February 19, 2006

After Neoconservatism

Francis Fukuyama's essay consists of a very cogent critique of neoconservatism and, following from that, an advocation of a new kind of American foreign policy, a "realistic Wilsonianism," which is probably not a good name PR-wise, but is not nearly as hopeless as it sounds.

Anyway, I just want to pull a few things out of the essay.

The way the cold war ended shaped the thinking of supporters of the Iraq war, including younger neoconservatives like William Kristol and Robert Kagan, in two ways. First, it seems to have created an expectation that all totalitarian regimes were hollow at the core and would crumble with a small push from outside.
Fukuyama is asserting the existence of what Richard Hofstadter called "the illusion of American omnipotence"—that anything seriously bad happening in the world had to be the result of American mismanagement of global affairs. He used the example of the Chinese fall to Communism—many believed that democratic China's collapse was due to insufficient American involvement and support or even "betrayal." However, the illusion of American omnipotence has another side as well—we tend to believe that anything good happening in the world is a fruit of beneficial American policies--the embrace of democracy by many of the former Warsaw Pact countries was "due" to our shining example, for instance. (City on the Hill, etc.) Neocons are simply the most ardent believers in the illusion of American omnipotence.

The [Iraq] war's supporters seemed to think that democracy was a kind of default condition to which societies reverted once the heavy lifting of coercive regime change occurred, rather than a long-term process of institution-building and reform.
In other words, we've all clearly been taking things like Locke's "state of nature" and Rawls's "original position" a little too literally. Democracy is not, in fact, at the heart of humanity.

Promoting democracy and modernization in the Middle East is not a solution to the problem of jihadist terrorism; in all likelihood it will make the short-term problem worse, as we have seen in the case of the Palestinian election bringing Hamas to power. Radical Islamism is a byproduct of modernization itself, arising from the loss of identity that accompanies the transition to a modern, pluralist society.
I would add that neoconservatism is also a reaction to modernization, that the idea, pseudo-Nietzschean as it is, that we can shape history by our will to power (veiled as a will to democracy) is a reaction to a globalized world where awareness of things beyond our power has grown to frightening proportions. It is not that we have less power over our situation than ever before, but that we are more aware of how little power we have always had. I guess Nietzsche himself identified this phenomenon--or symptom, if you prefer--as ressentiment.

[T]he overarching lesson that emerges from these cases is that the United States does not get to decide when and where democracy comes about. By definition, outsiders can't "impose" democracy on a country that doesn't want it; demand for democracy and reform must be domestic. Democracy promotion is therefore a long-term and opportunistic process that has to await the gradual ripening of political and economic conditions to be effective.
I'm not sure what other options we have—isolationism, I feel, is morally deficient, as anyone who knows anything about the Bosnian conflict would acknowledge. Neoconservatism is disastrous. What other viable options are there?


  1. The rats are leaving the sinking barge, but there is no joy in it for me. We are going to be out $1.5Tr, and haven't a friend in the world. Are we supposed to thank them for saying "mistakes were made"?

  2. Anonymous10:14 AM

    there are two things about fukuyama that i am confused about that maybe someone can enlighten me on. i always thought that his own understanding of neoconservatism was hijacked by the 'peacocking neocons' (perle, kristol). is this true?

    secondly - only in reading SOME of his work - one interesting thing he touched on (before the iraq war i think - my memory fails me) - was LEGITIMACY in the eyes of the ordinary Arab on the street. i.e. the path to bagdad was through jerusalem (and all these type of theories). did he belive this...?

    If so - i feel that if there was enough effort made in 'LEGITIMACY' of the democratic effort - i.e. demonstrating to the average Arab that removing Saddam is for the greater cause - and the political will to solve the Likud and Palestinian issue was taken with a view to pleasing the Arabs - then the greater good would've surely benefited Israel aswell in time.

    The bottom line for me is very simple now. Now that the geo-political power struggle between China, Russia is gaining momentum) - can the US afford to have one quarter of the worlds consumers hearts and minds (muslims) against them. esp if they have the cheapest energy resources.

    i do believe the US needs definately needs to re-think its foreign policy. We (the US) need to think realistically.