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

Robert J. Samuelson:

History is not an exam question. It's chaotic, contradictory and immensely complicated. Even in retrospect, it's often unfathomable. As for the future, finding a framework is - in my view virtually impossible. Francis Fukuyama's original essay and the ten-year retrospective dispute this. In many ways, these essays are dazzling. But because they attempt the impossible, I do not find them very useful as a guide to the future or a roadmap for policy.

There is, of course, a real void to be filled. For more than four decades, the Cold War imposed a framework on American thinking, providing us both with a threat and moral purpose. The post-Cold War quest has been to discover some similar formula to fuse national interests and ideals. In this sense, Fukuyama's original thesis aimed to fill the void. For all its apparent originality, it followed recent American tradition as exemplified by, say, the Marshall Plan and Henry Luce's essay "The American Century." Americans have always hoped that material prosperity would be a liberating and democratizing influence.

Fukuyama's new twist was to argue that what we wanted to happen had acquired a large element of inevitability. Peoples and societies whose histories and cultures were hostile to market economies and liberal politics had suddenly become converts - or were showing signs of becoming so. The implication for policy (it seemed) was that we should use our immense economic and political power to hasten the process. And this has been, I think, a centerpiece of U.S. foreign policy for much of the past decade. We have promoted freer markets and faster global economic growth through more trade and international investment on the theory that this would advance both our interests and ideals. For his part, Fukuyama glimpsed - again, in his original essay - a future in which historically dissimilar societies would, through the triumph of market economics and liberal politics, have more and more in common. As a result, the world would grow more peaceful and stable. Indeed, it might be bland and boring. Where are we? Well, a decade is not very long. Perhaps a century from now Fukuyama's essay will be seen as brilliantly prophetic. The world will be bland and boring. I hope so. But I doubt it. One obvious problem with his theory is whether Fukuyama's world is stable on its own terms. The answer may be "no." What we call a "market" is simply an arena in which buyers and sellers, savers and investors, can engage in routine transactions. When these occur mainly within one society, market transactions flourish on a foundation of common laws, culture, language and customs. The more these transactions occur across borders - "globalization", a term that is virtually absent in the original essay but dominates the second - the more the foundation must be constructed.

The simplest explanation of the "Asian economic crisis" is that lenders and investors (mainly from the United States, Europe and Japan) on the one hand, and the recipients of loans and investments (mainly from "emerging" market countries) on the other, operated on different assumptions and goals - and misunderstood and exploited each other. As Fukuyama points out, there are formidable obstacles to the development of open markets within traditional societies. The same is true of cross-border markets. The possibilities for miscommunication and miscalculation are greater than within national markets, and they may be unmediated by governmental institutions. In the United States, we have the Federal Reserve, the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. (deposit insurance), and the Securities and Exchange Commission (securities disclosure and trading regulations), to name a few. There are no international institutions with comparable power to oversee global markets.

Some free-market advocates regard this as an advantage, noting - correctly - that regulatory agencies routinely blunder and are often "captured" by the "special interests" they are supposed to regulate. But on balance - at least in the United States - the benefits of these agencies have outweighed the costs. They often help create market rules, establish political legitimacy and compensate for crises (particularly true of the Federal Reserve in financial crises). The international economic institutions we have - most prominently, the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank, the World Trade Organization - have performed fairly well, but their future is hardly certain. They face three obvious problems:

1) If global markets expand, the power and responsibilities of these agencies may also need to expand - that is, they may have to wrest more power from national governments in setting rules for commerce, overseeing financial markets and intervening during crises. But there may be no consensus about precisely what should be done or whether it should be allowed.

2) Until now, these agencies - particularly the IMG and World Bank - have functioned in a fairly undemocratic way, with most power vested in unelected bureaucrats and the representatives of a few big countries (mainly, the United States). These arrangements could break down as more countries (particularly China, India and, possibly, Russia) become fully engaged with the world economy.

3) Countries accepted the authority of these institutions on the assumption that the global economy would grow rapidly - that benefits would ultimately outweigh the costs. But suppose that today's slow global economic growth were to be a harbinger of the future? What happens then?

In short, the global marketplace may be less benign than Fukuyama supposes. Technology also threatens its stability. Fukuyama depicts technology mainly as a force for good, lifting living standards and creating the economic and social conditions for a liberal political order. But modern technological societies are interconnected in ever more intricate ways that create mutual vulnerabilities. We may be exposed to cyber attacks, terrorism or simple breakdowns in other countries' computer systems. Large countries have, until now, enjoyed some protection by their sheer size. But spreading technology (including lower costs of acquiring weapons of mass destruction) may make global conflict more democratic.

These issues - and many more, including the durability of historic ethnic and cultural conflicts - raise doubts that history will end in blandness and boredom. The main drama, if we are to believe Fukuyama, will be whether the liberal democratic state triumphs. But the main story may lie somewhere else entirely. Here is one possibility: Fukuyama assumes that democratic societies will, on the whole, be stable. Perhaps they will. But they may also face internal pressures that alter the way they operate or even threaten their existence. For example, most European countries, Japan and the United States face rapidly aging populations that will compel them to reduce welfare benefits sharply for their elderly or face the prospect of much higher taxes or budget deficits - developments that could endanger their economies. How will societies cope with these stresses?

I can't predict; neither can Fukuyama. He seems to recognize the futility of his original exercise and, in this retrospective, acts like a man searching for some ingenious way to acknowledge its futility without agreeing with his critics or completely repudiating his original argument. How else to explain his excursion into science and biotechnology? It's fascinating, but it seems thoroughly disconnected from the rest of the argument. And that, of course, is the point. He contends that the future of science is indeterminate and that "History cannot come to an end as long as modern natural science has no end." True enough, though a lot of other things are equally indeterminate. But if it's good enough for Fukuyama, it's good enough for me.

Robert J. Samuelson is a columnist for the Washington Post Writers Group and Newsweek. He is author of The Good Life and Its Discontents: The American Dream in the Age of Entitlement, 1945-1995 (Vintage Books, 1995).

Joseph S. Nye:

As someone who always found Hegel (not to mention Kojeve) impenetrable, I will leave others to judge the adequacy of Fukuyama's version of history in its Hegelian-Marxist sense of the progressive evolution of human institutions, as well as his speculations about biotechnology changing human nature. Instead, I will focus on his views of how economic modernization and technological change - particularly the information revolution - are transforming international politics.

Despite some worries in 1998, Fukuyama's ideas still look viable a decade later. There is no longer one single competitor to liberal capitalism as an overarching ideology. The major response and competitor to liberal capitalism is a diverse set of subnational, national and transnational identities loosely labeled "nationalism." Globalization and the information revolution are changing the environment of the interstate system, with both transnational integration and subnational fragmentation occurring simultaneously. Fukuyama's bet is that the integrative and democratizing forces will prevail in the race.

Other things being equal, he is probably right. The decentralizing effects of the internet will probably reinforce the trends he describes. Not all democracies are leaders in the information revolution, but many are. This is no accident. Their societies are familiar with the free exchange of information, and their systems of governance are not threatened by it. They can shape information because they can also take it. Authoritarian states, typically among the laggards, have more trouble. Governments such as China's can still limit their citizens' access to the internet by controlling service providers and monitoring the relatively small number of users. Singapore has thus far been able to reconcile its political controls with an increasing role for the internet.

Essay Types: Essay