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End of the end of history?

Francis Fukuyama hasn’t exactly become a socialist but what he recently wrote in Newsweek could well have been written by a firm believer in Karl Marx, writes Paranjoy Guha Thakurta.

india Updated: Oct 21, 2008 22:47 IST

For years on end he was the poster boy of Reaganomics, an ardent exponent of the virtues of the free market, who, like his one-time ideological mentor, believed that government was the problem not the solution. He has since distanced himself from the tribe of neo-conservatives. Worse, he seems to be eating his words today apparently disillusioned with the demise of Brand America’s two most important exports, “a certain vision of capitalism” and “liberal democracy”.

A third-generation Japanese American, Francis Fukuyama obtained his Ph.D from Harvard University where he studied with Samuel P. Huntington (of the ‘clash of civilisations’ infame) and was affiliated with at least one educational enterprise that was associated with Paul Wolfowitz (former World Bank head). A vociferous supporter of the Bush government’s Iraq policy, after 9/11, he suggested that the US “capture or kill Osama bin Laden” and “provide full military and financial support to the Iraqi opposition” for removing Saddam Hussein from power “even if evidence does not link Iraq directly to the attack”.

Fukuyama became a cult figure as a right-wing intellectual when he authored The End of History and the Last Man, in which he argued that the progression of human history as a struggle between ideologies is largely at an end, with the world deciding that liberal democracy was the best and only form of governance in the aftermath of the fall of Berlin Wall in 1989 and the break-up of the Soviet Union in the early-1990s.

He famously wrote: “What we may be witnessing is not just the end of the Cold War, or the passing of a particular period of post-War history, but the end of history as such... That is, the end point of mankind’s ideological evolution and the universalisation of Western liberal democracy as the final form of human government.”

From 2002 onwards, there were discernible changes in the way the professor at the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies viewed the world. He distanced himself from the Bush administration’s policies of unilateral armed intervention in West Asia and even called for the resignation of Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld. He voted against Bush in 2004 and criticised his government for “over-estimating” the threat from radical Islam and its negative attitude towards the UN.

In his 2006 book, America at the Crossroads: Democracy, Power and the Neoconservative Legacy, Fukuyama argued that the US needed to gain a better understanding of political and economic developments in different countries and that military intervention should be used only as a last resort. In an essay that year for the New York Times Magazine, he wrote that “neoconservatism, as both a political symbol and a body of thought, has evolved into something I can no longer support” and even compared it to a strain of ideology that he is bitterly opposed to, namely, the views of Vladimir Lenin.

The wheel has now turned full circle. Fukuyama hasn’t exactly become a socialist but what he stated in the October 13 issue of Newsweek in an article entitled The Fall of America, Inc. could well have been written by a firm believer in analyses of Karl Marx. An excerpt: “Globally the United States will not enjoy the hegemonic position it has occupied until now…America’s ability to shape the world through trade pacts and the IMF and World Bank will be diminished, as will (its) financial resources. And in many parts of the world, American ideas, advice and even aid will be less welcome than they are now.”

Are we witnessing the beginning of a new history now that international capitalism is going through arguably its worst-ever crisis?

Paranjoy Guha Thakurta is an independent educator and journalist.

First Published: Oct 21, 2008 22:41 IST