Fukuyama – After Neoconservatism

by John Holbo on February 20, 2006

Seems like Fukuyama’s “After Neoconservatism” piece could use a comment box. Let me make a few remarks. I posted something muddled last night at J&B about skepticism about social engineering, an issue Fukuyama discusses. Feel free to drop by and straighten me out. There’s also a connection to my post below. What Fukuyama advocates under the heading ‘what to do’ is worse than unserviceable for the Republican party’s domestic needs. “Effective international institutions that can confer legitimacy on collective action;” “we are serious about the good governance agenda.” These are hardly phrases to conjure with, if what you are conjuring is an image of Democrats as untrustworthy on foreign policy. Fukuyama’s quote from pre-Iraq Kagan is excruciating: “It is precisely because American foreign policy is infused with an unusually high degree of morality that other nations find they have less to fear from its otherwise daunting power.” That was then. But you don’t feed the base big slices of humble pie. It still gets red meat, surely.

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Outside The Beltway | OTB
02.20.06 at 8:42 am



abb1 02.20.06 at 5:16 am

I see The Great Thinker Mr. Fukayama has chosen to keep pretending that this is all about ‘democratization’ as opposed to ‘subjugation’. Wake me up when he stops bullshitting.


Andrew 02.20.06 at 6:17 am

The bloke’s name is fukuyama not fukayama.


John Holbo 02.20.06 at 7:02 am

Spelling corrected. Thanks. (Odd, I guess I’ve been mispelling it for years.)


Barry 02.20.06 at 9:25 am

abb1’s comment can not be repeated too much – the whole Neocon was about imperialism. They didn’t want democracy, either at home or abroad. Democracy means loss of power for the elites, and policies which won’t necessarily be what the Neocons want.


JO'N 02.20.06 at 9:32 am

Maybe I’m too paranoid, but the only reason I can think of that THEY would want people to think that social engineering was unworkable was if it was working very well, thank you. Not in the Wells/Fabian/social welfare sense of the term, but in continually changing American life in ways more amenable to corporate and military desires. That sort of social engineering is being aggressively persued, and has become quite profitable for THEM.

As I said, perhaps a little too paranoid.


Tom Hurka 02.20.06 at 9:52 am

Sorry, but the Fukuyama seems a pretty good analytical piece to me. The longstanding conservative skepticism about attempting large-scale changes in the world got thrown away in the invasion of Iraq, with disastrous consequences. Isn’t that right? Or will the conspiracy theory now be that Cheney planned the occupation/democratization to fail so there would be more years of big contracts for Halliburton?


coturnix 02.20.06 at 9:54 am

Check out what Publius wrote about this article.


John Holbo 02.20.06 at 10:11 am

I should probably have made clearer in the post: I think it’s a thoughtful piece. By criticizing the ‘what to do’ part I didn’t mean to imply the analysis is empty, by any means.


harry b 02.20.06 at 10:37 am

In a way I agree with Tom Hurka; I thought it was, broadly speaking, perfectly sensible.His analysis of neo-conservatism seems about right, and he’s also right to say that it is not only historically linked to Trotskyism, but also imbued with some of the (good) utopian but pragmatic spirit built into the variant of Trotsyism it comes out of.

But everyone who isn’t a neoconservative noticed long ago the dissonance between the neocons’ uncritical optimism about US power when used against non-Americans and their staggering and pessimism about state power when used on behalf of the less advantaged members of society. Did he just notice this? And the left has been banging on for years about the need to “win the hearts and minds” of residents of the ME and Muslims in Europe, something the US is spectacularly ill-positioned to do right now.


abb1 02.20.06 at 11:17 am

…and their staggering and pessimism about state power when used on behalf of the less advantaged members of society.

I don’t think it’s true, actually. I haven’t noticed any small-government/fiscally-conservtive neocons. They are more like national-socialists.

…also imbued with some of the (good) utopian but pragmatic spirit built into the variant of Trotsyism it comes out of.

BS. Leon Trotsky was internationalist, period; the neocons aren’t.

I’ve read an anecdote about a delegation of Jewish merchants who came to Trotsky with a petition to stop looting perpetrated by Red Army soldiers. They said: you’re a Jew, please help us. He replied: I have nothing in common with you; I’m not a Jew, go away.
That’s Trotskyism. Nothing can be farther from the neocons, most of them mere Likud’s lackeys.


Lurker 02.20.06 at 11:20 am

I’ve asked this before and I haven’t got an answer. Yet. Is there a compulsion for the United States of America to undertake any activity whatsoever of any hue and colour anywhere, outside her jurisdiction, jurisdiction, as defined by her, apparently much revered Constitution?

Should it be no, what’s the big deal? See an American, get him out, preferrably back inside the U. S. of A.

Should it be yes, what’s the huge fuss? Mo’ money with bigger guns wins.

Or as it seems to be clearer to me day by day, the Middle East (admit it, when the United States of America says the ‘world’, she can’t think beyond one locale at a time) fiasco is generated so as to facilitate a political platform for internal factions within the United States of America to wash their dirty linen? In which case, who the potter and who the pot?


harry b 02.20.06 at 1:12 pm

abb1 — I didn’t say they actually were Trotskyists, did I?

But, in a way, they are internationalists — they believe, many of them sincerely, that American values are right, and right for everyone, wherever they may be, and might be enforceable by military means. They conflate this with the view that American institutions are right for everyone, and might be enforceable by military means. (And, in my view, this is a bigger disaster than the view that American values are universally right, because I think American institutions are indeed subject to many of the criticisms they make, and there are other models for example of the welfare state which are much more robust against those critiques).

Fukuyama is using “neo-con” very narrowly, and I am adopting his use. So I could just say that what I say is true, and what you say is false, by definition! (I add that just to try and avoid dispute over who counts as a neocon, because lots of people who get called neocons aren’t). I read Commentary regularly, by the way, and while I agree no-one could read it and think they are small govenrment libertarians, even now they are extremely hostile to government action specifically aimed at helping the least advantaged.


Tom Hurka 02.20.06 at 1:15 pm

Harry: Well, I hadn’t noticed the dissonance so clearly before reading Fukuyama’s article. I hope that doesn’t make me a neo-conservative.

And re conservatives’ “staggering pessimism about state power when used on behalf of the less advantaged,” aren’t there two positions? One is that state power can’t accomplish anything and therefore shouldn’t be tried at all. The other is that AMBITIOUS uses of state power will be counterproductive but more local or piecemeal ones can be effective (wasn’t this Popper’s view?).

The second view is clearly what Fukuyama intends; see the reference to James Q. Wilson on crime, for example. Now the cynical view (always amply represented on this site) is that the second view is just a cover for the first, so conservatives only feign concern for the less advantaged in order to maintain the status quo. But if some conservatives really do take that view, aren’t you unfair in talking of their pessimism about state power in general? They’re pessimistic about some, in particular large-scale, uses of state power, but not pessimistic about others.


abb1 02.20.06 at 1:44 pm

Well, I used to read Bill Kristol, had a fairly good impression of him (before all this crap started). I thought outside the foreign policy he’s reasonably liberal.

It’s fair point that they pretty much replaced marxist communism with capitalism/liberalism (a la Fukuyama’s End of History) and in that sense they are similar to Trotskyists. But like I said – there’s just too much of nationalism in these guys; they don’t even hide it. They are all American nationalists and some are Jewish-American nationalists, that’s just so un-Trotskyist…


abb1 02.20.06 at 1:56 pm

…I mean, the whole point of declaring liberal capitalism ‘the End of History’ – i.e. the Workers’ Paradise – is the idea that it provides and guarantees decent life to everybody.

Or I may be projecting too much here.


harry b 02.20.06 at 2:27 pm

Sorry tom, I was exaggerating! Perhaps because I identify so much with their political roots, and because I spend one day a year reading the entire year’s Commentarys I am more interested than some (and than is healthy) in the internal life of neoconservatism.

I think that’s fair enough about soem conservatives (that they are pessimistic about ambitious uses of state power, but not all uses). I also, as I intimated above, think they are often right about their detail-oriented critiques of particular programs, and I think the left in the US would do well to internalise some of those critiques. And, I’ll add, the far left (with which I tend to identify) makes critiques that are very similar, often. But I’d also add that sensible leftists are cautious too, so I’m not sure how distinctively neocon this conservatism is. I do realise, as I write this, that numerous self-declared US liberals have never seen a government program they don’t like, so maybe I define the left as a very small group. But that;s what I suspect it is.

abb1: maybe it something like “as good a life as is feasible”. I confess I haven’t read The End of History. I’m not sure Bill Kristol (or the other second generationers) see themselves as neocons. Moynihan didn’t, though he’s often grouped with them (as Fukuyama does). Nor, I think, did Hook or Shachtman. Yes, I agree about nationalism, though it does vary by individual.

Partial dislaimer: I don’t pay for my issues of Commentary, and only read them for informational purposes…


garymar 02.20.06 at 3:28 pm

Is there a compulsion for the United States of America to undertake any activity whatsoever of any hue and colour anywhere, outside her jurisdiction, jurisdiction, as defined by her, apparently much revered Constitution?

Lurker asked this in post #12, and I’m having difficulty parsing the meaning. Is lurker asking if the US has a compulsion to act outside the Constitution? We have a Constitution, we revere it, therefore we have to violate it? Unclear.

I read Fukuyama’s famous book several years ago, and I thought, “this is a good summation of several of the ideas of Hegel and Nietzsche”. But it seemed stale: there was no hint of the revolution in our understanding of ourselves that the medical and biological discoveries of the past half century have brought about. The book’s problem is that it is pre-biological.

Maybe I was asking too much. Or maybe a book with such a grandiose title was promising far more than it could deliver.


Anderson 02.20.06 at 4:41 pm

Garymar, I wish you’d expanded on your interesting “pre-biological” critique.


ben alpers 02.20.06 at 5:30 pm

A few stray thoughts….

1) Did anyone notice that in his careful enumeration of his many intellectual influences, Fukuyama omitted Alexandre Kojeve? Kojeve is arguably the single most important influence on Fukuyama’s End of History book. Interesting, similarly, that while Fukuyama writes much of Marx in this article, he never mentions Hegel…and Heidegger (through whom Kojeve’s Hegel is inflected) and Nietzsche (who of course provided the idea of the “Last Man”) only show up as thinkers with whom Fukuyama says Leo Strauss disagreed.

2) While Neo-Cons are not, in any simple sense, “small government conservatives” (who may in any case ultimately turn out to be entirely mythical beasts in American political life), they certainly have expressed strong and consistent opposition to certain uses of government. James Q. Wilson on the futility of addressing the social causes of crime has already been mentioned. Affirmative action has also long been particularly hated by the neo-conservatives. Of course what links crime and affirmative action (at least in the neoconservative mind) is race. It’s telling that racial issues are what drove, e.g., Norman Podhoretz to the right. I’m not sure that one can call the peculiar set of neoconservative impulses on racial questions a matter of philosophy so much as a habit of mind (or maybe that’s putting it too kindly…).

3)harry b writes:”Partial dislaimer: I don’t pay for my issues of Commentary, and only read them for informational purposes…”

Is that like reading Playboy for the articles ;-)?


MQ 02.20.06 at 7:22 pm

“I see The Great Thinker Mr. Fukayama has chosen to keep pretending that this is all about ‘democratization’ as opposed to ‘subjugation’.”

He has to do this. All reasonable people know the U.S. only wants to empower the poor downtrodden brown people. If you think otherwise you’re a crazy person, like that nutty Chomsky guy.


Tom T. 02.20.06 at 11:15 pm

Reading through the comments, I’ve already forgotten — who’s giving red meat to whose base?


abb1 02.21.06 at 3:01 am

Ben, fwiw I never detected any vulgar racist overtones a-la Buchanan there. Here’s how Podhoretz explains his conversion:

…So some of us came to regard the U.S. – Soviet conflict, the Cold War, as a battle with the same political and moral weight as the war against Nazism. We were on the American side, passionately, and we were anti-Soviet. Most of the left, by the late sixties, was anti-American, and were certainly not Cold Warriors of any stripe. So that was one very important point. The second point, which was organically related, had to do with the nature of American society. If I had my way, this movement — it wasn’t really a movement, it was more like a tendency — would have been called neo-nationalism because what it really represented was a rediscovery of the values and virtues of American society. And I was and am an American nationalist, an American patriot, whichever word you like to use, and so were all the other neo-conservatives. We loved this country and we came more and more to believe that the traditional attitude of our fellow intellectuals, which ranged from mild disdain to outright hatred, was wrong and dangerous.


Z 02.21.06 at 8:45 am

Maybe it would be useful to study neo-conservatism not only as an ideology but as a position in the field of academia and political power à la Bourdieu. There is probably a lot to learn from the specific social properties of the neo-cons, ancienne and nouvelle vague. I may place an exagerate faith in sociology, but I have the conviction that a multivariate analysis on the social positions of neo-conservatives would be interesting. So, who is the resident sociologist here? Kieran, I believe.


Ben Alpers 02.21.06 at 10:44 am


I was thinking of Norman Podhoretz’s famous essay “My Negro Problem – And Ours” from the February, 1963, issue of _Commentary_.


Brendan 02.22.06 at 3:50 am

I just read the article. What a wonderful opening sentence!

‘As we approach the third anniversary of the onset of the Iraq war, it seems unlikely that history will judge the intervention or the ideas animating it kindly.’

It’s absolutely true, but what a dry understatement. Up there with Hirohito’s ‘The war has developed not necessarily to Japan’s advantage’ after Nagasaki.


odelisk8 02.22.06 at 1:59 pm

Well, there were those of us who expected what is happening in Iraq all along. I suppose we are smarter than Cheney & co.? Maybe. Thing is, I don’t think I’m all that smart. No, this is a case wherein the “idealistic effort to use American power” was hijacked, as usual, by those in a position to profit from it for their own gains. It is a story as old as history itself. Oh, and some of us also saw this whole venture as neoMarxist from the start as well. I credit the man for finally admitting it.

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