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March 28, 2006 [LINK]

Fukuyama & the Neocon squabble

Francis Fukuyama's new book, America at the Crossroads: Democracy, Power, and the Neoconservative Legacy has created quite a furor in wonkdom. It was reviewed in Sunday's Washington Post by Gary Rosen, who finds it "sober, fair-minded, even a bit dry." He says that Fukuyama "remains committed to the promotion of democracy," but would prefer to use "soft power" (a dubious term coined by Joseph Nye that really means nothing more than "influence") rather than coercion. Fukuyama's "newfound realistic Wilsonianism" strikes me as a bit oxymoronic, frankly. To me, it is self-evident that the United States should encourage the spread of liberal democracy and capitalism wherever it is feasible and opportune -- not as part of an all-out crusade. "You can lead a horse to water, but you can't make him drink it." Rosen upbraids Fukuyama for the "apostasy" in denying that political liberalization of the Middle East would result in less violence, contradicting the core argument of his classic book, The End of History and the Last Man.

I've been puzzled that someone whose primary intellectual influence was Friedrich Hegel could be considered by so many people a neoconservative; I remain convinced (see Feb. 22) that this perception owes more to the political realignment precipitated by 9/11 than anything else. The Neocons' main inspiration was Leo Strauss (University of Chicago, 1950s), but he is not even cited in The End of History and the Last Man! It may simply be that Fukuyama is too prone to bending in whatever direction current political winds are blowing. Fukuyama's "End of History" thesis -- that humanity was entering a final historical era in which liberal democracy and managed capitalism will spread throughout the world -- was based on a Hegelian philosophy of history as steady progression. Hegel and Auguste Comte (founder of the derivative positivism) both placed heavy emphasis on utilizing natural sciences to understand human behavior. Not surprisingly, their works are grounded in the then-current Newtonian scientific paradigm, which is in the process of being gradually superseded by the emerging science of nonlinear dynamical systems ("Chaos Theory"), which holds that ultimate outcomes are often unpredictable. When Fukuyama spoke at U.Va.'s Miller Center ten or so years ago, I asked him if his theory wasn't premised upon Newtonian mechanical precepts, and he downplayed the connection. It seemed like a very inconsistent application of scientific thought to me.

In today's Washington Post, Charles Krauthammer really rips into Fukuyama for misrepresenting, in the preface to his new book, what Krauthammer had said in an American Enterprise Institute forum in 2004. Krauthammer did not say the war in Iraq was an "unqualified success." Indeed, his presentation was making a general case about the proper course of U.S. foreign policy, to wit:

Call it democratic realism. And this is its axiom: We will support democracy everywhere, but we will commit blood and treasure only in places where there is a strategic necessity -- meaning, places central to the larger war against the existential enemy, the enemy that poses a global mortal threat to freedom.

Exactly. Krauthammer distinguishes his approach from that of Hans Morgenthau, but I don't think the difference is a great as he supposes. Morgenthau had a deep awareness of the American purpose, and knew that foreign policy -- even when guided by balance of power calculations -- could not be entirely divorced from principle or ethics. As for Fukuyama and his "divorce" from the Neocons, one wonders what if any consistent intellectual theme exists behind his stellar, yet meandering, scholarly career.

"Sweet Neocon"

A prime example of the grossly erroneous popular understanding the neoconservative movement was the Rolling Stones' song "Sweet Neocon." One line goes, "You call yourself a Christian, ... I think that you're a hypocrite." As any reasonably informed person knows, however, Paul Wolfowitz and most other Neocons are in fact Jewish.

Andrew Card resigns

Given the recent tailspin in White House political fortunes, it was inevitable that there would be some staff changes. What was uncertain was whether such changes might portend a shift in policy or political style. This morning's resignation by Andrew Card suggests to me that President Bush is "staying the course" with Karl Rove. The replacement for Card, Josh Bolten, is known to be a close associate of Rove. From the televised announcement in the White House (text available at, he seems like a decent enough guy, but at this point I see no reason to hope that Bush will do what is necessary to regain the political initiative. What Bush really needs is some political veteran from outside the White House who can tell the President the painful truths he needs to hear. That is the role served by Howard Baker in the Reagan White House after the Iran-Contra scandal broke out. Andrew Card was one of my favorites in the White House, showing a rare combination of political wisdom, effectiveness, and human decency. He was the guy who whispered to Bush the awful news about the 9/11 attacks when Bush was visiting an elementary school in Florida. The President's top assistants have been under terrible stress and fatigue lately, and this is one of those cases where needing "to spend more time with one's family" sounds sincere. Good job, Andrew!

Posted (or last updated or commented upon): 28 Mar 2006, 1: 01 PM

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