- The Washington Times - Monday, March 20, 2006

That’s some feud between the White House and Francis Fukuyama, the Johns Hopkins professor and author of “The End of History and the Last Man.” Here’s Mr. Fukuyama writing in or quoted in the New York Times sniping at the Bush administration, and there’s the White House firing back by e-mail quoting Mr. Fukuyama’s past statements in contrast to his current ones.

This is, of course, painful for those of us who have been friendly with both sides. I don’t think, at this point, reconciliation is possible. It would probably ease tensions to some degree if Mr. Fukuyama presented his current critique as a major revision in his thinking about the prospects for the spread of democratic capitalism around the world, especially in the Arab Middle East, rather than as an outgrowth of his previous work. That’s because this administration has been more influenced by Mr. Fukuyama’s work than by that of any other living thinker.

Mr. Fukuyama, in “The End of History and the Last Man,” posited classically liberal, democratic capitalism as the final answer to the question of how the world’s political economy would be organized, a system beyond the reach of serious challenge by any ideological competitor. Going forward, how the challenge of radical Islam fits into this scheme is an unsettled question. But the more important element of Mr. Fukuyama’s analysis was his twofold explanation of why democraticcapitalism prevails.

The first element was simply its success: The command economies of the Soviet era were failures, and the productive capacity of the West (broadly construed) outstrips that of all other economic “models.” Insofar as a serious challenge to the democratic capitalist order would require resources at a level that could be competitive, other systems, such as communism and national socialism, are simply unable to generate them over the long run.

That’s the material element. But Mr. Fukuyama also explored another avenue, this time of a “spiritual” nature, underlying the material circumstances. He described democratic capitalism as the system that best satisfies people’s desire for mutual recognition as free and equal human beings, a desire Mr. Fukuyama described as fundamental.

As far as I am able to make out (without yet having read his new book), Mr. Fukuyama now regards the first element of his explanation as decisive and the second as problematic. In reviewing his previous work, he has characterized “The End of History” as essentially a thesis about globalization. The element of psychic satisfaction is much diminished.

That becomes a problem because the Bush administration is all about the psychic satisfaction of liberal democracy. As the new National Security Strategy itself notes, “we believe that the desire for freedom lives in every human heart and the imperative of human dignity transcends all nations and cultures.” Hence the administration’s stated goal of “ending tyranny” and democratic transformation.

Now, good things, in the administration’s reckoning, follow from this: “Governments that honor their citizens’ dignity and desire for freedom tend to uphold responsible conduct toward other nations.” But the point is that this analysis begins from a Fukuyamian premise no longer embraced by Mr. Fukuyama, who has become much more interested in the vexing questions of cultural impediments and individual psychological impediments to acceptance of democracy as a form of satisfaction.

We can see this from some lines on grand strategy he has written with G. John Ikenberry for the Princeton Project on National Security (in which I participated): “radical Islam is in large measure a modern phenomenon of alienation on the part of deterritorialized Muslims, many of whom live in Western Europe. Thus, pious Muslims in the Middle East are likely to be less of a danger than young, uprooted, and alienated Muslims in Western European cities who see Jihadism as the solution to their identification crisis…This means that we cannot solve the terrorism problem by democratizing the Middle East — even if we were capable of doing so — although we should still pursue it for its own sake albeit in a more subtle fashion.”

Forgive me, but for some reason, Lucy, Charlie Brown and the football come to mind here. Mr. Fukuyama teed up democracy as psychic satisfaction; the Bush administration ran up to kick; and Mr. Fukuyama pulled the ball away with the observation that whatever psychic satisfaction democracy produces can get trumped by alienation and the like.

The National Security Strategy bespeaks an awareness of this problem: In the case of the “alienation and despair” of groups “unable or unwilling to grasp the benefits of freedom otherwise available” in a society, “the long-term solution remains deepening the reach of democracy so that all enjoy its benefits.” I don’t think Mr. Fukuyama would disagree.

And I think that in affirming that “we should still pursue” democracy “for its own sake,” he is endorsing both the beneficent role of democracies internationally and the element of satisfaction democracy provides to most people, though not all.

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