The End of Fukuyama: Why his latest pronouncements miss the mark (Christopher Hitchens, March 1, 2006, Slate)

The three questions that anyone developing second thoughts about the Iraq conflict must answer are these: Was the George H.W. Bush administration right to confirm Saddam Hussein in power after his eviction from Kuwait in 1991? Is it right to say that we had acquired a responsibility for Iraq, given past mistaken interventions and given the great moral question raised by the imposition of sanctions? And is it the case that another confrontation with Saddam was inevitable; those answering “yes” thus being implicitly right in saying that we, not he, should choose the timing of it? Fukuyama does not even mention these considerations. Instead, by his slack use of terms like “magnet,” he concedes to the fanatics and beheaders the claim that they are a response to American blunders and excesses.

That’s why last week was a poor one for him to pick. Surely the huge spasm of Islamist hysteria over caricatures published in Copenhagen shows that there is no possible Western insurance against doing something that will inflame jihadists? The sheer audacity and evil of destroying the shrine of the 12th imam is part of an inter-Muslim civil war that had begun long before the forces of al-Qaida decided to exploit that war and also to export it to non-Muslim soil. Yes, we did indeed underestimate the ferocity and ruthlessness of the jihadists in Iraq. Where, one might inquire, have we not underestimated those forces and their virulence? (We are currently underestimating them in Nigeria, for example, which is plainly next on the Bin Laden hit list and about which I have been boring on ever since Bin Laden was good enough to warn us in the fall of 2004.)

In the face of this global threat and its recent and alarmingly rapid projection onto European and American soil, Fukuyama proposes beefing up “the State Department, U.S.A.I.D., the National Endowment for Democracy and the like.” You might expect a citation from a Pew poll at about this point, and, don’t worry, he doesn’t leave that out, either. But I have to admire that vague and lazy closing phrase “and the like.” Hegel meets Karen Hughes! Perhaps some genius at the CIA is even now preparing to subsidize a new version of Encounter magazine to be circulated among the intellectuals of Kashmir or Kabul or Kazakhstan? Not such a bad idea in itself, perhaps, but no substitute for having a battle-hardened army that has actually learned from fighting in the terrible conditions of rogue-state/failed-state combat. Is anyone so blind as to suppose that we shall not be needing this hard-bought experience in the future?

I have my own criticisms both of my one-time Trotskyist comrades and of my temporary neocon allies, but it can be said of the former that they saw Hitlerism and Stalinism coming—and also saw that the two foes would one day fuse together—and so did what they could to sound the alarm. And it can be said of the latter (which, alas, it can’t be said of the former) that they looked at Milosevic and Saddam and the Taliban and realized that they would have to be confronted sooner rather than later. Fukuyama’s essay betrays a secret academic wish to be living in “normal” times once more, times that will “restore the authority of foreign policy ‘realists’ in the tradition of Henry Kissinger.” Fat chance, Francis!

Mr. Hitchens’ questions here are too particular, especially where Mr. Fukuyama is concerned, his End of History having been a universalist argument:

The twentieth century saw the developed world descend into a paroxysm of ideological violence, as liberalism contended first with the remnants of absolutism, then bolshevism and fascism, and finally an updated Marxism that threatened to lead to the ultimate apocalypse of nuclear war. But the century that began full of self-confidence in the ultimate triumph of Western liberal democracy seems at its close to be returning full circle to where it started: not to an “end of ideology” or a convergence between capitalism and socialism, as earlier predicted, but to an unabashed victory of economic and political liberalism.

The triumph of the West, of the Western idea, is evident first of all in the total exhaustion of viable systematic alternatives to Western liberalism. In the past decade, there have been unmistakable changes in the intellectual climate of the world’s two largest communist countries, and the beginnings of significant reform movements in both. But this phenomenon extends beyond high politics and it can be seen also in the ineluctable spread of consumerist Western culture in such diverse contexts as the peasants’ markets and color television sets now omnipresent throughout China, the cooperative restaurants and clothing stores opened in the past year in Moscow, the Beethoven piped into Japanese department stores, and the rock music enjoyed alike in Prague, Rangoon, and Tehran.

What we may be witnessing is not just the end of the Cold War, or the passing of a particular period of postwar history, but the end of history as such: that is, the end point of mankind’s ideological evolution and the universalization of Western liberal democracy as the final form of human government. This is not to say that there will no longer be events to fill the pages of Foreign Affair’s yearly summaries of international relations, for the victory of liberalism has occurred primarily in the realm of ideas or consciousness and is as yet incomplete in the real or material world. But there are powerful reasons for believing that it is the ideal that will govern the material world in the long run.

Instead, on the basis of his own theory, Mr. Fukyama might ask himself these questions:

(1) Is Islamicism appreciably different than Nazism, communism, socialism, etc. were either in terms of ideological structure or likelihood of succeeding as a political system?

(2) If you somehow arrive at affirmative answers to those two questions, then: is Islamicism likely to defeat “economic and political liberalism” as those others failed to do, or at least to achieve a long term modus vivendi, such that we’ll be forced to recognize Islamicism as a viable alternative to liberal democracy?

(3) If you somehow arrive at an affirmative response there, then the question is: oughtn’t we strangle Islamicism in its crib, as we failed to do to Bolshevism in Russia and Nazism in Germany? If the answer to all these is, more sensibly, in the negative, then: aren’t the current events that cause us all so much consternation, just one more chapter in the completion of the victory of liberalism in the material world, exactly the kind of event Mr. Fukuyama acknowledged would continue to fill the pages of Foreign Affairs (and the NY Times Magazine)?

It’s hardly surprising that folks aren’t enjoying this chapter of the Long War anymore than they did the prior ones, but it is shocking that some are losing confidence in the outcome during what is far and away the easiest and least bloody yet written.

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