Interview with Dr. Francis Fukuyama, Bernard L. Schwartz Professor of International Political Economy at the Paul H. Nitze School of Advanced International Studies of Johns Hopkins University, author of the international bestseller "The End of History and the Last Man" (1992)
Healing bodies instead of souls
Dr. Fukuyama, do you like to be a human and live in this world?
I can’t say that I have tried other forms of life other than being human, but I think that it’s pretty good. And I enjoy living in this world. Yes.
Why is it so good?
Well, again – I have nothing to compare it to. I have never lived a life as a dog or a mouse or anything else. Maybe it would be nice to be that, but it does seem to me that I am relatively happy with my life.
How do you try to overcome the fear of apocalypses or death in you?
Well, all of us have to face death. And I think that it’s something that we have learned to put off thinking about. At some point I think it would become a bigger issue. I don’t worry about the apocalypse, because I don’t think that it’s going to happen.
What is your opinion on who or what won the cold war?
Well, I think that there is no question that the West won the Cold War. I think that it was pretty a one sided victory.
But maybe we can say that the Baltic States won the Cold War as well?
Well, the Baltic States came out of it pretty well. I have never been in Latvia, but I have spent some time in Estonia and it seems to me that the transition in the Baltic’s went much more rapidly than in Russia, Ukraine, a lot of other places. So it think that you should, at least relatively speaking, be quite happy with what happened.
Then we are not losers from the Cold War?
The whole Russian occupation in the Baltic’s should never have happened in the first place. So if you include that as a part of the experience then I think it was a great tragedy for the Baltic’s. But given that it had happened, certainly the end of the Cold war was a great liberation.
Has your idea of the end of history experienced the need for a new interpretation during the last ten years?
Well, I think that the fundamental idea is still sound. The end of history was really a thesis of modernization, which should be quite familiar to Marxists, because all Marxists believed that all history was progressive. They said that it was directional and would end into some kind of communism. And my argument was that it wasn’t going to end in Communism but in what Marxists called the bourgeois liberal democracy. And in that sense I don’t think anything that has happened has made me to change my mind that the modern society, liberal democracy and market oriented economic system is the only realistic possibility. Certainly a lot has happened – there was this upsurge of nationalism and the development of this radical Islamist ideology, that is very dangerous in the short run. But I don’t think that even that represents a serious alternative to the liberal democracy, at least for the non-Muslim societies. So I think that the basic parts of the thesis are still correct.
In what respect can you understand the opponents of globalisation?
The opponents of globalisation first of all are extremely varied. Some of them are trade unionists who are losing their jobs to third world countries, some of them are environmentalists, some of them don’t like the cultural aspects of globalisation. I think that this is natural, because globalisation produces some winners, it produces some losers, it’s a very complex phenomenon. So its not surprising that there are people who don’t like it. On the other hand I don’t think that any of the anti globalisation activists have produced a coherent alternative model other than simply slowing down globalisation. At least the communists had a clear model for an alternative society, but I don’t think that the anti globalisation people have any concept of what different kind of world they would like to live in.
Maybe world before the globalisation?
The world before globalisation in which Asia was mired in poverty because they couldn’t export to the rest of the world. If you remember what China was like through the most of the 20th century – it was a terrible world, so I don’t see why anyone should feel nostalgic for a that kind of a life.
Do you think that the idea of the end of the history is a story with a happy end?
Well, I think that there has been progress in history. I think that overall there is basically optimistic story to this. In the short run there is no guarantee that anyone is going to be happy. I think that the human society has overtime evolved better political institutions. They don’t exist everywhere, they are difficult to establish, but I do think that we made progress overtime. It is very hard to say whether this relates to human happiness. If you think that there is a real difference between living under a authoritarian dictatorship and living in a modern western free society and you think that it makes the difference in happiness, then I would say that – yes – it has contributed to happiness.
Could global capitalism be a threat to the open society?
Well, I think that the capitalism always has to exist within the framework of law that limits some of it’s excesses. Just in the United States we have seen some of these accounting scandals – Enron and MCI, which where failures of the government to regulate these businesses adequately. I think that there is always a tension between broader public interests and interests of private corporations. It’s one that can be reconciled. I think that it is certainly better to live in the world with these kinds of corporations that produce wealth than in one in which they don’t exist.
How is development possible after the end of history?
Well, first of all not everybody is happy at the end of history. You have a great part of the world which does not have the institutions that are not required to support the modern society, so there is a great deal of work that needs to be done. But if there is such a thing as the end of history then there is no more development for a country that has already reached that end. That’s what the end of history means. You take a country like Germany or the United States. You can imagine that they all have got problems, they all have policy problems that need to be fixed, but the question you need to ask yourself is – can you imagine a major reorganisation of the basic institutions of those societies that will result into a society as a whole being happier. I don’t think that it is possible. If you abolish the elections, if you abolish the individual freedom, if you centralise the economy – is that going to make peoples lives better – I really doubt it. In that sense I don’t think that there is a further large scale development that needs to take place.
In what way is the world coming to an end and we as humans can only choose one scenario or another?
Well, I don’t think that I have ever said that human beings don’t have a choice. I mean they clearly have a choice. For some individuals clearly there are a lot of other choices, but I do think that the most of other choices are bad ones. We can step back into theocracy or fascism or some form of dictatorship. These are possibilities for modern societies, but I don’t think that they are going to be the ones that will improve life for people.
Which of the possibilities of the end of the world would you consider as the most appropriate?
Well, this is just repeating myself - I don’t think that there is overall a preferable system to liberal democracy for a modern society.
But then – what about your theory of the end of human being?
Yes - that’s a different issue. To the extent that you say that liberal democracy suits human ends or human happiness – it depends on certain definition on what human beings are. Certain type of nature. If you think about it – one of the reasons that communism collapsed was that they tried to engage in a kind of a social engineering that simply wasn’t possible, because it went too much against the grain of human nature. To abolish private property or to subordinate the family to the party in the state forced people to live in ways that had just violated some basic drives that all human beings share. That’s why those political systems didn’t work. If you can imagine a technology that can actually change that underline nature – then I think you reopen a possibility of a new kind of social engineering that was not possible in the 20th century. That’s why I think biotechnology poses a certain kinds of long-run dangers.
Do you think that Karl Marx could come into fashion if there would start the clash between the genetic elite and the rest.
I think that genetic engineering is something that may never be possible. So this is something – we are talking about the future – this is a future possibility, but I think that one of the things that we would have to worry about – is not Karl Marx, it’s Friedrich Nietzsche. Nietzsche welcomed the possibility of the development of the superman. And he would have said – this is great, because it allows us to recreate our social classes and true aristocracy and the domination of some people by other people.
Adolph Hitler also liked this theory.
That’s right. I think that it’s dangerous to play around with some of these technologies, because it opens up this possibility that I think we spent a lot of time in the 20th century trying to suppress.
What is threatening the human happiness today?
Well, there is a lot of different sources. First of all it depends on what human beings you are talking about. There is four fifths of the world that live in less developed countries, where you have weak institutions, bad governments, poverty, tremendous problems just of surviving day to day, so probably the single obstacle to human happiness - it’s that type of under development, that’s the most important. If you go to the developed countries – you have very different kinds of problems. In a way the problem is quite the opposite – it’s the lack of community, the lack of shared sense of identity, it’s the lack of connectedness with other people, the breakdown of the family, so you can take your pick of obstacles to happiness.
If you would have the power to design a new human, how would you create it?
Well, I wouldn’t do that. I wouldn’t exercise that power. That’s the most important point. That’s the power the God exercised. I think that the problems with all of this biotechnology is that people want to put themselves in that position and say – I know what makes a good human and I know what makes for human happiness and I am going to engineer my child and society along those lines. I think that we have seen this aspiration in the past and I think that it’s a dangerous one. So I would simply not accept that.
Do you think that gene technologies will succeed in what religions and ideologies have failed to succeed?
I don’t know. We simply don’t know whether any of these technological possibilities will come to pass. But there is something to the connection between the religion and modern technology. It used to be – that if you were depressed or unhappy with your life or you had problems with your children or with your wife or husband – you would go to the priest or to the church or you would seek some spiritual guidance. Today we go to a psychologist or to a doctor and the doctor prescribes us a pill to make us less depressed or less anxious or less nervous to help us adjust to the stresses of life. And so in some sense there has been a functional replacement of religion by modern psychology, medicine, biomedicine more broadly. Now instead of healing our soul we want to take medicine to heal our bodies, because we have now medicalised everything.
But why are Prozac and antidepressants a feminist medicine as you have described in your book?
Well, no … Prozac is taken by a lot of women, because women tend to be more depressed on average than men. The depression often comes with the feelings of low self-esteem or low self worth and Prozac is a drug that helps people in that situation. There are some feminists that have argued that it’s a kind of feminist drug, because it’s a particularly good for fixing a problem that many women feel. Just like the drug Ritalin– that’s a drug that is used to treat hyperactivity – is used mostly to control the behaving of young boys – so it’s something that in a way controls mainly a male sort of problem.
Could the fact that women have become more active and self confident whereas men less aggressive be considered as a success of medicine?
You know I think that the end is not the bad thing – what’s wrong is the means. Because our moral system is really based in a concept of individual agency that we in some important aspect have controlled our lives and how we shape our characters and the kinds of moral choices that we make. The problem that I have with these drugs is that they attempt to short circuit the individual moral choice – and they say to us – look this is not your fault that if you cannot concentrate, that you have a low self–esteem – simply take this pill and this problem will be fixed. Just take the question of self esteem – the traditional moral understanding of self esteem is that you get self esteem only if you deserve it by doing something that the society esteems as a worthy act. That’s what gives you dignity and worth as a person. And the self esteem only follows from doing something that is estimable. And if you have a pill – simply gives you the same feeling without having you to perform any worthy act – there is something morally wrong with that. I don’t object to women feeling greater self esteem and I don’t feel that is wrong to make boys less aggressive, but I think that the means that we use is important.
What is there that you would like to know about your genes?
I’m quite happy to be ignorant to what genetic and what’s not, because I think that sometimes that kind of knowledge doesn’t make you happier.
Why one should not improve the human nature?
I think that we have had too much experience with people trying to improve human nature. And I don’t think that they know what they are doing. I think that we don’t necessarily understand what makes for a better human being. I think it’s that power that some people exercise over others that should really frighten us.
In what way is your theory about the end of human being continuing the theory of the end of history?
It’s not a continuation, it’s really a problem in the end of history. What I have argued is that you have liberal democracy at the end of the 20th century because of the failure of these utopian social engineering schemes. So in many respects the fact that you have reached the end of history is very much relate to the fact that human beings have a certain well defined nature. Once you violate that the politics becomes very problematic. And my argument was that … one critic of mine said – that you can’t have an end of history unless you have the end of science, because it’s ultimately science that drives technological development and its technological development that drives social change. And I think that it’s ultimately correct – it’s a good critique, because science in fact doesn’t have an end and if we have a much more powerful cognitive neuroscience that really understands the biological basis of brain – then we would have new opportunities for social control available to us. So that is why in a way biotechnology be the ultimate thing that makes the end of history impossible.
How would you explain the success of conservative values and the rebirth of religion within the American society? How do these values influence politics?
Conservative values and religion are not necessarily the same thing. Religion has always been stronger in the US compared to many parts of Europe precisely because there has never been an established religion in the US unlike in many European countries. I think that established religion…there is a very strong correlation between whether you have an established religion in the nineteen century and how secular your society is in the 20th century. On the other hand US always had a marketplace for religions where there are all sorts of competing religious sects – the state didn’t tell that you have to believe in one set of values and as a result I think that it meant that the religion itself was much healthier and much more the product of ones individual commitment than rather simply a something that was imposed on people by the state. So that’s why I think religion is stronger. I think that conservative values have made a comeback in the US because it’s a reaction to the social reorganisation do breakdowns that occurred in the 1970ies and 80ies as a result of an impact of all of the social changes that were taking place in the United States at that time – feminism, sexual revolution, birth control pill - all these kind of social movement had a very disruptive effect on the family and on many traditional kinds of communities. And I think that the return of conservative social values is very much a reaction to that.
Would you agree to the assumption that the American society could be divided in supporters of Michael Moor’s and Mel Gibson’s films?
Well, I think that this division is a pretty strong one. I mean – to some extent you can overstate how polarised the country is, because many Americans if you talk to them at greater length actually agree with each other on a lot of things. But definitely it’s a real division.
Does the American democracy and the freedoms respectively experienced crisis after 9/11?
No, I don’t think that it’s a crisis. I think that there has been some kind of an overreaction to September 11, which has lead the government to do a lot of foolish things. They cracked down on foreigners traveling in United States across the border whether it makes sense or not. All sorts of fears that have been raised over the things that we can’t really do anything about. And I think that the government in my view has gone a little but too far in terms of civil liberties, restricting civil liberties in response to the terrorist attacks. I don’t think that that’s a crisis in American government. I think that it’s something that will be corrected overtime.
Is it possible to talk about the end of liberal democracy in the States?
No, I think that it’s silly. I think that liberal democracy is very healthy in the United States.
But maybe it must respect these conservative values, every government must…
Liberal societies need conservative social values. What a liberal society is – in which the government, the state doesn’t tell people how to live. It does not require the state to organise the whole of society. The way that communist government tried to do. But the only way that that can work is if the society itself is cohesive and has social bonds outside the government, outside the state. And if civil society isn’t strong – liberal democracy doesn’t work. This is the basic insight of Alexis de Tocqueville that you needed a strong civil society in order to have limited government, free institutions and part of what makes civil society possible are precisely these kinds of conservative social values, because that’s what provides cohesion outside the scope of the state. And I would say not just these conservative values do not threaten liberal democracy; they are what makes liberal democracy possible.
You held a position of an adviser to President George Bush Senior. In what way is President George Bush Junior a successor of the politics implemented by his father?
There has been a lot of speculation on this that George Bush Sr. was actually not happy with the Iraq war and was critical privately of the choices that his son made. He personally denies this and I don’t know him and I can’t tell you – that he is not telling the truth about that. But I do think that if you look at the way how father handled the 1991 Gulf War and the way how his son handled the 2003 Iraq war – that the approach was really very different.
In what way has the attitude and the understanding of war changed during these years? Between the Gulf war and the Iraq war?
Well, I think that many people including people in the Bush administration were expecting the Iraq war be a short, relatively clean, quick war the way the 1991 Gulf War was. And that’s way George Bush landed on the aircraft carrier and said – “mission accomplished” in the early May of 2003,because I think that he really expected that it would be the end of the fighting. They were all surprised that this insurgency emerged and seems to be getting deeper and more costly as the time goes on. And that has been a painful lesson for the administration.
You have said that G.W Bush could lose the elections.
Well, of course he could lose the elections. I mean I think right now I would give him a better than even chance of winning, but of course he could loose.
And what could be the reason?
You know, many things can happen. First of all the country is fairly even divided between republicans and democrats – you could have some really bad set-back in Iraq, he could mess up in the debates, he could look weak or he could look confused. So there are lots of unpredictable things that could happen.
Do you think that the greater state power is the only solution to how to save this world?
Well, if that means – can the United States be sole superpower to save the world… I doubt that, because I don’t think that the rest of the world is going to approve that role for the United States. That’s what the Iraq war demonstrated. I think that as a matter of fact American power has been very crucial and sometimes unilateral exercise has been very crucial in providing stability. The Europeans tried to solve the problem in the Balkans in 1990ies and by themselves they could not do that. It really required either the Croatian army or the American air force to ultimately fix that situation for them. So I think that the United States does play an important role in many cases and the world wouldn’t be better off if the United States disappeared, but I do think that also the United States has made mistakes and I think that the idea is a kind of unilateral policeman is not a workable arrangement in the long run.
There is a view that, if there would not be America, – Europe would have to invent it.
Well, you see that’s the problem now that increasingly to many Americans Europe has become this kind of a backward place where they are wedded to old ideas, the welfare state has gotten too big and that it constricts the ability to grow and they don’t have a vigorous foreign policy, they are not living up to their responsibilities – is one of the major sources of power in the world – this is a common American view. I don’t completely share that, because I think that Europeans do actually play a useful role, but there is something to that characterization. I think that Europe is overregulated, it has created, it’s storing up problems for itself that it will have to work out in coming years, because it has too big a welfare state, it’s to encumbered in by all sorts of rules and so forth.
What is your opinion on why did there develop a difference in values between America and Europe with regards to policy realised by the United States?
Well, I think that’s just a straightforward reflection of the histories on the two sides of the Atlantic. I think that Americans have a belief that military power is often used for moral good purposes. In the Second World War and even in the civil war – the ultimate end of the war was the abolition of slavery. In the Second World War – the American power was used to liberate Europe, in the Cold war – the American steadfastness and power was used to liberate Eastern Europe and I think that Americans tend to think that the power is a good thing or at least the American exercise of power is a good thing. And I think that Europeans just have a different view in which the Firs world war was really a very important experience where power was misused, national sovereignty became a huge problem. That’s why there is just a different attitude towards war on the two sides of the Atlantic.
Is the role that the US has to play on the global stage an easy one?
Oh, obviously it’s quite difficult. Especially for the United States, you know even though the United States is accused of being imperialist, I think that most Americans are quite uncomfortable with that role, they don’t want to rule other people if they don’t have to, so that’s not a happy situation for them.
As you have a Ph.D. in USSR foreign policy, in what respect is the current Russia a fundamentally different player on the stage of the world politics and in what way is it still the same?
I think that the collapse of communism makes a huge difference, because previously the former Soviet Union was a home of the global universalistic ideology. That simply doesn’t exist any more and I don’t think that it’s going to be revived and so you are not going to see Russians showing up in Central America or Africa or places like that as missionaries for this ideology. On the other hand I do think their continuity is in Russian history. This tradition of authority and a state – that continues in the current Russian government. I think that Mr. Putin has been pulling Russia backwards into a kind of authoritarian past and so in that sense there has not been a change. But that’s also a process that will require another generation to work out, because I do think that something really did shift, there was an important change that took place after 1989 and so they are never gone get fully dragged back into the bad old days of the USSR.
But in the US ideology USSR was an enemy – what is in this place now? Global terrorists?
Well, I think that that’s the problem that a lot of conservatives in the United States really want an enemy. And so some of them think that it should be China, some of them think that it should be global terrorism. I think that out of all the candidates – probably this radical Islam comes the closest to qualifying. I don’t think that the United States needs to look for a single enemy, because that’s not a helpful way how to organise the American foreign policy.