Spoilers at the Party*

Leon Wieseltier**


IN HEBREW, when you announce your a friendly spirit, you say that the intention to offer criticism in object of your criticism has left you a great deal of ground on which to build fences. There are a couple of fences I would like to build around Francis Fukuyama's surprising essay. For that reason I want to be clear about the areas of my agreement with him.

Methodologically and philosophically, I share Fukuyama's impatience with a materialist account of thought and action, though I would worry more than he does about the fate of idealism under liberalism: "a truly universal consumer culture" is not quite what Geist had, well, in mind. Substantively, though the loss of faith in totalitarianism began long before Gorbachev - who is only making official what the men and women of these lifeless places have been muttering to themselves for decades - Fukuyama is perfectly correct that the Leninist soteriology, its ideals of social perfection and human happiness, are being discarded everywhere, especially by Leninists, as are its ideals of economic organization. Emotionally, Fukuyama is easily supported in his view of this phenomenon as a great drama, a political and philosophical epiphany. It is hard not to be thrilled by the rout of so powerful a lie. Who did not rejoice that Saturday morning last summer to read in the New York Times that the prime minister of the Soviet Union deplores what he called "the de-ideologization of society?" In Eastern Europe a few months ago, I felt frissons by the hour. And so I take Fukuyama's eschatological vocabulary, about which I will have a few things to say, to be a measure of excitement. And that excitement is itself a measure of his grasp of the magnitude of this century's evil. To be relieved of such evil must indeed feel like an experience of an eschaton.

And yet eschatological excitement seems to me very premature. The more were my hours in Eastern Europe, the fewer were my frissons. I would put two fences around Fukuyama's argument. The first is historical. The second is philosophical. The first is that the defeat of communism is not quite - and, in all likelihood, never will be - the same thing as the victory of liberalism. The second is that it is an insult to liberalism to describe its success as an end of history.

Fukuyama believes, with the political philosopher Michael Doyle, that as liberalism increases, conflict decreases. In Doyle's important study of the relationship of liberal principles and institutions to the foreign policy of liberal states, he concluded that "even though liberal states have become involved in numerous wars with non-liberal states, constitutionally secure liberal states have yet to engage in war with one another. No one should argue that such wars are impossible; but preliminary evidence does appear to indicate that there exists a significant predisposition against warfare between liberal states."[1]

So far, so good. But only so far. A generalization from the happy few would be a terrible mistake. For, if liberalism does retire certain causes of conflict and war, it does not retire others; and it even contributes a few causes of its own. I am not referring to the persistence of power politics past the collapse of totalitarianism; I leave it for another time to comment on the durability of interests as an explanation of conflict. I note only that one of the effects of glasnost upon American thinking will be a rehabilitation of Realism, a revival of the analysis according to interests by people who have had their view of the postwar world crushed by the collapse of communism as a living threat, or by people who hope to sneak that view of the world through the realpolitikal back door of Realism.

No, the sources of conflict after the "end of history" will continue to be also ideational or ideological. I count five such spoilers of Fukuyama's party.

 

Liberalism Itself

DOYLE'S CAREFUL study has a flip side, which is that "liberal states are as aggressive and war-prone as any form of government or society in their relations with non-liberal states." Outside the splendid orbit of liberalism, Doyle observes, "liberal regimes, like all other states, are caught in the international state of war Hobbes and the Realists describe."

The irony, though, is that liberal activism beyond the borders of the liberal states is not the result only of its interests, but also of its ideas. As John Stuart Mill proposed in his essay on intervention and non-intervention, the very commitment to freedom and independence which inhibits free and independent states from acting against other free and independent states encourages them to act against states that are neither free nor independent. What we now call "liberation," and what Mill and his political culture called "improvement," is the highest goal of liberalism in foreign policy. Liberalism has a weakness for crusades, a weakness that originates in its philosophical foundations. Colonialism (about which the less Mill, the better) was largely a liberal policy. The "containment" that President Bush wants to move beyond was a liberal policy. The invasion of Grenada was a liberal policy. And the support of the Contras was a liberal policy.

I do not want to comment here on the moral justice or the strategic intelligence of any of those policies. I want only to submit them as examples of liberalism's own reasons for the resort to force, of liberalism's own justifications of war.

 

Incomplete Liberalism

SOMETIMES FUKUYAMA writes as if the appearance of an idea is the appearance of a reality. (Hegel was never guilty of this mistake.) And so he reassures himself, about states in which liberalism is in conflict with forms of anti-liberalism, that "this conflict does not arise from liberalism itself so much as from the fact that the liberalism in question is incomplete." Not so fast. Incomplete liberalism is also incomplete anti-liberalism.

It is hard to believe, even in our wildest dreams, that anything more than incomplete liberalism will be the consequence of reform in the Soviet Union and China. Not only a mixed economy, but also a mixed philosophy. For, as communism declines, there are traditions waiting in the wings to take its place, and they are not liberal traditions. (This is true also of Korea and Japan, also cited by Fukuyama; their powerful prior cultures, too, are hostile to modernity.) Unlike the societies of Eastern Europe, these are not societies in which liberalism has roots. In the Soviet Union, in particular, liberalization has released many old enemies of liberalism. Fukuyama fails to take account not only of the cultural and social power of those reactionary forces, and of their prospects for influencing policy or coming to power as a result of perestroika's disappointments, but also of the extent to which liberalization is a contentless thing. It was totalitarianism that marked the end of the war of ideas. Liberalization is an invitation to the war of ideas.

 

Nuclear Liberalism

IF WE'RE talking about the end of history, let's talk about the end of history. I do not believe that weapons cause war, that, as C. Wright Mills puts it, the cause of World War III will be the preparation for it; but it would be irresponsible not to speculate on the consequences of a rivalry between liberal powers who are also nuclear powers, specifically, between a liberal, nuclear United States and a liberal, nuclear Soviet Union. It may be that Fukuyama and Doyle are right, that wars between liberal states are not greatly to be feared. But surely grave crises between liberal states remain possible; and surely their outcome will be affected by the strategic realities in which the national leaders find themselves. And so, for as long as the strategic forces of the United States and the Soviet Union are arranged in a way that gives the advantage to the offense, we must wonder whether the national security adviser briefing the president on the advantages of an American first strike will advise the president not to launch because the enemy has finally published Solzhenitsyn. I hope so. I doubt it.

 

Nationalism

FUKUYAMA admirably acknowledges this challenge to liberalism, but he dismisses it much too easily. There are a number of characteristics of nationalism that make it an especially thorny exception to, perhaps a fatal flaw in, his cheerful picture of the future.

First, nationalism is not an interest, it is an ideology, a theory of history, with its own proud notions of the beginning and the end; and so it is excellently equipped for a war against liberalism.

Second, nationalism is an ideology emphasizing differences between polities that may be otherwise similar. States whose political organizations are the same - states that are both liberal - may believe sincerely in the superiority of one over the other, in the destiny of one to master the other, and so on.

Third, the history of the relationship of nationalism to democracy is not reassuring. Nationalism has disrupted liberalism more than liberalism has pacified nationalism. (For reasons that I won't go into here, the United States is a great exception, a freak of history, in this respect.) Again, self-determination is also a contentless thing. It can be used very smartly as a reason for aggression, against one's own society or against another society.

 

Religion

HERE TOO, Fukuyama shows an admirable interest in counter-examples, but his remarks puzzle me.

Naipaul, in the passage cited with approval by Fukuyama, is wrong: the Sonys and the Hitachis in Teheran did not vitiate Khomeini's theocracy, they were its very instruments. There is more and more evidence from around the developing world that technology is value-neutral, that Locke and Jefferson do not come, like batteries, with tape players and VCRS. Many of the new "liberals" of the developing world are interested in goods, not in checks and balances.

It would be extremely foolish to interpret the rise of capitalism in certain Asian countries as a rise of liberalism. Such an interpretation contradicts the facts of political life, say, in Singapore, where markets and prisons comport comfortably with each other. It also contradicts Fukuyama's own opposition to economic reductionism. So far, economic prosperity has not brought political freedom to many places; and in some places, like the Philippines, freedom came where there was no prosperity.

I would pay more attention than Fukuyama does to Burkina Faso. It may be that Islamic fundamentalism is a matter of consequence only in the Islamic world, but that world holds a billion people. Fukuyama is right that religion is not likely to depose liberalism in our own societies, but about the rest of the world he is spectacularly Eurocentric, as in his description of decolonization as "an inevitable consequence of the Allied victory" and in such phrases as "the common ideological heritage of mankind." In Burkina Faso and Cairo and Teheran and Lahore and Madras there are also notions of the common ideological heritage of mankind, complicated and interesting notions, but they do not include Penguin paperbacks.

The people of the developing world want VCRS, but they will not be bought off with them, and they do not want them for the purpose of erasing their convictions and their cultures. For they have moral and social traditions of their own, living traditions, and they are more and more coming to the conclusion that modernization must not mean the immolation of those traditions. Increasingly they seem to believe that economic development must precede political development, and that economic gains must not become cultural losses. I think we shall all be surprised by how far these societies travel along the new technological and economic paths without becoming what we would call liberal.

There ends my political fence. Now, more briefly, to my philosophical fence, which is really a recoil, a little in horror, from this, or any other end of history.

For a start, Fukuyama's grasp of Hegel is weak and, for some reason not known to me, hostage to Kojève. Hegel's "Idea" is nothing like "the rubric of ideology." Hegel's outburst about Napoleon and Jena was firmly corrected by his mature work, according to which history is a process of infinite duration, the present being the richest period in history not because it is the last but because it is the latest, and therefore contains more of the past within itself. "The end of history" is not a Hegelian notion. It is Christianity's unwitting present to Marxism.

More to the point, it is the controlling concept of communist theory and practice. To celebrate the defeat of communism by announcing "the end of history" is a little like celebrating the defeat of Nazism by announcing "the final solution to the German question." It is a spectacular concession, one which no liberal should be willing to make. How many people have suffered and died in this century because somebody decided to put an end to history? Nobody will suffer or die, of course, because of Fukuyama's essay; but at this late date in the history of eschatological murder, it is beneath our dignity to use certain words in certain ways.

 

IT IS PRECISELY the memory of totalitarianism that should dissuade us from desiring such consummations. The liberal lives in the present and in the near future. He knows about the past, but he is wary of hanging around it. And the far future is a matter of indifference to him. He assumes that one day it will arrive, partly as the result of his own limited but real modifications of his society and his tradition; and he assumes that when it does arrive, it will feel only like a present, in which there is work to be done. History, for the liberal, is always profane, written with a lower case "h", an enemy of closure. He can find sense in history without punishing it with meaning.

In fact, one of the sources of liberalism's strength is that, almost alone among modem ideologies, it offers a basis for resistance against the tyranny of history. A fine example of this tyranny may be found in Kojève's silly remarks on Japan, and in Fukuyama's really alarming conclusion that after history (which he should properly write History) "there will be neither art nor philosophy." Neither art nor philosophy needs history to live. They need the world and the soul, senses and forms: that is all. What does history have to do with metaphysics, with mathematics, with still life, with the fugue, with the sonnet? The world and the soul present problems enough; and the problems that they present are deeper, and more difficult and less dangerous to solve, than the problems of history. To believe that art and philosophy are in need of history is to believe that the purposes of human life are historical, which is to believe that the purposes of human life are political, which is to believe what the people who got us into this mess believed.

Virginia Woolf once remarked that human nature changed in 1910. Fukuyama seems to believe that it changed in 1985, when glasnost and perestroika ended the communist charade. To believe in the end of history, you must believe in the end of human nature, or at least of its gift for evil. I think we should be calmer than that. (There is something a little unstable about a conservative community that gives us "the end of history" while the ink on "the evil empire" is still wet.)

We are not witnessing the end of history. We are witnessing the end of the twentieth century, and good riddance. But just as some of the terribilities of the nineteenth century survived into the twentieth, so we may expect some of the twentieth's terribilities to survive into the twenty-first. For that reason Fukuyama's good news puts me in mind not of Hegel, but of Kant, of the slow but steady expansion of the "pacific union" of liberal states, which believes in "perfect peace" but does not expect to see it, which is always threatened and always incomplete.

 

Notes

1. "Kant, Liberal Legacies and Foreign Affairs," Philosophy and Public Affairs, vol. 12 (Summer, Fall 1983). (back to text)

 

**  Fall 1989, The National Interest

* Leon Wieseltier is literary editor of the New Republic.

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