Inside Man | The Nation


Inside Man

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Politically, Fukuyama's loyalties were formed in a Straussian matrix. But intellectually, the imprint of Kojève went deeper, supplying his master narrative. Forced by alterations of the strategic landscape to choose between the logic of the two, Fukuyama has allowed his head to prevail over his heart. If he has taken leave of the company of neoconservatives, it is because the war in Iraq has exposed a genealogical difference between them. In origin, his leading ideas were European, as theirs never were. Kojève indeed regarded the creation of a supranational Europe as the decisive reason a globalizing capitalism, rather than a still nationally cramped socialism, had turned out, contrary to his original expectations, to be the common destination of humanity. For Strauss, on the other hand, whose earliest allegiance was to Zionism, regimes were by nature particular: He was impervious to universal schemes. Though he was no great admirer of American society, he respected the Founders and seeded an ardently nationalist school of constitutional thinkers. The options of the different neoconservative heirs reflect their respective ancestries.

About the Author

Perry Anderson
Perry Anderson teaches history at the University of California, Los Angeles.

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Not that either side repudiates the preoccupations of the other, which remain common to both. Rather, it is the way these are combined--the balance struck between them--that sets the two apart. Kristol and Krauthammer may be American patriots, but they are second to none in their commitment to the spread of capitalist democracy around the world: In that respect, few universalisms are as aggressive as theirs. Vice versa, Fukuyama may criticize US exceptionalism, but he has certainly not relinquished the national portion of his inheritance. His new journal is not called The American Interest for nothing. Krauthammer calls his outlook "Democratic Realism," while Fukuyama terms his own vision "Realistic Wilsonianism." A distinction without a difference? Not exactly--rather an inversion in which the nouns indicate the primary, and the adjectives the secondary, allegiances. For the neoconservative core, American power is the engine of the world's liberty: There neither is, nor can be, any discrepancy between them. For Fukuyama, the coincidence is not automatic. The two may drift away from each other--and nothing is more likely to force them apart than to declare that they cannot do so, in the name of a unique American virtue unlikely to persuade anyone else. As he puts it: "The idea that the United States behaves disinterestedly on the world stage is not widely believed because it is for the most part not true and, indeed, could not be true if American leaders fulfill their responsibilities to the American people. The United States is capable of acting generously in its provision of global public goods, and has been most generous when its ideals and self-interests have coincided. But the United States is also a great power with interests not related to global public goods." Denial of this obvious truth leads to policies that damage American interests and do not deliver global goods: See Baghdad.

How are these then best reconciled? Fukuyama remains fully committed to the American mission of spreading democracy round the world, and the use of all effective means at the disposal of Washington to do so. His criticism of the Bush Administration is that its policies in the Middle East have been not only ineffective but counterproductive. The promotion of internal regime change by the right mixture of economic and political pressures is one thing. Military action to enforce it externally is another, conducive to misfortune. In reality, there is no sharp dividing line between the two in the imperial repertory. Fukuyama forgets the successful overthrow of the Sandinistas in Nicaragua, of which Robert Kagan is the major historian--a triumph of political will that we can be sure Fukuyama applauded at the time. Today, in the wake of Iraq, he is concerned to distance himself from such forms of activism. He now explains there is no universal craving for freedom that insures democracy will emerge wherever a society is liberated from tyranny. Modern liberty typically requires certain levels of economic and social development for the habits needed to sustain it. These cannot be created overnight, but must be carefully nurtured over many years. Nor will neoliberal recipes relying on market incentives alone bring the necessary order and prosperity. For these a strong state capable of "good governance" is the essential condition, and a sensible American policy will often give precedence to fostering such state-ness over building democracy in the more dangerous parts of the world.

In the service of this revision, Fukuyama disfigures his original construction. The End of History and the Last Man, he assures us, was actually an exercise in modernization theory. All he said was that a desire for higher living standards--not liberty--was universal, and that these created a middle class that tended to seek political participation, with democracy eventually emerging as a byproduct of this process. This banalization of a complex argument in the philosophy of history is not just an effort to simplify its message for a wider audience; it has a bowdlerizing impulse. In the work that made Fukuyama's name, the quest for recognition and the promptings of desire--driving respectively the struggle for equality and the advance of science--were the two motors of history. The concatenation between them was never quite pulled off in the theory, generating significant disjunctures toward the end of the story. But in the structure of the narrative as a whole, Fukuyama's assignment of their respective significance was unequivocal; the "desire that lay behind the desire" of economic man was "a totally non-economic drive, the struggle for recognition." It was the political dialectic so unleashed that was "the primary motor of human history." The mental universe of Alexandre Kojève was a long way from that of modernization theorists like Daniel Lerner and Gabriel Almond.

If this vision now appears to be something of an encumbrance for Fukuyama, perhaps that is because it was a theory of mortal conflict. Hegel and Kojève were, each in his own time (Jena, Stalingrad), philosophers of war. Their legacy is too agonistic for the purposes of drawing a line between the newfound caution of the statecraft Fukuyama now recommends and the democratic hypomania of former friends at the Standard. The platitudes of modernization theory are safer. But there is a price to be paid for the drop in intellectual level to "Nation-Building 101"--the title, without excessive irony, of one of Fukuyama's recent essays. As a run-of-the-mill social scientist, he is never less than competent. There is even, in his criticism of free-market recipes for development in poor countries, and in his call for strong public authorities, what could be read as a memory trace of his Hegelian formation: the idea of the state as the carrier of rational freedom. But the miscellaneous proposals with which America at the Crossroads ends--greater reliance on soft power, more consultation with allies, respect for international institutions--are of a desolating predictability, the truisms of every bien-pensant editorial or periodical in the land. The most that can be said of them is that in offering a bipartisan prospectus for the foreign policy establishment, they seal a well-advertised vote for Kerry and understanding with Brzezinski, who co-edits The American Interest with Fukuyama. There is not the faintest suggestion in these pages of any basic change in the staggering accumulation of military bases around the world, or the grip of the United States on the Middle East, let alone symbiosis with Israel. Everything that brought the country to 9/11 remains in place.

It is enough to look at the devastating essay on the Israel lobby by John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt in the London Review of Books--significantly, in no domestic publication--to see the enormous gulf between strategic Muzak of this kind and genuinely critical reflection on American foreign policy, from thinkers who have earned the title "realist." After starting his book under the aegis of Wilson, who brought the gospel of democracy to the peoples of the earth, Fukuyama ends it by enlisting Bismarck, who knew how to practice self-restraint in the hour of victory, as inspiration for his "alternative way for the United States to relate to the rest of the world." What the Iron Chancellor, who had a grim sense of humor, would have made of his pairing with the Fourteen Points is not difficult to imagine. In such prescriptions, of Fukuyama and so many others today, America is not at any crossroads. It is just where it has always been, squaring the circle of philanthropy and empire to its own satisfaction.

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