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Fukuyama's 'After the Neocons' « Previous | |Next »
April 22, 2006

An excerpt from Francis Fukuyama's After the Neocons: America at the Crossroads. Though Fukuyama continues to work in the horizons of his earlier The End of History and the Last Man, and remains fully committed to the American mission of spreading democracy round the world (including the use of all effective means at the disposal of Washington to do so), he now presents his position in the form of a "break" with neoconservatism.

If you recall, the argument of Fukuyama's End of History text was that with the defeat of Communism, following that of Fascism, no improvement on liberal capitalism as a form of society in modernity was any longer imaginable. The world was still full of conflicts, which would continue to generate unexpected events, but they would not alter the trajectory to a prosperous, peaceful democracy based on private property, free markets and regular elections. These institutions were the terminus of historical development in modernity as the whole world will modernize eventually.

A problem here is that after the Cold War democratic capitalism could no longer be simply identified with a Pax Americana and Americana, since a fault line between the two opens up, (eg., Japanese capitalism). However, for the neoconservative core, American power is the engine of the world's liberty, in the sense that there neither is, nor can be, any discrepancy between them. Modernize is more complex than being identified with the American version of liberal modernity.

Fukuyama understood modernity in a linear fashion along Weber lines. Weber held that modernity is the progressive disenchantment of the world. Superstitions disappear; cultures grow more homogeneous; life becomes increasingly rational, the trend is progressively in one direction. Consequently, Fukuyama, interpreted reactionary political movements and atavistic cultural differences, when they flare up, as irrational backlashes against modernization. He interpreted Fascism and Bolshevism: as backlashes against the general historical tendency. Jihadism is also a revolt, fomented among Muslim emigres in Western Europe, against the secularism and consumerism of liberal modernity. The "last man" was Nietzsche's term for the citizen of the completely modern society; "specialists without spirit, sensualists without heart" was Weber's description.

This is a limited understanding of modernity, since fascism and communism can be seen as deploying the instrumental rationality of an industrialized capitalist modernity, rather than being irrational backlashes against the liberal version of modernity.

If Fukuyama presents his position in the form of a "break" with neoconservatism in After the Neocons: America at the Crossroads, then he does so by considering the principles underpinning neo-conservatism in chapter one. Fukuyama says that:

....if ideas were drivers of policy, the ideas held by neoconservatives were themselves complex and subject to differing interpretations. The administration's foreign policy in particular did not flow ineluctably from the views of earlier generations of people who considered themselves neoconservatives. The neoconservative legacy is complex and diverse, tracing its roots back to the early 1940s. It has generated a coherent body of ideas that informed a wide range of domestic and foreign policy choices.

He adds that:
Four common principles or threads ran through much of this thought up through the end of the Cold War: a concern with democracy, human rights, and more generally the internal politics of states; a belief that U.S. power can be used for moral purposes; a skepticism about the ability of international law and institutions to solve serious security problems; and finally, a view that ambitious social engineering often leads to unexpected consequences and often undermines its own ends.

The Bush administration had a complex relationship to the neoconservative doctrine and agenda that dictated its foreign policy during the president's first term: a foreign policy involving regime change, benevolent hegemony, unipolarity, pre-emption and American exceptionalism.

In this first chapter Fukuyama argues that there were three main areas of biased judgement that lead to mistakes in the Bush Administration's stewardship of US foreign policy in its first term: it mischaracterised the threat to the US from Islam; failed to anticipate the negative reaction to benevolent hegemony; and failed to anticipate the requirements for pacifiying and reconstructing Iraq. I think that 'mistakes' here does not have enough bite. The Bush administration foreign policy is in jeopardy due to the the Iraqi insurgency. It is the will of the resistance to the US occupation that threatens the Bush Doctrine.

He argues that neo-conservatism has become identified with the Bush administration. He means those like Charles Krauthammer, are both the intellectual cheerleader of a politics of American supremacy that appears to recognize no limit to its exercise of power, and apologists for a Bush Administration that operates on the basis of the crudest form of American exceptionalism? My judgement is that neoconservative principles have turned into knee-jerk "American exceptionalism" based on the superiority of American values that authorizes the US to act toward the rest of the world as benevolent hegemons, and exempts the US from the considerations of deference and prudence by which we expect the behavior of other states to be constrained. Neoconservatism has merged with the politics of the jingoist and capitalist American right.

Fukuyama argues that there is a need for a new foreign policy position. He says there are four main approaches to US foreign policy today: neoconservativism that is opposed to international liberal wishfulness and the amorality of realpolitik; realism (in the Kissinger mould), a Wilsonian liberal internationalism (international law and institutions) and Jacksonian nationalists (nativist and isolationist). None are adequate for a post 9/11 world--what is needed he argues is a realistic Wilsonianism. Wilsonian because Fukuyama wants to retain the spirit of liberal internationalism that informs neoconservative critiques of foreign-policy realism; realistic because Fukuyama recognizes the limits of military power and the need for multilateral cooperation and engagement.

Let's continue to try to shape the world, but let's not be so jingoistic about it is the argument.

| Posted by Gary Sauer-Thompson at 11:59 PM | | Comments (0)