Thursday, March 10, 2011

Fukuyama Unbound

There once was a time when all inspiring intellectuals had to wade through the fever swamps of Hegelian thought.

Stanford Professor Francis Fukuyama waded in more deeply than most of us, but he managed to produce a brilliant and engaging book about his journey. The book was The End of History.

As Fukuyama presents Hegel's theory, the long march of history will eventually lead to a golden era of liberal democracy. This ideal state will overcome the vagaries of human beings exercising freedom because the story of history requires the Ideal’s gradual, but inexorable, shaking itself free from its corporeal and material supports.

Once we arrive at the golden era of liberal democracy the stages that led up to that point, stages that constitute what Hegel and Fukuyama call history, will be superfluous and will pass away, just as the scaffolding that is needed to build a building is taken away once the building is completed.

Clearly, this idea is still at work on the minds of no small number of people. Those who are cheerleading the arrival of liberal democracy in North Africa believe that history is on the march in Cairo, and that it is currently putting down roots in Egypt.

Such thinkers believe that liberal democracy is historically inevitable and that it arises from the crucible of violent, dialectical conflict.

They want to join the revolution because they believe that they will thereby be riding the wave of history.

To me this sounds like a vision out of the book of Revelation. In the apocalypse the corporeal world is destroyed and the New Jerusalem descends on the planet.

If history follows a narrative structure, humans cannot change the outcome. They can only forestall the inevitable. Hegelians believe that we must align ourselves with the forces of history. By a strange paradox, they believe that that will make us free.

In a different worldview, where history is not a narrative but a game, the outcome is not foreordained and human agency plays a significant role.

As Fukuyama recognizes, Western liberal democracy has taken hold because Western nations have won economic and military competitions. They have excelled at playing these games. At least, they have until now.

But, if the Chinese model of free enterprise within an illiberal state becomes an international role model, then Hegel’s assertions about the inevitability of liberal democracy would be challenged.

In a recent interview, Fukuyama suggested that he believes that China will inevitably move closer to liberal democracy.

It may not feel philosophically relevant, but it’s worth considering that the institutions that are on the front lines of international competition, corporations and armies, are not run as liberal democracies.

In his new book, The Origins of Political Order, to be released next month, Fukuyama theorizes that we humans are hardwired to follow rules and that the state evolves out of tribes when people place the rule of law over the rule of men, and when people place loyalty to the state over family loyalty. Link here.

As the Times summarizes Fukuyama: “Institutions are the rules that coordinate social behavior. Just as tribes are based on the deep-seated human instinct of looking out for one’s family and relatives, states depend on the human propensity to create and follow social rules.”

This all sounds very good, and it makes good sense. Yet, it leaves open the larger philosophical question of what it means to follow rules.

Here, I will limit myself to a few reflections. I cannot and will not try to resolve this complicated issue in a blog post.

Fukuyama is correct to say that we are rule-following animals. We follow the rules of grammar; we follow the rules of table manners; we try to follow the rules of courtesy and decorum.

Yet, these rules usually develop by themselves. They do not come into existence through the lucubrations of a group of wise legislators.

Once these rules evolve through usage and practice, people might well write them down, but they are not invented by an elite and then imposed on people who have customarily been doing things differently.

In one way they satisfy Fukuyama’s idea that in a state everyone follows the rules, but I would guess that he is not talking about grammar, table manners and sumptuary laws.

Such rules are followed whether they are written down or not. Among the most striking, and most noted, is the British tendency to queue up, to wait their turn, to proceed in an orderly fashion. And we all know that the British famously do not have a written constitution.

Why do people follow these rules? Because they aspire to sociability. A child wants to grow up, to be a big boy or girl, to be an adult man or woman. Attaining that rank involves learning to follow certain rules.

When a child learns those rules, he or she will feel a sense of accomplishment and achievement.

But that is only one theory. Other theories, notably Freud’s, suggest that civilizing behavior involves an institutional repression of primal impulses.

In that world view, identified with guilt culture, people follow rules because they will be severely punished for not following them. No one follows rules voluntarily; everyone must be forced to follow them.

We can gain an advance sense of Fukuyama's idea by noting that he dates the advent of the modern state with the formation of the Qin dynasty in 221 B. C. This suggests that the Greek city-states, Alexander's Empire, the Persian Empire would not count as states. .

The first Qin Emperor formed his empire by conquering adjacent states. Then, he used of the Chinese philosophy of legalism to impose laws on everyone who lived under his rule. Given that these peoples had become his subjects for having lost wars, it makes some sense to think that the rule of law had to be imposed on them.

Among other things, legalism insists that laws be strictly defined and known to everyone. Since legalism, like Freudian theory, assumes that human motives are fundamentally corrupt, it believes that laws must be imposed in order to rein in unruly human impulses.

The laws ordered by the first Qin Emperor are quite different from the rules of grammar or table manners. They are more similar to what we call red tape, the limitless rules that the bureaucracy enforces, literally and illiberally. The Emperor's agents did not have the luxury to judge each case on its merits. The rule of law meant that the rules had to be followed to the letter of the law.

Now, a good Hegelian would consider legalism to be yet another milestone in the Ideal’s inexorable march toward liberal democracy. He would probably say that the laws laid down by the Qin Emperor were faulty because those who were bound by them did not consent to them.

Thus, the Qin Empire would be a way station on the path to liberal democracy, which distinguishes itself by the fact that people consent to the laws by which they will be governed.

In a liberal democracy people are supposed to express differences of opinion through elections and we are supposed to respect the outcome of those elections. Amazingly enough, the civility and decorum that form the basis for liberal democracy seem today to have disappeared from the debate going on in Madison, Wisconsin.

Apparently, certain segments of society, in Wisconsin and elsewhere, feel that getting their way counts more than the rule of law. They seem to believe that they are not bound to follow the rules, but have the right to ensure that the orderly procedures of democratic governance not exist.

In a legalistic system where the rule of law is imposed on people, and where they must follow it lest they be severely sanctioned, it makes sense for there to be rebellions.

In a liberal democracy where the people consent to the rule of law, rebellion would represent a regression.


Gary said...

History will never end in that we will never reach a stable society that is not threatened by evil, misguided, or misguided and evil foes.
Progress is not inevitable, regardless of how you define progress. The world changes based on the efforts, or lack of effort, of many people. The free can become slaves. The learned can become ignorant. The wise can become fools.
Look around you today. Do you think that our government is better run than it was 100 years ago? Do you think that the average American is better educated than they where 100 years ago (more credentialed yes, but not better educated)?
History will never end but societies can and do end. There will not "always be an England", nor an USA, for that matter. How long our society lasts will be determined by how long we are willing to struggle, fight and die to ensure that it exists.
Hopefully, there will always people who strive to better themselves and their community but they will not always be successful.
The belief that "progress" is inevitable is simply an excuse to stop striving toward improvement.
I thought Fukuyama was foolish when his book came out. Nothing I have seen since then has

Anonymous said...

Utopianism/Millenarianism/Plato's Republic perfection is an old story. The mindset has given endless grief, death, and tyranny, with zero benefits.

The Founders' wise cynicism about human nature gave us a (currently floundering) Great Republic. And even they couldn't prevent the Civil War they feared.

I don't know when the folly - inside every human being there is an embryo American struggling to get out - started.

I'm amazed it's still extant. Another example of dreamy thinking.

That foolishness remains, currently concerning the Middle East "revolutions", and war on Libya.

Respect for other Civilizations and appreciation of the Founders' wisdom would be better counsel. -- Rich

Anonymous said...

TO: Dr. Schneiderman, et al.
RE: Actually....

....from one particular 'Perspective', it IS all pre-ordained.

Our personal challenge is to understand the role we're supposed to play in it.

The ironic think about it is that all our various and sundry efforts to 'change' what is 'pre-ordained' are all just aspects of playing into It.


[I know the outcome, cause I've read the end of the Book.]

JP said...

Gary says:

"History will never end in that we will never reach a stable society that is not threatened by evil, misguided, or misguided and evil foes."

No, we can ultimately reach a relatively stable sociey in which evil is basically unknown and which humanity is generally successful and happy. This is the good boundary condition. We want to get here.

We can also reach the final state of Hobbes's state of the war of all against all and basically the end of humanity. This is the bad boundary condition. We don't want to get here.

History has boundary conditions that directly relate to the memetic superstructure of the culture at issue. It's basically a multi-dimensional configuration that is unrolled through time.

I'm going to give Spengler the benefit of the doubt here. With respect to broad brush strokes of the various high cultures, he knew what he was talking about.

"The West" in terms of the high culture based on reaching toward infinity, has peaked.

That being said, it's decline will take centuries.

"Liberal Democracy" may well be its final form.

And something else will replace it. For example, Magian culture began about 0, and arose within Greco-Roman civilization. Wheras Faustian culture began about 800-1000 and grew up right beside the Magian civilization.

Anonymous said...

TO: JP & Gary
RE: Actually....

We can also reach the final state of Hobbes's state of the war of all against all and basically the end of humanity. This is the bad boundary condition. We don't want to get here. -- JP

That is EXACTLY where we are going. And the evidence of it just keeps piling up.

The latest pile being in the State Capitol of Wisconsin and in the streets of Cairo as well as the whole country of Libya. Not to forget other places.

Indeed, one of the cultures of the all-against-all mentality is very active in those latter venues. As it was written, so long ago....

His hand will be against every man and every man's hand will be against him.


[Don't you just 'love it', when a 'plan' comes together?]

David Foster said...

Have not read "The End of History," but it's hard to see how any rational person could see the world as reaching a stable state and remaining there. For one thing, it's well-known that cultures that become rich & successful tend to degenerate in "interesting" ways which are unlikely to be consistent with stable liberal democracies.

"The closer men came to perfecting for themselves a paradise, the more impatient they seemed to become with it, and with themselves as well. They made a garden of pleasure, and became progressively more miserable with it as it grew in richness and power and beauty; for them, perhaps, it was easier for them to see that something was missing in the garden, some tree or shrub that would not grow. When the world was in darkness and wretchedness, it could believe in perfection and yearn for it. But when the world became bright with reason and riches, it began to sense the narrowness of the needle’s eye, and that rankled for a world no longer willing to believe or yearn. Well, they were going to destroy it again, were they – this garden Earth, civilized and knowing, to be torn apart again that man might hope again in wretched darkness."

--Walter Miller, A Canticle for Leibowitz

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