Misunderstanding Fukuyama

A child sits on the shoulders of his father while holding the Egyptian flag at a large rally in Tahrir Square, Cairo, Egypt, February 25, 2011.

Article Highlights

  • A mere struggle between states doesn't refute Fukuyama's thesis

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  • Powerful nations like China and Russia have not come up with an attractive systemic idea of political and social justice

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  • Arab Spring is still a process fraught with danger and is about standing up for basic rights

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In a thoughtful article, "The Bend of History," John Arquilla argues that the events of 2011 have proven that Francis Fukuyama was wrong about the "end of history." Therefore, Fukuyama's analysis that democracy and free market capitalism have triumphed can be decisively put to rest.

According to Arquilla, Fukuyama had been observing merely a "bend in history":  the end of a great historical clash between empires and nations. That clash has now finally resolved in favor of a new kind of conflict. According to Arquilla, "history" is not over, we are just witnessing a new epic unfold. This epic will be characterized by how nations deal with new "networks," from the protestors in Egypt to China's  alliances with hacker and criminal networks.

"Standing in the way of liberal democracy are not competing ideologies, but rather hidebound traditions and particularistic state ideologies of power."--Dan Blumenthal

While the idea is thought provoking, it does not truly engage Fukuyama's argument. Fukuyama was defining history in the Hegelian, philosophic sense. He argued that the mainspring of "history"  is the basic desire for recognition by others of one's freedom and equality as a human being. That desire is what drives a (fitful) democratic revolution.  

In one of many responses to his critics Fukuyama wrote:

"In order to refute my hypothesis, then, it is not sufficient to suggest that the future holds in store large and momentous events. One would have to show that these events were driven by a systematic idea of political and social justice that claimed to supersede liberalism. A nuclear war between India and Pakistan -- horrible as that would be for those countries -- does not qualify, unless it somehow forced us to reconsider the basic principles underlying our social order."

In other words, the mere unfolding of large events, or struggles between or within nation states does not refute his thesis. Rather, a new systemic idea about the social order would have to emerge to really disprove Fukuyama. To date, none has. Al Qaeda's ideology has no universal appeal. Even within the Muslim world, it is highly unattractive. It is certainly no competitor to liberal democracy as a means for humans to find recognition at the most profound level.

Neither have powerful nations such as China and Russia come up with an attractive systemic idea of political and social justice. The protests unfolding in both countries are in some sense caused by the failure to provide for the "basic human yearning for equal recognition." It is highly debatable that, as some argue, China has developed a new model of human organization around "State Capitalism" or a "Beijing Consensus" that is exportable to others. That "model" is not even attractive to the Chinese people. Indeed, it can be argued that Chinese government is fighting a rearguard action against the "end of history" -- its people are finding more ways to satisfy their must human of yearnings, and the government will eventually give in or have to fall back on a very non-universalist ideology of power and coercion.

As the analyst Stanley Kurtz wrote:

"Fukuyama's great accomplishment in "The End of History" is to establish that democratic rights and participation are fundamental ends in themselves, not mere epiphenomena of capitalism. Communist dictatorships and capitalist autocracies alike rob human beings of their dignity, and Fukuyama successfully shows how the growing turn toward democracy in both types of society is not simply a demand for wealth but, at the deepest level, an insistence upon equal personal dignity and recognition."

In some important ways, Arquilla actually bolster's Fukuyama's point. The new networks about which he writes more often than not have formed to fight dictatorships who have robbed people of their dignity. While the Arab Spring is still a process fraught with danger, at a fundamental level it is about people standing up for their basic rights. And, China is simply co-opting the "networks" Arquilla mentions to exercise state power in innovative ways.

Arquilla does not refute Fukuyama's argument (despite the article's provocative title). No one has  developed a competing ideology that speaks to the human insistence on equal personal dignity and recognition. Standing in the way of liberal democracy are not competing ideologies, but rather hidebound traditions and particularistic state ideologies of power. Arquilla's "new networks" employ technologically sophisticated strategies to either embrace or resist the "end of history."

Dan Blumenthal is a resident fellow at AEI

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