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Fukuyama on neoconservatism

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.

Discussions - 16 Comments

The man has had some interesting, albeit rather simplistic, ideas. No great loss.

It’s indicative of the level of group think in academia.

Isolationism was tried prior to the Great War and found wanting, tried again during the ’30s, including a variety of Neutrality Acts to codify it, and again found wanting. So for those that suggest that policy could be realized today, when the world has become more interdependant, is just a flight from reality.

Folding American sovereignty within the UN, and hoping that a internationalist body can find the ability to solve the problems that plague the world, is even more of an unrealistic stretch than Isolationism.

A policy of Wilsonian idealism, supporting every democratic ethnic group in the world is a recipe for nurturing nationalism, and ethnic seperatism. Besides, it leaves our country open to accusations of hyprocrisy, because naturally some ethnic groups are going to receive more support than others, and there will be some that meet with American opposition.

Which leaves us with the neo-Conservative policy of discreet, targeted, muscular interventionism.

Vis-a-vis Islam, the neo-Conservative prescription is the only one that offers any hope for the future, any respite to the thousand plus year history of totalitarian theocracies and authoritarians, be they of the secular or religious variant.

If this policy in Iraq fails, if we are unable to leverage our removal of Saddam into a strategic, region wide counteroffensive against the rising tide of fundamentalist Islam, then we are looking at a well-nigh inevitable war with a radicalized Islam.

Heretofore, Islam has never found the means within itself to change. The best effort so far has been Turkey, which has needed the Army officer corps to repeatedly intervene to salvage the secular orientation of their government.

So whatever change that occurs is going to have to come from the outside. And that doesn’t mean the Peace Corps, it means our military.

Dan, if I understand you correctly, I like the practical implications of what you have to say (so far as Iraq is concerned). However, in fact, America was never isolationist. Check out Max Boot’s "Savage Wars of Peace" which is a history of America’s "small wars" and interventions (starting with Jefferson’s Barbary expedition). Neoconservative thought is rooted in Hegel, and therefore no good if you don’t believe in an ultimate end of History. Fukuyama’s beef seems to be with the way in which neocons have gone about reaching the end he too is seeking. From a tradional/realist conservative standpoint, converting Iraq to democracy is good for America in the long run and short run, so we should do it. However, traditional conservatives (well, at least me) don’t believe in an end to History, and eventually the great democratic powers of the world will collapse, so democracy is not really a cure-all. The point being, we don’t need to go around converting the world to democracy, we need to go around destroying threats to America. (Yes, democracies are generally more peaceful towards eachother, but do you really think a democratic China and a democratic Taiwan are going to be friends? Or a democratic Palestine and a democratic Israel?) Wars will always happen, or job is to look after our own.

Even low-intensity war is still war.

Guys, don’t you see that you are promoting a kind of Soviet agenda for capitalism?

That is to say, the world must be subjigated until everyone excepts our point of view in all things.

This attitude is guaranteed to result in endless war, as an entrenched and ruthless minority (americans) continually identify and eliminate threats to their hegemony.

The US is now reviled around the world by many as a rogue power. Those attitudes are hardening, and beginning to have an significant impact on the US’s sphere of soft influence. Eventually you’ll be left with nothing but brute force as an instrument to enforce american dominance.

Thats not going to work longterm. I mean, it’s not working NOW. History is replete with extensive examples of that not working.

It’s all so maddeningly illogical, we defeat the soviets just so you can step into their shoes?

Yes, democracies are generally more peaceful towards eachother, but do you really think a democratic China and a democratic Taiwan are going to be friends? Or a democratic Palestine and a democratic Israel?) Wars will always happen, or job is to look after our own.

There you go again Andrew. Thats the Somalian war lord in you talking.

No one presents a credible threat to US military power, and no one is likely to present anything approaching a credible threat for at least 20 years. So why all the paranoia?

Plus, if China and Taiwan were democratic, wouldn’t the odds of them coalescing into a federation of some description be that much better? I mean of Germany and France have done it why not China and Taiwan? If India was able to convince 500+ statelets (some of them monarchies!!!) to hand significant power over to a central government in 1947, why not China and Taiwan?

Why also so glum, dark and armed to the teeth all the time?

Cheer up man, whatever’s eating you, it might never happen:-)

Why also so glum, dark and armed to the teeth all the time?

Cheer up man, whatever’s eating you, it might never happen:-)

And if war does happen, as it inevitably does, we’ll find the Brian Coughlan’s of the world complaining we failed to stop it - or worse yet, blaming it on us.

Regardless of the complaints of starry-eyed children about Soviet capitalism , Fukuyama’s essay betrays the growing cancer amongst American "elites" destroying their will to defend American values, American interests, and American security.

His complaint distills down to "the neo-cons are unpopular because they believe terrorism is a real threat to America and their efforts to stop it are too hard and controversial; my friends don’t like me anymore because they think I’m one of the neo-cons; there has to be an easier way to protect America; if I can find it my friends will like me again."

His oh-so-facile analysis is far too easy, far too seductive, and far too dangerous. Despite the juvenile accusation of paranoia above, none of us want war, but we do have an enemy that cannot be accommodated; in which no separate peace can be brokered without committing treason against western civilization and its values. The Left may wish otherwise, but its wishes are impossible. For the sake of survival, we are bound to wage this war, even for those who disbelieve its necessity.

Neo-cons offer us, and the nations and cultures most closely targeted by our enemies, a road map whereby we can escape a war of civilizations. Western liberals offer us nothing but a postponement of that war, most likely to a time in which our enemy’s hand is much stronger and ours much weaker. For at the end, the Western Left would have us rely upon soft power to convert our enemies; an enemy that harnesses harmless cartoons to incite mass riot and murder. Soft power indeed.

Tim is right...this is an old disease. Our elites have grown decadent, the same dryrot that ultimately destroyed the Roman Empire.

Sadly, I have no idea how to stop it.

The dryrot that destroyed the Roman Empire is the same that destroyed the British Empire, and the Soviet Empire. It is the kind that dismisses the Brian Coughlans as irrelevant "noise" and then scratches its head claiming "Sadly, I have no idea how to stop it."

Fung, I guess you only took psychology in college. Over-extension was NOT the primary reason that those empires fell, nor was it failure to heed whiny liberals.

Besides, we have the dryrot but not the empire (and I’ll be happy to argue the point, any time and place). When people grow affluent they lose their willingness to face reality as it is.

Tim, while I agree with you practically (meaning I like the actions the neocons are taking) I don’t agree with them philosophically. Neocons, properly understood, are simply Progressives who switched sides when the Left disarmed itself in the 60s/70s.


I care not what they call themselves, or their pedigree - I care about how we all wage this war so that we win, so that we can reclaim some semblance of peace, so that my children and their children need not worry about some God Damned Jihadis blowing off WMD’s, whether they be biological, chemical or nuclear, in American cities.

To date, no one other than the neo-cons has really offered up any plan that offers the promise of victory while preserving our virtue. And by that I mean we offer the Arab and Persian Muslims and other nations (e.g., No. Korea) a path by which they can save themselves so that we don’t have to destroy them to save ourselves.

Some undoubtedly will disagree with my analysis, but I think we’re trying to avoid a war of civilizations which, should it come to that, only one will survive - and it won’t be theirs, despite all the efforts of the Brian Coughlan’s of the world to surrender.

"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."

In the end democracy promotion is why we chose to go after Iraq instead of Iran.

Bad choice, but only because it was carried out weakly.

"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."

Maybe so, but what is needed is people who hold to that position. With the right application of power and will, we could have established in Iraq a much more "liberal" democracy, simply by checking our own assumptions and biases when it comes to democracy creation. Our own "isothymia" led to the prosecution of a soft war, a misguided view of self-determination symbolized most vividly in the farce that is the trial of Saddam. An Iraqi constitution that hinders the rights of women, and doesn’t provide for a seperation of mosque and state. Our isothymic drive to repair infrastructure that sends the message that the United States is responsible for the well being of Iraqis on the basis of need as the sole criteria, regardless of the fact that the hardest hit areas were also the hottest beds of insurgency, and Islamicist hate. Enshrining in effect the principle "to each according to his need, from each according to his ability."

Democratization by itself does nothing or very little for national security, the war in Iraq has probably hurt our national security. But a trully liberal democracy would have brought true freedom and the possibility of prosperity to the region that could have had awesome spill over effects.

To put it in FF terms, we failled in Iraq because we suffered from excessive Isothymia in granting to the Iraqi’s control over the democratization process, including the trial of Saddam (which is an on-going travesty of justice.) Furthermore in the focus upon voter turnout we did not carefully look upon how the new Iraqi constitution would handle megalothymic interests. Because in Iraq today and around the middle East the main outlet for Megalothymia is radical Islam, it cannot be said that Iraq is a liberal Democracy.

In the end, let me just say this. The problem with Neo-conservatism isn’t that it balances realism with a commitment to liberal principles, but rather that the character of those liberal principles are so completely misunderstood and misapplied. In particular equating voting and voter turn out with freedom and liberty or the defining characteristic of "liberal democracy"...It isn’t. Also self-determination isn’t and can never be placed above minority rights/individual rights in a properly constituted "liberal Democracy", to do so or to proclaim this as a Universal liberal principle is to succumb to an Isothymic fever. Also as the Lockean essays on Toleration point out religion must act to moderate both Isothymic and Megalothymic tendencies instead of exasperating them. The failure to clearly establish a seperation of mosque and state and break the power of the religious sects, ensured that they would rise in the wake created by the fallen Bath party as the new pathway for Megalothymia. The Isothymia of the Right in the United States towards all things religious helped blind them towards naming this aspect of Islam in the middle east as a violent and murderously dangerous ennemy to be exterminated. Yet if megalothymia is sought exclusively in religious endevors and not redirected to the business/entreprenerial pathways, then no nation so construed can prosper because faith does not create goods, if it did Iran would be rich. But if wealth is not created and protected, then we are back to square one, and a discussion concerning the "gaps" and breading grounds of terror.

No wait, I can’t stop. I am a neo-conservative properly understood. But for various reasons I don’t agree with the assumption that neo-conservative ideas were properly applied in Iraq. If in the end this is the closest we can come to applying liberal principles, then I must object to the attempt altogether. Because I don’t believe that food mixed with poison can long nourish without killing. In this case, I would say this: It sucks that 2,000+ people died September 11th, but certainly it sucks just as much to have 2,000+ people die in a war whose vision is improperly executed. One can hardly know if the 2,000+ people who have died in our present war have somehow prevented further terrorist attacks against the U.S. This belongs to a divination of the things seen and unseen, what would the Billions upon Billions spent and the 2000+ lives spent have achieved otherwise? Is it worth it? Hard to know, and I would guess not. If this is the best we can do, then I would have to agree with Fukuyama, and distance myself from those who would say that we are achieving "liberal democracy" in Iraq or that this is making us safer.

For the price, I might have to echo Brian Coughlan "No one presents a credible threat to US military power, and no one is likely to present anything approaching a credible threat for at least 20 years. So why all the paranoia?" In fact the war paranoia and resulting war, ends up boosting our deficits and strenghening China’s position vis a vis our credit dependence.

Neos aren’t so naive. They know that voting and elections aren’t the be all and end all of liberal democracies. But in the absence of ANY steps in the direction of liberal democracies, they see elections as the first steps, small they may be, small they surely are, but nonetheless, they ARE steps in the right direction.

Beyond the theocrat, beyond the strongman, beyond the thralldom of the Shariaa, we hope to see Islam, one day, become. But that isn’t going to happen simply by conferences at Davos. Speculations by FF and his ilk aren’t going to propel Islam along the path of modernity. Fareed Zakaria can write all of the articles he wants, each one beginning with an attack upon this administration, as is his wont, but it isn’t going to cause the slightest indentation in Islam.

If there is to be a moderation in Islam, it is only going to happen as a result of America’s military forcing them along the road to modernity.

The Neos have reconciled themselves to that sad, somber, sobering, and solid fact. Thus they are farther along on a trajectory of America’s understanding of what needs to be done about Islam. They made the very same calculation I mentioned previously in this thread. Isolationism? Tried, early success, later found wanting. Widespread Wilsonian Idealism? Imprudent, devoid of a logical limitation within it, prone to give rise to sectarian differences and ethnic strife, needlessly destabilizing. Which leaves, targeted interventionism.

The idea of actually leaving Islam alone, to either rot, or solve their own problems, depending on the disposition of the person describing Islam, is equally brain dead. Especially AFTER 9/11. The Neos knew that prior to 9/11, which is why they signed that letter urging a bold policy of intervention prior to 9/11. AFTER 9/11, their policy immediately captured the meed of approval of the American people, who saw the policies that obtained previously as dangerous, unwise, and ultimately, pusillanimous. That’s why the Neos had, ready at hand, a policy that answered most of the questions posed after 9/11. And that’s why Powell and the rest over at State were so frustrated, in the face of well reasoned, intense, bold argumentation, they had nothing to offer, but caricatures of the Neos.

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