The Daily Sandwich

"We have to learn the lesson that intellectual honesty is fundamental for everything we cherish." -Sir Karl Popper

Location: Boston, Massachusetts, United States


Monday, February 20, 2006

Twilight of the Neocons

Neoconservative scholar Francis Fukuyama isn't a guy I agree with too often, but I think his piece in the New York Times is fascinating stuff. Political science isn't my thing. At all. But I'm fairly well-versed in philosophy-- particularly political philosophy and the philosophy of science starting with the mid-18th century. I'm also a staunch opponent of Hegel and his philosphical heir, Marx. On the other hand, I'm a big fan of Karl Popper and Bertrand Russell. And Fukuyama makes some very interesting observations that compare the neoconservative movement with the sort of pseudoscientific historical determinism of Hegel and Marx that, to me, has represented the greatest obstacle to democracy and freedom in the last two centuries. While I am sympathetic to some of the goals of Marx, e.g. social justice and equality, the tragic reality of Marxism is that it has invariably resulted in a totalitarian nightmare when practiced.

In describing the neoconservative movement as "Leninist," Fukuyama touches on the arguments made by Sir Karl Popper in the 1950s: war is inevitable and moral, history is to be shaped through force, and oligarchy is the most efficient form of government.

But rather than writing an extended piece on political philosophy, I'll just direct you to Fukuyama's piece and Popper's The Open Society and Its Enemies, Volume 2.

A few passages:

In the formulation of the scholar Ken Jowitt, the neoconservative position articulated by people like Kristol and Kagan was, by contrast, Leninist; they believed that history can be pushed along with the right application of power and will. Leninism was a tragedy in its Bolshevik version, and it has returned as farce when practiced by the United States. Neoconservatism, as both a political symbol and a body of thought, has evolved into something I can no longer support. (. . .)

There were other reasons as well why the world did not accept American benevolent hegemony. In the first place, it was premised on American exceptionalism, the idea that America could use its power in instances where others could not because it was more virtuous than other countries. The doctrine of pre-emption against terrorist threats contained in the 2002 National Security Strategy was one that could not safely be generalized through the international system; America would be the first country to object if Russia, China, India or France declared a similar right of unilateral action. The United States was seeking to pass judgment on others while being unwilling to have its own conduct questioned in places like the International Criminal Court. (. . .)

The United States needs to come up with something better than "coalitions of the willing" to legitimate its dealings with other countries. The world today lacks effective international institutions that can confer legitimacy on collective action; creating new organizations that will better balance the dual requirements of legitimacy and effectiveness will be the primary task for the coming generation. As a result of more than 200 years of political evolution, we have a relatively good understanding of how to create institutions that are rulebound, accountable and reasonably effective in the vertical silos we call states. What we do not have are adequate mechanisms of horizontal accountability among states.

While I naturally disagree with some of Fukuyama's conclusions, it's valuable to hear a critique of neoconservatism from a (former) true-believer.