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Book Review: America at the Crossroads – Democracy, Power, and the Neoconservative Legacy by Francis Fukuyama

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Is there any commentator more regularly misjudged and misquoted than Fukuyama? His 1992 magnum opus The End of History and the Last Man has been the launching pad for innumerable opinion pieces, most structured along the lines of “ho ho ho, silly old Fuku-san thought history was over, but hey, he was wrong!”

Actually, he’s not such a soft target. The End of History is not an easy read, but it repays the effort, and offers a genuinely thoughtful and at the time fairly novel proposition: that there is now a broad global consensus, right across the political spectrum, that liberal democracy, capital markets and competition work better than any other known system. So it is history in the Hegelian and Marxist sense of the word that he proposes has come to a conclusion rather than all human history, as his sillier detractors imply. Even if you do not agree with him, it’s a thought-provoking idea, and who is to blame an author of a fairly abstruse work for dreaming up a catchy title?

Anyway, this is his latest effort, published a few weeks ago – bought in Oxford Street, London, with a flashy cover and entitled After the Neocons. Amusingly, in the US it has a sober black cover and an alternative title, America at the Crossroads. Fukuyama’s nose for a catchy title or two, tailored to the local market, is still in fine working order.

This one is much more readable. Success and fame have brought in their wake better prose – pointed, concise and with a refined sense of humour lacking before. Fukuyama claims, perhaps with some justification, that his ideas became part of the intellectual apparatus of the neoconservative administration of George Bush. He now wishes to formally repudiate the association, and mounts a ferocious critique of his government’s current foreign policy and ideology.

This brief monograph (just over 190 pages of large double-spaced type plus critical apparatus) traces the early history of neoconservatism as a school of thought, then explains how its ideas, perhaps not that intrinsically smart to start with, have been systematically altered and debased by the current rulers of America. He concludes with a couple of chapters of positive suggestions, one on alternative and more effective global institutions, and one on American foreign policy.

The reader may mutter, well, well, easy enough to be an armchair critic and theorist, of course, (but is it really that easy?) Nevertheless, the views which emanate from Fukuyama’s cosy upholstery at Yale are always a cut or two above the average, and usually do merit thoughtful reading and debate, never more so than here, where we can all enjoy the rare enough spectacle of one of the most celebrated and respected conservative theorists decisively distancing himself from the increasing global catastrophe that is George Bush abroad.

Also available as After the Neocons at AmazonUK (ISBN 1861979223).

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About Quo Vadis

  • anonymous

    He’s not from Yale. He graduated from Cornell University in classics, got his Ph.D. from Harvard in Political Science, and is currently a professor in advanced international studies at Johns Hopkins University. (Wikipedia)

  • http://disembedded.blogspot.com/2005/06/george-w-bush-burgeoning-conservative.html disembedded curiosities

    Fukuyama’s claim to have become part of the “intellectual apparatus”of the neoconservative Bush “think-tank” belies or disguises some of the foundations of his own thinking. Another way of saying this is that his thoughts are in turn based upon the so-called neo-conservative thoughts of others, in particular the Straussians.

    The most frequently cited books in Fukuyama’s work are those written by Leo Strauss (four books), the late political philsopher who taught at the University of Chicago. In addition he cites two books by Allan Bloom from the same university; it is well known that Bloom studied under Leo Strauss.

    Finally, Fukuyama cites the work of Hans J. Morgenthau. Morganthau was a Jewish academic immigrant who was a colleague of Leo Strauss. Morgenthau taught international relations on the graduate faculty of the Department of Political Science, The University of Chicago, at the same time that Strauss was teaching in that Department.

    Parenthetically, during the 1960’s both were re-united on the University’s graduate faculty with Hannah Arendt (The Committee on Social Thought), whom they had known from their years of association with the faculty of New York City’s “University in Exile” (later, The New School for Social Research).

    Readers will find a more detailed account of the Straussian influence upon the Bush administration, as well as the grave misinterpretation of Strauss’s intentions.

  • Bliffle

    Is it possible that Leo Strauss is the new Karl Marx? To be widely reviled within a few years?

  • http://disembedded.blogspot.com/2005/06/george-w-bush-burgeoning-conservative.html disembedded curiosities

    Quite possibly, yes. Unfortunately, among quite a number of thinkers he already is denounced, particularly by those who have either a superficial or distorted understanding of his teachings.

  • Bliffle

    Ah yes. I remember the same things being said about Marx back in the fifties.

    Ideologues always seem well capable of wriggling out of their beliefs. The fault, they say, lies not in the theory, but in the (incompetent) implementation.

  • http://www.philobiblon.co.uk Natalie Bennett

    This article has been selected for syndication to Advance.net, which is affiliated with newspapers around the United States. Nice work!