America at the Crossroads: Democracy, Power, and the Neoconservative Legacy by Francis Fukuyama (Yale, 240 pp., $25)
In the summer of 2004, in a widely debated article in The National Interest, Francis Fukuyama—one of America’s foremost political thinkers—publicly broke with the Bush administration and neoconservatism over the Iraq war. Much of the interest in his current book, America at the Crossroads, is centered on this controversy. The book’s real significance, however, lies not in a rehash of Fukuyama’s past pronouncements on the Iraq war, but in his prescriptions for the future—the creation of new and extra-constitutional institutions of global governance.
After beginning with a brief overview of his main arguments, Fukuyama reviews the history of neoconservatism: Alcove 1 at CCNY, Trotskyism, liberal anti-Communism, The Public Interest and “unintended consequences,” Commentary and the Cold War, Leo Strauss and the importance of “regime,” and the influence of nuclear strategist Albert Wohlstetter. Some may quibble that Fukuyama uses the Stalinist word “Trotskyite” instead of “Trotskyist,” or mischaracterizes the division between Harry Jaffa (“John Philip Sousa”) Straussians and Allan Bloom (“Wagnerian”) Straussians. But on balance this section is very nicely written: a clear guide for beginners, including mainstream journalists.
Fukuyama also draws nuanced distinctions between the William Kristol/Robert Kagan viewpoint and the more “democratic realist” wing of neoconservatism exemplified by Charles Krauthammer and Jeane Kirkpatrick. He argues that the Kristol/Kagan Foreign Affairs article of 1996 that called for a broader democratic interventionism successfully “redefined” neoconservatism and moved it away from the more constrained views of the first generation of neoconservatives, including Kristol père.
Fukuyama characterizes four schools of American foreign policy: neoconservative (promotion of democracy, benevolent U.S. hegemony); realist (traditional balance of power); liberal internationalist (“seeks to transcend power politics through international law and institutions”); and nationalist Jacksonian (“narrow security-related view” of American interests). He himself has left the neoconservative camp and is now a “realistic Wilsonian” or “hard-headed” liberal internationalist (seeking “not the transcendence . . . of power politics but its regularization through institutional constraints”).
National Review readers might rightly complain that this list of four schools is far from comprehensive. After all, Jon Kyl, John Bolton, Henry Hyde, Newt Gingrich, Norm Coleman, and most Republican members of Congress could best be described as “Reagan Internationalists,” part of what Rich Lowry has labeled the “Reagan Synthesis.” This coalition combines a strong baseline Jacksonian nationalism (“Don’t tread on me”) with strands of Wilsonianism (democracy matters), Hamiltonianism (promotion of free trade), and realism (power politics)—to use the classic taxonomy formulated by Walter Russell Mead. Fukuyama appears to have a visceral distaste for the Jacksonian tradition, which he mischaracterizes as “isolationist”; Mead says it’s the Jeffersonians, not the Jacksonians, who are isolationists and identifies Reagan himself as a Jacksonian figure who successfully combined a number of complementary American traditions.
Since his original “End of History” article in 1989, Fukuyama has gradually moved from Hegelian idealism to a more “Marxian” materialism. He tells us that many have misunderstood his thought concerning the “end of history,” which was an “argument about modernization,” not about ideology—that is to say, it was materialist, not idealist. Perhaps. But Fukuyama is careful to cite in this regard his 1992 book, not his 1989 article, which emphasized “consciousness,” “ideas,” and “ideology” over material factors. In 1989 he wrote: “Have we in fact reached the end of history? . . . If we accept the idealist premises laid out above, we must seek an answer to this question in the realm of ideology and consciousness.”
America at the Crossroads has a long chapter on promoting modernization, democracy, and economic growth in developing countries, in which Fukuyama makes many sensible points that parallel arguments he has made before. He stumbles, however, when he asserts that the U.S. “has become steadily less generous” and claims that the U.S. ranks 21st out of 22 leading developed nations in foreign giving (even when private aid is counted). My Hudson Institute colleague, Carol Adelman, a former high-ranking official at the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), says this is simply wrong: The U.S. ranks 11th of 22 leading donor countries (counting private aid); government foreign aid has doubled between 2000 and 2004, and has also increased as a percentage of gross national income.
On the broader geopolitical front, Fukuyama commits a more serious error: He minimizes the global conflict with radical Islam. He tells us that “rhetoric” about the “global war on terror should cease” because “conceiving the larger struggle as a global war . . . vastly overstates” the problem. “We are fighting a small group of fanatics,” he suggests, “sheltering behind a larger group of sympathizers.” (“Before the Iraq war, we were probably at war with no more than a few thousand people . . .”)
Moreover, “the most dangerous people are not pious Muslims in the Middle East, but alienated uprooted young people in Hamburg, London, or Amsterdam.” The conflict, therefore, is a response to modernization and globalization and “cannot be understood primarily” in terms of religion or culture. Indeed, “the major battlegrounds are as likely to be in Western Europe as in the Middle East.” Relying on French theorists Gilles Kepel and Olivier Roy, Fukuyama claims that the political appeal of radical Islam is weak. He also draws a clear distinction between radical Islamists and simply ideological Islamists who seek to establish an Islamic regime through political means and who (in Fukuyama’s view) are “not necessarily . . . hostile to democracy.”
There is, of course, some truth to Fukuyama’s contention that radical Islamist (jihadist) ideology and deracinated Muslim immigrants in Europe are, to some extent, the byproducts of incomplete modernization. Nevertheless, it is too clever by half to suggest that the problem is primarily one of a flawed modernization-globalization process rather than a religio-cultural-ideological conflict, and that the terrorist crisis itself is centered mainly in the West (Europe) rather than in the Islamic world and the Middle East. The Western outposts of radical Islam are just that: outposts. The money (mostly Saudi), propagandists (imams), ideological indoctrination, terrorist/military training (sometimes Iranian), logistics, and psychological-religious support come from religious Muslims (self-described, whether “authentic” or not) in the Middle East. Hamas, Hizbollah, and the madrassas emanate from the Middle East. The majority of al-Qaeda adherents are Middle Eastern in origin and consider themselves “pious.” The Danish cartoon controversy was activated, not in Europe, but in the Middle East.
Remember, eleven Muslim ambassadors from Islamic countries (including, significantly, Turkey) demanded that the Danish prime minister curb press freedom within Denmark. Fukuyama is too sanguine about the “democratic” aspects of Islamist (but non-jihadist) ideology. Islamists (whether violent or non-violent) seek to establish sharia (Islamic law) as the basis for government. Even a non-violent Islamist regime would be an illiberal one, rejecting both freedom of religion for non-Muslim believers and freedom for the non-religious. Thus, a “democratic” Islamist regime means an “illiberal democracy,” in the Fareed Zakaria sense.
Although almost all eyes are focused on Fukuyama’s break with the Bush administration and neoconservative thinking, the truly revolutionary part of the book is his embrace, however hesitantly, of an extra-constitutional transnationalism. To be sure, all of this is done with often contradictory “on the one hand, on the other hand” qualifiers, and further obfuscated with the language of social science.
Fukuyama calls for an “agenda of multiple-multilaterialisms.” He tells us that, as “realistic Wilsonians, . . . we do not want to replace national sovereignty with unaccountable international organizations” like the U.N. “On the other hand, we do not now have an adequate set of horizontal mechanisms of accountability between the vertical stovepipes we label states.”
“Horizontal accountability” would presumably mean some transnational mechanism that would make, for example, the American nation-state and the Canadian or French nation-state, democratically accountable to each other. “Horizontal accountability” between states is needed, Fukuyama says, first because it would facilitate globalization, and second because “few [nations] trust the United States” to be “sufficiently benevolent” without “the subjection of American power to more formal constraints.”
If Fukuyama were merely saying that Americans should—as a matter of prudential statesmanship—attempt to secure the support of major democratic allies before acting in important international crises, that would be fine. But he is hinting at something else: He is suggesting that new transnational organizations not accountable to American democratic institutions should make decisions concerning American foreign policy. How else to explain the following: “Although international cooperation will have to be based on sovereign states for the foreseeable future, shared ideas of legitimacy and human rights will weaken objections that the United States should not be accountable to regimes that are not themselves accountable.”
Why would Americans want to be accountable to the unaccountable? Because, Fukuyama says, Americans believe that if “unchecked power is corrupting in a domestic context,” the same holds true internationally. But, of course, the “checks and balances” of the U.S. Constitution already apply to both domestic and foreign affairs and are within the context of our accountable democratic system. What Fukuyama is suggesting is extra-constitutional—some new transnational mechanism of “checks and balances” outside of American constitutional democracy and genuine democratic accountability. Francis Fukuyama, one of our leading democratic theorists, may want to reconsider this flirtation with post-democratic thinking.