If it's true that there is nothing sexier than a lapsed Catholic, then I will argue that there is nothing more entertaining than a lapsed neocon.

Francis Fukuyama has long been lauded by the right for his classic, thunderingly stupid The End of History and the Last Man. While international relations is certainly not my field, I feel comfortable mocking the shit out of rhetorical detritus like:

What we may be witnessing is not just the end of the Cold War, or the passing of a particular period of post-war history, but the end of history as such: that is, the end point of mankind's ideological evolution and the universalization of Western liberal democracy as the final form of human government.

I will pause while you marvel at the fact that this man became internationally famous and virtually canonized by the right for proposing that in 1992, with Earth's sun not set to burn out for another billion-odd years, Western free-market democracy became the "final form of human government." We attained perfection. Fifteen years later I am still blown away by the hubris, naivety, and self-congratulatory tone of the early post-Soviet era.

Tim Krieder (The Pain comics, with major h/t to Matthew) uses Fukuyama as a primary example of how the right lacks imagination and creativity. In the ideological glow of "their" victory over Marx, they were simply incapable of imagining an alternative or wrapping their minds around the idea that anyone could reject the promise of unfettered capitalism. How could anyone want anything else? There is nothing else.

Well, it turns out that history didn't end and the rush to embrace The Only Way was less than universal. As Samuel Huntington argued in The Clash of Civilizations, it turned out that there were still a few ideological disagreements in the world.** Duly offended by the tepid response to Democracy's Promise in the middle east and Asia, the Western world has tried spreading it through economic hegemony. Or the barrel of a gun.

Fukuyama seems to understand that he may have underestimated a few things (although he insists, as conservatives always insist, that the real problem is not the ideology but that we strayed from it). Since 2006 he has alienated his neocon devotees by suggesting that perhaps the Iraq invasion has not been a success. He has also repudiated the Neocon movement he was so instrumental in creating. Now? He's endorsing Obama. How's that for the "Where Are They Now" file?

I can't tell if he's a late bloomer or simply a craven opportunist, but I am not a man who will stand idly by and fail to enjoy a very public academic humiliation.

**Having mentioned Fukuyama and Huntington, we have now exhausted what I know about IR.


  • I largely agree with your criticism of his end of history thesis, although I do think it is a bit more nuanced than you give it credit. Ironically, Fukuyama arrived at some of his rather naive (and hubristic) conclusions by accepting a couple of Marx's assumptions. First, that history progresses in stages and has an end point. Second, that the only REALLY important ideological disagreements were ones over the socioeconomic structure of societies. This led him to focus almost exclusively on the conflict between communism, fascism, and liberalism, and almost completely ignore religion and nationalism. To the extent that Marxism HAS pretty much become practically defunct as a socioeconomic model, I don't think subsequent history has necessarily disproved his thesis.

    As far as his ties to the neocons, I don't really know enough about his political biography to say whether his recent criticisms of the Iraq War are sincere or attempts at face saving. But I would argue that Huntington's thesis, which you cite as being more historically vindicated, has probably had a more negative impact on US foreign policy towards the Middle East.

  • Oh, I don't think I did either theory justice in 200 words. I wouldn't say that any part of Huntington's thesis has been vindicated except for his suggestion that, OK, in the absence of the Cold War there remain plenty of lines along which we can divide ourselves.

  • I actually really like the EOH essay, and I think it's a useful way to view a lot of things. It's important not to read it as a cheerleading rountine for America, which it isn't – it's more that the viable alternatives to Rights-based liberal capitalist democratic institutions didn't make it, and the worries about liberal capitalistic democracy's contradictions have been, so far, managed within the system.

    And the essay isn't about unfettered capitalism. It's far more Weber than Friedman – it criticizes economists for not viewing the social networks capitalism thrives in, and also takes a rather nostaglic view for when History mattered.

    You can think the Hegel baggage about History unfolding is BS, and it may be, but if you accept the framework, then Nader getting elected in 2000 doesn't mean that History has jump-started (Sweden is at the end of History). To Fukuyama's credit, it's worthwhile to note that opponents of the war in Iraq (and Afghanistan, and Iran) aren't opposed because they think the future belongs to their way of life – as many did for Russia and China. And the most obvious current electoral figure to engage within this framework, Ron Paul, and his party wants to set the History clock back to the 19th century and call ourselves a Republic; reading his movement not as a progression towards an ideal but as a regression tied to an anxiety about already existing society isn't hard to do (as Fukuyama predicted of many of these movements – including, as Brandon notes, religion.).

    He gets a lot wrong, but so did a lot of people. He acknowledges inequality but doesn't think it'll become that much of a wedge, considering it was 1988 not bad. Same with environmental collapse. He doesn't anticipate China, and nobody knows what to make of it's place in History.

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