16 April 2011

Fukuyama on revolution

History still hasn't ended, so Francis Fukuyama, who infamously announced the end in 1989, has a new book to promote. That means doing an interview with Newsweek which focuses more on Fukuyama's estrangement from the neoconservative movement. He'd been involved with the Project For a New American Century in the 1990s, and earlier had stated that the collapse of the Warsaw Pact had left liberal capitalism the sole viable model for social and political organization -- hence the "end of history." He recanted long ago, and was eventually repelled by his neocon colleagues' hubristic "triumphalism" during the invasion of Iraq. It's not that he's renounced the intellectual premises of neoconservatism, but that he dislikes Americans dictating arrogantly to the rest of the world. In foreign policy, apparently, Fukuyama is more of a "realist." What about history, then? Fukuyama's new book is about the origins of political order, the prerequisite being, in his view, the transcending of tribalism. I can't argue with that until I read the book itself, but I wonder whether Fukuyama still thinks that history has a forseeable end point. The point of declaring an end to history, I thought, was to rule out any further revolutionary change in society or politics. Does Fukuyama now think revolution is still possible on the Marxian model? The subject comes up in a discussion of the "Arab spring," about which Fukuyama is pessimistic. Arab societies lack the civil and economic institutions that actually motivate and sustain revolutions, in his opinion. On the other hand, while China is more efficient about suppressing dissent at the present time, Fukuyama is more optimistic about long-term prospects for revolution. But what does he mean by revolution? Let him explain.
Revolutions, he argues, don't come from the disenchanted poor, but from an upwardly mobile middle class fed up with anachronistic government that does little but keep them from achieving their potential.
Such a definition pretty much rules out the ideal Marxian revolution -- though not a Leninist revolution if you think of a Bolshevik as a frustrated manager who wasn't getting his chance in the old order to show how well he can run things. The really interesting thing about Fukuyama's notion of revolution is that it also describes, to an extent, the rise of American entrepreneurial Republicanism after World War II. The New Deal/Great Society regulatory state might not have been perceived exactly as "anachronistic," but the reaction against it (I'm still reluctant to call this impulse revolutionary) was definitely fueled by a feeling that government was holding back entrepreneurship. Given my reluctance, I suppose we should ask whether what Fukuyama describes can actually be called revolutions. I'd suppose so if the result is a radical transformation in government, and even a Marxist might agree if he perceives the result as one class supplanting another. But Fukuyama's description forces a question of who benefits from revolution. If revolution is incited by middle-class frustration, will revolutions inevitably benefit middle classes more than other segments of society? And here's another question just for fun: does middle-class frustration justify revolution in all cases? This may be the relevant question if we see entrepreneurial Republicanism as a revolutionary movement on Fukuyama's model. Are there circumstances when the political order could be justified in restraining a class of people from "achieving their potential?" It depends, obviously, on how some people propose to achieve their potential, and how it might conflict with the realization of other people's potential. The same standard should be applied to a proletarian revolution, should one actually take place. Ideally, a revolution should take place not when one class among many is especially frustrated, but when people, acting consciously as a nation or other class-transcendent polity, recognize the necessity of change against all factional objections, even when those come from the ruling classes. But if that happened, would we recognize a revolution when we saw it?

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