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Maybe History Ended After All
May 14, 2011 8:32 AM   Subscribe

Reconsidering Fukuyama - "In 2004 he became the first of the card-carrying neocons to break ranks and oppose the Iraq War; in 2006 he published a comprehensive history and critique of the neoconservative movement; in 2009 he skewered the economics profession at length in his journal The American Interest; earlier this year, he dedicated an issue to a series of essays exploring the emerging American plutocracy... that through their greed they somehow benefit society... He was not being glib: Much of his new book, The Origins of Political Order, is devoted to documenting the struggles of premodern states to draw up sustainable tax codes. Long before modernity and the spread of democracy, societies that failed to effectively tax their citizenry were the first to shrivel...

"Many passages also tilt obliquely at the Tea Party... 'Many parts of sub-Saharan Africa are a libertarian's paradise,' he reminds readers in the first chapter... Later, he spends the bulk of a chapter dismantling the theories of Frederich von Hayek on the 'spontaneous' emergence of rule of law and political institutions in 16th- and 17th- century Britain: '... The weakness of Hayek's argument is that human beings successfully design institutions all the time, at all levels of society.' "
posted by kliuless (33 comments total) 33 users marked this as a favorite

 
This is fantastic; thanks. Fukuyama is an interesting character. It pleases me to see that he's taken on Hayek, that darling economist of the Tea Party about whom I keep hearing in my Facebook feed and in these fawning memetic videos which I have to say annoyed the living crap out of me.
posted by koeselitz at 8:44 AM on May 14, 2011 [1 favorite]


New Books In History had an interview with Fukuyama about his book earlier this month.

[I believe that a MeFite hosts New Books in History.]
posted by rdr at 9:03 AM on May 14, 2011 [2 favorites]


Is he making the argument that the Americans are doing a really shitty job of taxing their citizens?
posted by PinkMoose at 9:04 AM on May 14, 2011


does this mean I should have to go read Hayek just to see how he mis-interpreted Tudor-Stuart political history? There was absolutely nothing "spontaneous" about the ways that the English government evolved in this period - It was all a bloody struggle, with lots of real blood to accompany the metaphorical.

What Fukuyama has noted about taxes - that good and stable governments are supported by taxes on their citizens - is something that historians have been saying for forever. Being reliant on taxes means that the governors have a stake in keeping economies running well. They need to tax elites as well - because that's where a great deal of the money is (England could never gets its finances healthy until it taxed aristocratic wealth through the land tax). Of course, the fact that English aristocrats bankrolled the government probably helped them keep their heads in times of social strife -- at least they were seen to be paying their way (even as they used their control of government to pursue policies most beneficial to their own economic interests).
posted by jb at 9:08 AM on May 14, 2011 [2 favorites]


He said he did not remember specifically why he had initially enrolled in a comparative literature graduate program before quitting to study political science except that "it was trendy at the time." Asked what books he was drawn to in adolescence, he replied, "I'm not sure you would find an interesting pattern there."

the other, of course, involves orcs
posted by Sticherbeast at 9:14 AM on May 14, 2011 [10 favorites]


Thanks for posting this. Fukuyama is frequently misunderstood character. If only there was some way to use his framework as a cynosure to unite the so-called right and left against the Tea Party types.
posted by Sticherbeast at 9:17 AM on May 14, 2011


It's a bit confusing because it doesn't say why Fukuyama is a neocon (or considers himself such) when he appears to stand against everything that neocons believe.
posted by fatbird at 9:26 AM on May 14, 2011


That's because the neocons came to stand against everything the neocons had believed, leaving only Fukuyama behind. Fukuyama saw that the Iraq War was not going to bring democracy and stability to Iraq through the might of America, so he get out fast. Everyone else was either a sucker or a player in a different game.
posted by Sticherbeast at 9:31 AM on May 14, 2011 [2 favorites]


fatbird, Fukuyama definitely WAS considered a neocon, once; in part because of (certain interpretations of) _The End of History_, in part because he actually did add his voice to the neocon chorus much of the time pre-2004.
posted by a small part of the world at 9:31 AM on May 14, 2011


I always liked this Žižekian critique of the left:

It’s fashionable to make fun of Francis Fukuyama, End of History, but even the majority of today’s left is effectively, if I may make an adverb, Fukuyamaists. Basically, isn’t it that most of us leftists silently believe capitalism is here to stay, parliamentary democracy is what we have, so the problem is simply how to make it work better? Our ultimate horizon is, again, in the same way as we were talking about socialism with a human face, global capitalist democracy with a human face. And for me, the key question is: is this enough?
posted by klue at 9:39 AM on May 14, 2011 [15 favorites]


Our ultimate horizon is, again, in the same way as we were talking about socialism with a human face, global capitalist democracy with a human face. And for me, the key question is: is this enough?

If humanity with a human face could give us a demand-side liberalism, instead of just supplying the billions born into poverty, then it may be enough.
posted by Brian B. at 10:00 AM on May 14, 2011 [1 favorite]


Is he making the argument that the Americans are doing a really shitty job of taxing their citizens?

Just the rich and corporations.
posted by stbalbach at 10:10 AM on May 14, 2011 [1 favorite]


I've always had deep fundamental disagreements with Fukuyama's anti-technology streak.

There was never any chance that his whole "End of History" prediction might pan out :

In 1989, we already knew computer technology was revolutionizing many aspects of business. We'd had an entire field of mathematics studying voting systems since the 50s. And deliberative opinion polls burst onto the scene shortly thereafter, challenging our very notion of voting. There are now people trying to discover how to identify sociopathic leaders, ala the Enron guys, but we've been trying that for police for decades. etc.

We certainly foresaw both human genetic engineering and brain implants in 1989, shit Neuromancer was published in 1984 and Engines of Creation in 1986. And we'll obviously develop "strong" artificial intelligence eventually. All those ideas point towards really "historical" shifts.

We're currently assigning enormous decision making responsibility to algorithms, via advertising, high frequency trading, etc., which Lessig right identifies as "west coast code" supplanting "east coast code". All that constitutes history today.

posted by jeffburdges at 10:22 AM on May 14, 2011 [2 favorites]


I will be very interested to see where multinational corporations fit in to his theory, as they seem different from the tribes and elites that the reviews show him addressing. The tribes and elites all sound contained within (or intended to be contained within) a geographic boundary. And war is strongly to their detriment. I'm not sure that these conditions hold for international corporations (depending on their product and supply chain). In California, we are told to reduce taxes so that corporations won't leave the state. How to effectively tax companies in the absence of geographic rootedness and perhaps a lower threat of war?
posted by salvia at 10:38 AM on May 14, 2011


Great post! I was just thinking about The End of History the other day for some reason.

On salvia's point, I agree that modern political analysis often gives short shrift to the role of non-state actors, especially in first-world society. Yes, we hear "corporations are bad" stories all the time, but the story is usually structured as The Corporation vs. The State. This binary construct puts people who want to keep corporate power in check into supporting the State, providing it additional legitimacy.

While we hear of non-state actors gaining legitimacy in countries with a weak state (by providing social services, security, etc.), I'd really like to know more about what influence multinationals have on geographically disparate societies (perhaps as a side-effect of the yawn-inducing "it's market penetration, duh" argument).
posted by antonymous at 11:28 AM on May 14, 2011


Neo conservatism is only conservative in as much as the folks who started the movement were no longer communists.

Theres no historical reason that they should support what are today considered conservative economic policies at all.

They support American military might and a narrative of American (or western) cultural supremacy.

All of their other beliefs are relatively less important.
posted by empath at 11:41 AM on May 14, 2011 [2 favorites]


Thanks for posting. I agree that Fukuyama is often misunderstood. He's immensely intelligent - I certainly don't claim to understand everything he writes about all the time. I really enjoyed reading his book "Our Post-human Future." Great read.
posted by bloody_bonnie at 12:13 PM on May 14, 2011


So we're now ready to "reconsider" the "misunderstood" Fukuyama: this signals that we're supposed to take the guy seriously, again, despite his decades-long track record as the "dignified" intellectual apologist for imperialist Machtpolitik? Those who don't learn from Fukuyama's history may enjoy repeating it, but some of us would rather opt just to ignore him from now on, no matter how cleverly he reinvents himself to tack with the ideological wind.
posted by RogerB at 1:05 PM on May 14, 2011 [6 favorites]


Hmmm. He seems to be drawing on one of his colleagues from RAND, David Ronfeldt, in the role of tribes and institutions. I know Fukuyama is in the acknowledgments of some of Ronfeldt's work.

I'm referring to Tribes, Institutions, Markets, Networks: A Framework for Societal Evolution.

The key to transitions from tribal to institutions is the creation of legal frameworks that limit hereditary power of families/dynasties. Ronfeldt mentions the speculation about the correlations between democracies and capitalism - it is possible that the evolution of legal institutions able to enforce contracts is also tied to the evolution of democracies.

It looks like Vol I is about tribes and institutions (or states) since it stops at the French Revolution. Markets became a strongly evolved form after the end of mercantilism. I wonder what, if anything, he's going to have to say about networks.

The Arab Spring is a sign of evolution along network lines. The WTO protests and the Zapatista social netwar were early emergent signs.
posted by warbaby at 1:29 PM on May 14, 2011 [3 favorites]


isn’t it that most of us leftists silently believe capitalism is here to stay, parliamentary democracy is what we have, so the problem is simply how to make it work better?

I consider myself fairly leftist, and I don't believe capitalism is here to stay at all. I think capitalism can stay or the human race can continue forward, but I don't believe both are capable of co-existing. And parliamentary democracy is only effective with small populations. The larger the population becomes, the more the trend towards the center, the less political dynamism, and the more stagnant and squabbling and intractable politics becomes, leaving the electorate feeling disenfranchised and ineffectual, ultimately leading towards totalitarianism of one form or another.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 3:49 PM on May 14, 2011 [1 favorite]


I have to say: the criticisms of Fukuyama in your last link seem incoherent to me. Fukuyama is right that Hayek expresses certainty that people are ignorant. And yet the criticism is: Hayek wasn't about certainty! He was about ignorance! – it seems to utterly miss the point of Fukuyama's argument.
posted by koeselitz at 5:02 PM on May 14, 2011


So has something changed since he signed on to the Project for a New American Century?
posted by moorooka at 6:12 PM on May 14, 2011


He's not a neocon, he's a neoliberal, which is what the neocons are supposed to be, until it turns out that the neocons really are neocons, thus betraying the ideals of neoliberalism, which is understood to be anti-progressive and reactionary, much like the neocon movement.
posted by KokuRyu at 6:30 PM on May 14, 2011 [1 favorite]


moorooka: PNAC got switched back to the original name Committee on the Present Danger, an admission that the neocon program had flopped. When right-wing ventures fail, they don't die, they just get a new address and letterhead.

Frank saw how the Iraq fiasco showed his former friends to be either fools or crooks (often both) and sort of woke up. A lot of people got seduced by the neo-con notion of the New Class. It turned out to be cant for the new parasites. The End of History was really about how the world would be ruled by the New Class. See Godfrey Hodgkins' The World Turned Right Side Up for a discussion of the neocons.
posted by warbaby at 8:51 PM on May 14, 2011


"...(T)he bipartisan cabal of lazy thought" would be a great name for a new album and more importantly underlines why a new model of government and taxation should be put in place.

For example if you have a pool of water with fish in it, and with only a set amount of space, why should only a minority of the fish have the majority of the space. It'd be basically like securing the exctinction of the species for the futur!
posted by Meatafoecure at 7:01 AM on May 15, 2011


koeselitz: "This is fantastic; thanks. Fukuyama is an interesting character. It pleases me to see that he's taken on Hayek, that darling economist of the Tea Party about whom I keep hearing in my Facebook feed and in these fawning memetic videos which I have to say annoyed the living crap out of me"

Yeah, check this little nugget I read on a blog about Hayek -- Show it to your "anti-statist" friends:
Hayek – progenitor of neoliberalism – goes even further and endorses universal, government run health insurance in the Bible of the free market movement. After arguing that the state should provide a minimum of social welfare for its citizens, Hayek states:

Nor is there any reason why the state should not help to organize a comprehensive system of social insurance in providing for those common hazards of life against which few can make adequate provision. Where, as in the case of sickness and accident, neither the desire to avoid such calamities nor the efforts to overcome their consequences are as a rule weakened by the provision of the assistance – where, in short, we deal with genuinely insurable risks – the case for the state’s helping to organize a comprehensive system of social insurance is very strong. There are many points of detail where those wishing to supersede it by something different will disagree on the details of such schemes; and it is possible under the name of social insurance to introduce measures which tend to make competition more or less ineffective. But there is no incompatibility in principle between the state providing greater security in this way and the preservation of individual freedom. (emphasis added)

It seems as if the first intellectual of the free market movement is more of a health insurance radical than Obama! I wonder if anyone’s told the Anne Coulter?

posted by symbioid at 8:18 AM on May 15, 2011 [4 favorites]


Oops - source for above snippet.
posted by symbioid at 8:18 AM on May 15, 2011 [2 favorites]


Neo conservatism is only conservative in as much as the folks who started the movement were no longer communists.

Theres no historical reason that they should support what are today considered conservative economic policies at all.

They support American military might and a narrative of American (or western) cultural supremacy.

All of their other beliefs are relatively less important.


Alternatively, militant zionism pretty much defines the core of the entire movement.
posted by Brian B. at 11:08 AM on May 15, 2011


On salvia's point, I agree that modern political analysis often gives short shrift to the role of non-state actors, especially in first-world society. Yes, we hear "corporations are bad" stories all the time, but the story is usually structured as The Corporation vs. The State.

That's not entirely true, although I can understand why people might think that. Non-state actors have been a major factor in political analysis for decades now, especially since 9/11. The issue is that the stuff that's accessible as literature for non-specialist reading is what gets categorized as "modern political analysis." The stuff that deals with non-state actors in international relations is out there, but it's in dry academic papers that no one picks up because of a review in the Sunday NYT. If you're interested I'd suggest looking into some literature regarding what he IR guys are calling "Complexity Theory" these days. You'll find the state is still often dealt with as a global actor (as it should) but they certainly take away its' primacy as the fundamental unit of international affairs.
posted by Hoopo at 11:22 AM on May 15, 2011


"So we're now ready to "reconsider" the "misunderstood" Fukuyama: this signals that we're supposed to take the guy seriously, again, despite his decades-long track record as the "dignified" intellectual apologist for imperialist Machtpolitik? Those who don't learn from Fukuyama's history may enjoy repeating it, but some of us would rather opt just to ignore him from now on, no matter how cleverly he reinvents himself to tack with the ideological wind."

Right, in 2000-2006 Fukuyama (along with Samuel Huntington, rest in hell, asshole) were the key public intellectuals framing the debate around the U.S. and its place in leading and changing the world. (Remember that, the U.S. was to take responsibility in leading change in the Arab world...)

Even if he was "misread" Fukuyama's original ideas were being seriously tossed around by people who believed that the End of History mandated the use of force to impose the end state of western values, ideals, and institutions on other countries (because we were all headed there in the end anyways right?). And Fukuyama was the last person to try to correct anyone of the idea that this was wrong-headed and stupid.

Because that's what neo-conservatism was, and fuck if he wasn't a CENTRAL intellectual hero to the movement.

Plenty of blood splashed on plenty of hands back then and few hands were dipped in pools deeper than Fukuyama's.
posted by stratastar at 10:43 PM on May 15, 2011


That's not what neoconservatism is at all, stratastar. Seriously, these inane conspiracy theories about various members of the neoconservative movement never cease to amaze me.

Have you ever actually read the book The End Of History? Clearly not, because if you had, you'd know that the text doesn't suggest that we bring about the end of history. It suggest that the end of history has already happened, or is about to happen, and that this is likely to lead to several conundrums in western civilization. Maybe somebody somewhere was invoking Francis Fukuyama's name to argue for some putative effort to bring about "the end of history;" but if they were, the hadn't read the book any more than you clearly have, and their arguments were not only wrong-headed but incoherent. I guess that would actually be understandable - lord knows everybody loves to criticize Fukuyama, but nobody has read him - but you can't hold a man responsible for spreading ideas that have no resemblance whatsoever to the ideas he actually talked about.

Nor was Francis Fukuyama "the last person" to try to correct people when they misread his ideas. A lot of you blustery "well, he played on the wrong team!" types love to gloss over this, but even before the Iraq war Fukuyama was the only conservative - the only one - calling loudly and vociferously for Donald Rumsfeld to resign or be fired.

I have problems with The End Of History myself, but that's just because it relies far too much on an artificial neo-Hegelian notion of what history is. It's wrong, but it's harmless. Moreover, this "blood on their hands!" rhetoric is tiresome at best, McCarthyist at worst. It needs to stop.

And if you'd really like to know what neoconservatism stands for - I was one once, maybe I still am - I have some back issues of Commentary somewhere that I can let you borrow.
posted by koeselitz at 11:59 PM on May 15, 2011 [1 favorite]


Ok, I admit to hurf-durfing a little bit, but anything that reminds me of the period in Washington before and after the Iraq war pretty much automatically causes me to revert to my younger knee-jerky self. But I'm not making any huge statements about neo-straussian/neo-conservative cabals leading conspiracies, when in fact it just turns out to be a whole lot of supposedly smart people with a fucking stupid faith in their own lack of planning. I'm more concerned with how truly pernicious ideas allow horrible events to occur in the world.

I was working and surrounded by people at a prominent think-tank (FYI my work, and background wasn't in politics); when the consequence of the war began to come out: the failure of any sort of post-invasion planning, reports of civilian casualties, and its turn into a major humanitarian disaster for which the U.S. will never take responsibility for.

At events, lunch-time conversations and in books, there were many discussions and self-rationalizations by a large number of academics, policy-makers, gov-types, many of whom had at some point come out vocally for the war, because back then EVERYONE was coming out for the war. As an aside, if you want to speak of McCarthyism at its worst, do you remember the complete lack of space for dialogue in the U.S. back then, when we actually went to war on what was a "we have the evidence, trust us" type of deal, and where there was actually absolutely no space for dissent, opposing viewpoints, or questioning of government actions? Right.

But in anycase, when the handwringing began, the discussion about why we went wrong in supporting a misguided effort became about rationalizations of ideals, consequences, and visions of the world (a decent bit of which used Fukuyama's ideas as a baseline of discussion) but not about groupthink, political expediency and throwing your hat in with the movement that seemed to be on the rise.

So, no I have not read his book, but the point I wanted to make was neither had a lot of people (I mean this is Washington, everyone just skims the NYTRB and pretends to have read everything). But these same people were also the same ones who were pushing ideas that were purported to be coming out of End of History. I'm kind of glad that lots of people (but not enough) had their political careers ruined by making that bad bet, and it may be a little mean-hearted of me to wish to extend this to "Frank."

At the same time I think it's a little facetious of you to claim that Fukuyama comes out of this unsullied. The guy teaches at SAIS: he doesn't teach introductory philosophy to undergrads. RTA, he's proud of shaping the thoughts and careers of people who end up high in government. And while I may not be generous in extending my ear to his motives or beliefs, the author definitely gives the impression that he was pushing policy-outcomes that people nowadays call... kinetic. The fact that as you say he came out to vocally call for Rumsfeld's resignation after it CLEARLY came out to be a massive disaster. Great. I guess that makes him partially better than every other conservative, or intellectual. Did he come out to claim that the invasion was a bad idea?

But go ahead and send those Commentary's my way, and throw in your copy of EoH I may pretend to read it, although the ideas in his latest book sound a whole bunch more interesting.
posted by stratastar at 1:27 PM on May 16, 2011 [1 favorite]


Canadian national treasure Steve Paikin 25 minute interview with Francis Fukuyama: How Did We Get Here? How did our political system grow into what we have today? Author Francis Fukuyama on political order and the inevitability of conflict.
Really interesting (short) discussion on the rise of Chinese civil service merit based entrance, rather than patronage.

3 progenitors/preconditions ('the trinity') of a modern state: The state itself (ability to concentrate power), The rule of Law (rules that govern the rulers), Institutions of accountability (rulers answerable to population for their decisions actions and performance).

Preview excerpt of his new book.
(Great post, just figured these links might feed further interest, also, Fukuyama's discussion of religion with Paikin is pretty interesting).
posted by infinite intimation at 12:41 PM on May 21, 2011 [1 favorite]


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