Continued from last post . . . Francis Fukuyama wrote to reclaim Georg Hegel for liberals. The strong influence of the old German Logician™ on Karl Marx had relegated him to the hated left. But Fukuyama made a successful bid to restore his influence for the Cato Institute set.
Didn’t really turn out to be the best idea, but that’s how the catastrophic military occupations go down.
Fukuyama resurrects Hegel as a foundation to argue that there’s a mechanism driving human history to a necessary conclusion, a conclusion where human society has the shape that guarantees people’s maximum freedom. He considers such a society capitalist liberal democracy.
Now, in the broad sense, this is a controversial claim to say the least. But I’m going to leave the controversy to the side because what I find really fascinating about Fukuyama is why he believes that capitalist liberal democracy maximizes human freedom.
There’s the negative reasons why. Fukuyama is writing in the aftermath of the collapse of the Soviet Union, and during China’s transition to authoritarian (and heavily corruption-enabling) capitalism.
These authoritarian communist governments were notoriously inefficient at managing their economies because increasing technological complexity results in too many components in even everyday household items to price by centralized bureaucracy.
Just think about all the individual components that go into your smartphone, computer, television, kitchen gear, and car. Imagine the expense and slow speed of having to make all those pricing decisions in an economic central planning committee. Plus, they had a massive secret police apparatus to instil universal paranoia and quash all dissent.
Fukuyama’s positive reason why? I stare at it, conceptually, in amazement, like one of Arthur C. Clarke’s explorers in an impossibly smooth and massive alien ship. I’ve rarely come across an idea that combines naïveté, misanthropy, and personal ego into a package of utopian optimism.
He believes that our base, insatiable desire for more and better stuff combines with scientific and technological progress in exploiting nature to produce a world of constant innovation in consumer goods and a free economy so that everyone can buy as much of it as physically possible.
|It's just a weird feeling as I read The End of History and|
the Last Man that only occasionally appears. But I
sometimes feel like Fukuyama's voice in the text is
what Patrick Bateman would sound like if he wrote a
book of political philosophy.
It reads like a pure misanthropy: human progress is driven by our never-ending drive to gorge ourselves on more and more. A society that perfectly satisfies humanity will be a constantly innovative push to feed our all-devouring maws. Yet in this image, Fukuyama sees our highest dignity: innovation and progress.
Actually, it reminds me of the conceptions of desire that Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari explored in their work. But they at least took an open joy in perversity and the grotesque. Fukuyama feels too clean-cut, which is disturbing for someone with this conception of human desire.
Capitalism is the best social system to satisfy this blazing nuclear furnace of consumerist desire because of its immense productivity.
Fukuyama discusses the most famous remarks that Karl Marx made about the post-communist paradise of perfect productivity and a perfectly satisfied humanity. That we’ll work in the morning, and pursue all our passions and loves for the rest of the day. And Eastern Bloc countries, he says, often had four-hour workdays, which were able to satisfy everyone’s basic needs.
But capitalist production is so efficient and so innovative that enough work to satisfy basic needs can be done in an hour. Then the worker happily continues his eight-hour day – so Fukuyama says – so he can have as much surplus money as possible to buy more and more things and services.
Sorry, I don’t know what came over me there. Maybe I should shut this down for today and continue to work through this utopia after Shabbos.
That’s why I’ve been taking Saturdays off from blogging lately. Living with my Jewish partner has exposed me to a lot of positive ideas and material benefits of taking a day off.
If not a total day off from everything electronic or creative (I’m not sure if I could ever do that), then at least a day to relax and step back from my everyday projects to think about why and how I do what I do. To step away from frenzied activity and enjoy low-intensity life with the one I love, and with friends.
That, at least at this moment, is no better refutation of Fukuyama’s perversely normalized conception of human nature than any other I can think of. To be continued . . .