Tuesday, July 16, 2002

Huntington vs. Fukyama (vs. Toqueville)

Stanley Kurtz of the Hoover Institute has written a good summary of the Fukyama vs. Huntington dichotomy. The strength of this piece is that in addition to summarizing the “Clash of Civilizations” and “The End of History” positions, Kurtz nicely shows how both of these paradigms are inadequate as guides to effective policy. Read the piece here.

As good as the Kurtz piece is, there is another, and we think more fundamental, critique of the “End of History”/”Clash of Civilizations” dichotomy: both of these views of the role of liberalism in the world contain within them assumptions that are potentially harmful to liberalism.

According to the ‘End of History’ camp, history itself is on the side of liberalism. Its adherents see no serious ideological competitor to liberal democracy, only brush fires or cultural inefficiencies that merely slow the inevitable spread of freedom and democracy. The danger within this view is the assumption that all serious political questions have been answered. Government is then seen not as competition among factions moderated by the rule of law as legitimated by popular consent, but as the working out of bureaucratic details by a technocratic elite- answerable not to an electorate but to the ideal of a universal homogeneous state in which the right to respect of all factions leads to a stultifying and distinctly illiberal leveling of all aspects of society.

The ‘Clash of Civilizations’ camp sees the world as characterized by cultural differences that supercede politics. At first blush this view may seem refreshingly realistic compared to the triumphalist ‘End of History’ interpretation, but the danger of this view is that liberalism is reduced to a mere cultural artifact. This is not only enervating of a political creed that depends for its vitality on belief in its universality, but it also opens the door to a creeping relativism that defines ‘culture’ in increasingly granular terms, threatening cohesion and the civic virtue required for the perpetuation of liberal regimes.

There is another view of liberalism, one which is in danger of being ignored as the conflict between the West and Islam heats up, one that is most profoundly and clearly elucidated by Alexis de Tocqueville.

Tocqueville understood that liberalism speaks to something true in human nature, that the forces of history lead inexorably to the spreading recognition of individual rights, and that attempts to stem this tide would be ultimately fruitless. But the Tocquevillian analysis of liberal democracy is not without warning: democracy speaks to men’s vices as well as their virtues. It is only through the maintenance of a healthy civic character that the destructive excesses of democracy can be avoided. The moral neutrality of democracy cannot provide the grounds of a civic order that effectively keeps vice in check. The character of a people is formed by a multitude of influences, the results of which are embodied in the nation-state.

Innocents Abroad is international in scope, seeking readers and contributors from around the world (we’ll see about readers- for now our contributors are based in North America and Europe). By calling forth voices from many nations, IA will highlight not only the universal nature of liberalism, but also the importance of the individual nation-state as the necessary crucible of liberty. By taking this approach we hope to foster cross-border communication among those thinkers and writers that tend to be less focused on trans-national issues, and provide a partial antidote to the multilateralist monopoly of the adversaries of classical liberalism.


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