02/21/2006 11:48 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

The History of Francis Fukuyama

A brief word on Francis Fukuyama's recent renunciation of neo-conservatism.

Four years ago, I attended a discussion of the September terror attacks that centered on Fukuyama's thesis concerning the end of history. It seemed to me that Fukuyama's argument was immaterial because inaccurate. The post-Soviet world may have arrived at a certain political and social stasis, but that stasis was too dependent upon a global economy which, in turn, was too dependent upon regions that had yet to develop liberal democracy. So long as that contingency remained — and the terrorist attacks were proof positive that it did — then history in its philosophical sense would remain an ongoing project.

Ironically, that much Fukuyama would have agreed with. He never argued that history had ended; in fact, he was acutely conscious of where it had stalled. But he was so only because he believed that the spread of liberal democracy was inevitable. If freedom was destined to come, the thought went, you might as well expedite its arrival. (Or such was Fukuyama's thinking back in 1997, when he joined Cheney, Wolfowitz and Rumsfeld as founding members of The Project for the New American Century, the neo-conservative organization that first called for regime change throughout the Middle East.)

The trouble with all this is that the vocabulary in which Fukuyama defines history is the wrong one. As Fukuyama acknowledges, his is the lexicon, ultimately, of Trotsky and Marx and Hegel, with traces of Plato for good measure. The fundamental assumption of this lexicon is the belief that man will perfect himself if given the chance, and that history therefore need only be defined as the continuum in which man advances toward perfection. Once perfection is arrived at — or in its modern iteration, once freedom is universal — then the project of history is finally complete.

Such utopianism sounds great. But from the plains of Poland to the gulags of Siberia, in practice it has delivered chaos at best and genocide at worst. Consequently it should surprise no one that its latest application would turn out to be a disaster. Iraq is a mess because Fukuyama and a handful of others provided the Bush administration with an intellectual cover that was willfully blind to the lessons of history.

Admittedly, I admire Fukuyama's courage in renouncing what neoconservatism has become, and I appreciate his newfound pragmatism. But until Fukuyama distances himself from utopian notions of human progress — which in his article he expressly refuses to do — he will be little more than a wolf in sheep's clothing.

--Chris Meserole is the editor of Democratic Vista.