Friday 23 June 2006

After the Neocons

Francis Fukuyama

Nine years after Francis Fukuyama helped shape the infamous Project for a New American Century (PNAC), he is apparently jumping ship. The Iraq war, he claims, was a huge mistake - not because the project of spreading ‘freedom and democracy’ is invalid policy, but because the war misapplied neocon principles by using brute force. After the Neocons is less about transcending neoconservatism, and more about rescuing it from the crumbling ruins of the Bush administration. It applies the same flawed logic and dubious ideology as earlier neocon projects, merely rejecting Bush’s ‘Leninist’ methodology in favour of a longer term ‘Marxist’ appraisal of ‘modernisation’ as the root of democratisation. For all his critique of the use of force, Fukuyama is unable to present a coherent substitute, proffering only a range of weak institutional alternatives designed to violate the sovereignty of states in more subtle ways.

One of the most interesting parts of Fukuyama’s latest book is his clear summary of the origins and beliefs of the neoconservative movement, rooted in the disillusionment of young leftist scholars in the 1930s. Its founding fathers included Irving Kristol, Norman Podhoretz and Daniel Bell, young men, often Jewish, whose once-ardent socialism had been turned to violent anti-communism by the time of World War Two by the excesses of Stalinism. Like all recent converts to any cause, their fiery conviction exceeded that even of the conservative right. Neocon politicians’ trajectories often mirrored that of the neocon scholars. Reagan, once a Roosevelt-supporting, union-leading Democrat, swung violently to the right and based his ‘evil empire’ crusade against communism on a disgusted rejection of Nixon’s détente.

According to Fukuyama, neoconservatism’s four key principles are:

1. Contra realism, ‘a belief that the internal character of regimes matters and that foreign policy must reflect the deepest values of liberal democratic societies;
2. ‘A belief that the American power has been and could be used for moral purposes and that the United States needs to remain engaged in international affairs’;
3. ‘A distrust of ambitious social engineering projects’;
4. ‘Scepticism about the legitimacy and effectiveness of international law and institutions to achieve either security or justice’ (p. 48).

There is an obvious contradiction here, which Fukuyama never explores: the belief that state power can be used to effect change externally, but not internally. This tension is never resolved. It clearly masks a profoundly conservative set of economic and political interests, a refusal to address the challenges of poverty and social exclusion at home, coupled with a faith in coercive intervention in other countries.

Rather than challenging these principles, Fukuyama simply reaffirms them. Ultimately, he retains a deep belief in the ability of American power to produce changes abroad. The only question is how to best go about it. Fukuyama argues against the Iraq war on two grounds: first, a rejection of the doctrine of ‘preventive war’ as too risky (pp. 84-92); second, that democracy cannot be brought at the point of a sword, simply foisted on a people by military intervention. This second point forms the main substance of his book. Why is military intervention ineffective? The answer relates to Fukuyama’s understanding of the process of democratisation, and is intrinsically linked to a defence of his earlier, contentious work, The End of History and the Last Man.

Fukuyama rejects those critics who branded End of History as ‘liberal triumphalism’, claiming they misinterpreted his message, which is ‘finally an argument about modernisation… Economic modernisation, when successful, tends to drive demands for political participation by creating a middle class with property to protect, higher levels of education, and greater concern for their recognition as individuals. Liberal democracy is one of the by-products of this modernisation process, something that becomes a universal aspiration only in the course of historical time’ (p. 54). Bush’s attempt to short-circuit this process using force is guilty of ignoring Fukuyama’s theory of modernisation. Fukuyama approvingly quotes Ken Jowitt’s critique of Bush’s substituting an ‘active “Leninist” foreign policy in place of Fukuyama’s passive “Marxist” social teleology’ (p. 55).

It is a weak attempt to explain why, despite the supposedly universal appeal of liberal democratic capitalism at the end of the Cold War, liberal democracy has been so slow to take root in many countries, and why ‘ideal’ democracy seems as distant today as it was then. His naïve faith in capitalist development to produce democracy as a ‘byproduct’ brushes over decades of careful scholarship on modernisation and assumes a relationship between capitalism and democracy that does not in fact exist. In fact, as Roberto Unger has demonstrated, there is no elective affinity between capitalism and democracy. Capitalism demands no more than ‘relative democracy: democracy, but not too much’. Fukuyama’s easy dismissal of Leninism as incompatible with Marxism is obviously ludicrous, and betrays the same sort of intellectual clumsiness that led him to squash together two such divergent philosophers as Hegel and Plato. It is almost as amusing as his acceptance of Bush as ‘Leninist’ and his own earlier work as ‘Marxist’, despite having rejected the validity of Marxism. As Derrida might point out, it is interesting to note that the ‘spectre’ of Marxism continues to haunt Fukuyama’s pages, despite its notional exorcism.

That aside, Fukuyama’s prescriptions are anything but ‘passive’. It is not intervention to speed up the rate of progress towards democracy that Fukuyama opposes, but the use of brute force. To his credit, Fukuyama recognises that US power is primarily exercised by, and enshrined within, international institutions. Without the legitimacy provided by these institutions, US power is mere violence. As Hannah Arendt pointed out, ‘to substitute violence for power can bring victory, but the price is very high; for it is not only paid by the vanquished, it is also paid by the victor in terms of his own power’. Fukuyama’s response to the inefficacy of military force in promoting democracy abroad is to issue an urgent plea for the formation of new domestic and international institutions to make a deeper and more pervasive form of intervention possible.

He suggests, for example, a new domestic agency to coordinate aid and development assistance from the Third World, to focus US economic might on ‘good governance’, ‘state-building’, ‘and the creation of effective institutions that are conditions of democratic government but not necessarily democratic in themselves’ (p. 140). This is IMF and World Bank intervention writ large, with full US backing. Justifying this backing to Congress will require convincing it ‘that the money will buy something useful in terms of actual outcomes’. He rightly notes that aid delivered by NGOs often undermines state infrastructure, but his response is not to grant more autonomy to target states, but to intervene ever more deeply to ‘control rent-seeking and clientelism’, ensuring that aid is not ‘used for political purposes’ (pp. 143-4). What Fukuyama means is that the aid should be used for the political purposes of Washington, rather than those of the target state. He unfavourably contrasts IMF conditionality, where states often evaded their promises as a result of domestic pressure, with EU conditionality, where states only receive benefits once reforms are completed (p. 146). He continues to view the lack of democratisation as the result of economic underdevelopment and residual human perversity, and will back any scheme necessary to counter these evils, regardless of the sovereign rights they might trample. He endorses uncritically, for instance, the neo-imperialist notion of ‘shared sovereignty’ whereby foreign agencies are inserted into the governments of target states for ‘indefinite’ periods of time (pp. 178-9). If this is not the sort of ‘ambitious social engineering project’ that neocons supposedly reject, it’s difficult to imagine what would be.

Fukuyama also believes that international institutions are in urgent need of reform. The UN, he claims, is practically defunct. It ‘failed over the Iraq war’ because it was ‘not able either to ratify the US decision to go to war or to stop Washington from acting on its own’ (p. 155). The problem, he alleges, is the UN’s illegitimacy: Washington refuses to be bound by nondemocratic governments, many of whom also commit the unforgivable sin of voting against Israel. Actually, the problem is Washington’s refusal to be bound by any institution when its own political interests might be compromised. Fukuyama’s plans for ‘multi-multilateralism’, an overlapping network of global institutions, would be no more able to restrain Washington in the event of disagreement without a fundamental commitment to self-restraint. Furthermore, his suggestions for what might replace the UN are incredibly naive. He claims, for instance, that ‘NATO has fewer legitimacy problems than the United Nations because its members are liberal democracies’ (p. 173). Legitimacy is granted socially. Simply because US actions might be sanctioned by a Western ‘club’ would not make them any more legitimate in the eyes of non-Western states. The structure of the UN and its Security Council reflects the diversity of political outlooks in the world, and the need to limit action that disrupts the basic procedural consensus on which all international order rests. It is that which makes the UN indispensable.

Other suggestions are simply weak. He suggests, for instance, that one of the main institutions of democracy promotion should be the Community of Democracies, an irrelevant group founded in Warsaw in 2000, comprising ‘third wave’ democracies in Eastern Europe, Latin America, and East Asia. ‘Had more attention been paid to the institutional development of the Community of Democracies,’ he implausibly claims, ‘it could have played a major role in promoting Middle Eastern democracy after September 11’ (p. 177). In East Asia, he proposes one institution to include China, and another to exclude and contain it - presumably in the hope that Beijing would not notice the formation of the latter (p. 175). Given that the central promise of After the Neocons is the provision of alternative means to promote democracy short of war, Fukuyama’s institutional suggestions are remarkably flaccid.

But the central problem of Fukuyama’s thesis is that, despite his welcome and repeated recognition that there must be an internal ‘demand’ for democracy in target states in order for democratisation to take hold (pp. 131-2, 137, 148), he insists that it is the US that must ‘supply’ democratisation and help manufacture ‘demand’. In positing a simplistic version of modernisation theory, he completely disregards the political theory of Rousseau, who emphasised the need for individuals to develop certain ‘virtues’, such as ‘public spiritedness’, ‘love of freedom’ and the willingness to subject one’s individual desires to the general will, before free institutions can emerge, and Mill, who emphasised how these virtues were necessary to secure the survival of such institutions against the forces of tyranny, noting that they had the best chance of springing up during a people’s ‘arduous struggle to become free by their own efforts’. The record of contemporary intervention, where the UN, often with a more or less reluctant US in tow, establishes ‘democratic’ governments in Third World states, confirms Rousseau and Mill’s analysis: almost without exception, these democratic ‘miracles’ lapse back into violence and semi-authoritarianism relatively quickly (Cambodia, East Timor, Namibia, Somalia…). The sort of democratisation efforts Fukuyama singles out for praise includes Ukraine, where Victor Yuschenko’s ‘Orange Revolution’ was effectively bankrolled by Washington (pp. 136-7). The shallowness of that ‘revolution’ has already been demonstrated by the return to government of its supposed target, the allegedly reviled Leonid Kuchma, apparently by popular demand. The simple fact of the matter is that self-determination cannot be ‘granted’ by any outside state or institution—it can only be pursued by the people in question. Democratisation cannot simply be ‘invited in’ by a small, bourgeois elite; it is a product of complex social and political forces internal to a society, not the inevitable ‘byproduct’ of capitalist development. Fukuyama claims to have found a better means of promoting democratisation than tanks and bombs, but his far more insidious and pervasive form of institutional intervention is likely to be no better at yielding the results he, or his neocon allies, desire.


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