Tuesday, January 02, 2007

Kulturkritik

Callinicos, in Theories and Narratives, describes Fukuyama's work as conservative kulturkritik. Conservative kulturkritik is not anti-capitalist: it simply doesn't hold capitalism to be the point. Fukuyama's 'End of History', according to Callinicos the result of an incoherent distillation of Kojeve, Spengler and Nietzche, is an unhappy time in which daring, imagination and human idealism is lost. The thriving life forms of kultur are replaced by the decaying rigidities of zivilisation, a "museum of the human spirit", in which bourgeois democracies would manage an increasingly homogenised culture (paradoxically riven with inner tensions). Fukuyama himself cheered up for a spell during the 1990s, and the Rand Corporation paid him well for his increasingly apologetic output. He participated in the PNAC, and wrote to Clinton to demand the overthrow of Saddam Hussein. He assured his comrades that the Great Disruption of the 1960s was an abberation, an over-exuberant externality resulting from the transition to a now accomplished Information Age. Challenges would still have to be managed, but on the whole it would be smooth sailing. But his neconservative friends did not cheer up. Christopher Hitchens had written with some glee for Harper's in 1990 of how miserable the neocons appeared to be now that the Russian Empire was breaking up - how they insisted that nothing was really changing, that the Russians were playing some filthy game designed to befuddle and bedazzle the President and the American people, the refusal to countenance the 'Earthquake in the East', as Cliff called it at the time. Eugene Rostow, Midge Decter, Jean-Francois Revel, all the Free Worlders terrified that there would be nowhere left to free. How to maintain the military budget?

Corey Robin interviewed a couple of prominent neoconservatives, Irving Kristol and William F Buckley, in 2000, and found them at low ebbs. (These comments were reprinted in 'Rememberance of Empires Past' in Ellen Schrecker, ed., 'Cold War Triumphalism'). Buckley complained of "the emphasis in conservatism on the market" which "becomes rather boring ... like sex". Kristol reviled the "business culture" of conservatism that "lacks any political imagination". For, after all, "What's the point of being the greatest, most powerful nation in the world and not having an imperial role? It's unheard of in human history." The trouble was that America was a capitalist democracy with a strong emphasis on economic growth and prosperity. Anthony Lake, Clinton's National Security advisor, explained the new dispensation which was that America's role in the post-Cold War world was to rule by maintaining an extending economic hegemony. Republican opposition wasn't inspiring the neocons. Kristol thought it "disgusting" that they haggled over such piddling issues as pension entitlements. "It's not Athens. It's not Rome. It's not anything." Not anything except boring, that is.

Robin went on to discuss the reactions to 9/11 among mainstream ideologists, whose rhetoric is rather close to that of Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson that were so widely criticised. Fukuyama noted the unhealthy "preoccupation with one's own petty affairs" that had marked the 1990s, and was among the first to sign a letter indicating that Bush should over throw Hussein, even if there turns out to be no Iraqi connection to 9/11. Frank Rich wrote in the New York Times on September 15th 2001 that "This week’s nightmare, it’s now clear, has awakened us from a frivolous if not decadent decade-long dream". David Brooks wrote for the NYT that Americans in the 1990s had "renovated our kitchens, refurbished our home entertainment systems, invested in patio furniture, Jacuzzis and gas grills" in such a fashion that anyone could have concluded that "America was not an entirely serious country". George Packer, the liberal apologist for war on Iraq, confessed: "What I dread now is a return to the normality we're all supposed to seek." Lewis Libby complained of a lax political culture that made it "easier for someone like Osama bin Laden to rise up and say credibly, 'The Americans don't have the stomach to defend themselves. They won't take casualties to defend their interests. They are morally weak.'" Condoleeza Rice spoke of how the attacks clarified America's role. Herbert London, President of the Hudson Institute, wrote a book entitled 'Decade of Denial: A Snapshot of America in the 1990s', a typically reactionary screed about what went wrong in the 1990s - poststructuralism undermined education with its political correctness and its denial of common cultural bonds (involving Shakespeare, apparently), no one stood for authentic politics, all was spin and polling, there was a general decline in civility etc etc. And Christopher Hitchens said what he said about exhiliaration about a war he would never get bored fighting.

Relief all round, until Iraq. Fukuyama is back in his pessimistic role. The neocons, whom he had allied himseld with until shortly before the war on Iraq (when he recanted, to some dismay), were soon discovered to be 'Leninists', a critique usually associated with the Libertarian right. They are undoubtedly benevolent, as is the President, but they are stuck in an alarmist mode which was appropriate in the Cold War but is not appropriate today. They end up providing a moralistic patina for 'preventive war', and are susceptible to the megalomoniacal tendencies that afflict other so-called 'Leninists'. This mimics his earlier worry that posthistorical societies would be afflicted by megalothymia, the desire to be recognised as superior, rather than equal. Fukuyama has therefore expressed a preference for 'realistic Wilsonianism': a prudent empire that, recognising the limits of martial power, seeks to extend influence primarily through soft power.

He has not entirely broken with the neoconservatives - he is on the steering committee for the trust managing Lewis Libby's defense against charges of obstructing justice and perjury, with whom he remains friends. He still considers Charles Krauthammer a "gifted thinker", or at least is willing to say so in public. He accepts that the cause of the 9/11 attacks was America's tolerance of autocrats, whose opponents took a local struggle global when they decided to attack the imperial protector of Mubarak and the Saudi royal family. He accepts that democratising the Middle East is a worthy project, and something the United States government could and should try to bring about. He doesn't oppose neoconservative assumptions, but wishes they would take their positions a bit more seriously and study the textbooks about democratic transitions and learn more about the societies to be invaded. (They are too flighty by far, for Fukuyama: they had thought that democracy was the default position of humanity and that all that was necessary was to unleash the "amorphous longing for freedom".) He remains an essentialist about 'human nature', and continues to hope that market economies can be "leavened by cultural traditions that arise from non-liberal sources", as he wrote in Trust (1995). His critique of contemporary neoconservatism is that it isn't neoconservative enough. It evangelises, but does not know the gospels.