Francis Fukuyama says he’s not a neoconservative any more.
Neoconservatism, as both a political symbol and a body of thought, has evolved into something I can no longer support.
I can see why he doesn’t want the label, given the opprobrium that has been heaped on it from all sides. Of course, he doesn’t help matters by oversimplifying the "neoconservative" presecription and identifying it simply with military intervention in the name of democratization. How can anyone not recognize that there are limits to the extent that the U.S. can democratize a country by military means? Even if military intervention is from time to time necessary (he’ll grant Afghanistan, but not Iraq), it was never intended to be the only device of which "neoconservatives" availed themselves.
Consider this passage from Fukuyama’s article:
Now that the neoconservative moment appears to have passed, the United States needs to reconceptualize its foreign policy in several fundamental ways. In the first instance, we need to demilitarize what we have been calling the global war on terrorism and shift to other types of policy instruments. We are fighting hot counterinsurgency wars in Afghanistan and Iraq and against the international jihadist movement, wars in which we need to prevail. But "war" is the wrong metaphor for the broader struggle, since wars are fought at full intensity and have clear beginnings and endings. Meeting the jihadist challenge is more of a "long, twilight struggle" whose core is not a military campaign but a political contest for the hearts and minds of ordinary Muslims around the world. As recent events in France and Denmark suggest, Europe will be a central battleground in this fight.
He must have forgotten that neoconservatives in the Reagan Administration helped establish the National Endowment for Democracy. What’s more, there is a long-standing neo-conservative interest in "public diplomacy," articulated in articles by Carnes Lord in Commentary and Orbis (neither available online, unfortunately).
So it’s not neo-conservatism properly understood that Fukuyama rejects, just its caricature. But he’s not interested in spending time correcting the misimpression; he’d rather get on with doing what can be done with a dangerous world. I can’t complain about that, especially when he’s willing to retain almost every policy originally advocated by neo-conservatives, from occasional military intervention to various more subtle forms of democracy promotion:
If we are serious about the good governance agenda, we have to shift our focus to the reform, reorganization and proper financing of those institutions of the United States government that actually promote democracy, development and the rule of law around the world, organizations like the State Department, U.S.A.I.D., the National Endowment for Democracy and the like. The United States has played an often decisive role in helping along many recent democratic transitions, including in the Philippines in 1986; South Korea and Taiwan in 1987; Chile in 1988; Poland and Hungary in 1989; Serbia in 2000; Georgia in 2003; and Ukraine in 2004-5. But the overarching lesson that emerges from these cases is that the United States does not get to decide when and where democracy comes about. By definition, outsiders can’t "impose" democracy on a country that doesn’t want it; demand for democracy and reform must be domestic. Democracy promotion is therefore a long-term and opportunistic process that has to await the gradual ripening of political and economic conditions to be effective.
This strikes me as neoconservatism properly understood, balancing its realism with its commitment to universal liberal principles.
One last point, before I finish: perhaps I’m wrong about this, but Fukuyama seems to mischaracterize his own argument in The End of History and the Last Man. Here’s what he says:
Many people have also interpreted my book "The End of History and the Last Man" (1992) as a neoconservative tract, one that argued in favor of the view that there is a universal hunger for liberty in all people that will inevitably lead them to liberal democracy, and that we are living in the midst of an accelerating, transnational movement in favor of that liberal democracy. This is a misreading of the argument. "The End of History" is in the end an argument about modernization. What is initially universal is not the desire for liberal democracy but rather the desire to live in a modern — that is, technologically advanced and prosperous — society, which, if satisfied, tends to drive demands for political participation. Liberal democracy is one of the byproducts of this modernization process, something that becomes a universal aspiration only in the course of historical time.
"The End of History," in other words, presented a kind of Marxist argument for the existence of a long-term process of social evolution, but one that terminates in liberal democracy rather than communism. In the formulation of the scholar Ken Jowitt, the neoconservative position articulated by people like Kristol and Kagan was, by contrast, Leninist; they believed that history can be pushed along with the right application of power and will.
My recollection is that the engine of history for FF is the battle for recognition (see Kojeve’s Hegel), which can only be brought to an end, not by the victory of the "master" over the "slave," but by an arrangement in which each mutually respects the other (that is, liberal democracy). History "ends" when this conflict is in principle resolved, when we have an arrangement that in principle satisfies everyone. That doesn’t mean that the bare presence of the arrangement in one place or another will make it immediately universally available. Fukuyama now seems to be taking a much more materialist view of his own argument: what we really want is not recognition and respect, but flat screen televisions and blackberries, along with 2,000 calories a day. Perhaps I’m misremembering (it’s been a while since I read the book; I wrote about it
here). But it seems to me that this version of the argument serves largely to weaken the psychological and spiritual element of "democracy promotion" that has always been part of neoconservative (and President Bush’s) thinking.
I’m also not convinced that Fukuyama was in the late 80s and early 90s (or is now) so much of an historical determinist that he regarded all action to promote "the end of history"--or, more modestly, to cooperate in its direction--as folly. To criticize Kristol and Kagan for believing that "history can be pushed along with the right application of power and will" is either to attribute to them a position far beyond what they hold or to deny that applications of power can from time to time be effective. We can choose to intervene or not when opportunities present themselves. If we don’t intervene, the bad guys may be more likely to prevail. If we do, the good guys may be more likely to prevail. This isn’t "Leninism," but rather a realistic consideration of how power may be strategically and effectively applied. To refuse to consider that such interventions may be helpful isn’t realism, it’s fatalism. That surely isn’t Fukuyama’s position, just as "Leninism" isn’t that of Kristol and Kagan.
Update: Courtesy of RCP, a couple of comments. Andrew Sullivan thinks FF gets everything about right. Jack Balkin is glad that FF has finally wholeheartedly joined the company of Bush’s critics. I’d like to see a somewhat chastened and principled neoconservatism survive the all-too-easy and popular criticism now being offered. To that end, I think Fukuyama could be a relatively useful guide, were he not so willing to run away from a complex of ideas that remains preferable--by far--to the leading alternatives (isolationism, narrow-minded realism, and progressive internationalism, aka Kerryism).
Update #2: Jon Schaff has plenty of time in that long Dakota winter to think deep thoughts about Francis Fukuyama.