THE LIBERTARIAN ENTERPRISE
Number 357, March 5, 2006
Is It the End of Neo-Conservatism Rather than the End of History?
Exclusive to TLE
Francis Fukuyama now thinks so apparently. One of the intellectual founding fathers of the neo-conservative movement, Johns Hopkins University professor and ex-Reagan administration apparatchik Francis Fukuyama now admits that neo-conservatism's core beliefs don't work in practice as well as they did in theory.
This is much like the crack-up that many of those on the left had to endure in the late 1980's as Soviet-style communist regimes started to tip, teeter, and then collapse. And much like then I now marvel at how many of the true believers among the neo-conservatives rationalize and explain away, much as the ex-communists did, how the ideas themselves that they'd devoted their lives and careers to were not actually wrong per se, but were merely misapplied and corrupted by the feckless bozos in the Reagan and Bush administrations. Not Dr. Fukuyama though. He admits that many of the grand ideas behind the neo-conservatives thought process were just flat out wrong. Ideas that Fukuyama formulated.
"The reaction against democracy promotion and an activist foreign policy", says Fukuyama in a recent piece in the New York Times Magazine, "may not end there. Those whom Walter Russell Mead labels Jacksonian conservativesred-state Americans whose sons and daughters are fighting and dying in the Middle Eastsupported the Iraq war because they believed that their children were fighting to defend the United States against nuclear terrorism, not to promote democracy. They don't want to abandon the president in the middle of a vicious war, but down the road the perceived failure of the Iraq intervention may push them to favor a more isolationist foreign policy, which is a more natural political position for them. A recent Pew poll indicates a swing in public opinion toward isolationism; the percentage of Americans saying that the United States 'should mind its own business' has never been higher since the end of the Vietnam War."
Clearly while Fukuyama is moving away from theory and toward reality, he has some distance yet to travel before he arrives there. "Isolationism" as the professor puts it and means it, is a pejorative term directed at those who dispute that America should be the self-styled sheriff of the world community. That America must be eternally and continually vigilant for uprisings, wars, terrorism, revolutions, trade disruptions, holy wars, disease epidemics, killer meteors, and whatever else. And further, America should always be ready, willing, and able to spend both blood and treasure in unlimited amounts to deal with them. However even the neo-conservative intellectual base in the conservative oriented news media is now starting to doubt and chafe at all this. Which is a good thing too.
As Leon Hadar has argued persuasively in a recent article in the American Conservative merely toppling a dictator, a tyrant, or a ruling elite does not guarantee that a better form of governance will replace it. Liberal democracies are like gardens; the soil has to be prepared if the crop is to come in. Otherwise the weeds and weevils of disruption in the actual form of ethnic and religious strife, corruption, and economic collapse make the society-building schemes of the neo-conservative think tanks all for naught. Liberal democracy is not mankind's default position of governance. This notion was however the thesis of Dr. Fukuyama's first major work The End of History, which in essence said that it is.
And now some five years after a major terror attack against America, two invasions, billions spent, and thousands of dead and injured later Dr. Fukuyama magnanimously admits he was wrong. While this will likely not satisfy the parents of America's dead and maimed soldiers and Marines or the family's of the Iraqi and Afghani casualties either, at least Fukuyama is man enough and intellectually honest enough to now say he was wrong. Which is progress of sorts, eh?
Some at the Cold War's end, when The End of History was the toast of the town, voiced disagreement. They said that Fukuyama was dead wrong in both his historical analysis and critique. It turns out they were spot on right too.
Albert Einstein was reputed to have said that insanity consists of doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result. Pop psychology though this may be, there is a point to be realized in Einstein's quip. Which is that political problems have to be solved politically. Any fair historical analysis of the continual resort to violence by governments, ancient or modern, to solve political problems has shown time and time again that it doesn't work.
Or at least it doesn't work for long. If it did, Israel would have the world's most secure borders, the Soviet Empire would still be standing, and America would have no drug users left after thirty some years of a war against them. And we all know how those exercises in statecraft by violence ended up.
Dr. Fukuyama appears to be following the wisdom of the hoary old American folk saying that goes: "When you find yourself in a hole, stop digging." Insight is the first step on the ladder of knowledge I would say. And Fukuyama is taking steps on the ladder to get out of the hole he's helped dig. And this is a good thing too. As the progenitor of the neo-conservative theory of a peaceful-world-order-by-the-imposition-of-liberal-democracy-on-everyone meme, he has the most credibility now to admit it may not be as easy as all that. Who better?