The more cynical may say it is a small price to pay for achieving the stature of intellectual celebrity, but Francis Fukuyama took some very hard knocks after the publication of his 1992 book, The End of History and the Last Man . Some critics took the end of history part of the title altogether too literally and had a field day lampooning Fukuyamas chronological hubris.
The book was an expansion of a 1989 article by Fukuyama, The End of History? The question mark should not be overlooked. And the thesis of the book is not without nuance: What we may be witnessing is not just the end of the Cold War, or the passing of a particular period of post-war history, but the end of history as such: that is, the end point of mankinds ideological evolution and the universalization of Western liberal democracy as the final form of human government. Then came, among other things, September 11, and many could not resist the temptation to ridicule what they depicted as Fukuyamas confidence in the worlds inevitable conversion to liberal democracy.
Partly in response to Fukuyama, Samuel Huntington published in 1996 The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of World Order . That justly influential book argued that cultural and religious identities, rather than liberal ideology or economic-technological globalization, would be the main driving force in world affairs for the foreseeable future. Subsequent events have tended to vindicate Huntingtons analysis, including his grim evaluation of the bloody borders of Islam.
But Fukuyama has by no means conceded the argument. In the Sept/Oct 2007 issue of The American Interest , he writes: In the decade since it was published, many have argued that the clash of civilizations hypothesis has been proven right by events. There has been a broad rise in religious energies and identity, particularly notable in the Muslim world with the emergence of radical Islamism, but also evident in South Asia, Latin America, the United States, and Russia . . . . Elsewhere, too, as in East Asia, old-fashioned nationalism, which is to say ethno-nationalism, is on the rise.
Having admitted that much, Fukuyama still draws the line against Huntingtons focus on religio-cultural dynamics. Fukuyamas emphasis now is not so much on the advance of liberal democracy as on economic globalization. He concludes his essay: And we are seeing, I believe, the gradual emergence of an international order based on institutions and rules, though this project is in a much less developed state. Integration in the global economy will be more durable and productive of shared prosperity to the extent that it can be based on interests rather than passions, on institutions rather than culture. This is not a Western perspective; it is a global one.
We need not choose between culture and economics. Both are powerful forces in world-historical change. But I confess to a deep skepticism about views of history premised upon rational self-interest and what amounts to a species of economic determinism. For some years I worked with the Council on Religion and International Affairs, now called the Carnegie Council for Ethics and International Affairs, and originally founded by Andrew Carnegie as the Church Peace Union. Carnegie was a great believer in what he viewed as the sacred bonds of commerce, joined to the force of religion, in advancing human progress. The purpose of the Church Peace Union was the abolition of war.
On February 11, 1914, Carnegie gave the organization $2 million, a great deal of money at the time, and addressed a letter to the trustees, a copy of which I kept posted in my office. In that letter, Carnegie said: After the arbitration of international disputes is established and war abolished, as it certainly will be some day, and that sooner than expected, probably by the Teutonic nations, Germany, Britain, and the United States first deciding to act in unison, other powers joining later, the Trustees will divert the revenues of this fund to relieve the deserving poor and afflicted in their distress.
Needless to say, the deserving poor and afflicted are still waiting for their share of the endowment. The first big international project of the Church Peace Union was a conference aimed at the abolition of war to be held on the shores of Lake Constance in southern Germany on August 1, 1914. That week, Mr. Fukuyamas more durable and productive basis of rational interests gave way to the war to end wars. The conference was cancelled. Or, as the organizers said, postponed to a more propitious time. For that, too, the world is still waiting.
While it provides pleasant work for the chattering classes, it is a waste of time to argue that we must choose between religion and culture, on the one hand, or economic and international institutions, on the other. But as that veteran of the worlds of the State Department, Thomas Farr, has argued in the pages of First Things , it is the religion and culture side of the equation that gets slighted in the analyses of most who are deemed to be foreign-policy experts. That is why I have urged that close attention be paid to books such as Mary Habecks Knowing the Enemy: Jihadist Ideology and the War on Terror (Yale) and George Weigels Faith, Reason, and the War Against Jihadism (Doubleday). They are persuasive reminders that what people really believe about the world, no matter how bizarre it may seem to us, shapes what they think needs to be done about the world.
Francis Fukuyama is a valued interlocutor in our public discussion of these questions. Whatever his missteps in advancing the end of history thesis, they are not corrected by embracing a form of economic determinism.
The End of History and the Last Man by Francis Fukuyama
The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of World Order by Samuel P. Huntington
The American Interest , Sept/Oct 2007
Knowing the Enemy: Jihadist Ideology and the War on Terror by Mary Habeck
Faith, Reason, and the War Against Jihadism by George Weigel
We launched the First Things 2023 Year-End Campaign to keep articles like the one you just read free of charge to everyone.
Measured in dollars and cents, this doesn't make sense. But consider who is able to read First Things: pastors and priests, college students and professors, young professionals and families. Last year, we had more than three million unique readers on firstthings.com.
Informing and inspiring these people is why First Things doesn't only think in terms of dollars and cents. And it's why we urgently need your year-end support.
Will you give today?