[lit-ideas] Re: Pfaff on Fukuyama's Utopia

  • From: "Lawrence Helm" <lawrencehelm@xxxxxxxxxxxxxx>
  • To: <lit-ideas@xxxxxxxxxxxxx>
  • Date: Sat, 19 Nov 2011 23:54:02 -0800



I have criticized Fukuyama in the past, but not this time. I was criticizing




From: lit-ideas-bounce@xxxxxxxxxxxxx [mailto:lit-ideas-bounce@xxxxxxxxxxxxx]
On Behalf Of Mike Geary
Sent: Saturday, November 19, 2011 5:15 PM
To: lit-ideas@xxxxxxxxxxxxx
Subject: [lit-ideas] Re: Pfaff on Fukuyama's Utopia


Damn, Lawrence, are you OK?  I never thought I'd  see the day you criticized
Fukuyama.  : ).


Have a good Turkey Day.


Mike Geary


PS -- did anyone see the Nova program called "My Life As a Turkey"?  -- I'm
almost positive that was the name of it.  It was fucking incredible.
Existence is so amazing and surprising and brutal.





On Sat, Nov 19, 2011 at 5:10 PM, Lawrence Helm <lawrencehelm@xxxxxxxxxxxxxx>



The above article appears in the November 24th edition of the NYROB.  It is
a review by William Pfaff of Francis Fukuyama?s The Origins of Political
Order: from Prehuman Times to the French Revolution.


Pfaff doesn?t think much of Fukuyama or his book.  He refers to both Samuel
P. Huntington?s Clash of Civilizations and Fukuyama?s The End of History and
the Last Man with disapproval    A biographical article at
http://www.williampfaff.com/modules/news/index.php?storytopic=4 provides
some insight into why he does so: 


?In a long assessment of William Pfaff?s work and influence in The New York
Review of Books (May 26, 2005 . . .  Pankaj Mishra wrote ?His broad-ranging
intellectual and emotional sympathies distinguish him from most foreign
policy commentators who tend to serve what they see, narrowly, as their
national interest.? Pfaff is also indifferent to, and often brusquely
dismissive of, the modish theories that describe how and why dominoes fall,
history ends, and civilizations clash....


     ?[In his book, The Bullet?s Song], a long essay on utopian violence, he
reiterates his conviction that the idea of total and redemptive
transformation of human society through political means is ?the most
influential myth of modern political society from 1789 to the present days.?
Pfaff is especially wary of its ?naïve American version,? which, ?although
rarely recognized as such, survives, consisting in the belief that
generalizing American political principles and economic practices to the
world at large will bring history (or at least historical progress) to its


I have not been ?dismissive? of Fukuyama?s and Huntington?s theses, but have
been inclined to pit them against each other in the evaluation of current
events and of future possibilities.  If Fukuyama were indeed proposing a
utopian future based on Liberal Democracy then I would agree with Pfaff, but
I haven?t seen that in anything of Fukuyama?s thus far.  Could that argument
be in the book Pfaff reviews (which I have not yet read)?  I doubt it.
Fukuyama?s thesis is based upon Hegel?s as ?interpreted? by Alexandre
Kojeve.  This thesis argues that the ?end of history? will not be a Marxian
one (who turned Hegel upside down) but Hegel?s (thus turning Hegel
right-side up).  Marxism is indeed Utopian but in all my reading of Fukuyama
I have never seen any suggestion that Liberal Democracy, even as the ?end of
history? comprises a Utopia (unless Pfaff views the end of war as
constituting a Utopia).  Quite the contrary as his reference to ?the last
man? signifies.


Pfaff in his review writes ?Fukuyama assumes that what Huntington called the
?third wave of democratization? has already largely taken place, since at
the time he was writing this book the number of ?democracies and
market-oriented economies,? forty-five at the start of the 1970s (according
to Freedom House), had increased to some 120 ? ?more than 60 percent of the
world?s independent states.?  Fukuyama therefore claims that liberal
democracy is now ?the default form of government.?  To increase that total
and ensure the enlargement of a new democratic international order, it will
be necessary to rescue ?collapsed or unstable governments,? the issue he
says has most interested him as a Washington scholar and think-tank analyst.
. .?


We see Pfaff?s ?dismissiveness? when he writes ?his interpretation of
prehistory and history, despite his disclaimer, is close to what the British
historian Herbert Butterfield in 1931 termed ?the Whig interpretation of
history,? which is to say that the past has been a progressive process
leading up to us.  ?Us? is not only England and the United States but
Denmark, Sweden, and other exemplary democracies.?   The foundation for
Fukuyama?s thesis is in Germany (Hegel) and France (Kojeve) not in the ideas
Butterfield criticized.  


I was surprised later in his review to see this criticism:  ?He acknowledges
the influence of the Enlightenment?s conception and promotion of the rights
of man and human equality, and the challenge of its humanist ideas to
religion, which widely replaced religious with secular values.  But he
ignores the most important political consequences of this introduction of
the possibility of an earthly utopia, which largely replaced religion?s
teaching and that the afterlife was where men and women would find
salvation.?   Pfaff doesn?t sound here as though he read Fukuyama?s The
Great Disruption, Human Nature and the Reconstitution of Social Order.  If
he discusses these matters in The Great Disruption, is he guilty of ignoring
them if he doesn?t repeat himself in The Origins of Political Order?
Perhaps, if their absence comprises a logical inconsistency, but I am more
incline to think the dismissive William Pfaff hasn?t read the former book.


Pfaff might be saying that if Fukuyama were more aware of myths about ?an
earthly utopia? he might have avoided creating such a myth of his own (a
view that a wider reading of Fukuyama would disabuse him of), for further
down Pfaff writes, ?Post-Enlightenment secular theories of history, as
generally recognized today, had the characteristics of substitute religions.
Marxism-Leninism and National Socialism, the most important of them, were
teleological and utopian.  Marxism claimed to provide a comprehensive
explanation of society?s existence and its foreordained outcome.  It
expected to transform the human condition, and, when achieved, to explain
and justify all that had gone before.?    


Pfaff spends most of the rest of his article arguing that there is no
evidence that human nature has in any way improved since the beginning of
recorded history.  I agree with him here, but so does Fukuyama.  Fukuyama
treats human nature, at least in The Great Disruption as unimprovable.  He
begins that book with a quote from Horace, which translated reads ?You can
throw out Nature with a pitchfork, but it always comes running back and will
burst through your foolish contempt in triumph.  


No virus found in this message.
Checked by AVG - www.avg.com
Version: 2012.0.1872 / Virus Database: 2092/4626 - Release Date: 11/19/11

Other related posts: