Where a Thinker's Real Power Lies, Research Time, 16/10/2015

Since writing yesterday's post, I started thinking about another problem of Fukuyama's writing. I mentioned it in passing yesterday. It shows the disconnect between the networks and culture of university-based research, and the networks that enable direct political influence.

Iraq has been at war for a dozen years now, and it seems
the violence won't stop for a long time. Francis
Fukuyama's writings play a role in this. More power in
the real world than university-based philosophers dream
of in their worst nightmares.
By the standards of disciplinary academic philosophy, The End of History is an awful book. His political philosophy’s central idea is that capitalist liberal democracy is the only framework for society that perfectly recognizes universal human dignity. He bases this idea on how he understands Georg Hegel's political and historical thinking.

But he has a pretty shitty understanding of Hegel. It's too simple. He takes Hegel's idea to be equivocally clear. And when you read the books, it just isn't. 

Hegel's work spawned so much controversy because everyone who read his work knew it was a profound new way to understand humanity. It was revolutionary for its time.

The controversy was over what it implied. Fukuyama glosses over this pretty quickly. The generation after Hegel's death saw academic scholars take his ideas in conservative directions, and political agitators take them as inspirations for revolution.

Fukuyama takes the fall of the Soviet Union and growing freedom in Chinese markets as empirical proof that the revolutionaries were wrong. Update the principles to what a mainstream Western conservative would say in 1992, and Fukuyama's a Right Hegelian

But after 200 years (and enough additional creativity that even summaries of the tradition are enormous), there were too many different arguments and detail to paper over their significance. 

No matter how remarkable the fall of the Soviet Union was (and no matter what its leaders wanted you to believe), there's more than one way to be influenced by Marx. That's what Spectres of Marx is all about. 

Think workers should be able to organize a union? You
know, Marx was part of an international union movement.
Hell, ideas we share with Marx are so ubiquitous today, they're mainstream whether you admit it or not. Do you think income inequality is dangerous to society? Should inheritance taxes be higher for large estates? Is it sensible for the state to own public utilities? All these ideas have roots in Marx. Or at least, he's among their ancestors.

Fukuyama looked at all the controversial and divergent ways to think about Hegel’s philosophy, and said with a shrug* that they were all wrong. The one correct view of the meaning of Hegel's thought is Alexandre Kojève’s.

* The End of History has such a casual tone at times, I can feel it shrugging. I’d like to write a book that can shrug, but that remains much trippier and stimulating than Fukuyama’s relaxed certainty.

Specifically Fukuyama’s interpretation of Kojève on Hegel, since even this is the subject of a lot of scholarship and argument. The priority of academic disciplines is to make your point, but engage seriously with as many (or at least the most remarkable) contenders as you can. 

Fukuyama never did any of this, and most academics dismissed The End of History as trivial and unremarkable. So why did its ideas form the heart of foreign policy thinking of the Bush-Cheney presidency?

Francis Fukuyama being more powerful in changing the
real world
than every radical Marxist scholar in
every humanities faculty in every university in North
The End of History was popular among a group of people who cared nothing for the opinions of university academics. He worked in the State Department under the Reagan presidency. 

There, he made friends with many Reagan and Bush Sr officials who'd later serve in higher positions with W. He was a key figure at the Project for a New American Century think tank, and worked at the RAND Corporation since the late 1970s. 

Fukuyama didn't need the approval of a university sector network. He made his career in networks that have real influence: think tanks and the government. 

That’s why it’s important to understand Fukuyama's ideas. Not because of their influence on academic philosophers; there isn't any. It’s because his ideas are key conditions for invasions, wars, and the suffering and deaths of millions.

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