- The Washington Times - Sunday, September 1, 2002

Francis Fukuyama's 1989 proclamation of the end of history has gained more notoriety than any academic theory in recent memory. Not just the political magazines, but all the major newspapers ran articles on it. Newsweek actually printed a picture of the philosopher G.W.F. Hegel in its pages. Today, you can find copies of Mr. Fukuyama's essay in French, German, Japanese, Italian, Dutch and Icelandic. In Chile, a new word, "Fukuyamismo," has been coined to mean "support for liberal institutions in politics and economics."
Mr. Fukuyama's phrase continues to pervade the American press as a recurring cultural motif and, for many, provides the dominant framework for understanding world politics. After September 11, scores of commentators, thinking themselves clever, rushed to declare history's "return." But lost amid all the enthusiasm for the end-of-history argument is the fact that Mr. Fukuyama himself no longer believes in it.
Mr. Fukuyama's original essay proclaimed the exhaustion of viable alternatives to liberal democracy. Western democracy represented the final, rational form of government the culmination of human history. In Mr. Fukuyama's Hegelian account, a human being was "the product of his concrete historical and social environment and not, as earlier natural right theorists would have it, a collection of more or less fixed 'natural' attributes." People were distinct from animals in their ability to transcend natural laws and transform themselves over time.
That process of self-invention is what Mr. Fukuyama and Hegel called history. History ends with the resolution of all the contradictions of human relations in an ideal state and society.
In the book-length version of his argument, "The End of History and the Last Man," however, Mr. Fukuyama collapsed Hegel's distinction between nature and human freedom by arguing that, at the end of history, the regnant form of government will both be satisfying to human nature and also the result of the historical process of self-creation. In "The Great Disruption," Mr. Fukuyama went still farther, arguing that nature not an evolution in consciousness provides the original basis for social organization.
New discoveries teach us that human beings are born with preexisting cognitive structures that naturally lead them to form hierarchical social arrangements. And some instincts shape widespread social norms, as in the case of the natural aversion to incest. Despite the designs of social engineers or the adversity of social decay, Mr. Fukuyama's argument went, a satisfying social order will emerge since social cohesion is rooted in our biological selves. (Mr. Fukuyama even admits that the struggle for recognition what for Hegel was the engine of human history can be observed in nonhuman primates as well; it's all part of our evolutionary inheritance.)
Mr. Fukuyama's turn-around has not escaped the notice of Peter Lawler, a government professor at Berry College. He has established himself as something of a Fukuyama watchdog in his previous writings, such as 1999's "Postmodernism Rightly Understood." Mr. Lawler's latest offering, "Aliens in America: The Strange Truth About Our Souls," takes Mr. Fukuyama to task for elevating human comfort above standards of right and wrong. Mr. Lawler writes from the standpoint of religious faith; he wants to elevate human life above a state of bobo complacency.
A bit hysterically, Mr. Lawler labels Mr. Fukuyama a "teacher of evil" and accuses him of trafficking in a self-congratulatory "lullaby" calculated to render Americans smug and docile in the face of new moral challenges.
Mr. Fukuyama's historicist and naturalist accounts of human society diverge rather sharply in their judgments about human nature, but Mr. Lawler still considers each of them as part of the same project. If humans are historical beings, and history has ended, then people have lost their distinctiveness.
Similarly, for Mr. Lawler, the sociobiological account also lowers mankind to the level of animals. They are especially clever animals, to be sure, but still governed primarily by what Mr. Fukuyama calls the "blind, irrational process of natural selection." Mr. Fukuyama finds that "reason is insufficient to create the moral constraints needed to hold societies together." What's needed is reliance on an innate moral sense, the natural social tendencies rooted in human biology. This turn away from abstract reasoning Mr. Lawler finds alarming, as an invitation to complacency and an abandonment of the search for wisdom.
So Mr. Lawler perceives a profound inhumanity in each of Mr. Fukuyama's two accounts: Both the historicist and the naturalist deny the idea of a distinctive human nature.
Mr. Lawler recalls Allan Bloom's observation that human beings are defined by love and death. But, today, those human passions no longer animate the most "sophisticated" Americans. Instead, the desire for self-knowledge has been replaced by a feel-good therapy that dulls the unease that is part of being human.
One can see this attitude clearly in the march of political correctness through our educational institutions: At the end of history, the purpose of education is no longer to question or strive for justice, but to implement it. We already have final knowledge, you see, and we can spare everyone the discomfort of striving, the burden of knowledge, and the disorder of the human passions.
That, for Mr. Lawler, is what links Mr. Fukuyama's two very different accounts of social evolution: They both aim at human comfort, to make people completely at home in the world.
But to be at home in the world is to be inhuman. Mr. Lawler believes that human beings must always be aliens in this world, tormented by longings for immortality and understanding, ill at ease with a self-consciousness and a capacity for good and evil that is denied to the rest of creation. Indeed, the most distinctively human impulses the artistic or philosophic impulse begin in awe and apprehension at the vast incomprehensibility of the world.
Today, however, the anxious wonder that is the root of human excellence can be cured with a generous dose of Prozac. Francis Fukuyama, for one, worries "what the careers of tormented geniuses like Blaise Pascal or Nietzsche himself would have looked like had they been born to American parents and had Ritalin and Prozac been available to them at an early age."
Mr. Lawler's answer: "They would have been untormented! True, their torment was intertwined with their ability to know much of the truth about Being and human beings, and to be haunted and deepened spiritually by God's hiddenness or death. But according to evolutionary biology, human beings are not fitted by nature to know the truth, and the fanatical pursuit of truth by tormented geniuses has not been good for the species."
Thus, contends Mr. Lawler, despite Mr. Fukuyama's latest criticisms of biotechnology his essay "Second Thoughts" and the recent "Our Posthuman Future" his suggestion in "The Great Disruption" is that the world is better off without men like Pascal and Nietzsche, who disrupted our natural existence with their preference for truth over social comfort. Mr. Fukuyama, in Mr. Lawler's rendering, has no standpoint from which to criticize pharmacology or biotechnology, for these are just an extension of Mr. Fukuyama's project of making people at home in the world: "Those who prefer comfort to truth … will swallow pills and submit to operations for their obvious social and survival values."
"To be human," writes Mr. Lawler, "is to be alienated from and disconnected with one's natural existence." He fears that bioengineering might permanently extinguish human longings (which are now only suppressed by some medications), abolishing human distinctiveness. Mr. Lawler wants to make the case for the necessity of religious faith as a moral compass, so he derides the scientific standpoint of Mr. Fukuyama and others.
In doing so, however, Mr. Lawler the self-proclaimed traditionalist unwittingly adopts a modern view: that science is impotent to make ethical conclusions about human nature.
In fact, Mr. Lawler's conception of human nature is itself profoundly unnatural; for him, a specifically "human" nature is one radically divorced from the natural world. In the end, Mr. Lawler agrees with the Hegelian distinction between freedom and nature; he thinks the sciences are powerless to tell us anything meaningful about the human self or the soul.
Yet naturalism really is a greater part of our moral inheritance than Mr. Lawler wants to admit. Mr. Lawler thinks it unsalutary, but he still explains that our Declaration of Independence was premised on such a view. Jefferson, like our contemporary sociobiologists, believed that man, as a being "destined for society," was endowed with a "natural moral sense, or conscience," which is "as much a part of man as his leg or arm."
Like the evolutionary biologists who believe man to be naturally inclined toward social organization indeed, like Aristotle, who called man a political animal Jefferson saw the natural end of man and human nature ordered accordingly. Jefferson's innovation, and America's, was to build a regime on the common foundation of human nature, with rights and duties that correspond to natural human aspirations and needs.
Such a system does not reduce human beings to the level of animals. The demands of human nature remain qualitatively distinct from, say, beaver or ostrich nature. But, at the same time, the American system points toward something higher than human artifice and will. American principles find their root, as the Declaration puts it, in the "Laws of Nature and of Nature's God." A technological overthrow of human nature is still a unique threat, since nature provides the horizon within which our political rights are meaningful.
Mr. Lawler brooks no common horizon for mankind only the demands of disparate theologies (he mentions orthodox Judaism and Christianity). Mr. Lawler will not even defend constitutionalism or political liberty, except to the extent that they allow "communities of thought and belief" to develop. For Lawler, any earthly state can have "only a relative value" in supporting a person's "transpolitical dignity." Mr. Lawler may regard man as a transpolitical rather than a political animal, but ultimately he is unable to give that adjective much content. All he can say is that people can never be more than "ambiguously at home."
The "strange truth about our souls," it turns out, is that it's not possible to discover any truths about our souls.
All of which may safeguard human wonder at the ineffable, but it also means that interpersonal truths and knowledge about human affairs are not possible for us. There's no common ground on which to deliberate apart from theocratic communities.
People may still be marked by wonder, to be sure, but all the most important subjects worth investigating are foreclosed.

Steven Menashi is assistant editor of Policy Review and a public affairs fellow at the Hoover Institution.



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