Political life is both dignified and limited by the real existence of dignified creatures. The most admirable and powerful American efforts at egalitarian reform have had religious origins, but religion has also acted (as Tocqueville explained) as a limit on the American spirit of social and political reform. Americans have plenty of confidence in progress, but present persons are not to be sacrificed to some vague historical future. Because Americans don’t really believe people are radically, miserably alienated from God and nature now, they don’t think it is their job to transform existence itself to save people from their misery.

Consider today how Americans are divided over the truth of modern, impersonal natural theology or science. Some Americans believe that we should take our social and moral cues from the evolutionary science of Darwin. In their eyes, we are not qualitatively different from the other animals; basically, they assert with pride in their sophistication, we are chimps with really big brains. This variety of American is also usually quite proud of his autonomy—his freedom from nature for self-determination. If men really are the same as chimps, however, then human autonomy is nothing but an illusion. Strict materialism and evolution cannot really account for free, personal existence. So these sophisticated Americans, despite themselves, can’t help but be in fierce rebellion against impersonal nature. They are well on their way to reducing all morality to fanaticism about personal health and safety. In their social behavior, they increasingly resemble the Europeans—and like the Europeans, they are not having enough children to replace themselves.

Meanwhile, other Americans still believe that their personal existence is supported by a personal God, often a God Whose intelligence exhibits itself in the design of nature. Although they typically believe their true home is somewhere else, these are clearly the Americans most at home as members of families, churches, and their country. Generally speaking, they have more than enough babies to replace themselves, raise them comparatively well, and do not seek as urgently to fend off their inevitable biological demise. Most at home with the irreducible alienation that comes with being a person, they seem best able to see the good about their familial and political existence for what it is. In our country, personal theology seems an indispensable support for the future of the nation.

Maybe it would be helpful if we somewhat altered Mr. Fukuyama's formulation: the optimal political order does not so much become accountable to its citizenry but holds itself accountable to God by treating all of its citizens with the dignity they deserve by virtue of their Creation.

-REVIEW: of Christian Faith and Modern Democracy: God and Politics in the Fallen World (2001) by Robert P. Kraynak (Brothers Judd)
The Beginning of History: As the communist era vanished, he declared history’s end. With the Middle East in revolt and China rising, Francis Fukuyama is back. What is he thinking? (Andrew Bast, 4/10/11, Newsweek)

If he started with the end, Fukuyama is now returning to the beginning: he wants to answer the existential question of politics—where does government come from?

But he’s pursuing this newest project all alone. He has publicly turned his back on the neocon movement. He has no interest in ingratiating himself in the foreign-policy establishment. Actually, after 22 years in Washington, Fukuyama has escaped to Stanford. He lives in Palo Alto, California, where dotcom money reigns. “Google is just up the street. My wife ran into Mark Zuckerberg at Trader Joe’s,” he says, “and watch out—you’ll probably see a few Ferraris around.” (In fact, by the end of the afternoon the sweet California sun had begun to shine, and we’d spotted two.) The End of History was the making of Fukuyama, not only as a public intellectual, but also financially. His beautiful new house (into which he and his wife have just moved) stands in one of the most expensive ZIP codes in America.

Self-exile from his former milieu and from his old associates, however, seems to have offered Fukuyama a kind of mental liberation, freeing him from ideological trappings and allowing him to serve up his magnum opus. His new book, The Origins of Political Order, which hits bookstores this week, seeks to understand how human beings transcended tribal affiliations and organized themselves into political societies. “In the developed world, we take the existence of government so much for granted that we sometimes forget how difficult it was to create,” he writes.

Political order begins, he says, in ancient China. By the time of the Chin dynasty in 221 B.C., some 10,000 individual separate chiefdoms across Asia had been corralled into a single state. How did that happen? To boil things down quickly: the state evolved to allow for a more effective making of war. Walking forward through the millennia, he investigates the political evolution of India: the strict social class structure defined its politics. Then the Islamic caliphate: “There is no clearer illustration of the importance of ideas to politics than the emergence of an Arab state under the Prophet Muhammad,” but the spread of Islam “depended also very much on political power” and military slavery. Lastly, he outlines the rise of the Catholic Church in Europe: “The Western separation of church and state has not been a constant since the advent of Christianity but rather something much more episodic—in fact, it established what we know today as the rule of law.” (The book ends at the French Revolution, leaving subsequent history to the next volume.)

What does Fukuyama make of the confounding world of today, with revolutions rocking the Middle East and the rest torn between Washington’s free-market democratic model or Beijing’s authoritarian state capitalism? “There’s something very gratifying about the Middle East demonstrating that Islam is not at odds with the democratic currents that have swept up other parts of the world,” he says. “But what’s most important, actually, is what happens next.” That is, of course, the messy, often contentious process of engineering democracy. These are complicated places—despotic rule has stunted political parties (or, as in Libya, erased them entirely) and gutted civil society. That’s where the real trouble begins. On the “Arab Spring,” he’s bearish. “I guarantee you in a year or two it will not look as hopeful. It’s the whole point of my book. You need institutions, leaders—and corruption has to be under control. These are really the failings of many democracy movements. And it’s happening again—if you look at Egypt, the liberal parties are floundering.”

While the world can’t take its eyes off the Middle East, Fukuyama is, instead, looking ahead to China. Beijing has gone to great lengths—stymieing communications, hitting protests with an iron fist—to keep any democratic wave from rolling too far east. The Chinese government, he argues, will be successful in stifling protest, at least in the near term. “Authoritarianism in China is of a far higher quality than in the Middle East,” he wrote recently. Revolutions, he argues, don’t come from the disenchanted poor, but from an upwardly mobile middle class fed up with anachronistic government that does little but keep them from achieving their potential. So Beijing may be able to keep its people happy for now, but in the coming years its biggest risk is putting off democratic reforms and ending up with a regime that’s fallen behind its people. When the Chinese middle class is no longer willing to forgo political freedom for bigger paychecks, or when the Communist Party grows stagnant, unable to keep up with the masses, then change is going to come, one way or another.

Strange as it may sound for a man who secured fame and fortune with an essay titled “The End of History?” his prescience as a political philosopher flows from his “revulsion at triumphalist views” (in the view of Paul Berman, author of Flight of the Intellectuals). When Fukuyama first joined up with the neocons back in the 1970s under the tutelage of Allan Bloom (who wrote The Closing of the American Mind), it was largely a reaction against the left-wing triumphalism of the Great Society and of the cultural rebellions of the New Left spawned in 1968. More recently, Berman says, “the same kind of triumphalism overtook the neoconservatives on the right, and he turned away from them.”

That break with the neoconservative clan had a very specific genesis. At an annual dinner of the American Enterprise Institute in February 2004, Fukuyama sat listening first to a speech by Vice President Dick Cheney and then the columnist Charles Krauthammer, who declared a “unipolar era” had begun, which, of course, the U.S. would lead. “All of these people around me were cheering wildly,” Fukuyama remembers. But in his view, Iraq was fast becoming a blunder. “All of my friends had taken leave of reality.”

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Posted by at April 16, 2011 7:34 AM

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