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The End Of Bush's History

Sullivan reminds us of something Ross said in his June Atlantic piece that had not caught my attention the first time:

The Bush administration has often seemed bent on vindicating, in the short run and by force of arms, Francis Fukuyama’s famous long-term prediction that liberal democracy will ultimately triumph. Now Bush’s hopes for vindication depend on the Middle East’s following a gradual, Fukuyaman track toward free markets, democratic government, and the “end of history.” And just as crucially, they depend on American troops’ staying in Iraq for as long as it takes for that to happen [bold mine-DL].

There is something a bit strange about this paragraph.  If Bush’s hopes for vindication rest on the old long-term evolution towards the triumph of liberal democracy and capitalism, which will, if we believe Fukuyama, happen because there are no viable rival doctrines or systems that can compete with these things, and the attempt to force that vindication through the war in Iraq was the wrong way to promote this, how exactly does it aid in Bush’s vindication over the long term to keep American forces in Iraq?  Either Fukuyama’s long-term argument about the effects of modernisation is basically correct, in which case the U.S. does not need to maintain a neo-colonial steward role in shepherding Iraq towards continued modernisation, or it isn’t, which raises the prospect that liberal democracy and capitalism will not endure in Iraq without a perpetual American presence propping up an alien and artificial system that will collapse as soon as we leave.  The latter alternatve is neither realistic nor desirable, and the former theory is almost certainly false, but in either case vindication by Fukuyama’s long-term theory necessarily means that a continued U.S. presence is unnecessary, just as the war was actually unnecessary in the first place on the terms most favourable to Fukuyama’s original argument, or Fukuyama is wrong and our forces will have to stay there indefinitely, which is not a politically or militarily viable possibility.  Any way you slice it, the prospects of Mr. Bush’s future vindication are not very good.  As Ross says, “This seems improbable, to put it mildly.”

As Mike Steketee in The Australian relates in a new article on Fukuyama:

And what about the Islamic rejection of modernisation? Fukuyama argues this does not invalidate his thesis because radical Islam is not a viable alternative to democratic government. Radical Islamists had come to power only in Iran and for a period in Afghanistan and had influence in Saudi Arabia. China has managed spectacular development while remaining an authoritarian state and Fukuyama concedes that this looks like the strongest challenge to the idea that economic growth leads to democracy.

But he argues it is early days, with China only half as rich as South Korea and Taiwan in the 1980s, when they became democracies.

The implication of Fukuyama’s position (which, I suppose, is more consistent with his break with the neocons and his new support for Obama than with his old pro-war views) is that liberal democracy and capitalism will prevail in these places eventually regardless of whether our forces leave Iraq or not, which seems to drive home the point that war really was for nothing.  If he truly believes that there are no viable alternatives that people will continue to accept and champion far into the future, then his is an all together more fanciful and ideological, but potentially less dangerous way of thinking about the “end of history.”  It is the gradualist approach rather than the Leninist revolutionary one, to borrow a comparison that Fukuyama himself once used

As an aside, I would just add that it has always been a glaring flaw in imagining that modernisation would result in anything that could credibly be called “the end of history,” since there will continue to be nations and a number of independent states (and possibly more states emerging all the time on account of the enduring power of nationalism), and their democratisation and economic development will increase the occasions for conflict and intensify national rivalries.  The assumption that international conflicts are produced by ideological clashes is itself an ideological one that ignores the importance of concrete interests and power relations, and partakes of the same fantasy that those in the administration had when they proposed that “democracies don’t war,” to quote the President’s succinct and false claim.  The role that modernisation has had in intensifying the power of religion in modern politics, and particularly fairly strict or severe forms of religion, also points to a rather large hole in the Fukuyaman vision.

about the author

Daniel Larison is a senior editor at TAC, where he also keeps a solo blog. He has been published in the New York Times Book Review, Dallas Morning News, World Politics Review, Politico Magazine, Orthodox Life, Front Porch Republic, The American Scene, and Culture11, and was a columnist for The Week. He holds a PhD in history from the University of Chicago, and resides in Lancaster, PA. Follow him on Twitter.

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