When I sit down to write the parts of the Utopias manuscript that critique modern American conservatism, the ideas will come from what I like to call the Big Four.
Friedrich Hayek: In economics, he developed the key concepts understanding wage controls, progressive taxation, and government safety nets as holding us back from prosperity. His wider political influence lies in The Road to Serfdom’s argument that all leftists favoured a large role for government in daily life and the economy, and that this role is the foundation of totalitarianism.
Ayn Rand: Rampant individualism fuelled by rage, justifying rapacious selfishness as the most ethical human lifestyle.
|Dick Cheney is still the closest I feel I've ever been in|
my life to experiencing a real supervillain in charge of
a major world power. He was genuinely frightening.
Robert Nozick: Developed a moral philosophy that literally justified being an asshole, because he developed a notion that all social and moral obligations are violent forces suppressing your individual freedom. He reconciled this idea with the core tenets of liberal democratic political philosophy.
Francis Fukuyama: Conceived of capitalist liberal democratic politics as the natural state of humanity, the kind of society people will naturally build in our current era once authoritarian politics collapses. The core concept of Cheney & Wolfowitz’s style of neoconservatism.
What I find really interesting is that Fukuyama has completely repudiated, rejected, and renounced all the most influential concepts of his work as they exist today. Contrast Rand or Hayek. Rand ran her entire life according to these principles, without even a hint of basic polite hypocrisy.
Hayek founded a hub for an international network of think tanks to advocate for his ideas. This network includes places like Canada’s Fraser Institute, and I consider that network the most successful political organization of the last hundred years.
|Yet as scary as Dick Cheney was to me,|
I know that he's nothing compared to
Fukuyama, after seeing the impact of an American government prepared to act on his ideas with full military force, rightly rejected those ideas. The invasion of Iraq was a pretty clear conclusion. The premise was false. The experiment was a failure.
I’m interested in Fukuyama’s ideas because I want to work out why the premise was so seductive, so alluring. His thinking is pretty appropriate for a book idea called Utopias. He writes as if he'd discovered a whole new world of utopia. It was real life.
He lived in a world where communist totalitarianism had fallen overnight, and the conflict that had brought the world to the brink of literal annihilation for 45 years ended in a univocal victory for the West. The conflict of the USA and the USSR had dominated the world since the fall of Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan.
If the United States has any one story from this era, it’s a fall from grace. Having defeated totalitarian Germany, and standing in 1950 against Stalin’s equally horrifying Soviet Union, the most brilliant intellectuals of free Europe thought of America as the genuine land of freedom, defending democracy and human decency. I’m thinking especially of how Karl Jaspers and Hannah Arendt wrote about America during this period.
But the next fifty years saw the downfall of America in many ways. For all the prosperity of the post-war economy, America remained racially divided and oppressive. Jim Crow was everyday reality in the South, the carceral state was already taking shape in the North, and McCarthy’s anti-communist witch hunts were destroying any form of critical dissent in the country.
|Until the CIA helped the coup that|
overthrew him in 1955, Iran was a
secular democracy whose President
was Mohammed Mossadegh. He
wanted to create a state oil company.
This qualified him in American eyes as
a stooge of the Soviet Union.
The CIA was also becoming an agent of oppression. It was no trouble for CIA activities to help reactionary, repressive dictatorships overthrow democratically elected governments if they showed any hints of state socialism or a possible alignment with the USSR in global relations.
While the Civil Rights Act passed in 1964, a repressive campaign began against black activists almost immediately afterward. And the US leadership’s reaction to the economic crises of the 1970s was doubling down on supply-side economics that further suppressed wages and pushed the poor into degeneracy. Those policies have now stopped even the middle class from being able to stand.
Yet the fall of the Soviet Union, for a brief time in popular culture, washed this history away. This exultant mood produced Fukuyama’s End of History. However terrible American police, espionage, and army activities were, they didn’t approach the mass terror and gulag states of the USSR.
The fall of the USSR was supposedly the triumph of democratic values, as its former republics (at least the European ones and Russia) embraced democracy. In the drama of the Cold War’s sudden end, people saw utopia. And it was America.