Where else but the Wall Street Journal, a Murdoch publication, would Neo-Conservatism’s reclusive intellectual pontiff, Francis Fukuyama be given space to opine on his own essay of 1989, ‘The End of History’? From a small essay to a intellectually bloated best seller, one might compare it, in a retrospective look at the intellectual history of American reactionary ideas, to the 1996 phenomenon of Samuel P. Huntington’s ‘Clash of Civilizations’. You might even say that they bookend the decade of the 90’s, in a kind of asymmetric way. Let me begin with the opening paragraphs of Mr. Fukuyama’s essay:
Twenty-five years ago, I wrote the essay “The End of History?” for a small journal called the National Interest. It was the spring of 1989, and for those of us who had been caught up in the big political and ideological debates of the Cold War, it was an incredible moment. The piece appeared a few months before the fall of the Berlin Wall, right about the time that pro-democracy protests were taking place in Beijing’s Tiananmen Square and in the midst of a wave of democratic transitions in Eastern Europe, Latin America, Asia and sub-Saharan Africa.
I argued that History (in the grand philosophical sense) was turning out very differently from what thinkers on the left had imagined. The process of economic and political modernization was leading not to communism, as the Marxists had asserted and the Soviet Union had avowed, but to some form of liberal democracy and a market economy. History, I wrote, appeared to culminate in liberty: elected governments, individual rights, an economic system in which capital and labor circulated with relatively modest state oversight.
The opening travelogue is then succeeded by the usual triumphalism: the Left was wrong about the destiny of History, it being the command economy of the Soviets.This is a self-serving characterization of the ‘Left’, it is a rhetorical convenience that enables his triumphalism. What actually held sway after Thatcher/Reagan in the ‘West’ was not ‘Liberal Democracy’ and ‘Market Economy’ but Neo-Liberalism: the New Democrats in America and New Labor in Britain. And after the Financial Reform of 1999 championed by Bill Clinton, that Free Market Delusion that Mr Fukuyama describes as needing ‘relatively modest state oversight’: the world economy collapsed in late 2008. The facts of history elude our thinker, as it might subtract from the overall argument. On the ‘market-based global economic order’ Mr. F. is a partisan, combined in this excerpt with a bit of fear mongering for the outliers.
The emergence of a market-based global economic order and the spread of democracy are clearly linked. Democracy has always rested on a broad middle class, and the ranks of prosperous, property-holding citizens have ballooned everywhere in the past generation. Wealthier, better-educated populations are typically much more demanding of their governments—and because they pay taxes, they feel entitled to hold public officials accountable. Many of the world’s most stubborn bastions of authoritarianism are oil-rich states such as Russia, Venezuela or the regimes in the Persian Gulf, where the “resource curse,” as it has been called, gives the government enormous revenues from a source other than the people themselves.
Then we have this sentence that confirms Mr. Fukuyama’s unsurprising bourgeois political conformity:
Russia is a menacing electoral authoritarian regime fueled by petrodollars, seeking to bully its neighbors and take back territories lost when the Soviet Union dissolved in 1991.
The New Cold War and the seeming institutional Russo-Phobia of the American political class. What really interests me in Mr. Fukuyama’s essay is his stance on Russia and as he is given to meandering in terms of subject I will collect the pertinent quotations and comment.
In the realm of ideas, moreover, liberal democracy still doesn’t have any real competitors. Vladimir Putin’s Russia and the ayatollahs’ Iran pay homage to democratic ideals even as they trample them in practice. Why else bother to hold sham referendums on “self-determination” in eastern Ukraine? Some radicals in the Middle East may dream of restoring an Islamist caliphate, but this isn’t the choice of the vast majority of people living in Muslim countries. The only system out there that would appear to be at all competitive with liberal democracy is the so-called “China model,” which mixes authoritarian government with a partially market-based economy and a high level of technocratic and technological competence.
Putin as the new Stalin,as the rationalization for a New Cold War, and the ever-present ‘Middle East Radicals’ i.e. Muslims and the China Model of Capitalism, Yellow Peril tinctured in the condemnation of the moral evil of indentured servitude. Fear mongering is ineradicable from Neo-Conservatism.
The biggest single problem in societies aspiring to be democratic has been their failure to provide the substance of what people want from government: personal security, shared economic growth and the basic public services (especially education, health care and infrastructure) that are needed to achieve individual opportunity. Proponents of democracy focus, for understandable reasons, on limiting the powers of tyrannical or predatory states. But they don’t spend as much time thinking about how to govern effectively. They are, in Woodrow Wilson’s phrase, more interested in “controlling than in energizing government.”
This was the failure of the 2004 Orange Revolution in Ukraine, which toppled Viktor Yanukovych for the first time. The leaders who came to power through those protests—Viktor Yushchenko and Yulia Tymoshenko—wasted their energy on internal squabbling and shady deals. Had an effective democratic administration come to power, cleaning up corruption in Kiev and making the state’s institutions more trustworthy, the government might have established its legitimacy across Ukraine, including the Russian-speaking east, long before Mr. Putin was strong enough to interfere. Instead, the democratic forces discredited themselves and paved the way for Mr. Yanukovych’s return in 2010, thus setting the stage for the tense, bloody standoff of recent months.
Here was Mr. Fukuyama’s chance to give due credit to his political fellow traveler Victoria Nuland, and her NGO ally in the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies, in their ten year battle to subvert a duly elected government in Ukraine. And to install an unelected Coup chosen by Ms. Nuland. That surely is an accomplishment worth noting? Mr. Fukuyama fails in his summation of the accomplishments of his essay, and by implication the accomplishments of Neo-Conservatism, to even mention Victoria Nuland’s sewing the seeds of a politically exploitable chaos (a chaos she spent 5 billion dollars fomenting) a maxim of Neo-Con dogma, is puzzling, or perhaps this demonstrates a schism?
I found the rest of the essay full of forgettable historical/political conjectures in,again, a kind of travelogue style. I find this reflects his inability to focus on subjects long enough to arrive at argumentative closure-too many ideas,thoughts not enough exploration/exposition etc. Without the pretentious of Hegelian embroidery, Mr. Fukuyama resembles his brother in arms Niall Ferguson, without the obnoxious neologisms, the Conservative obsession with decay,decline and degeneration, imperial apologetics and a rhetoric larded with self-congratulation.