Wednesday, October 18, 2006


Fukuyama's Fantasy:Comments On Kakutani's Review of "Democracy, Power and the Neoconservative Legacy
By Thomas Riggins

DEMOCRACY, POWER AND THE NEOCONSERVATIVE LEGACY by Francis Fukuyama, Yale University Press, 226 pages, reviewed by Michiko Kakutani in The New York Times, 3/14/2006 [PA Archives]

This book could well be subtitled “Right Wing Hegelian Wakes Up.” Fukuyama [hereafter FF] you might recall authored “The End of History and the Last Man” (1992) in which he elaborated his own version of neoconservatism predicting the final victory of U.S. style “liberal democracy.” He is now a critic of at least three neocon theses which he formerly shared with the likes of Paul Wolfowitz, Allan Bloom, and William Kristol among others according to Kakautani. FF is now questioning “preventive war, benevolent hegemony and unilateral action.” He has written a powerful critique of Bush’s aggressive war in Iraq from a conservative point of view. So, there is dissension in the ranks!

Reflecting on a speech he heard in which the neocon columnist Charles Krauthammer made a fool of himself by asserting Bush’s war policies had made the U.S. safer, FF said, Kakutani reports, he “could not understand why everyone was applauding the speech enthusiastically, given that the United States had found no weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, was bogged down in a vicious insurgency, and had almost totally isolated itself from the rest of the world by following the kind of unipolar strategy advocated by Krauthammer.” This was a good reflection by FF. Progressives are aware of these facts too but just chalk up people like Krauthammer and those who applaud him as shallow pates. His new book is FF’s response to the realization that the neocon analysis is gibberish.

Kakutani gives another example of this gibberish. William Kristol and Robert Kagan wrote a book (“Present Dangers” 2000) in which they asserted “American foreign policy is infused with an unusually high degree of morality.” This could only be asserted by those who know zip about US foreign policy (and less about morality) which has led to the deaths of millions of innocent people throughout Central and South America, Africa and Asia all to insure American economic and political hegemony. FF objects to the conception of “benevolent hegemony” not for the reasons I gave but because he thinks “it is not sufficient that Americans believe in their own good intentions; non-Americans must be convinced of them as well.” This is made a bit difficult when the US is engaged in widespread activities of kidnapping, illegal imprisonment, torture, murder and other acts which demonstrate our morality and benevolence.

Kakutani quotes FF as follows: “Before other countries accepted U.S. leadership they would have to be convinced not just that America was good but that it was also wise in its application of power, and, through that wisdom, successful in achieving the ends it set for itself.” The idea that an imperial power such as the U.S. acts out notions of morality and benevolence and is good and wise is childish. At any rate, as a result of the war in Iraq, Kakutani points out that “these assumptions now lie in tatters.” It appears that what upsets FF is not that these assumptions are false, but that the neocons and the Bushites have brought them into disrepute.

FF no longer supports “neoconservatism.” He writes that “one of the consequences of a perceived failure in Iraq will be the discrediting of the entire neoconservative agenda and a restoration of the authority of foreign policy realists.” Kakutani ends his review with the following quote from FF: “Repairing American credibility will not be a matter of better public relations; it will require a new team and new policies.”

We have to ask ourselves if this so-called credibility can ever be restored. Earlier I mentioned that FF was a right wing Hegelian. Hegel saw the advance of civilization as a progressive growth and establishment of human freedom. This is just what the neocons keep claiming motivates them. Its not the oil they are after, rather they want to promote democracy and free societies (by which they mean capitalism). FF is himself sympathetic to this view. He shares the notion, as Kakutani puts it “that democracy is likely to expand universally in the long run....” The trouble with this view, as articulated by conservatives, neoconservatives, and “liberals,” is that their notion of “democracy” is conjoined to their notion of what constitutes “freedom” and for them “freedom” entails the capitalist economic system which is dominated by the United States and its “First World” allies.

The real political power in these countries rests with economic elites who control the international financial institutions and transnational corporations which dominate the process of globalization and prevent the independent development of the non-industrialized areas of the world. This harsh historical reality contradicts the tendency towards the universal growth of democracy (freedom) because their (incorrect) conceptions of democracy and freedom are only possible in advanced capitalist societies.

One example. The hostility of the U. S. towards Venezuela is directed towards a democratically elected and popular government. The hostility exists because of the threat this government is perceived to represent to the vested economic interests of U.S. and allied corporate capital in the area. Because these are the dominate interests all of FF’s theories about the spread of democracy or the possibility of a future credible U.S. foreign policy (i.e., one seen as spreading freedom) will come to grief.

Hegel has left behind left wing descendants as well. They are found in the communist, socialist and worker’s movements around the world who envision freedom in a radically different way than the FF’s of this world. Freedom is envisioned as human solidarity, not “free” market exploitation, as putting people before profits and using the economic resources of the world to benefit all of its people not just a class of elite owners of capital. I agree with FF that the Bushites have to go, but so does he.

Thomas Riggins is the book review editor of Political Affairs and can be reached at

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