Strengthening Constitutional Self-Government

No Left Turns

The end of history

Francis Fukuyama explains why his ideas can’t be tied to those of the Bush Administration and, in so doing, seems to audition for a job in a Clinton or Obama Administration:

The End of History was never linked to a specifically American model of social or political organisation. Following Alexandre Kojève, the Russian-French philosopher who inspired my original argument, I believe that the European Union more accurately reflects what the world will look like at the end of history than the contemporary United States. The EU’s attempt to transcend sovereignty and traditional power politics by establishing a transnational rule of law is much more in line with a "post-historical" world than the Americans’ continuing belief in God, national sovereignty, and their military.

Those last three "retrograde" ideas are surely un-European (though I might quibble about national sovereignty, except that no one seems to want to do what it takes actually to defend it). And Fukuyama seems here to sketching the limits of his "neo-idealism":

Outside powers like the US can often help in this process by the example they set as politically and economically successful societies. They can also provide funding, advice, technical assistance, and yes, occasionally military force to help the process along. But coercive regime change was never the key to democratic transition.

I’m tempted to say that this is the kind of program that a Democratic President could adopt, though it also looks a lot like what the Reagan Administration tried to do in the 1980s (when Fukuyama worked for Policy & Planning). The differences might be less matters of principle than of prudence: when can "military the process along"? When would FF be willing to use military force?

There are other interesting distinctions in the article, which make it worthwhile and thought-provoking. But its brevity enables him to avoid addressing the question of what to do about failed states or semi-failed states that become hosts to effective purveyors of terror, as well as about states that actively sponsor terror.

Discussions - 11 Comments

My experience with the man’s work is that he is long on "ideas" and real short on details and evidence. It’s the kind of thinking that most educated people can engage in, but he packages it well. And people listen...go figure.

F. has never given us a serious account of the end of history. As Kojeve says, for history to end we’d really have to become indistinguishable from the other animals (again), because the Rousseauean/Hegelian premise is that man IS the historical being. Now the sociobiologists teach that we never were distinguishable from the other animals. So the sociobiology might be the ideology that prevails at the end of history. But it’s not prevailing. Even the contemporary Europeans give so many indications of their distinctive humanity. They may be wallowing in a posthistorical, postfamilial, andpostreligous fantasy, but the fantasy, as Pascal says, is nothing but diversion from what they really know about themselves. Their conscious decision to stop reproducing and more or less commit civilizational suicide is not characteristic of the other animals, who reproduce prolifically when living in good environments. (Bloom--also highly influenced by Kojeve--gives a better picture of what a member of our spcies would be like at the end of history--unmoved by love and death, an emotional solitary, and only fit for a music that’s nothing more than the beat of the mechanical rutting of animal. But of course the extremism of his descriptons is not convincing.) And, of course, the whole distinction between nature and history on which the idea of end of history depends is, as the sociobiologists rightly complain, based on the obviously false Rousseauean claim that man is naturally self-sufficient or solitary--a radical individual. We are naturally gregarious animals, and the individualism Tocqueville describes and seems to be an increasingly pervasive characteristic of sophisticated American and European life is not really anything like our natural or somehow posthistorical condition. For those who care, you might check the criticisms of Fukuyama in my POSTMODERNISM RIGHTLY UNDERSTOOD and (at a lower level) in ALIENS IN AMERICA. Frank is genuine expert on many areas of public policy; his political erudition is amazing. But he’s always managed to be merely confused as a theoretician.

I said this before, and everything that has happened since has confirmed that early judgement. FF lost his nerve. It’s really that simple. And his association with those "neocons" who advocated for the campaign in Iraq has led him to receive intense criticism in the faculty lounges across this country. He’s getting hit with peer pressure, peer ridicule, peer onslaught. And he’s lost his nerve. There really isn’t any need to take him on intellectually. To do so merely flatters his "second thoughts," which aren’t very well thought out, nor well expressed. That being the case, don’t bother answering him. Simply brand him one who lost his nerve in a time of war.

Peter, sociobiology doesn’t assert that we are indistinguishable from the animals (meaning that we have no unique attributes). It simply stresses that which we have in common with animals - sex drive, status struggle, group living, and so on. A good bit of "human society" can be explained by reference to this common set of traits (e.g., why people assess risk so peculiarly, why we buy designer jeans instead of Wranglers, why men seem to ’cheat’ more than women). It’s a good theory, despite your distaste for it.

Sociobiology doesn’t recognize "history" as a distinct category from "nature," and it’s right not to do so. But it still doesn’t do justice to human liberty.

Or justice to the philosophical foundations it’s built on. Sociobiologists need to read some G.E. Moore . . . There’s nothing like claiming something is "good" or "bad" because it is "natural" or "unnatural." That’s what I (along with Moore and Hume) call poor justification and bad thinking.

It is certainly not a "good theory." More like an easy, rather than truthful, way of justifying particular "natural" actions. If it simply stopped at what Dain wrote - It simply stresses that which we have in common with animals - sex drive, status struggle, group living, and so on. - I wouldn’t have a problem with it. But it doesn’t. It may stress those, but then it claims that such natural and biological dispositions are appropriate. I don’t buy that.

Well, Matt, your statement leads me to believe you haven’t read much real sociobiology. Like good scientists, they generally don’t make statements about the desireability of behavior. There job is to describe what we actually do and to explain why we do it. I’ve even known a few, like E.O. Wilson and Desmond Morris, to state that our natures may interfere with our current lifestyle...not much of an endorsement. There’s just a ton of human behaviors that can’t be explained away by social learning or voluntarism. People who argue that millions of years of evolution have no effect on the way we live our lives are simply fooling themselves.

I’m not going to kid myself. I haven’t read an extensive amount on sociobiology (or "real" sociobiology as you put it). But I have read Wilson’s On Human Nature as well as Sahlins’ The Use and Abuse of Biology. I’ll be damned if Wilson does not continually refer to the "ethical premises inherent in man’s biological nature." That’s quite a bit more than just explaining what we do and why we do it.

In any case, I’m sorry if my earlier post led you astray . . . into thinking that I speak (or type) before I read. Perhaps you could point me to the "real" sociobiologists . . .

I think what Wilson was referring to is how our evolution has shaped some of our moral precepts. For instance, our insistence on fair-play, our sexual jealousies, our envy/resentment over the success of others, our irritation when our "position" isn’t respected, and so on. These things are are too ubiquitous around the globe to be explained by any kind of social learning (at least, not the basic patterns -- the details are often culturally specific). Honestly, I don’t think Wilson, Barash, Pinker or any of the real scientists would say these things are good or bad...they simply are, and a reference to evolution helps us understand how they developed.

Perhaps what you are reacting to is the assumption that, if something has evolved naturally, it must have served some survival purpose. In that sense, I think they may think of these things as good in some sense. But in virtually every sociobiologist/evolutionary psychologist I’ve read, there is the clear understanding that humans have a darker side that leads to problems...traits that are less-that-optimal for the modern world.

No, Dain, I’ll concede that last point. My worry (along with Sahlins) is that the inferences (or assumptions) you pointed out have been harnessed by a few hardline ethical naturalists. I’m not convinced that the inferences are accidental, but I realize that they realize there is that "darker" side. I’m just not sure it’s only implication is to create less-than-optimal pragmatic problems . . .

I’m serious, though. What sociobiologists would you recommend looking at? This conversation has reinvigorated my interest in the topic . . .

A seeker? Well, that’s different. I’d recommend the cornerstone, Edward O. Wilson’s Sociobiology (I think an anniversary update is now available). David Barash Whisperings Within. Steven Pinker The Blank Slate. Older work -- Desmond Morris The Naked Ape and The Human Zoo. Also, from the social science side, Pierre Van Den Berghe’s work is important, but mostly in article form. Hope this helps.

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