Update And Repost-Adam Kirsch Reviews Francis Fukuyama’s 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.

That progress of freedom heavily influenced the End Of History, and since the Iraq War, he’s backed away from neoconservatism:

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 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…Nietzsche too had a Darwinian period).  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.  When idealism recedes, cynicism and bitterness can remain, but I still think Fukuyama is still asking central questions about Man’s state in nature and the origins of morality and political order.

He’s doing so from within a deeper European and continental tradition which is still very much with us.

(typos corrected)

Addition:  It’s hard not to be impressed with the sweep and scope of the work, offering new ways to think about our own political development in the Anglo-American sphere as well as the West, East Asia, and the Islamic world.  It’s interesting to read such a synthesis of Darwinian and sociological theory and analysis, history, politics and political philosophy.

Yet, I still have doubts about its epistemological structure, or the ground beneath the tower Fukuyama has built (such is philosophy, really).  Hegel can be tough to shake, and so can positing some sort of idealized endpoint to history with profound but ultimately mystifying logic.  Whence Darwin?:

Here’s Fukuyama summing up his book for an audience:


Related On This SiteUpdate And Repost- From YouTube: Leo Strauss On The Meno-More On The Fact/Value Distinction?’

From Darwinian Conservatism: ‘Nietzsche–Aristocratic Radical or Aristocratic Liberal?’

Can Kant do all that heavy lifting…what are some of the dangers of Kantian reason?:  From Bryan Magee’s Talking Philosophy On Youtube: Geoffrey Warnock On KantA Few Thoughts On Isaiah Berlin’s “Two Concepts Of Liberty” …

Peter Singer discusses Hegel and MarxFrom Philosophy And Polity: ‘Historicism In German Political Theory’

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 Successful

6 thoughts on “Update And Repost-Adam Kirsch Reviews Francis Fukuyama’s Book At The City Journal: ‘The Dawn Of Politics’

  1. Pingback: Steynian 472nd | Free Canuckistan!

  2. most likely incorporating elements of liberal or social democracy; but Kojeve’s emphasis on the necessarily “post-political” character of such a state (and its citizens) makes such comparisons inadequate, and is irreducible to any mere “triumph” of capitalism.

  3. Thank you for the link. I thought the Adam Kirsch review was excellently done. In my opinion Fukuyama is patronizing about ‘failed’ states and the need for the West to do something about them. In ‘The Art of Not Being Governed…” James C. Scott argues that many of the marginalized areas of the world are not waiting with open arms to be saved by liberal democracy, rather they have fled to the “mountains” to escape the predations of a centralized state. People have moved to these far away and inaccessible places because they are hiding from the state’s tax collector. All they want is to be left alone. Go away Fukuyama!

  4. Malcolm,

    That’s putting it succicntly! Global visions abound, and some of them kind of line up with some facts and reality. Those maps are often in the hard drives in people’s minds who make important policy decisions.

  5. There is plenty of drama in The Origins of Political Order, but not where you would expect to find it, in the book’s narrative of political development. The drama comes instead from the way the book pits the old Fukuyama against the new. On the one hand, we get Fukuyama the brushed-up scholar of state formation, brilliantly alive to the contingencies of political development in the Han Dynasty, the Ottoman Empire and feudal Denmark; on the other hand, the old Fukuyama stubbornly hammers these twists and turns into a familiar pattern. Despite the new Fukuyama’s willingness to entertain a variety of explanations for historical change—he deftly interchanges religious, economic and political variables—the old Fukuyama persists in seeing human nature, in the form of the Hegelian quest for recognition, driving all the while toward the liberal democratic state. Never in the course of an argument that spans ages and oceans does Fukuyama consider that the vagaries of world history may tell another, less glamorous story: the achievements of liberal democracy are by their nature unstable, having come about through centuries of backdoor compromises that barely survived the twentieth century, and that it is the false comforts provided by his providential history that impair our ability to confront liberal democracy’s unresolved problems in good faith. In Crossroads Fukuyama inflated the significance of neoconservatism by suggesting that it alone was responsible for the Iraq debacle, when in reality the invasion of Iraq had enablers across the political spectrum; now, in The Origins, a similar tunnel vision leads Fukuyama to attribute the rise of the liberal state to a few original chess moves deep in the fog of history. But to tell the civilizations of the world that they have, unbeknownst to themselves, stumbled up against some of the features of the liberal state is a strange form of flattery. The most valuable political lesson they may hold for us is that they did not.

  6. Vance, thanks for the review. How one can know whether or not Fukuyama’s chosen ingredients for liberal democracy, the particular sequence of events that led to their development, and their explanatory power across vast swathes of time and space and the histories of other countries are all lining up with reality is an interesting question.

    That still seems to be a potential Hegel problem, pulling real rabbits out of metaphysical hats.

    The turn towards Darwin is interesting, and struck me as closer to some truth about power, but I fear its reductionism as regards why we do what we do, and also it’s reductionism in order to become portable in his theory here, and in his turn away from Hegel and Kojeve he’s back in the confines of Darwin, like a great many others.

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