A couple of thoughts from Fukuyama

In the wake of our own “Orange Revolution,” Francis Fukuyama is taking a lot of flak. His End of History thesis is being blamed for the spread of little-“l” liberal complacency and the comfortable elitism that corrupted both left and right. He may not be such a deserving punching bag.

Fukuyama’s End of History did a pretty good job of anticipating Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin. It did a pretty good job of anticipating the anomie and aimlessness that might drive people toward self-destructive political choices. Almost thirty years after his original thesis, he still seems to have a better read on our political situation than either the Marxist theorists he was skewering or the emerging culture-warriors like Huntington who most fiercely opposed him. It may be a mistake to dismiss Fukuyama out of hand.

Here a few excerpts from The End of History to chew on over the weekend.

The end of history would mean the end of wars and bloody revolutions. Agreeing on ends, men would have no large causes for which to fight. They would satisfy their needs through economic activity, but they would no longer have to risk their lives in battle. They would, in other words, become animals again, as they were before the bloody battle that began history. A dog is content to sleep in the sun all day provided he is fed, because he is not dissatisfied with what he is. He does not worry that other dogs are doing better than him, or that his career as a dog has stagnated, or that dogs are being oppressed in a distant part of the world. If man reaches a society in which he has succeeded in abolishing injustice, his life will come to resemble that of the dog. Human life, then, involves a curious paradox: it seems to require injustice, for the struggle against injustice is what calls forth what is highest in man.

The revolutionaries who battled with Ceaucescu’s Securitate in Romania, the brave Chinese students who stood up to tanks in Tiananmen Square, the Lithuanians who fought Moscow for their national independence, the Russians who defended their parliament and president, were the most free and therefore the most human of beings. They were former slaves who proved themselves willing to risk their lives in a bloody battle to free themselves. But when they finally succeed, as they eventually must, they will create for themselves a stable democratic society in which struggle and work in the old sense are made unnecessary, and in which the possibility of their ever again being as free and as human as in their revolutionary struggle had been abolished. Today, they imagine that they would be happy when they get to this promised land, for many needs and desires which exist in present-day Romania or China would be fulfilled. One day they too will all have dishwashers and VCRs and private automobiles. But would they also be satisfied with themselves? Or would it turn out that man’s satisfaction, as opposed to his happiness, arose not from the goal itself, but from the struggle and work along the way?

With these thoughts in mind, take a look at a couple of headlines from the post-historical world:

Why Millennials are avoiding sex

Japan has a worrying number of virgins

We may face an evolutionary glitch that drives us back toward political failure. Material success and human satisfaction may be irrevocably at odds. No one has yet posited a persuasive alternative to liberal democracy, but we have also failed to tame the animal spirits that make representative government so difficult to sustain. Monarchy and Communism presented themselves as a philosophical alternative to representative government and failed. Trump, Putin and even the Islamic radicals of the Middle East seem less like an alternative to liberal democracy than a base human rebellion against the experience of being tamed.

38 Comments

  1. Interesting post, I always admired Fukuyama for admiting where he went wrong and not being afriad to speak out when he felt something went wrong, such as when he abandoned neoconservatism. He always struck me an profundly intellectually honest.

    “Human life, then, involves a curious paradox: it seems to require injustice, for the struggle against injustice is what calls forth what is highest in man.” This is true but I can’t think of a healthy way of channeling this in the modern day without causing avoidable conflicts. Anyways Fukuyama’s views about how people who are materially satisfied can still feel unfulfilled, with the implication they could drift towards extremes, seems to be correct. Heck alot of the worst extremism we see on the internet comes from middle-to-upper class kids looking for a cause. Even Bin Laden was a billionare, and that didn’t stop him from supporting Wahhibism.

    I think liberal democracy is worth keeping but many people clearly need to feel they are apart of something larger. If we can’t find a way to satisfy that urge in a healthy manner than we really do just have to learn to live with the occasional populist political revolts and at worst development of occasional political/religious groups who may become genuine terrorists every now and then.

    1. One of the unfortunate by-products of financial security can be the loss of gratefulness. It is a trait that I see more often in older people, particularly minorities. Their life experiences and their cultural background and their elders have modeled humility and graciousness.

    2. Griff, The Weekly Sift explores the question of “how can we enable the process of realization that support for Trump was a mistake”? You’ll see some of Chris’ ideas echoed and some new approaches.

      “Trumpism will fail as a political movement because the people who voted for Trump will look at their own undeniable experiences and change their minds. It’s something they will do for themselves, not something we can do to them or for them. The best we can do is to help that process along. So how?”

      For answers, read the post. https://weeklysift.com/2016/12/19/how-will-they-change-their-minds/

    1. Stephen, Aaron posted this in Off Topic as a guide to help us prepare for intervention/action under the topic: “What Active Steps Are We Taking”, by Hoonteo. It is a live site, meaning updates are ongoing as important, and it is public for all who need an outline to become politically active. I think there are some great ideas in there. Key is knowing when to use them and being ready to do so. That ‘s the value in having done the prelim research as to names, contact info.

      Glad to see the doc is making the rounds.

  2. Found this on the Big Picture Blog. A little off the subject.

    https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2016-12-15/world-energy-hits-a-turning-point-solar-that-s-cheaper-than-wind

    Perry may not be able to do the damage people fear to the energy department. And plain old economics may do more than regulations to stem the rise of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. The solar power is projected to be half the cost of coal and cheaper than natural gas too. We seem to be evading Malthus again.

  3. I”m sorry for this Off Topic post, but, did everyone hear about this? Not only is the technology critical but TRump needs to keep his mouth shut. He is NOT POTUS yet! The man is a disaster!

    https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/national-security/china-said-it-would-return-a-seized-us-naval-drone-trump-told-them-tokeep-it/2016/12/18/9e3f6f82-c4d3-11e6-9a51-cd56ea1c2bb7_story.html?utm_term=.39f211b210a2&wpisrc=nl_wemost&wpmm=1

  4. EJ

    As one of the blog’s younger readers, I’m a little annoyed at that Washington Post article. I mean, I can still remember a few years ago when newspapers were complaining luridly about how young people today are having too much sex. Now they’re complaining about us having too little.

    Dear older people: what is, in your view, a non-newsworthy amount of sex for my generation to be having?

    1. From one of the blog’s oldest readers, I haven’t a clue, and frankly even less interest in the sexual activity of your generation. I do have concern about world population – such as – do we have more people than jobs, food, shelter can support etc…But, other than that, I am far more interested in finding ways to involve Millennials in the progressive movement.

  5. This post is evocative of discussions generated by the very first module that I undertook on my post graduate course in Sustainability and Adaptation. We were tasked with designing a post-carbon society based around a geographical area in Wales and one of the areas we had to look at was the thorny issue of what constituted human needs. One definition that interested me was the framework posited by Manfred max Neef, but what really gave me food for thought was his differentiation between what a need is, and what a satisfier of that need might be. An example of a need might be, for instance, the need for Affection, and a “satisfier” of that need would be “family structure” or “community”. Satisfiers are either endogenous or exogenous, and may be destructive, false, inhibiting, or they may be synergistic, and truly meet a need in a way that allows full, creative human participation in society. In this context, control, dominance and authoritarianism are inadequate, destructive satisfiers of the fundamental human need for protection. Seen in this context, phenomena like Brexit or Trump become understandable. They are symptoms of communities that have lost their understanding of what human needs are and what constitutes satisfiers that would truly satisfy, and not prove to be a false horizon. Someone, somewhere recently stated that Farage, Trump and Le Penn are the equivalent of cultural heroin. The satisfaction is transient, and the ensuing self destruction is resounding

    1. Extrapolating from that excellent analogy, hoonteo, religion (opium of the masses) would also be seen as satisfier. Witness the Trump supporters who justified their votes for him on the basis of his pro-life assertions while ignoring his many moral predilections, including prior pro-choice statements.

      1. It’s hard to overstate the effectiveness of the hate campaign by the right for HRC. I recently listened to an interview by Charlie Rose of Tom and Jim Steyer, billionaire brothers who are very active in environmental and childrens’ issues and supporters of the Democratic Party. Jim Steyer stated that he had known and worked with HRC for 35 years on children’s issues….noting her sincere interest and significant work and contributions in this area. He stated that she would likely return to this area for future activism as she has such passionate interest in it. Here’s a link to the interview which is not long and very engaging.

        https://charlierose.com/videos/29631

  6. Chris, not sure if you’ve ever read much literature / philosophy on the concept of Utopia. You may find it relavant. Plato, in his book _Republic_ talks about the city of sows which is similar to the “end of history” world that Fukuyama posits. You’re asking the ultimate question: what makes a person happy? Is it the fulfillment of all material wishes? Do we then become dog-like, content to sit in the sun? Or is it struggling against a great power and exercising your will to power against it?

    Maybe it’s different for different people: plenty of Russians *didn’t* stand on top of the parliament building. They chose to pursue happiness on a “smaller” scale of enjoying their families and friends, and leaving the question of communism vs. democracy up to young people who don’t yet have anything to lose nor treasure.

    My own personal view is far more prosaic: Americans have had it good for so long they’ve forgotten how easy it is to fall, and how much work it requires to rebuild once that happens (indeed, most civilizations, after falling once, don’t rise again). Politics to most Americans is a game, a team sport less important to their wellbeing than their hometown football team. Regardless of who wins, the trains still generally run on time, the roads are still reasonably smooth, and the stores are still well stocked. One can therefore cast one’s vote based on whether two guys in San Fran (a place one’s never visited and never will) should marry or not, whether food should be GMO or non-GMO, etc. We Americans have that luxury of viewing politics as just another form of entertainment.

    Take for example, the current Republican war on civil servants (or, e.g. the more extreme elements of BLM and their war on police): they continue to demonize the civil service, calling them overpaid, lazy, ineffective, etc. so they can gut their pensions and salaries and shut down entire departments. Taking pot shots at people who are barred from defending themselves is fun, and is a cheap way of scoring political points. And people love joining in. They complain about stupid bureaucrats but can’t recall the last time their Social Security check appeared late or had an incorrect amount on it. Or complain about waiting an hour at the DMV but don’t notice they’ve never had to bribe a clerk to get their license. Or go on and on about activist judges but never have to worry about the impartiality of their own judge if they find themselves in a courtroom.

    It took America several generations to stamp out corruption and create a modern, efficient civil service that despite its flaws (which we should undoubtedly improve), serves the public remarkably well. Once we actually lose it, people will learn very quickly what a dysfunctional government means. Just ask ordinary citizens in places like India and Pakistan what it means to live under a corrupt, predatory civil service. Not coincidentally, India has a higher voter turnout than the U.S.

    History doesn’t end. At best, we manage to pause it during a good scene. But stop doing the work required to keep our country out of history’s brutal treatment, and it’ll start playing again soon enough.

    1. Timely information, WX Wall. The Justice Division has captured over $53 Billion in fines and judgments for the US Treasury since 1986 through work under the False Claims Act. It will likely be spared the budget axe since it’s a revenue generator;

      http://www.pogo.org/blog/2016/12/federal-fraud-recoveries-fy-2016.html

      However, the EX-IM Bank may not fare as well despite turning over more than $6.9 Billion since 1992. In fact, this division is unable to loan money as Republicans won’t approve a nomination to the board to allow it to have a functioning quorum…much like the NLRB, which is unable to act for the same reason.

      Similarly, the IRS has endured budget and staffing cuts which has hamstrung that division from going after people for tax fraud/delinquency, etc. which would not only generate revenue for government operations, it would create credibility and consequences for our tax system.

      As noted, there are many, many other divisions of government that quietly, efficiently function to keep our lives rolling along without a hitch. Our civil service employees generally do a fine job and it’s a shame that our politicians tarnish their efforts purely because they can.

      1. Mary-
        Agreed. For the life of me, I can’t understand why Republicans keep attacking the IRS. Talk about killing the messenger. Congress writes the tax laws. The IRS just enforces them. They are a law-and-order dept just like the FBI or the police. Studies have shown that a dollar spent on the IRS returns three in recovered taxes. And it’s estimated that tax evasion costs us somewhere around $400 *billion* a year (most by corporations and high net worth individuals engaging in complicated schemes that the IRS doesn’t have the money nor political backing to pursue).

        The creators of our modern civil service protected it from political interference because they understood that if you don’t, you’ll only attract politicians to staff them, rather than good administrators. Even after the rule changes, it took generations to change the culture to focus on good administration over political favor.

        I bet there are a lot of good, competent IRS officials who left after the witchhunt Republicans engaged in because the IRS rightly cancelled the tax-exempt status of tea party political groups masquerading as non-profits. Just like lots of climate scientists quietly leaving the energy dept now rather than risk being hauled in front of a kangaroo committee in Congress hellbent on destroying their careers.

        I’ve always felt the problem for Republicans isn’t that the civil service works poorly, it’s that it works too well: you can’t get people to hate the government if it keeps working reasonably well for them (except for deluded Ayn Rand acolytes). So the first step is to make government incompetent, so you can get people to agree with you that it needs to be destroyed. As PJ O’Rourke once joked, Republicans campaign on the premise that govt doesn’t work. Then they get elected and prove it.

      2. WX Wall – Saw a reader comment to a Forbes Apothecary article criticizing the ACA. He stated (and I paraphrase): “The GOP plan all along has been to denigrate and chip away at key parts of the ACA, with the goal of destroying it in the public domain as unworkable, then finish it off by declaring that it was “not working”….

  7. I haven’t been much enjoying the Fukuyama bashing myself. Most arguments against Fukuyama and especially his Hegelian model of history definitely show that the arguer didn’t actually read his book.

    His claim that liberal democracy is the end of history is at several points clarified by the argument, “because there has been no better model developed for self-representation.” Until a better model for self-representation is developed, liberal democracy is the end of history. That puts the responsibility on the part of the critics to develop a better model of self-representation in order to argue against his claims. They haven’t.

    But Fukuyama himself has pointed out the issues with his own thinking: http://www.vox.com/2016/10/26/13352946/francis-fukuyama-ezra-klein

    1. Aaron-
      Thanks for that link. I have to take issue with Fukuyama calling Democrats the party of identity politics. That only works if you assume white, working class as the “default” identity. The truth is Republicans are the party of identity politics: they pander slavishly to the identity politics of their base. They even call their base “real Americans”. It’s sort of like asking “who in America has an accent?” It depends on what you define as the default American accent.

      The reason all the other identities found a home in the Democratic party is precisely because we *didn’t* institute a cultural litmus test. So people who didn’t fit Republican identity politics drifted to Democrats.

      The Democrats fought for civil rights and gay rights not because of African American or gay identity politics, but because we thought that the American Dream should be available to all Americans. Remember that African Americans used to be solid Republicans (party of Lincoln). It wasn’t their votes that motivated LBJ to push for civil rights legislation.

      As a Democrat, I feel we really need to push back against this narrative of “identity politics”. What exactly does that mean? Especially when people ostensibly against “identity politics” then turn around and bemoan the loss of a white, Christian America.

    1. They’re not bored. The specific Fukuyama quotes Chris uses considers the perspective of the slaves but not the former masters.

      Trump voters have lost major relative competitiveness against billionaires, automation, and global markets. Trump is a billionaire with major relative competitiveness. He wants more. He convinces those that have lost major relative competitiveness have done so because of brown people and foreigners and liberals.

      Not because he and his crew are going to take away more of their competitiveness, which he will.

      Trump voters aren’t bored. They’re dumb.

      1. Yea, all the white people I know who voted for Trump who aren’t struggling or religious nuts are aging, relatively affluent bigots. They have money, but they are terrified of Mexicans and blacks and Muslims and all kinds of crap. The kind of people who shake their heads in wonder when you describe plans to spend a weekend in the city. “Be careful.”

      2. EJ

        Remember: the whole “Trump voters are disadvantaged small-town folks” narrative is a myth. Those people voted for Trump, yes, but they also voted for Romney. Looking at the exit polls, we can see that the people that Trump won over were suburban, white and earned more than the national average.

        Like so many nationalist leaders before him, Trump is a phenomenon of the middle classes.

      3. I think it was a combination of classes. I do agree that the middle white class also voted for Trump (and against Hillary), but the movement really seemed to find momentum with working class people. And, 90% of GOP registered voters supported him. This was truly a f**k u election and I continue to believe that the tipping point was Comey’s letter followed by the continuous Wikileaks. Hillary might have made it in spite of everything else (her self-induced campaign mistakes not withstanding), without these last two events.

        We all have our theories, of course, and likely all are true to varying degrees. I am trying to get past the loss that has happened and gird myself for what’s ahead. That really needs to be the focus because we cannot change the election.

        How is the mood in the UK? Are people settling in with the consequences of BREXIT? What do you see as the most concerning outcome of this referendum?

      4. Chris-
        They didn’t invent them. The media did. If you believe Marshall McLuhan’s famous phrase “the medium is the message”. The message of network news is “the world is on fire”. If there is no actual fire, one will have to be stoked.

        People are afraid of venturing into the city because the only news they see is of Chi-raq going up in flames every night (even though crime levels are still far below their peaks). The only Muslims they know are the crazy ISIS guys getting free airtime and publicity for their snuff films on CNN. Even in their own backyards, people don’t let their kids go out and play unsupervised because that one time the news reported a kid got kidnapped (they neglect to report that most child kidnappings in the U.S. are by parents involved in custody battles).

        Can you imagine a clown like Bill O’Reilly saying something like this these days? My hope is that network news dies a quick death. At this stage they do more to disinform the public than inform it.

  8. This article on the work of political exile, Hannah Arendt, “Origins”, segues nicely into this post.

    “she brilliantly diagnosed the forms of alienation and dispossession that diminished human dignity, threatened freedom and fueled the rise of authoritarianism.”

    “… voters freed from conventional partisan attachments were swayed by anti-system movements, parties and leaders, who promised something new and different and whose appeal lay mainly in the very fact that they were new and different. Such appeals can be politically energizing. But by propelling such anti-system movements to political power, these appeals to novelty for its own sake can justify a kind of dictatorial exercise of power unrestrained by legal precedents, parliamentary procedures, or constitutional limits.”

    Her solution decades later? “Civil disobedience.”

    https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/monkey-cage/wp/2016/12/17/how-hannah-arendts-classic-work/?

  9. I am satisfied about my material well being. But the urge to explore is relentless within me. The universe without is a very large expanse and who is to say that inward is not as large. We create our own meaning and to some extent our reality. This is not the first society to provide most of us all the material comfort needed. Some ancient native American ones did and may so call primitive ones did too. I think we can get through this time and our culture will evolve to accommodate the new reality. And BTW I realized humans are domestic a while back. It came to me watching my daughter a gifted animal handler choose her dogs and socialize them. For breeding she chose strength, intelligence, loyalty, an innate sense of territory and the williness to defend it and members of the pack. A by product of breeding was a need for affection and being touched by it’s pack humans. Women have at least as long as dogs have been domesicated been domesicating men. Men think they are in control but are they? I asked why the wife chose me. Her answer was a little more elaborate but was basically what the daughter chose for traits for dog breeding and she controlled breeding to get those desired traits. What kind of world would a woman want to raise her offspring? This may explain some long term trends.

    1. Ah, what kind of world indeed would women design? Could it be that this recent election offered an uncomfortable challenge to our male population in this regard? We’ve all seen the analogies that negatively compare the same qualities exhibited between assertive, accomplished females and their male counterparts. Some of the happiest couples are those which are not in competition with their significant other , but in respectful, shared roles.

    2. Stephen,

      Your daughter understands the pack nature of dogs, but it appears Fukuyama does not.

      Yes, a well fed dog might lie around in the sun — until another dog comes along. In each other’s company, they may behave much differently than each dog would alone.

      Sometimes I think men have a ‘pack’ quality, too. It seems very hard for an individual male to break from the group of males, even in pursuit of something the individual believes in strongly, like justice. The pack is strong.

  10. “Today, they imagine that they would be happy when they get to this promised land, for many needs and desires which exist in present-day Romania or China would be fulfilled. One day they too will all have dishwashers and VCRs and private automobiles. But would they also be satisfied with themselves? Or would it turn out that man’s satisfaction, as opposed to his happiness, arose not from the goal itself, but from the struggle and work along the way?”

    This point strikes a chord with me. That’s a fundamental aspect of human nature that served us very well back in the Stone Ages when we were in competition against critters that were faster, stronger, and armed with big, nasty, sharp, pointy teeth and claws. In the First World there’s not much worry about the big critters that would eat us, our medicine gives us great defenses against many of the little critters that would eat us (granted we are foolishly squandering some of that), and most of us aren’t worrying about when is the next time we can eat. Many of us have what most people in history would consider to be paradise, yet we might just tear it all apart. I consider the story of Adam and Eve and the serpent to be pure bunk if taken as a literal account of human ORIGINS. But as a commentary on human NATURE, it is sublime and brilliant. Give humans paradise, and our contrary, curious, restless, competitive, ambitious nature is going to find some way to throw a wrench into it. We are programmed with expand, expand, conquer on our minds, and that helped us spread all over the Earth. But now we’re coming up against some hard limits which demand that we find a way to live without continued growth or figure a way to get the other planets.

    1. Or, perhaps, we could learn to live with one another….as opposed to always being in conflict or needing to control others.

      The statement that there is an inherent conflict between material success and human satisfaction is troubling. Maybe we need a definition of terms here. What composes “human satisfaction”? Undoubtedly it varies, but how is it being defined for the purposes of this post? I believe that greed and adulation as measures of material success are indicative of fundamentally flawed character development…that these traits are acquired as children, inculcated and acted out as people pursue their place in life. It used to be more important to teach children how to live the “Golden Rule” than it was to push them to excel. Now we start our children in competitive sports at obscenely young ages, and this need to dominate builds from there.

      Maybe what is needed is more emphasis and respect for our differences rather than so much focus on our exceptional qualities. The need for control and dominance is seen in every aspect of our lives from childhood. Is it any wonder that in adulthood we are witnessing conflict and dysfunction?

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