Thursday, November 3, 2016

Christian Realism: An Honest man without God—the Dilemma of Francis Fukuyama [part 1]

[first published May 12, 2016]

by David Pence

Francis Fukuyama writes big books about big subjects. His father was an American-born son of a Japanese father who had fled conscription during the Russo-Japanese War of 1905. His paternal grandparents were interned during the Second World War, but his dad and aunts were in Midwest colleges and thus spared. His father became a Congregational minister who then received a degree in sociology at the University of Chicago, and became a college Religious Studies professor. In all the many interviews with Professor Fukuyama no one thought it interesting to ask if his father’s movement from being a Christian minister to a teacher of Religious Studies meant that he had traded believing and praying to Christ for studying about religion as a sociological function.

Mr. Fukuyama’s mother came to the United States after WWII from her homeland in Japan. Francis was an only child, and remembers from many dinner-table conversations that he was more conservative than his father. Fukuyama received a BA in Classics at Cornell where he was shaped by his academic encounter with Allan Bloom (Closing of the American Mind). He spent a year in France and came in contact with Jacques Derrida, which left him with an intellectual and visceral distaste for the deconstructionist project. At Harvard he turned to political science and was inspired by Samuel Huntington (Soldier and State, The Clash of Civilizations). Unlike most professors but similar to Bloom, Huntington was cross-disciplinary. He asked big questions and proposed synthesizing paradigms. Fukuyama’s voracious intellect has been moved to do the same. (CNN world affairs journalist Fareed Zakaria is another student of Huntington.) After his studies, Fukuyama worked in policy development at the State Department and at the Rand Corporation. He wrote his doctoral thesis on the Soviet Union in the Mideast.

In 1989 as the Berlin Wall fell and the Soviet Union imploded, the 37-year-old Fukuyama was invited by his old teacher Alan Bloom to give a lecture at the University of Chicago called "The End of History?"  His talk was a rare combination of history and classical political philosophy that was not well understood by later critics, but the lecture won the social recognition of his old teacher.  A "neoconservative" journal, The National Interest, published Fukuyama’s subsequent article "The End of History?" and the author was lionized and demonized into that rare but relished social niche: a true public intellectual. In 1992 Fukuyama published The End of History and the Last Man as a book, and in 2006 re-published with a new afterword. The question mark in the earlier essay was gone.

Fukuyama’s thesis was that liberal democracy might be "an endpoint of human ideological evolution" and the "final form of human government." Georg Hegel (German philosopher of history: 1770-1831), Karl Marx (German philosopher, author of Communist Manifesto: 1818-1883) and Alexandre Kojeve (Russian-born French philosopher / Hegelian: 1902-1968) all agreed that the history of human social organization was moving toward some final end... with Karl Marx seeing this as the falling away of the state and the emergence of the classless society of Communism. Mr. Fukuyama was acutely aware of what is largely forgotten today -- that this Marxist vision of the grand narrative of human history  was shared by a large portion of university intellectuals until the great unraveling of the Soviet Union. His essay had an ironic bite for the Marxist intellectuals: "Hey guys, guess things didn’t work out in the countries that tried communism as well as in your classrooms." An understated element in his paper was the simple acknowledgement that the inevitability of communism no longer qualified as being on "the right side of history." Unlike post-modern deconstructionists and foreign policy realists, Fukuyama was not going to leave the matter there. He proposed with a question mark that possibly liberal democracy and free markets were the real end form of historical social organization. They offered the best forms to achieve liberty and equality -- two of the driving forces in history. The "end of history" didn’t mean "events were coming to an end." It didn’t even mean that liberal democracies would prevail everywhere in the next 50 years. His argument was first that there is a Human History with a big H. That is true because there is a human nature. These were philosophical statements which were especially aimed at the dominant school in international relations: the so-called realists. He notes (in a chapter 'The Unreality of Realism'): "…theorists of international relations talk as if history did not exist—for example as if war and imperialism were permanent aspects of the human horizon…While all other aspects of human social environment—religion, the family economic organization, concepts of political legitimacy—are subject to historical evolution, international relations is forever identical to itself; war is eternal." This is a crucial distinction between Fukuyama and the so-called realists who dominate international relations in academia. Fukuyama’s teacher Allan Bloom also believes in human nature and the triumph of the West. In his summation of  his student’s "bold and brilliant article," he said:
"As Fukuyama underlines, it is the ideas of freedom
and equality that have animated the West and have
won by convincing almost all nations that they are
true, by destroying the intellectual and political
foundations of alternative understandings of justice.
The challenges to the West from fascism and
communism were also ideas, formulated to oppose
the success of the historical embodiments of
Enlightenment principles which swept the world
after the American and French Revolutions."

Fukuyama adds another quite unsuspected element to his analysis when he agrees with Hegel and Kojeve that the Anglo-Saxon theorists of liberal democracy who seek a political order that satisfies reason and desire in man are ignoring a key element of the human soul. That is the drive for recognition lodged in the thumos where spiritedness and courage also abide. "Economic interpretations of history are incomplete and unsatisfying," says Fukuyama, "because man is not simply an economic animal. It is for this reason the book turns to a second parallel account of the historical process…an account that seeks to recover the whole of man…to do this we return to Hegel’s non-materialist account of History based on 'the struggle for recognition.' "

And in this struggle the liberal democracy and free market has been the best system not only to be rational, and meet desires but to offer an equality of recognition—the homogenous state in which each and all are accorded the stature men seek. As Bloom says: "Everything that stood in the way of the reciprocal recognition of men’s dignity as men always and everywhere has been buried by history i.e. the supra-rational claims of religion, nation, family, and race. For the first time there is no contradiction between our reason and our duties or loyalties. Thus the world is now a feast for reason replacing piety.”
{Part Two next week}

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