May 15, 2002

LAST GASP :

The Guardian Profile: Francis Fukuyama : History's pallbearer : Before he published his famous essay The End of History, he was a policy adviser to Ronald Reagan. Though described as global capitalism's court philosopher, his ideas have a humanitarian underpinning. Now he has turned his attention to the implications of biotechnology. (Nicholas Wroe, May 11, 2002, The Guardian)
On the morning of September 11, Francis Fukuyama was working in his seventh-floor office at the School of Advanced International Studies in Washington. When American Airlines flight 77 crashed into the Pentagon he crossed to the other side of the building and watched the smoke rising over the city. While his first thoughts were about the safety of himself, his family and friends who worked for the defence department, it soon became clear that Fukuyama was in for a period of professional as well as personal anxiety. The following week the Guardian diary deadpanned that, "efforts to contact thinking-man's thinker Francis Fukuyama to ask whether he feels moved to publish a sequel to his 1989 essay The End of History prove fruitless". It seemed that every other media outlet had had the same idea, and the man who had so spectacularly anticipated the collapse of communism, declared that the alternatives to liberal democracy had exhausted themselves and had been described as the "court philosopher of globally triumphant capitalism" was called to account.

Fukuyama was no stranger to his ideas being scrutinised, challenged and occasionally publicly ridiculed. When the Berlin Wall fell a few months after his essay first appeared it seemed to cement his status as both prophet and sage. But within a year the Gulf war had been and gone. Then, in 1993, the Harvard political scientist Samuel Huntington published a competing theory that said, rather than arriving at the end of history, we were about to be launched into a clash of civilisations. Following the subsequent war in the Balkans and genocide in Rwanda, the Nation magazine summed things up with the front-page headline "The End of Fukuyama". Following the New York and Washington attacks, Huntington's stock inevitably rose further as Fukuyama's declined. But as the communitarian thinker Amitai Etzioni points out, Fukuyama "is one of the few enduring public intellectuals. They are often media stars who are eaten up and spat out after their 15 minutes. But he has lasted."

Fukuyama spent the autumn thinking about the implications of September 11, and the spring teaching a postgraduate class on the subject. "It was obviously a huge analytical challenge," he says, speaking in the same Washington office. "The question was 'what the hell were we confronting here?' I didn't want to be one of those people who stake out a position then stick to it, even though it has become untenable. This was a whole new set of data coming at us from the real world." His hopeful conclusion was that the terrorism was in essence a last-gasp, rearguard action "by a culture that will over time be modernised". "Even within the Islamic world," he explains, "the hijackers do not represent a dominant trend, and over time they will have to confront modernisation, and modernisation will win."


Even if this may eventually prove not to be the case, it seems worthwhile being a tad patient and giving these natural processes a chance, rather than going off half-cocked to fight the whole Islamic world. If we end up having to fight, fine, but let's not make Truman's disastrous Cold War mistake all over again. Posted by Orrin Judd at May 15, 2002 12:39 PM
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