Continued from last post . . . Last time I talked about Francis Fukuyama's work, I got hung up on how weird I found it that he conceived of naked, insatiable consumerism as a human virtue and a necessary condition of political freedom. Seriously. Pretty strange.
But today (and possibly tomorrow, depending on how long this post eventually runs), I want to talk more specifically about his explicit political thinking, revolutions in particular.
This is seriously important for my Utopias book project, because of the Big Four philosophers of modern conservatism,* Fukuyama is the only one, to my knowledge so far, who endorses social revolution as an essential engine of historical progress.
* Say the incantation with me now, in chronological order: Friedrich Hayek, Ayn Rand, Robert Nozick, Francis Fukuyama.
There’s a particular point in some social process when the entire order of the government, civil society, and the most powerful organizations in the economy just kind of have to go. Any of these can be destroyed by some popular uprising or other shock at any time when things are fragile.
But beyond this contingency, there's a point where there can be no other way forward than to upend the entire order of things. Revolution becomes necessary, not just in an ethical sense, but as if the very nature of things determine an explosion. Strike a match. It burns because of what it is, and what's happened to it.
Fukuyama calls the issue that brings a society to its breaking point a contradiction. He's following Hegel, who saw such necessary explosions as dictated by the universal logic in nature.
So I'll just call the issue an essential problem. A society has a structure that creates different groups, but the nature of the groups themselves means they'll inevitably conflict. You can't solve the problem without fundamentally changing all the groups.
Fukuyama says that capitalist liberal democracy is a society with no insoluble problems because in its society, everyone is free from authoritarian government and has a share of the material prosperity that enterprising economics produce. He dismisses Marx’s idea that the impoverished masses essentially conflict with the super-rich.
He does so because he’s already explained how capitalist societies allow everyone to prosper. It helped his case because he contrasted mid-20th century economic growth in capitalist societies with the snowballing stagnation of authoritarian communist states. A capitalist worker is twice as productive and works twice as hard as the communist worker. So the capitalist worker is four times richer.
But that's not how it worked out. In the decades since Fukuyama wrote, ordinary workers have seen wages and salaries stagnate, legal protections and the ability to bargain with employers stripped away. Many workers are now treated as independent businesses, even though they're individual people, allowing employers to cut away their obligations to workers.
As a result of this loss of economic power, people in the middle class have grown more indebted, less prosperous, and less secure. In such an era when the very rich are the only ones with much economic power, conflict is inevitable.
That’s the conflict of the 21st century's populist left. The rich have become oligarchs with enough influence over state laws and international trade agreements that they can remove the capacity of people who have to work for a living to build any kind of material parity to demand moral obligations from the folks who sign their paychecks.
Social stratification of the rich and poor is the conflict of our time. But unlike Marx’s answer, we now know that full state-centric communism won’t emerge from this conflict. . . . To be continued
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