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Fukuyama: Warrior philosopher of the liberal world

When it comes to Big Pictures, you can't get as expansive as Professor Francis Fukuyama.

india Updated: Dec 12, 2003 13:26 IST

When it comes to Big Pictures, you can't get as expansive as Professor Francis Fukuyama. This is the man who declared an end to history, talks of the "great disruption" and whose latest book is titled Our Postmodern Future.

Behind all these larger-than-civilisation phrases is a running theme. Namely, that the broad current of history has shown that democracy and the market are the best principles to organise a society. Yes, there will be problems and setbacks. But modernity always wins.

When critics pointed to September 11, Fukuyama was cool as cucumber. He scanned the distant horizon and said, "This is just a serious detour. In the end modernisation and globalisation will remain the central structuring principles of the world." Al Qaeda, he argued, were challenges but "ultimately, not convincing ones".

Twenty years ago, Fukuyama was just another brilliant Beltway diplomat and analyst. He worked in the RAND Corporation. He then held key positions in the State Department, dirtying his fingers as a US delegate at the Camp David peace process in 1981-2.

Then in 1992 he wrote The End of History. He hasn't looked back since. His title simply meant that with the collapse of communism, there were no longer any viable alternatives to democratic capitalism. It proved a beacon in a world bewildered at the sudden end of the Cold War.

Fukuyama is a warrior of ideas. He searches for potential threats to liberal capitalism, mentally dissects them and, every few years, descends from the mountains with a tome in whose pages these philosophical enemies are slain.

He looked at the disruptive effect of the information revolution. Conclusion: The social order will rebuild itself.

When "clash of civilisation" advocates argued liberal capitalism would fail in non-western societies, he took out his magnifying glass. Conclusion: The roots of modern prosperity lie in social virtues like "trust" that could sprout in Confucian as well as Christian soil.

In his last work, Fukuyama looked at biotech and what it meant for liberal society because it provided "new opportunities for the political control of behaviour". He still sees that as a greater concern than Islamic suicide bombers.

His books do little justice to the extent of his interests. He is as at ease talking about science fiction writer Neal Stephenson as he is with the future of art or Plato's Republic.

India is a living testament to Fukuyama's faith in modernity: A non-western society whose embrace of liberal capitalism has allowed it to survive two decades of Islamic terror and yet have the second-fastest growing economy in the world. Which is why the Hindustan Times Leadership Initiative is pleased to be the first to bring this philosopher-academic to India to speak at its conference "The Peace Dividend" on December 12.