Adam Kirsch Reviews Francis Fukuyama’s New Book At The City Journal: ‘The Dawn Of Politics’

Full review here.

Kirsch notes that Fukuyama, in his new book The Origins Of Political Order, has backed off from his Hegelian influence via Alexandre Kojeve:

Still, Fukuyama’s project is quite in the spirit of Hegel, who made clear that the writing of universal history does not require giving an account of everything that has ever happened to mankind. Rather, Hegel explained in the introduction to The Philosophy of History, “The History of the world is none other than the progress of the consciousness of Freedom; a progress whose development [is] according to the necessity of its nature.” It is this story of progressive enlightenment that the universal historian has to tell…

…In the past, Fukuyama felt that that story was best and most succinctly explained by Alexandre Kojève, the Franco-Russian philosopher whose seminars on Hegel, given in Paris in the 1930s, exerted a huge influence on subsequent political thinkers. (When Fukuyama talks about Hegel, he acknowledged in The End of History, he is really talking about “Hegel-as-interpreted-by-Kojève.”) It was Kojève who proposed that History (that is, the History of the march toward freedom, rather than the lowercase history of whatever happens to happen) ended with the French Revolution and the rise of Napoleon—for convenience’s sake, say in 1806, the year of the Battle of Jena and the completion of Hegel’s The Phenomenology of Spirit. 

This influence led to a strong historicist strain in Fukuyama’s work; a continental line of thought that can often lead to a rather liberal political philosophy. But Fukuyama was on the ground in Afghanistan in 1979, studied with Allan Bloom and Samuel Huntington and was often associated with neoconservatism.  So how did he get here, and where is he headed?:

For in a strange way, without explicitly acknowledging it, Fukuyama in his new book abandons the central premise of his earlier work, which was the Hegelian necessity of the progress of freedom. It is true that, as before, Fukuyama sees political history as the story of the evolution and spread of liberalism. The strategy of the book is to examine the development, across a range of societies, of what he considers the three pillars of “modern liberal democracy”: a strong state, the rule of law, and accountable government.

This seems closer to Huntington’s reaction to modernization theory, toward the current neoconservative viewpoint of using our military and economic strength to advance democracy and overthrow dictators (Fukuyama has since pulled away from neoconservatism after Afghanistan and Iraq).

Fukuyama has never accepted the Hobbesian view of the state of nature as a war of all against all, but the grounds of his rejection have changed. In The End of History, he countered Hobbes with Hegel: the Hobbesian notion that society is grounded in man’s fear of violent death, he argued, was less plausible than the Hegelian view that society arises from man’s need to earn recognition from his fellows by dominating them.

And he’s arrived at Darwin?:

In the new book, he again dismisses Hobbes, but this time on Darwinian grounds. Mankind has never consisted of atomized individuals, Fukuyama writes, but even in its most primitive state was organized into small, kin-based bands:


“Political systems evolve in a manner roughly comparable to biological evolution,”

Kirsch doesn’t seem too impressed by this new turn, and disputes this influence with Nietzsche’s response to Darwin:  the will to power:

“In The Will to Power, Nietzsche observed that, for human beings, the subjective experience of triumph was more important than actual success in the struggle for survival: “Physiologists should think again before positing the ‘instinct of preservation’ as the cardinal drive in an organic creature. A living thing wants above all to discharge its force.” And the discharge of force can take forms inimical to the preservation of life.”

Which could mean we’re right back to a Kantian/Hegelian philosophical influence as far as Kirsch is concerned (I’m thinking of the Straussian critique of historicism which holds that Nietzsche merely followed such logic into to its conclusions inherent in Hegel and in the subsequent crises of modernity…often visible in attempts to restlessly attach modern liberal democracies to something…away from religion…and as Strauss likely saw it,  away from Natural Right…).  Correct me if I’m wrong.

Kirsch finishes with:

“As long as Fukuyama could believe in History as a dialectical process, moving inevitably in the direction of freedom and equal recognition, there was at least one compass point that he could rely on. In the Darwinian world of The Origins of Political Order, that directionality has vanished, and we are left with contingency and cynicism as the keys to understanding our own past. That this results in a more conventional book than we have come to expect from Fukuyama is a sign of how difficult the conventional wisdom is to escape.”

If you’ve read the book, please share your thoughts.  Any comments are welcome.

(typos corrected)

Related On This SiteFrancis Fukuyama At The American Interest Online: ‘Political Order in Egypt’

From The Atlantic: Samuel Huntington’s Death And Life’s WorkFrom The American Interest Online: Francis Fukuyama On Samuel HuntingtonFrom Foreign Affairs Via The A & L Daily: ‘Conflict Or Cooperation: Three Visions Revisited’

Do we try and invest in global institutions as flawed as they are…upon a Kantian raft?:  Daniel Deudney On YouTube Responding to Robert Kagan: Liberal Democracy Vs. Autocracy

Here’s Nietzsche scholar J.P. Stern on Nietzsche’s anti-Christian, anti-secular morality (Kant, utilitarians), anti-democratic, and anti-Greek (except the “heroic” Greek) biases…See the comments Repost-Camille Paglia At Arion: Why Break, Blow, Burn Was SuccessfulUpdate And Repost: ‘A Few Thoughts On Allan Bloom–The Nietzsche / Strauss Connection’

Some Quotations From Leo Strauss On Edmund Burke In ‘Natural Right And History’Harry Jaffa At The Claremont Institute: ‘Leo Strauss, the Bible, and Political Philosophy’Some Tuesday Quotations From Leo Strauss

Food for thought: From Public Reason: A Discussion Of Gerald Gaus’s Book ‘The Order of Public Reason: A Theory of Freedom And Morality In A Diverse And Bounded World’

From Philosophy And Polity: ‘Historicism In German Political Theory’

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