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April 25, 2006

Francis Fukuyama is a man held hostage by his publishers: Douglas Murray - author of Neoconservatism: Why We Need It - reviews Francis Fukuyama's After the Neocons

Posted by Douglas Murray

After the Neocons
by Francis Fukuyama
Pp. 192. London: Profile Books, 2006
Hardback, £12.99

Douglas Murray - the author of Neoconservatism: Why We Need It - reviews Francis Fukuyama's After the Neocons. Douglas Murray finds an author held hostage by his publishers.

Francis Fukuyama's first book, The End of History and the Last Man, propelled him from the Rand Corporation and State Department into the role of "public intellectual". The problem with this was that having come up with one big idea, the trick now had to be repeated on a roughly biannual basis.

For Fukuyama, a low was reached with 2004's State Building. It should have been – as the publishers promised - a timely work. But the product was bitty, three potential tomes (the last especially full of promise) thrown into one brief, uneven, book. Fukuyama seemed to have become a hostage of his publishers, unable to exhaustively study any single issue and unwilling to commit to another grand narrative. Which is understandable if your most famous work is also an almost entirely misunderstood bestseller.

The original 1989 essay The End of History had a question mark at the end of its title. For the book, expanded from the essay, three years later, the query was (it seems for publicity reasons) removed: what had been a proposal became an announcement.

And so from the moment it was published, in 1992, The End of History was interpreted by those who hadn't read it as an announcement that history had come to an end. Since it was plain for all to see that it had not, by late 2001 Fukuyama's thesis was commonly thought to have joined Norman Angell's pre-First World War bloomer The Great Illusion as a book to be reissued – if ever - with a Foreword saying, simply, "Whoops".

But what many people missed (and others wouldn't get) was that Fukuyama's book identified not the end of "events", but the end of history in the Hegelian sense - the end of the evolution of human thought toward a specific type of governance. With enormous learning and flair, the work argued that the communist block's disintegration demonstrated not just the desirability of liberal democracy, but:

the end point of mankind's ideological evolution and the universalization of Western liberal democracy as the final form of human government.
Though there was much to debate in this, the debate was never really had. People misrepresented Fukuyama, and he didn't manage to get them to misrepresent him a bit less.

Having written one book whose title helped it to be fantastically misunderstood, one might have hoped Fukuyama would learn the lesson and reign in his publishers. But with After the Neocons they are at it again. The special UK title (in the US it is America at the Crossroads) is clearly intended to appeal to the British fad for neocon-conspiracies and obsession with all things celebrity. The spin on the book allows journalists to once again talk not of issues or ideas but of personalities - of mea culpas, abandoned ships, and u-turns by people whose opinions they didn't understand first time around.

So the publishers give the following tag-line on the dust-wrapper:
Francis Fukuyama used to regard himself as a "neocon". Not any more.
So this is going to be a great attack on Bush from the inside is it? Michael Moore with facts, Arundhati Roy with ideas? Alas for the "anti-war" profession, anyone after such fare is going to be disappointed – a fact made clear in the very next paragraph of publisher's blurb, a paragraph which reveals not only that the publicists haven't read the book in question, but that they haven't read their previous sentence:
Attacking the right-wing policymakers who were previously his colleagues, Fukuyama argues that the Bush administration is applying the principles of neoconservatism wrongly.
Ah - well that's quite a different thing, and if I were a Moveon.org type I'd be demanding my money back at this point. This isn't a "Get-stuffed neocons" tome, so much as a "You're not quite following the neocon precepts right" affair. In other words, this book is a technical disagreement from an ally rather than a guerrilla attack from an apostate. I saw Fukuyama the other week in London, fielding questions from his new would-be fans who were trying to get him to admit that there's a Halliburton pipeline running from downtown Baghdad direct to Dick Cheney's office. Magnificently representing their profession, two BBC journalists separately tried to cajole a mea culpa from him for the Iraq war (which he hadn't supported). For leftists and the BBC, the "Bush / Blair lied" narrative is so clear these days that all that is still of interest to them is the wringing of confessions from people who they disagree with. But the business of democracy and the wars for democracy is serious, and Fukuyama is at least attempting to tackle them. Even though his publishers and most of the media refuse to take him seriously, we should.

Fukuyama's main point in this book is that neoconservatives have, in their support for the Iraq war, wandered from the precepts of their own beliefs. As a pupil of Allan Bloom and a former employee of Paul Wolfowitz, Fukuyama has a good idea of what such beliefs are. But although not wrong, his definitions are strangely limited. For the sake of ease, Fukuyama identifies neocons by four particular criteria. They are people who:

- believe that the internal nature of a regime is revealed by its behaviour;
- believe that American power should be used to spread good;
- are suspicious of ambitious social engineering projects;
- distrust international laws and institutions.

Certainly these criteria cover a substantial proportion of neoconservative beliefs. But it's hard to see what is especially "neocon" about them. Few students of politics would entirely disagree with the first notion, and few Americans would entirely disagree with the second. Most people from the political "right" would agree with the third. Which leaves only the distrust of international bodies, which – again – a good many people on the American right and elsewhere would share.

In any case, the central arguments of this new book constitute an attempt to shift the emphasis of these thoughts, whether neocon or not. Fukuyama states, perfectly reasonably, that the neoconservative label is now unhelpful, and that a new political identity should be argued for. The label which Fukuyama lands on is "Realistic Wilsonianism". Under this nomenclature, Fukuyama argues that America should spend more time on international alliances and organisations, and concentrate less on the military exertion of its power. It should rethink its attitude to development (which he rightly describes as "always…something of a stepchild in American foreign policy") and states that it should distribute more of its wealth.

Anyone expecting "realistic Wilsonianism" to be a new opening in the political landscape, or even a particularly new branch of Wilsonianism, is going to find After the Neocons disappointing stuff.

For there is no way of disguising the fact that this ends up as merely another call for new and invigorated international institutions, overlapping in their areas of expertise, restraining American power and building up transnational alliances. Fukuyama is kind enough to admit that the recent Iraq war:
exposed the limits of existing international institutions, particularly the United Nations.
This is good. But what is not good is what he attempts to draw from this lesson. His vision for finding ground between the UN-dominated la-la land of the left and the anti-UN fervour of many neocons is to encourage a sort of strengthened market of international institutions, in which overlap (and competitiveness?) smudges the authoritarian tendencies neocons see in such "care" monopolies. This seems to me a very unsatisfactory proposal, institutionalising a quasi free-market pretence to a naturally anti free-market paradigm.

Fukuyama understands the foolishness of attempting to solve the failure of international institutions by simply replacing them with other international institutions. In only one case is a possibly edifying and practical direction suggested. That is the suggestion of greater support for the Community of Democracies, which though likely to be as impractical as all such set-ups, is at least an improvement on a UN in which parity is given to dictatorships and republics.

But this one positive step aside, Fukuyama evades the crucial point - a point of which he must be aware. Neocons are wary of international institutions only because they recognise the unique dangers such bodies represent. The United Nations has failed (as Fukuyama agrees it has) for the same reasons that the League of Nations failed and for the same reason that all such organisations will fail - which is that the watering-down effect of such broad platforms make them uniquely prone to inaction, moral quietism, and a particularly seductive soft tyranny which levels the good and elevates the malign. Fukuyama's call for bigger and better international institutions at this stage lacks conviction. Knowing how un-original it is, and apparently under the impression that it's the only option left, he simply rattles it off. Fukuyama's retreat to such old tunes demonstrates a new-found lack of imagination and conviction.

Even his discussion of democracy and its spread – the theme on which he made, and deserves, his name – has become fateful and subdued. He admits that:
Democracy in my view is likely to expand universally in the long run.
His parting-of-the-ways with some one-time colleagues lies in this territory. He still believes, in regard to democracy, "What's the alternative?" (as Secretary Rice put it on her recent tour of Blackburn). But Fukuyama, who once encouraged democracy-spread, now believes it should be just left to happen. He claims this "Marxist" interpretation of his "End of History" theory is what separates him from the Kristol and Kagan "Leninist" approach, which likes to encourage history on its way.

There seems little doubt that this divergence will be welcomed by certain figures in the current debate. Many will welcome it as both moral and practical. In fact it is neither. Such an approach ends up covering the same ground as the amoral Kissingerian school of realpolitik, but with an added (and previously alien) twist of sanctimony. What it ends by saying is that doing nothing is doing something – that by not meddling you are actually assisting the inevitable working-out of history. This is undoubtedly appealing, but it is also amoral, cowardly and dangerous.

The thinker who wrote so movingly of human aspiration in modern states now takes consideration of the personal entirely out of his philosophy. Like his new-found stance on international institutions, this seems based not on any great change, so much as the intellectual equivalent of battle-fatigue. Looking around him, Fukuyama is not certain that the battle is being won. He still knows which side he supports, but he's forgotten how he got into it.

In fact, Fukuyama's current stance is rooted in an acute and interesting depiction of the roots of what he identifies as over-ambition on the part of certain neocons. Covering the same territory as Dana Allin and others, Fukuyama has a point – tracing a certain neocon ambitiousness to their interpretation of the way in which the Cold War ended. Though the speed of democracy-spread in Eastern Europe was the spur for the main argument of his first book, here Fukuyama is critical of those neoconservatives who came away from that period convinced that democracy is the default mode of all societies, and that most only need a nudge to get there. Fukuyama performs a number of disservices in this analysis. Firstly in eliding the fact that most neoconservatives believed all this long before the wall fell, and remain convinced of it for exactly the same reasons now. But also because in talking-up the unlikeliness of swift democracy-spread he exaggerates the ambitions of the most prominent neoconservatives of the post-Cold War era.

Anyhow, this is in-house stuff. What is more concerning, and will reverberate further, is Fukuyama's new pessimism on the chances of a further eruption of democracy. Particularly in relation to the contorted situation in the Middle East, Fukuyama's presumed narrative now seems misplaced and misinformed. He is right to state that by the time of its fall (if not long before) the Eastern bloc was ripe to fall because:
communism was a uniquely hollow and artificial ideology.
But – and Fukuyama never even approaches this fact - Ba'athism is at least equally hollow as an ideology, as is (and this can be seen in the flourishing of democratic sentiment across the region) the assumption that Muslim and Arab peoples don't mind living under manipulative tyrannies of theocratic populists and crime-syndicate families. No prominent neocon ever implied or argued that the Middle East was going to swiftly resemble a Jeffersonian democracy. What they argued was that non-representation was (and is) harmful to the peoples who live under that system, as well as threatening – when not lethal - to those of us who live outside them.

Fukuyama writes:
Whether the rapid and relatively peaceful transition to democracy and free markets made by the Poles, Hungarians, or even the Romanians can be quickly replicated in other parts of the world, or promoted through the application of power by outsiders at any given point in history, is open to doubt.
Not to Fukuyama it isn't. The explosions of freedom in former communist countries are, he writes:
likely to be exceptions rather than the rule.
Many people, neocons and non-neocons alike, will agree with Fukuyama on the direction in which history is going. Having agreed on that, the only debate is on whether anything should be done to help it along. It is all very well to tell a people that one day they will have freedom, but it is quite another - and quite a terrible - thing, to tell a people that though they deserve freedom, and though they may want it, they shouldn't expect it in their lifetime. It could be argued that misreading the signs of democratic aspiration around the world is forgivable: ignoring those aspirations, however, is not. Today Fukuyama manages to do both. Fukuyama has treated history with leniency and generosity throughout his career. It is hard not to feel, on the basis of this latest book, that history is unlikely to return the favour.

Douglas Murray is the author of Neoconservatism: Why We Need It.


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Anyone with common sense knows History can not come to an end as long as there are people around to make it. Fukuyama used the analogy as a metaphor, to mean that a certain kind of history had come to an end, the history of humankind's ideological struggle to determine how it ought to ultimately govern itself.

In his "Second Thoughts" article ten years later, in 1999, Fukuyama explained that History would not end as long as science continued. Science is what humankind chiefly relies on to survive and continue. When science ends human survival and continuance will end and thus History will end.

The question mark in the original title meant Fukuyama was unsure of his claim, that liberal democracy was the last form of human governance. But in his Second Thoughts article he was very confident about his claim. I think his publisher knew better that he when it removed the question mark.

Posted by: David Airth at April 26, 2006 07:54 PM
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