Patriotism v. Francis Fukuyama

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big picture stuff, conservatism, liberalism and progressivism

This is only tangential to the “patriotism v. nationalism” series I seem to have embarked on, but I’d like to toss it in to the mix now before it gets stale.

Some years ago I read the original “The End of History?” article that Francis Fukuyama wrote in 1989, and out of which grew a book by the same name. This essay persuaded me that, just as youth is wasted on the young, graduate school is wasted on the stupid. I expressed more dismay at Fukuyama and explained why I think he’s an idiot here.

Anyway, Fukuyama wrote a long essay for yesterday’s New York Times Sunday magazine called “After Neoconservatism.” I haven’t read it all the way through yet and will refrain from criticising it directly until I do. But links to the essay took me to this post by Andrew Seal of The Little Green Blog (“All things petty and profound at Dartmouth College – and beyond…”) that’s a gem. Note this paragraph in particular

I would add that neoconservatism is also a reaction to modernization, that the idea, pseudo-Nietzschean as it is, that we can shape history by our will to power (veiled as a will to democracy) is a reaction to a globalized world where awareness of things beyond our power has grown to frightening proportions. It is not that we have less power over our situation than ever before, but that we are more aware of how little power we have always had. I guess Nietzsche himself identified this phenomenon–or symptom, if you prefer–as ressentiment.

This nicely supports what I said of neoconism in the last post, “Patriotism v. Paranoia,” which was a follow up to “Patriotism v. Nationalism“: “I see neoconservatism as proactive isolationism. Foreigners scare us, so we’ll make them be more like us so they’re not so scary.”

Mr. Seal of Dartmouth says it a bit better, though.

Here Mr. Seal quotes Fukuyama and makes a comment —

    The [Iraq] war’s supporters seemed to think that democracy was a kind of default condition to which societies reverted once the heavy lifting of coercive regime change occurred, rather than a long-term process of institution-building and reform.

In other words, we’ve all clearly been taking things like Locke’s “state of nature” and Rawls’s “original position” a little too literally. Democracy is not, in fact, at the heart of humanity.

This represents some progress on Fukuyama’s part, because in “The End of History?” he assumes that something called “liberal democracy” (which I infer from the essay is neither liberal nor democratic as most of us understand those words) is humanity’s natural state and the final destination of mankind’s political evolution. Once mankind has universally achieved this state, history (meaning wars and other political upheavals) will end, Fukuyama concluded.

I think righties generally have this same view of “democracy”; that whatever it is, it’s immutable, and once you have it you don’t have to be concerned about damaging it or losing it. Subvert it, break it, bend it out of shape, and it’ll just snap back, good as new. Further, once a people have elections, they have democracy, because people will always choose to freedom over totalitarianism. Numerous real-world examples to the contrary will not dissuade righties from this notion.

Also, Mr. Seals says,

Fukuyama is asserting the existence of what Richard Hofstadter called “the illusion of American omnipotence”—that anything seriously bad happening in the world had to be the result of American mismanagement of global affairs. He used the example of the Chinese fall to Communism—many believed that democratic China’s collapse was due to insufficient American involvement and support or even “betrayal.” However, the illusion of American omnipotence has another side as well—we tend to believe that anything good happening in the world is a fruit of beneficial American policies–the embrace of democracy by many of the former Warsaw Pact countries was “due” to our shining example, for instance. (City on the Hill, etc.) Neocons are simply the most ardent believers in the illusion of American omnipotence.

Exactly so. And now I want to treat you to my favorite rightie, Orrin Judd. He remains my favorite even over Michelle Malkin and Captain Ed (and even Confederate Yankee, who loves me but won’t admit it), because he’s such a pure example of the walking delusional state that is rightiness. Others may occasionally be contaminated by momentary bursts of clarity or reason, but not our Orrin. In reaction to Fukuyama’s essay, he writes,

The problem for Mr. Fukuyama and others counseling a return to Realism is that the neocons aren’t the driving force behind the policy of humanitarian interventionism. It is instead a function of the Judeo-Christian remoralization of Anglo-American foreign policy that Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan began and that continued unabated under Tony Blair and Bill Clinton, reaching its current heights under our most openly evangelical president, George W, Bush. With Australia, India, Japan, and perhaps now Canada joining the Axis of Good, which requires that regimes be democratic in order to be considered legitimate, there’s not much chance danger of the kind of retreat he’s fretting about. And with John McCain the odds on favorite to be our next president we’re more likely to be increasingly interventionist rather than less.

What can one say to that, but … holy shit.

And be sure to read the comments. As Mary Matalin might say, they are delicious. I think my favorites are “We stepped in and imposed peace. It’s who we are”; and “It’s our fault we’ve let them all depend on us. Democratization is like global welfare reform–get on with your own lives.” The “illusion of American omnipotence” indeed.

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19 Comments

  1. ken melvin  •  Feb 20, 2006 @12:48 pm

    I think that a large part of the American population wants to make others, e.g., their children, fellow citizens, other nations, … do what they want them to do. Not just persuade, make. I don’t think that you can make anyone do anything.

  2. Britwit  •  Feb 20, 2006 @12:58 pm

    I just went to the link for Mary Matalin. I see that I wasn’t the only one to notice Mary’s “face work” which I commented upon yesterday. James Wolcott noticed “whatever” she had done also in addition to the pink pin that I mentioned also. Of course, Russert gave her the last word because he is Godfather to her two daughters who have also been on his program.

  3. maha  •  Feb 20, 2006 @1:06 pm

    Mary’s a couple of years younger than I am. There’s a point at which a woman should stop trying to look the way she did at 25. We are both past that point. This is not to say that women in their 50s and older can’t be beautiful; of course they can. They just can’t get away with looking youthful, at least not without a lot of camera filters. I don’t believe Mary has quite come to grips with this fact.

  4. Britwit  •  Feb 20, 2006 @1:32 pm

    maha – fyi- firedoglake has some good stuff. They have a funny political cartoon from The Cincinnati Post that has the new color code alert – pink, orange and red.

  5. Britwit  •  Feb 20, 2006 @1:39 pm

    maha – Your comment no 3. I agree about Mary not having quite come to grips with aging naturally. That’s not to mean that one doesn’t need to do personal maintenance like haircuts, color, manicures, pedicures and weight management. One story that I read today listed her age as “52”. I saw you on C-SPAN with Brian Lamb and can personally say that you look younger than she does. She must be under a great deal of stress working for Cheney and stress can add years to one’s personal appearance.

  6. maha  •  Feb 20, 2006 @1:46 pm

    you look younger than she does

    Thanks. That’s because I’m so bleeping spirtually pure. 🙂

  7. k  •  Feb 20, 2006 @2:59 pm

    I just came up with the name for the Mary Matalins: Spinbots. The hired robots who go on TV and Spin Spin Spin( David Brooks and his little smile).

  8. alyosha  •  Feb 20, 2006 @3:17 pm

    This is truly frightening stuff – The Axis of Good, and We stepped in and imposed Peace. It’s Who We Are. It’s not the first time I’ve heard it, but it is scarier with each instance.

    My exposure to WingnutWorld revealed to me their amazing inability to put themselves into the shoes of others. These deluded idiots don’t realize that their enemies are saying very similar things – We Are Good, You Are Evil – about themselves. Our enemies speak a different language from us, have different customs, and have a monotheistic God whom they call by a different name, but both antagonists think the same exact way. Neither side, in their self righteousness hate realizes that this is a common psychological error trap in human consciousness.

    As for liberal democracy being the natural end state of social evolution, I think the Marxists felt the same way about their system. Another common error trap.

  9. enegim  •  Feb 20, 2006 @4:26 pm

    “I think righties generally have this same view of “democracy”; that whatever it is, it’s immutable, and once you have it you don’t have to be concerned about damaging it or losing it. Subvert it, break it, bend it out of shape, and it’ll just snap back, good as new.”

    Eerily similar to a standard fundamentalist view of “salvation”, isn’t it, when looked at in that way? Maybe “democracy” works that way _because_ “salvation” does, i.e. once one has identified American right-wing politics with right-wing evangelical Christianity, to accept “democracy” is equivalent to a religious conversion? And that would make a sort of sense out of the felt need to promote “democracy” world-wide; it’s essentially the evangelical mandate…

  10. alyosha  •  Feb 20, 2006 @6:47 pm

    As the right took over America, I was saddened to watch the word “Democracy” become one of the most abused words in our language, right behind “love”. They profaned it.

    What Bush and the right mean by “Democracy” is pretty far removed from what our Founders meant. It’s become linguistic fog to obscure and excuse any kind of nefarious behavior.

  11. maha  •  Feb 20, 2006 @10:19 pm

    Eerily similar to a standard fundamentalist view of “salvation”, isn’t it, when looked at in that way? Maybe “democracy” works that way _because_ “salvation” does, i.e. once one has identified American right-wing politics with right-wing evangelical Christianity, to accept “democracy” is equivalent to a religious conversion? And that would make a sort of sense out of the felt need to promote “democracy” world-wide; it’s essentially the evangelical mandate…

    Interesting. You may be on to something.

  12. Nate  •  Feb 20, 2006 @10:42 pm

    Maha-

    You need to go back and read “The End of History…”, because you don’t understand its main thesis. There is nothing about “liberal democracy” being man’s natural state, and he goes out of his way to say that there will continue to be wars and political upheaval. What he contends is that given the desire of people to live in an affluent, technological society, liberal democracy is the only legitimate model. Fascism, communism, totalitarianism, theocracy, all the “isms” are doomed to fail. Liberal democracy is the only model of governance that can thrive in the long-term.

    But there is nothing inevitable about societies all over the world adopting liberal democracy, and even if they all did, there would still be wars and other calamities. When Fukuyama says the “end of history” he doesn’t mean the end of events happening, but the end of history in the Hegalian sense.

  13. Swami  •  Feb 20, 2006 @10:43 pm

    The problem for Mr. Fukuyama and others counseling a return to Realism is that the neocons aren’t the driving force behind the policy of humanitarian interventionism.

    OK, I give up…What is “humanitarian interventionism” supposed to mean.? Is it a fancy way to say shock and awe? Maybe it refers to our humane intervention in Fallujah with the use of white phosphorus?

  14. maha  •  Feb 21, 2006 @7:49 am

    You need to go back and read “The End of History…”, because you don’t understand its main thesis.

    That was my first assumption — this guy is saying something really subtle that’s going way over my head. Then I kept reading and realized, with growing horror, that he wasn’t. As far as reading it again … no way. Gave me a headache the first time.

    Granted, I never read the book, just an essay by Fukuyama explaining his basic thesis. But I read what I read, and I stand by what I wrote above.

    As far as an “end of history in a Hegalian sense — my understanding is that the “end of history” theme attributed to Hegel is, in fact, a misinterpretation of Hegel’s ideas. I am not expert on Hegel and could be mistaken. Still, I am uncomfortable with the notion that history is hurtling toward some fixed and predetermined goal. Perhaps it is, but as soon as individuals existing in a tiny sliver of the All (including Fukuyama and Hegel) begin to assume they know what the goal is, they’ve contaminated the process.

    That’s in a Zen sense, btw.

  15. maha  •  Feb 21, 2006 @7:53 am

    What is “humanitarian interventionism” supposed to mean.?

    Something like “we’re invading your country and bleeping you over generally for your own good.”

  16. modus potus  •  Feb 21, 2006 @8:41 am

    What is “humanitarian interventionism” supposed to mean.?

    Something like “we’re invading your country and bleeping you over generally for your own good.”

    Like driving heathen into the sea to baptize them before thy drown.

  17. Bozwellian  •  Feb 21, 2006 @10:19 am

    Being a mere ordinary not fully steeped nor engulfed by way higher learnings.., am admitting that actually, got a great deal of insight and an almost “eureeka” moment from the NYT presentation by Fukuyama and a comprehension of just where they/neocons , were coming from . Have found there positionings quite confounding simple common sense and irrational and obviously, way to hypocritical and been astounded forever it seems, by their inability to comprehend elsewise . They obviously truly believe and have long closed minds and can “give” credit for perhaps being of “good intentions”, still find their premisings aghastibles and horrifying to see such implemented with such as the present results which has tossed the entire world into what may be everlasting disorder and greater divisiveness than at any other time in WORLD history. Perhaps due to modern conveniences and the tech that allows to BE informed of whatevers around the globe and DISCONNECTIONS and being overwhelmed by it AL so find the human tendencies to “hunker down” and hope/pray for all to pass and grasp nostalgicals for comfort and then fallible and fallible attempts to just hold off “modernismaticals” encroaching. Happens here in the USA, and happens elsewhere and sure do WISH there was a way to get a balance but am NOT all that too hopeful and see our present adminstrationers exampling just how run-amok the effort is even IF “well-intentioned”.
    Sorry, but what he seems to have confirmed too, is that they DID do all this out of “best intentions” but they were rampant in delusional thinkings and non comprehension of reality/realities.
    Mere ORDINARIES were attempting to screech out STOP/NO /NO WAY and to PUH-LEEZE reconnoiter before the instigation in Iraq (and many too in regards to Afghanistan which in truth had other factors and few bother to investigate/acknowledge for perhaps IF one allows that to be semi “justified” , could perhaps get Iraq acknowledged as the mistake that it truly was/is and corrective activity induced…but that too is another…)
    It helps at least to have a better comprehension from where these neocons evolved from…hope others take time to comprehend them if have not and suspect too many have not for if so, why NONE seem able to formulate a good counter response that could change the course …but, am but an ordinary mind and got a day to day life to try for…….

  18. Erin  •  Feb 21, 2006 @1:51 pm

    See, here’s why we need to improve American education; a lot of the rightie rhetoric displayed in the post shows such a fundamental misunderstanding of Political Theory 101. “Democracy” becomes just a hollow term if you reduce it to being “good.” As in, “America is good, America is a democracy, therefore democracy is good,” with no understanding of what a democracy is or how it functions. I think that’s the only way that Bush, et al, can get away with dismantling democracy; it’s more of an idea than a functioning system in the rightie world.

    Not to mention that there’s no reason to believe that “democracy” and “good” would be the default if you removed oppressive leadership. Quite the contrary, actually, according to Locke or Hobbes. And look at Iraq; Bush must have assumed that getting rid of Saddam would bring on the Democracy Fairy, to sprinkle goodness and flowers and bunnies over the country. Funny how that didn’t work out.

    I guess the precedent is that the fall of the USSR created “democracy” in Russia, but anyone who knows anything about modern Russia knows it’s not all sunshine and kittens. Or even much of a democracy.

  19. David Harley  •  Feb 21, 2006 @2:20 pm

    The “Hegelian” element in Fukuyama’s thought, which he coyly describes as “Marxist” in the NYT article, derives not from Hegel but from the Russian/French intellectual, Alexandre Kojève (1902-1968), who influenced neoconservative thought through his correspondence with Leo Strauss and through the enthusiasm of Allan Bloom for his work. This was a very selective influence, however, and distorted much of his thought, as can be seen from a glance at some of the French thinkers whom he influenced, such as Sartre, Merleau-Ponty, Lacan, Bataille, Althusser, Queneau, Aron, and Breton.

    As for the resemblance between salvation and democracy, I would suggest that a more millenarian analogy is appropriate. It is not individual salvation that is the aim, but something more like the thousand-year Rule of the Saints.

    Millenarianism was a creation of 16th-century Calvinists, when they realized that there was no pure Church lasting a thousand years in the Christian past. The Rule of the Saints that would precede the Second Coming must therefore lie in the future. In 17th-century England, this expectation drove work in the applied sciences, social reform, and the Re-Admission of the Jews.

    With the collapse of English Calvinism in the late 17th century, God’s general providence was transformed into a faith in Nature and Progress. Overt millenarianism was less common, but it did continue in the work of such influential thinkers as David Hartley. More generally, it was transmuted into a belief in Progress inexorably creating a better world. This can be seen in the work of such heirs of Enlightement universalism as Hegel and Marx. Grimmer versions can be seen in the projects of the Leninists and the Nazis.

    With the rise of dispensationalist theology in 20th-century America and its increasing politicization, the Rule of the Saints can be fitted back together with secular notions about spreading democracy, although not all fundamentalist Protestants would do so. Providence and Progress have a close family relationship.

    Thus, it is possible to see “the Clash of Civilizations” and the “End of History” as secularized eschatology, albeit of somewhat different kinds. The enemy will rage, there will be wars, and then the righteous will reign for a thousand years.

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