Responses to Fukuyama

Responses to Fukuyama

Mini Teaser: Harvey Mansfield, E.O. Wilson, Gertrude Himmelfarb, Robin Fox, Robert J. Samuelson and Joseph S. Nye

by Author(s): Harvey C. MansfieldE.O. WilsonGertrude HimmelfarbRobin FoxRobert J. Samuelson

Gertrude Himmelfarb:

I suffer from the professional deformation of the historian. Philosophers can see the eternal verities that transcend history. Political scientists can see the abstract processes that underlie history. Historians can only see history itself, the "epiphenomena" of history, it might be said pejoratively - the messy, unpredictable, contradictory, transitory, yet ineluctable facts of history.

Yet even historians can be seduced by grand theories. As a freshman in college, shortly after the beginning of the Second World War, I was privileged to hear a lecture by a distinguished historian, an expert on nationalism who happened to be a refugee from Germany. What we were witnessing, he assured us, was the last gasp of nationalism, an ideology in its death throes. That ideology was a vestige of nineteenth-century romanticism, which had barely survived the First World War and would surely come to an end in the Second, together with those other obsolete ideas, the nation-state and capitalism.

Shortly thereafter, another great historian, Fernand Braudel, found himself in a prisoner-of-war camp in Germany, and took the opportunity of his enforced leisure to write his monumental book on the Mediterranean world in the age of Philip II, a work designed to illustrate his theory of la longue duree - that history was shaped not by the interests, passions or ideas of men but by the "inanimate forces", the "deeper realities", of geography, demography and economy. The book, he later explained, was a "direct existential response to the tragic times" he was living through.

All those occurrences which poured in upon us from the radio and the newspapers of our enemies. . . . I had to outdistance, reject, deny them. Down with occurrences, especially vexing ones! I had to believe that history, destiny, was written at a much more profound level.

"Vexing occurrences" - Nazism, communism, the Second World War, the Holocaust!

Francis Fukuyama's "End of History" is in the grand tradition of these grand theorists of history. Revisiting that theory ten years later, he continues to "outdistance" himself from, if not quite to "reject" or "deny", such vexing occurrences as the bloody nationalism in the Balkans, the unregenerate fundamentalism in the Middle East, the economic and political immaturity of much of Africa, the precarious state of the Russian polity and economy, the threat of terrorism (including nuclear and chemical terrorism) on the part of rogue states or rebel factions. Nor is he troubled by dramatic occurrences of another order, the sexual revolution, for example, or the breakdown of the traditional family, both of which have taken place not in remote or backward parts of the world but in the most civilized and advanced parts.

All of these seem not to impinge on what Fukuyama sees as the deeper reality of history, its "fundamental directionality and progressive character." Propelled by two "motors" - the first driving history toward a modern, market-oriented society, the second toward the "struggle for recognition" culminating in the "equal dignity" and "universal rights" of all human beings - history inexorably moves toward its end, the universal establishment of liberal, capitalist democracy.

The grand perspective has one great advantage: it opens up large and dramatic vistas that may not be otherwise discernible. If Fukuyama is not deterred by the kind of evidence that gives pause to a pedestrian historian - if the resurgence of nationalism, fundamentalism and the rest appear to him as mere blips on the screen of history, momentary lapses or regressions to an earlier stage of civilization - he is impressed by other events that clearly take us well into the future. Thus he faults himself for not having anticipated the effects of the extraordinary technological and scientific discoveries of the past few years, discoveries that, as he recognizes, may make liberal democracy itself irrelevant or obsolete. And here he provides not only an important corrective to his original thesis but also a valuable analysis in its own right.

The biotechnological revolution, Fukuyama says, is a revolution of unprecedented character, not the kind of incremental accretion of knowledge that conquers disease or provides us with the amenities of life, but one that is qualitatively different from anything we have ever experienced. Like the technological revolution, it is difficult to resist or control, in part because it acquires a momentum of its own, but also because its immediate benefits may override any consideration of its ultimate potentialities. And those potentialities are awesome indeed. For genetic engineering presents us with nothing less than the specter, as Fukuyama says, of a "new type of human being." And this is a far more radical vision than Hegel's "end of history" or Nietzsche's Last Man. It is, indeed, nothing less than the "end of man", the transcendence of human nature (and of nature itself).

In the meantime, we are caught between the vise of the old and the new - an old human nature that has given us all the goods that Fukuyama properly associates with liberal democracy, but also those "irrationalities" and "primitive passions" that liberal democracy was supposed to have subdued (but so conspicuously did not); and a new human nature that transcends, for good and bad, not only liberal democracy but any recognizable polity, society or history.

Gertrude Himmelfarb is professor emeritus of history at the City University of New York. Her book, One Nation, Two Cultures, will be published by Knopf later this year.

Robin Fox:

My comments will be confined to the use of the Hegel-Kojève theory of history by Fukuyama, and the contradictions and weaknesses entailed in its use.

As a way in, let me examine a major contradiction. In his original article, Fukuyama announced quite clearly that in the Hegelian view, man was "the product of his concrete historical and social environment" and this was deliberately opposed to "earlier natural right theorists" who would have man "a collection of more or less fixed 'natural' attributes." It was, in other words, essential to the Hegelian view that "human nature" was malleable and changed as the successive eras changed. However, in this retrospective Fukuyama argues that the Hegelian theory must be "underpinned by reference to human nature"--indeed by a "fixed natural attribute" which is the Platonic thymos, the "struggle of the soul for recognition." In other words, people by their very natures crave status and recognition and this must be recognized along with the socio-economic and science arguments if we are to understand why history must end in universal liberal democracy. This is eating one's intellectual cake and having it: if we are to produce liberal democrats then "human nature" must be infinitely variable and a product of dialectically engineered historical contingencies; but we cannot have this result without human nature having a fixed element of thymos. This obviously opens up a Pandora's box of possibilities for equally determinative "natural attributes."

"Earlier natural right theorists" posited "fixed 'natural' attributes" existing, usually, in a "state of nature." But this state of nature was not an actual description of man before civilization (even Rousseau's "savages" were largely creatures of his imagination); it was a description of fixed natural attributes that suited the theory (usually a social contract theory) of the philosopher in question. This has been the case from Hobbes to Rawls: from the "war of all against all" to the "original position." Hegel claimed his share of the state of nature with his thymos and the antics of the "first man", another retroactive figure drawn from the logical requirements of his theory, not from natural history. The status struggles of the first man supposedly produced the "master-slave" relationship. But as we shall see, this came incredibly late in human history--almost yesterday.

Hobbes, Rousseau and Hegel were pre-Darwinian and pre-scientific. They did not know the time scale on which man was operating. They thought five thousand years a huge expanse of time and could not have even contemplated the necessary five million. Rawls, Fukuyama and other contemporary thinkers do not have that excuse. We do not have to theorize about "first men" or the "state of nature" any more. We can locate them in time and place, and with the help of archaeology, ethnography, paleontology, ethology and genetics, we can establish some of their main socio-behavioral characteristics. Any theory about our contemporary situation that only evokes one attribute, however important thymos may be, is seriously neglecting the long list of "natural attributes" that we can now establish. And even the "struggle for status"--as Fukuyama recognizes, but only in passing--is not exclusively human: our nearest relatives the chimpanzees have it. In fact all sexually reproducing organisms that indulge in mating competition have it, and a lot else. Man inherited this baggage and put his own twist on it during what Fukuyama recognizes as the "Era of Evolutionary Adaptation." (He means the "Environment of Evolutionary Adaptation" or EEA--the period during which the defining characteristics of a species evolve: for man the late Pleistocene or Upper Paleolithic.)

This brings us to the weakness of the theory, and indeed to all "philosophies of history." Fukuyama only recognizes one "correct" criticism, which is that he did not allow for seismic changes in science. In effect this is a special case of Popper's general refutation of all historicism: that one cannot predict changes in the conditions of change. But there is another weakness that I pointed out in the pages of this journal in direct criticism of Fukuyama (Winter 1992/93). I shall repeat the essence of it here: The fatal error of all concepts of "history" so far is that they take their definitions of the time period of "history" entirely for granted, and treat these arbitrary periods as wholly self-contained.

Fukuyama, for example, occasionally wonders if periods of history might simply be "blips" on the total scale. But what if the period he and others arbitrarily call "history" is itself merely a blip on the scale of "man's historical and social environment"? For that environment is not the five thousand years of the historian and the philosopher, but stretches back at least three and a half million years (to the first tools), and possibly up to five million or more and our break with the chimpanzees. To ignore this huge stretch of human history ("evolution" is simply history over long stretches of time when significant genetic changes occur) and to give privileged treatment to a mere few thousand years of good weather in a particularly warm interglacial, is to make an arbitrary cut-off as to where "history" begins--as well as to where it ends. For even if liberal democracy is indeed some kind of terminal point of this brief period, evolution will not come to a halt.

"History" in other words must be treated as problematic. It cannot just be assumed. Any accounting of the "inevitable" unfolding of history has to include all of what is now contemptuously dismissed as "pre-history" by the historians and philosophers. And in this perspective the whole of "recorded history" is indeed itself less than a blip, and the "triumph of liberal democracy" less than a flicker. The "fixed natural attributes" move to center stage, and even discussions of monumental scientific changes such as Fukuyama envisages will have to take place in their context, for it is with them that we are tinkering, and we should figure out what we are tinkering with before we again succumb to the hubris of thinking we can do anything.

The detailed implications obviously cannot be spelled out here. They are out there in my and other people's work that assumes the evolutionary context. But unless the utterly myopic social sciences, including history, take the whole human period into account, we shall never know whether "history" as they see it is anything more than a series of aberrations--including liberal democracy--that characterizes the brief and unusual interglacial in which we are trapped and which must soon (in geological time) come to its end.

Robin Fox is University Professor of Social Theory at Rutgers University. Two of his books that bear most directly on these issues are The Red Lamp of Incest: A Study of the Origins of Mind and Society (1980) and The Search for Society: Quest for a Biosocial Science and Morality (1989). 

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