Reconsidering Fukuyama

This isn’t newsy at the moment, but it’s interesting.

Maybe, I thought, the kid was mixing up his public intellectuals; perhaps he was confusing Mr. Fukuyama for the liberally coiffed Japanese nuclear physicist who had been so ubiquitous on the cable-news circuit in the weeks after the nuclear accident. In any case, I failed to inquire as to the origin of the withering assessment, and promptly forgot all about the exchange—until an editor asked what I was working on. Hadn’t he too heard similarly wretched things about the latest from Mr. Fukuyama? The conservative critic he’d assigned to review it had declared it “unreviewable”—whatever that meant.

I emailed a bona fide conservative pundit I know. Would three make a trend? He told me to call.

“Here’s the dirt on Fukuyama,” he said in a familiar conspiratorial tone, and dispensed with a halfhearted nugget about how Mr. Fukuyama had mentored a controversial Iranian lobbyist.

Bad word of mouth has dogged Mr. Fukuyama since “The End of History?,” the 1989 essay he expanded into an ambitious book of political theory a few years later. There he cribbed some hacked Hegelian theories on the nature of “history” from the French philosopher Alexandre Kojeve to illuminate the intellectual and cultural climate of a future free of the ideological battles that dominated the 20th century. (No one remembers details, though; he might as well go down in history as the guy who said history had ended 20 years ago.) Humans over the past few centuries had become accustomed to “history” denoting a linear trajectory, a forward-looking progression toward some more optimal condition, he observed; but whither the world that had more or less reached a consensus on the superiority of liberal democracy above all other systems?

The End of History is actually surprisingly good if you take out the ‘history’s over and we won’ rah-rah. Interesting points on ‘recognition’ as the goal for humans in society.

Interesting article, although I’m possibly a little slow or don’t know enough background and would have liked some of it to be written in a slower and more expansive style. Still. I read Fukuyama’s book on trust and thought it was decent even though I strongly disagreed with most of what he assumed and concluded. But unlike other prominent “conservative thinkers”, he’s fundamentally serious, intellectually honest, and doing his best to make coherent and interesting arguments out of the material he’s working with. Naturally this makes him an “apostate” to the conservative movement, although as the article notes his apostasy really just consists in him remaining serious about the principles that others were merely using for ideological cover.