The Society of the Selfish Bastard, Research Time, 09/10/2015

Of all the right-wing thinkers I’ve read so far for the Utopias project, Fukuyama is the closest I have to a real favourite. His arguments aren't nearly so rigorous as Robert Nozick’s. Unlike Friedrich Hayek’s deep knowledge of economics, his grounding in science is virtually non-existent.

Unlike Ayn Rand, he isn't a megalomaniac who’s inspired some of the most hilariously insufferable politicians in recent American history. 

What do I like about Francis Fukuyama? He's weird. He's an anti-Marx Marxist. A Hegelian revivalist in one of the most anti-intellectual social movements in North America. He thinks capitalism is a foundation of freedom, but The End of History oozes with contempt for capitalists.

Now, I have no idea how credible, in all the academic literature, Fukuyama’s reading of Hegel is here. My Utopias book project is unusual in philosophy writing in that I’m not really concerned whether Fukuyama ever gets Hegel “right” to some minimal degree. I just don't find that kind of argument very interesting, and I don't think many other folks outside the disciplinary academy do either.

Traditional liberal virtues understand Jordan Belfort an
example of humanity's essence. You can see why I have
a problem with traditional liberal virtues. We are better
for trying to be more ethical than a mercenary. 
What's interesting about Fukuyama, and the rest of the Big Four thinkers of new liberalism and new conservatism, is their real influence on American and global politics. More than any of the others, Fukuyama’s thinking reveals serious flaws in the general new conservative vision for society.

I’m mostly thinking about the bourgeois. The word isn’t used too frequently anymore, to the point where I've sometimes wondered whether such a class exists anymore. But they do. We just don’t call them that anymore.

Liberal political philosophy, at least in its traditional form, aims to be the framework by which a society of devils would be peaceful and fair with each other. Those devils are the bourgeois. Fukuyama gives a very good definition of such a person.

He’s the fundamentally selfish man. Liberal political principles are meant to produce harmony from the tensions between people struggling against each other to enrich themselves. Everyone is out for themselves, ready to take from others whenever it will benefit them. The only motivator in their lives is money. Homo Economicus.

So . . . assholes. 

And this vision of humanity is held up in so much of contemporary conservative thought as a model of virtue. Think back to the 2012 Presidential election in America. One of the Romney campaign's main messages was that his ability to run large, profitable companies qualified him as a virtuous political leader.

But Bain Capital's business model was stripping companies for their parts like a stolen Chevy in a chop shop. And it never really occurred to these Republicans that people would find this fact distasteful.

Acceptance of selfishness as a sacred attitude in liberal philosophy shows up in the theoretical end of modern conservatism. Remember Nozick’s radio show allegory. In a community where every member takes a turn each week producing a radio show that everyone listens to, I’d face social pressure to take my turn.

But Nozick says that our liberty is the essential human right. We must always be free to act without constraint, or at least with as few constraints as possible. So I can walk away from my radio show. Nozick even goes farther, claiming that social obligations are violent restraints on our liberty.

Fukuyama won’t stand for this, and returns to Hegel as his successor because he wants to restore some nobility to liberalism. He wants to build a liberal politics that has higher aspirations than constantly acquiring personal wealth. He wants a liberalism that cares just as much for virtue and strength of character as for material success.

So freedom for Fukuyama is more than just the absence of constraints. Authoritarian government oppression isn't terrible only because it restricts your movements and choices. The centrepiece of virtue is our dignity. Democracy is the best political structure for a society because it guards our dignity. 

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