Wednesday, February 09, 2005

Fukuyama in Chicago

Last night I attended a talk by Francis Fukuyama at the University of Chicago called "The End of History Fifteen Years Later". I must make a major disclaimer immediately, however, before I relate some of the remarks that I heard. I couldn't get in at first because the small auditorium was so packed; but I was determined to stick it out and claim a spot as people left, got bored, or realized that it wasn't their cup of tea. So eventually I made it into the back and heard the very last part of the talk and the entire question period. Unfortunately, my remarks are not in any particular order and aren't necessarily connected to each other, due mostly to the free-wheeling (but very enjoyable) nature of the question period.

The first thing I heard when I finally got in was FF talking about the causes of terrorism. He argued that terrorists were much more influenced by the late-modern European ideologies that influenced fascism and communism than by Islam. These ideologies combined with economic underdevelopment are the main causes of terrorism. I don't recall anyone questioning him about this during Q-and-A.

On the US-Europe relationship, FF's not pessimistic; he thinks that it will only take a modicum of statesmanship to manage it. Among the things he views as significant differences between the US and Europe are welfare, which Europe likes and the US doesn't, the state, which the US likes and Europe doesn't (or is trying to transcend), war (both hot and cold), with which the US has had generally a positive experience (a successful revolution, freeing slaves and preserving the union, defeating fascism and communism) and Europe hasn't, and religion, which is strong in the US and in decline in Europe.

At another juncture, he remarked that patriotism was healthier in the US because it had to do with political citizenship instead of blood and soil.

On the topic of economic development, FF said that it depends upon a delicate balance between a state strong enough to protect property rights but not so strong that it periodically confiscates property. FF called the achievement of this balance a minor miracle. Asia has achieved it better than other developing regions like Latin America, because there is a history of bureaucracy in Asia. In any case, Asia has made it, according to FF; in its own way it has reached the end of history -- or at least is on the path of no return.

Returning to Europe, FF said that the Europeans are constructing a house built for the last man. But he also said "more power to them." A young woman challenged him about how much he really wanted the last man or perhaps how defective he found the last man. He replied that as he looked around America he didn't see the "flat souls" that Allan Bloom apparently did. I should note here that the part of the talk that I heard only discussed the economic/technological motor of history and had nothing to say about thymos and its development as the second motor. It's possible that I missed this part while trying to get in, but I was struck by the remarks I heard at how reconciled FF was to the end of history and the last man. It seemed to me that the book expressed more reservations than he himself did on this particular evening.

Someone else asked him whether liberal democracy encouraged characteristics that undermined its own existence. He replied that human nature mitigated against persistent disorder and cited his third book, The Great Disruption, which chronicles the disorder of the '60s and '70s and the reconstitution of order more recently.

One of the last questions had to do with how we should fight the war in Iraq. FF replied that the administration should realize that it has more constituents than simply the people who voted for it. He also criticized the administration for not assessing its power properly and understanding how others in the world can be threatened by it. He made note of the fact that the US spends more on defense than the next sixteen countries combined.

Finally, FF's answer to a question about biotechnology was very interesting (and chilling). He said that biotechnology would allow us to have another, more efficient crack at re-education, which was attempted only very crudely in the past. He cited the current practice of administering psychotropic drugs like ritalin as a harbinger of the future. He argued that government should step in and regulate the new technologies that in some ways seek to alter human nature -- or can be used for that purpose, at any rate.


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