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Review of America at the Crossroads: Democracy, Power, and the Neoconservative Legacy. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2006 by Francis Fukuyama

Michael A Peters , UIUC


Francis Fukuyama’s book America at the Crossroads: Democracy, Power, and the Neoconservative Legacy , the latest from a prolific writer who as a neoconservative thinker has contributed many books on political and economic development, concerns American foreign policy since 9/11. It is a book that has a confessional tone when he traces his pedigree and how his views deviate from the outlook of his neoconservative friends—Paul Wolfowitz, Albert Wohlstetter, Allan Bloom, and William Kristol. As he writes ‘unlike manu other neoconservatives, I was never persuaded of the rationale of the Iraq war’ (p. x). He goes further ‘I have concluded that neoconservatism, as both a political symbol and a body of thought, has evolved into something that I can no longer support’ (p.xi). By this he means insofar as neoconservatism has been irretrievably identified with the policies of the Bush administration, he thinks it has ‘gone wrong’ and he wants to outline a position he calls ‘realistic Wilsonianism’ as the basis for a position not captured in the U.S. foreign policy debate that serves as an alternative means of the U.S. relating to the rest of the world. He omits from his biographical Preface the fact that he was active in the Project for the New American Century  [1] starting in 1997 and also signed the organization’s letter to President Clinton recommending the overthrow of Saddam Hussein and another calling for his overthrow in 2001.  [2]

Fukuyama is Bernard L. Schwartz Professor of International Political Economy at the Paul H. Nitze School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS) at Johns Hopkins University where he is director of the International Development program. Born in Chicago and educated at Cornell and Yale, Fukuyama worked at the Rand Corporation (1979-80 and 19833-89) before joining the State Department as a member of the Policy Planning Staff and later as Deputy Director for European political-military affairs. He was Omer L. and Nancy Hirst Professor of Public Policy at at George Mason University from 1996-2000. Fukuyama is the author of fifteen books including four books on Soviet Russia before he wrote his now-famous The End of History and the Last Man (Free Press, 1992), based an essay he wrote for The National Interest in 1989.  [3] In that book he argued:

“a remarkable consensus concerning the legitimacy of liberal democracy as a system of government had emerged throughout the world over the past few years, as it conquered rival ideologies like hereditary monarchy, fascism, and most recently communism. More than that, however, I argued that liberal democracy may constitute the “end point of mankind’s ideological evolution” and the “final form of human government,” and as such constituted the “end of history.” That is, while earlier forms of government were characterised by grave defects and irrationalities that led to their eventual collapse, liberal democracy was arguably free from such fundamental internal contradictions”
http://www.marxists.org/reference/subject/philosophy/works/us/fukuyama.htm ).

Drawing on Hegel and Marx he suggested that History—the idea of history as ‘a single, coherent, evolutionary process, when taking into account the experience of all peoples in all times’—had come to an end. In terms of the underlying principles and institutions of liberal democracy Fukuyama argued we have answered all the big questions and thus there will be no further progress. Both military dictatorships of the Right and totalitarian governments of the Left have failed while liberal principles in economics have spread globally and either preceded or followed greater political freedom. Following Nietzsche, Fukuyama asks who emerged as the ‘last man.’ In this regard he writes:

“Is not the man who is completely satisfied by nothing more than universal and equal recognition something less than a full human being, indeed, an object of contempt, a “last man” with neither striving nor aspiration? Is there not a side of the human personality that deliberately seeks out struggle, danger, risk, and daring, and will this side not remain unfulfilled by the “peace and prosperity” of contemporary liberal democracy? Does not the satisfaction of certain human beings depend on recognition that is inherently unequal? Indeed, does not the desire for unequal recognition constitute the basis of a livable life, not just for bygone aristocratic societies, but also in modern liberal democracies? Will not their future survival depend, to some extent, on the degree to which their citizens seek to be recognised not just as equal, but as superior to others? And might not the fear of becoming contemptible “last men” not lead men to assert themselves in new and unforeseen ways, even to the point of becoming once again bestial “first men” engaged in bloody prestige battles, this time with modern weapons?”
( http://www.marxists.org/reference/subject/philosophy/works/us/fukuyama.htm ).

In the early nineties Fukuyama emerged as a major thinker on the Right, someone who was able to handle the same sources of political thought—Kant, Hegel, Marx, Nietzsche, and even more recent scholars such as Kojève—as the sophisticated Foucault, Derrida, Lyotard and Deleuze, but very much within a realism framed by American interests.  [4] His Hegelian thesis of the ‘end of history’ seemed to have a ring of truth. Freedom House the independent non-governmental organization and alleged ‘right-wing’ advocacy group in its yearly report indicates that at the turn of the century there was there was not a single liberal democracy with universal suffrage and that, by contrast, today 122 (64%) of the world’s 192 nations are liberal democracies.  [5] His thesis gained legitimacy in light of the end to the Cold War and neoliberal globalization but received strong criticism not only in terms of his use and interpretation of Hegel but also because he did not take account of the growth of Islamic fundamentalism (or, indeed, of the possibility of the clash of civilizations and the historical reversion to more ancient and religious values that do not sit well with liberal progressiveness).

After The End of History and the Last Man Fukuyama turned his hand to social capital - Trust: The Social Virtues and the Creation of Prosperity (1995) - questions of order (The End of Order, 1997; The Great Disruption, 1999), questions of the future (a strong theme in Fukuyama’s work) with Our Post-Human Future (2002), and, more recently still State-Building (2004) (again ‘world order’) and Nation-Building: Beyond Afghanistan and Iraq (2006).

Fukuyama is at the crossroads. He has effectively resigned from the neoconservatives, a movement he says is based on four common principles: American ‘benevolent hegemony,’ a concern for promoting democracy, skepticism of international law and institutions, and a belief that social engineering leads to unanticipated consequences.  [6] His criticism is that the mistakes of the Bush administration are errors of judgment rather than reflections of underlying principles. The Bush regime mischaracterized the threat from radical Islam; it failed to anticipate and understand the global reaction to U.S. ‘benevolent hegemony,’ and, finally, it was unrealistic in its assessment of ‘social engineering’ in Iraq and the Middle East.

Fukuyama indicates the four approaches to American foreign policy: neoconservatism; realism (of Kissinger); liberal internationalism; and ‘Jacksonian’ American nationalism. Against these positions he advances ‘realistic Wilsonianism’. The begins from neoconservative premises: ‘first, that U.S. policy and the international community more broadly need to concern themselves with what goes on inside other countries, not just their external behavior, as realists would have it; and second, that power—specifically American power—is often necessary to bring about moral purposes’ (p. 9). It differs from classical realism ‘by taking seriously as an object of U.S. foreign policy what goes on inside states’ (p. 9), that is to say, it is committed to both nation-building and democracy promotion. It differs from neoconservatism ‘insofar as it takes international institutions seriously’ (p. 10). It is with this position that Fukuyama spells out the first chapter ‘Principles and Prudence’.

The remainder of the book is comprised of six chapters: ‘The Neoconservative Legacy,’ ‘Threat, Risk and preventive War,’ ‘American Exceptionalism and International Legitimacy,’ ‘Social Engineering and the Problem of Development,’ ‘Rethinking Institutions for World Order,’ and ‘A Different Kind of American Foreign Policy.’

In ‘The Neoconservative Legacy’ Fukuyama writes about its roots at City College of New York, the now well known Trotskyite flirtation before a virulent anticommunism (different from the anticommunism of the American Right) took hold that while sympathetic to social and economic goals recognized the unintended consequences and nature of the Stalinist state. He also documents Kristol and Bell’s establishment of The Public Interest in 1965 that emphasized the limits to social engineering, as witnessed for example by Daniel Moynihan’s 1965 study The Negro Family. There is also a section on Leo Strauss that begins by denying against Anne Norton, Shadia Drury, and Lyndon LaRouche  [7] that Strauss had any kind of effect on Bush’s foreign policy although Fukuyama mentions that Wolfowitz was a student of both Strauss and Bloom (though more influenced by Wohlstetter’s foreign policy views). According to Lilla on whom Fukuyama draws it was Harry Jaffa and Allan Bloom who politicized Strauss’ philosophy.  [8] Through Bloom’s The Closing of the American Mind Fukuyama traces the charge of cultural relativism leveled against U.S. universities and the way in which it was legitimated by appeals to Nietzsche and Heidegger and ‘transmitted through intellectual fads like postmodernism and deconstruction’ (p. 24). This is a mean-spirited remark by Fukuyama and one that does him no justice given that Strauss himself centrally engaged with Nietzsche and Heidegger—his philosophy, his critique of liberalism and ‘the crisis of Western civilization’ can really only be understood against readings of Nietzsche and Heidegger. As Robertson (1998) explains:

“Yet Strauss can not be understood except through his engagements with the thought of Heidegger, whom he regarded as the then greatest modern philosopher, (and Nietzsche), who talked of nihilism and the history of European nihilism, and provided an existentialist and historicist response to ‘the crisis of Western civilization’. Strauss’ return to classical political philosophy—to the thought of Plato—was inspired and mediated by Heidegger’s attempted recovery of classical ideals and Greek ontology. Classical political philosophy provided Strauss a means to find a way out of the relativism of modern liberal society and democracy that put the freedom of the individual above societal order, virtue and natural right.”

He continues:

“Like Nietzsche and Heidegger, Strauss sees that the West is in the grip of a profound spiritual crisis. And following Nietzsche and Heidegger, Strauss sees that this crisis itself opens up the possibility of a release from modernity. This release both brings to light a principle that is beyond, but forgotten by, modernity, and points to a return to origins, free from and prior to the sources of modernity…. Unlike these two thinkers, Strauss does not trace modernity to the metaphysical turn which began with Socrates and Plato, nor to the slave revolt of morality that received its most decisive impetus from Judaism. Rather, Strauss sees the roots of contemporary nihilism in the deliberate reformulation of political philosophy achieved by the great early modern thinkers, above all Machiavelli and Hobbes.”

I say that Fukuyama’s remark is mean-spirited because it merely echoes the biased sentiments of Bloom and perpetrates a myth that ‘postmodernism’ (whatever we mean by that hoary term) is responsible for advocating cultural relativism. To suggest the problem of cultural relativism has been legitimated by appeals to Nietzsche and Heidegger and ‘transmitted through intellectual fads like postmodernism and deconstruction’ (p. 24) is to miss the substantial theoretical disagreement between the likes of Derrida, Deleuze, Lyotard and Foucault in their appropriations of Nietzsche and Heidegger and to postpone any meaningful engagement between Strauss and his heirs on the one hand and the poststructuralists, on the other. Strauss’ Right appropriation of Nietzsche and Heidegger must be set against the Left appropriation of their work that began in earnest by thinkers such as Bataille and Lefebvre in the 1930s and ‘40s, and was carried forward in different and innovative ways by Derrida, Irigaray, Deleuze, Kofman, Lyotard and Foucault from the late 1960s onwards.  [9] To attempt to diminish this ‘new Nietzsche’ which by comparison with Strauss’ reading is both more sophisticated and voluminous is to reveal a deep seated but unfounded prejudice. It is also to reveal something of Fukuyama’s own limitations given that he was a student of Wolfowitz and through him of Strauss. More importantly, it is to fundamentally misunderstand Strauss. Peter Levine (1995) suggests that Strauss began as a historicist, moved to nihilism, before coming closest to revealing the true nature of his ideas in his 1961 essay ‘Relativism’. He is worth quoting at some length.

“Here he denounces liberals and positivists for claiming to accept relativism, while inconsistently treating tolerance and objectivity, respectively, as absolute standards. Nietzsche--in contrast to these well-meaning but intellectually dishonest versions of ‘the last man’--is ‘the philosopher of relativism: the first thinker who faced the problem of relativism in its full extent and pointed to the way in which relativism can be overcome.’ Immediately Strauss adds, ‘Relativism came to Nietzsche's attention in the form of historicism...’…He argues that for Nietzsche, history ‘teaches a truth that is deadly.’ This ‘truth’ is that the norms of each culture are thoroughly arbitrary; but people must nevertheless believe in the transcendent value of these norms, ‘which limit their horizon and thus enable them to have character and style.’ Historical research reveals the contingency of all values, and thereby paralyzes us. The Romantic response—‘that one fabricates a myth--is ‘patently impossible for men of intellectual probity.’ The ‘true solution’ is not Romanticism but Nietzschean philosophy, which reveals, first of all, that historical research is as contingent as everything else: ‘Objective history suffices for destroying the delusion of the objective validity of any principles of thought and action; [but] it does not suffice for opening up a genuine understanding of history... .’ Any such understanding is a chimera; and with the very distinction between truth and lie removed, space is opened up for a ‘new project-the revaluation of all values... . It is in this way that Nietzsche may be said to have transformed the deadly truth of relativism into the most life-giving truth ...’”

Fukuyama details Albert Wohlstetter’s ideas and influence, ‘The Great Merge,’ ‘Kristol, Kagan, and the 1990s,’ before discussing whether Reagan and Bush were/are neocons and itemizing the principles of neoconservatism as:

  • ‘A belief that the internal character of regimes matters and that foreign policy must reflect the deepest values of liberal democratic societies’

  • ‘A belief that American power has been and could be used for moral purposes, and that the United States needs to remain engaged in international affairs’

  • ‘A distrust of ambitious social engineering projects’

  • ‘skepticism about the legitimacy and effectiveness of international law and institutions to achieve either security or justice’ (pp. 48-9).

In Chapter 3 examines the post 9/11 threat environment, and the alternative case for war with Iraq, the National Security Strategy of the U.S. In Chapter 4 a brief chapter he examines American exceptionalism.

For me what is really new in Fukuyama’s thinking are Chapters 5 on ‘Social Engineering and the problem of development’ and Chapter 6 ‘Rethinking Institutions for World order’. The last brief chapter is really a postscript that reveals the consequences of Chapters 5 and 6 for U.S. foreign policy.

Fukuyama notes that it is in ‘economic and political development’ that neoconservative principles seemingly contradict one another: the ‘imperative to liberate people from tyranny and promote democracy …by reaching inside sates and shaping their basic institutions’ conflict with the well established neoconservative notion that ‘emphasized the dangers of overly ambitious social engineering’ (p. 114). Neoconservatives who supported the war ignored the large literature on democratic transitions and on institutions and economic development, assuming that once regime change was achieved ‘the institutions would somehow take care of themselves’ (p. 118).

In order further apprise himself of this position Fukuyama documents the ‘distinct stages’ that economic development has gone through ‘since the dissolution of European colonial empires that began in the late 1940s’ (p. 118). He reviews the Harrod-Domar growth model that pointed to lack of infrastructural investment and differences in capital/labor ratios. In the 1960s and 1970s there was a new emphasis promotion human capital through the development of education. (Fukuyama has nothing to say about this apart from its brief mention). He also records the rise of ‘sustainable development,’ and the emphasis on women’s empowerment with the rise of feminism. He notes that Rostow’s (1960) The Stages of Economic Development, very much a product of the Cold War and defined in opposition to Marxism, became the bible during the Kennedy and Johnson administrations. He maps the ‘return to economic orthodoxy in the 1980s’ (p. 121) by which he means neoliberalism; the problem was that ‘without string institutions and political will the policies could not be adopted or implemented properly’ (p. 121). In the mid- to late 1990s a new development paradigm based on institutional economics associated with the work of Douglas North came to prevail.  [10] This view emphasizes how property rights, transaction costs and rule of law function as conditions of successful development. Fukuyama embraces this account and in particular endorses and recommends the shift to emphasizing the political dimensions of development which he describes as ‘the creation of formal state institutions of increasing complexity and scope that serve either to promote collective action or to mitigate social conflict’ (p. 125). He regards it as a superset of ‘democracy promotion’ and indicates that it is parallel to economic development ‘since the two are intertwined in a common process of modernization’ (p. 125). Political development insofar as it is a coherent theory is driven by three dimensions: the empirical link between economic development and democracy; a form of ‘evolutionary competition and emulation’ where societies adopt institutions that promote development or justice; and, finally ‘There is simply no other legitimating set of ideas besides liberal democracy that is broadly accepted in the world today’ (p. 130). While there is no grand theory at this point there is a growing literatures and accumulated experience. And he turns to examine the American experience that is peppered with ‘few successes and a large number of failures’ (p.131). Fukuyama examines the cases of Germany and Japan (that already had string state), the Philippines, Caribbean and Latin American countries under the Monroe doctrine, Bosnia, and Iraq. The first case of ‘successful transition’ was Portugal’s under the influence of Germany. Fukuyama asserts that America played an important role in El Salvador (brokering the end to the civil war), the Philippines, South Korea, Taiwan, Panama (an example of successful coercive regime change), and Poland (support for Solidarity).  [11]

Fukuyama traces the ‘afterthought’ of development in Washington and its rise as ‘democracy promotion’ after 9/11 where the objective should be ‘the promotion of good governance, not just democracy’ (p. 140), that is ‘liberal rule of law’ is more important than democratic political participation. The U.S. ‘should promote the economic development of poor countries both as an end in itself and as a complement to U.S. efforts to consolidate this against the backdrop of economic growth’ (p. 141). Yet U.S. development assistance is comparatively the lowest in the OECD as critics like Jeffrey Sachs has long pointed out.  [12] As Fukuyama argues the most successful engine of institutional reform has been the E.U. accession process. He also argues that as well as the reconceptualization of development around the question of institutions, the U.S. must reform its departments and agencies to promote ‘soft power’ in contrast to military power. ‘Soft power’ is Joseph Nye’s (2004) concept coined to describe the use of cultural or ideological means to indirectly influence foreign states rather than military or economic power. Fukuyama documents not only the problem of institutional fragmentation, earmarked budgets and diminishing status (especially of USAID), but also lack of understanding of how to use ‘soft power.’ Would it be too much to talk of the institutional failure of the most highly militarized donor state that is still living the legacy of Cold War politics?

In ‘Rethinking Institutions for World Order’ Fukuyama reviews the now standard criticisms of the U.N.  [13] and the lack of ‘horizontal accountability’ among states. He suggests that ‘A world of multiple competing and partially overlapping international institutions has already started to take shape over the past decades’ (p. 163 that nevertheless face the dilemma that institutions regarded as legitimate are noy greatly effective and vice versa. He provides a design continuum where

“At one end are formal, traditional, treaty-based international organizations like the United Nations, the World Bank, and the NATO alliance that correspond to what most people think of when they use the word multilateralism. These institutions are created by sovereign states that delegate powers to international organizations in formal legal agreements. They are transparent insofar as their rules have been explicitly negotiated and agreed to, and they are accountable insofar as they can be disciplined by the states that originally created them.

At the other end of the spectrum are informal types of cooperation that are not legally grounded in international law, that at times involve parties that are not states as direct participants, and whose rules are often flexible, quickly negotiated, and sometimes unwritten” (pp. 163-4).

These international ‘soft law’ institutions are exemplified in corporate codes, and START (Strategic Arms Reduction Talks). Between the extremes are many other institutional possibilities such as the International Organization for Standards (ISO) that coordinates more than a hundred national standard-setting bodies and forms of ‘intergovernmentalism,’ networks often undertaken at intermediate levels issuing in MOUs (memoranda of understandings). As Fukuyama points out multi-multilateralism already exists. Many are private/public collaborations that have emerged to foster different forms of technical and economic cooperation. The principled tradeoff between legitimacy and effectiveness is difficult to make.

The question for Fukuyama is whether global order should be based on the sovereignty of states, as Jeremy Rabkin argues. Rabkin (2005) argues that the value of international agreements such as the International Criminal Court and the Kyoto Protocol must be weighed against the threat they pose to liberties protected by strong national authority and institutions. He is worried that protection of these liberties might weaken U.S. constitutional authority. The problem with this view Fukuyama claims is that it is ‘incompatible with a foreign policy that seeks to improve governance and promote democracy around the world’ (p. 178) and also ‘sovereignty in Rabkin’s sense has been constantly violated throughout history’ (ibid.) leading Stephen Krasner  [14] to call it ‘organized hypocrisy’ and to argue for models of ‘shared sovereignty’ where the international community provide long-term help to improve governance. Fukuyama seems to agree with the direction in which Krasner is traveling and points to the example of the Chad-Cameroon gas pipeline and yet he also seems to have run out of ideas.

Krasner (2004) puts his case more recently in the following succinct form:

“Conventional sovereignty assumes a world of autonomous, internationally recognized, and well-governed states. Although frequently violated in practice, the fundamental rules of conventional sovereignty -- recognition of juridically independent territorial entities and nonintervention in the internal affairs of other states -- have rarely been challenged in principle. But these rules no longer work, and their inadequacies have had deleterious consequences for the strong as well as the weak. The policy tools that powerful and well-governed states have available to "fix" badly governed or collapsed states - principally governance assistance and transitional administration (whether formally authorized by the United Nations or engaged in by a coalition of the willing led by the United States) - are inadequate. In the future, better domestic governance in badly governed, failed, and occupied polities will require the transcendence of accepted rules, including the creation of shared sovereignty in specific areas. In some cases, decent governance may require some new form of trusteeship, almost certainly de facto rather than de jure.”

He reviews failures of conventional sovereignty and the existing institutional repertoire for dealing with these crises (governance assistance and transitional administration) before looking at new institutional arrangements, including de facto trusteeships and shared sovereignty.

In the final few pages Fukuyama argues for ‘A Different Kind of American Foreign Policy.’ The Iraq war has failed as an objective of U.S. foreign policy: it has created a training ground for terrorism, bogged down the U.S. military in the long-term, compromised the U.S.’s ability to deal to Iran and North Korea, created a backlash against U.S. imperialism and may even cause another cycle of withdrawal from world affairs. The answer is Wilsonian realism that means ‘a dramatic demilitarization of American foreign policy and reemphasis on other types of policy instruments’ (p. 184) and promotion of both political and economic development ‘by focusing primarily on good governance, political accountability, democracy and strong institutions’ (p. 185). Fukuyama argues ‘The most important way that American power can be exercised at this juncture is not through the exercise of military power but through the ability of the Unites States to shape international institutions’ (p. 190).

One might question Fukuyama’s notion of realistic Wilsonianism on the basis of principle and values or trace the inconsistencies in the development of his thought, especially since The End of History. On purely pragmatic grounds it seems highly unlikely that the kind of demilitarization he calls for will take place, even although there are strong signs that Bush’s support is dwindling and that his administration is in disarray. Given the massive U.S. military budget of $440 billion (see footnote 10) the small fraction of $1.4 billion (FY2005) budgeted for human rights and democracy programming seems a mere drop in the bucket. While President Bush has recently announced troop realignment bringing back to the U.S. 70,000 troops and 100,000 family members and civilians within a decade, this implies more of a consolidation of European bases and increasing U.S. presence in Eastern European countries like Poland, Romania, Bulgaria and Uzbekistan with the stated aim of increasing the mobility and strategic flexibility of U.S. forces to respond to new threats.  [15]

On more principled grounds one might take issue with each of the four neoconservative principles that he outlines early in the book. Is U.S. hegemony really ‘benevolent’? Has it ever been so? The skepticism of international law and institutions and democracy promotion might also be explained differently. The U.S. record since 1950 has been dubious in the extreme. It has never ratified the following international treaties: Convention on Discrimination Against Women (173 countries had ratified by 2003), Convention on the Rights of the Child (only the U.S. and Somalia have not signed and ratified), International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, UN Framework Convention on Climate Control, Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty (unilateral withdrawal 2001), Biological and Toxin Weapons Convention and Draft Proposal (rejected Draft Proposal in 2001 having ratified it in 1975), Chemical Weapons Convention (ratified but set extensive limitations), Mine Ban Treaty, Rome Statue of International Criminal Court (unsigned in 2002). Kenneth Roth (2000) in the Chicago Journal of International Law writes:

“on the few occasions when the US government has ratified a human rights treaty, it has done so in a way designed to preclude the treaty from having any domestic effect. Washington pretends to join the international human rights system, but it refuses to permit this system to improve the rights of US citizens.

This approach reflects an attitude toward international human rights law of fear and arrogance--fear that international standards might constrain the unfettered latitude of the global superpower, and arrogance in the conviction that the United States, with its long and proud history of domestic rights protections, has nothing to learn on this subject from the rest of the world. As other governments increasingly see through this short-sighted view of international human rights law, it weakens America's voice as a principled defender of human rights around the world and diminishes America's moral influence and stature.”

Roth record how the U.S. entered reservations for a host of international covenants and conventions, including the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel and Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment. Where it has signed and ratified treaties on human rights its reporting practice is tardy and sketchy which as Roth indicates is tantamount to a systematic refusal to apply international human rights law to itself. Human rights treaties are embraced only insofar as they codify existing U.S. practice. The Treaty Database: A Monitor of U.S. Participation in World Affairs (2004)  [16] has tracked the steady decline in U.S. participation; the US Senate has only ratified around 29% of existing international treaties concluding that the disquieting phenomenon of the U.S.’ reluctance to participate in multilateral treaties presents a clear threat to existing international law and stability.

“Despite the fact that the United States was one of the driving forces behind establishing the United Nations in 1945 and initiated many of the multilateral treaties that have encouraged cooperation on our planet, there has been a steady decline in the U.S. government’s support of the UN and the agreements it helped establish. President George W. Bush has been particularly reluctant to participate in the multilateral treaty system. Although the Senate ratified ten treaties during his Administration, four of these were signed years earlier by President Clinton (including the two anti-terrorism treaties that were not ratified as of the 11 September 2001) and five address issues of interest to major industries rather than social development. More importantly, the U.S. has reversed its support for at least five major treaties since 2000. These are: the Kyoto Protocol on Climate Change, the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty, the Biological and Toxin Weapons Convention, the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons Treaty and the International Criminal Court.”

Fukuyama’s neoconservative principle--‘skepticism of international law and institutions’—begins to look very sad when pitted against the record of U.S practice and its reasons for withdrawal. Other scholars have argued that the Bush administration has ‘very significantly undermined the Nuremberg legacy, by departing from the rule of law, and openly flouting international law’ (Levitt, 2006), or that the treatment of detainees at Guantanamo Bay at times amounts to torture and violates international law (UN, 2006).

In view of this record, U.S. compliance, its violations, the recent neocon political assault both on Kofi Annan and the UN, and the trend of the U.S. to erode existing international legal regimes and to resist the development of new ones, to the detriment of security, disarmament, international justice, human rights, and protection of the environment, it is rather ironic that Fukuyama should either talked of a principled position or indeed rest his case on the Rule of Law. While one of the founders of the modern system of international law the U.S., especially under the neoconservatives have consistently withdrawn and resisted international law because of the fear that such obligations will injure U.S. interests and sovereignty. Nor so curiously, after September 11 the U.S. appealed for international cooperation in the fight against terrorism in order to justify a decision already taken and what many now regard as an illegal and unjust war. In light of this experience and the failure of the U.S. to live up to its international obligations of treaty it has ratified, Fukuyama’s principle begins to look very thin indeed. His focus on a theory of inter-institutionalism also seems more like special pleading and an excuse for lack of moral leadership on international law than any real alternative program.

America at the Crossroads looks more and more like Fukuyama at the crossroads as his original reasons for articulating a neoconservativism both pre-Bush and post-Bush disappear or diminish, the arguments falter and principles fade into disrepute.

[1] See the PNAC website at http://www.newamericancentury.org/ .

[2] Thereafter Fukuyama moved away from supporting Bush, disapproving of the way the Iraq invasion was implemented and distancing himself from the war as well as calling for Rumsfeld’s resignation.

[3] See his webpage at http://www.sais-jhu.edu/faculty/fukuyama/ which carries a brief biography and a set of recent papers.

[4] Kojève (1902-68) through his Hegel seminar at the Ecole Pratique des Hautes Ētudes during the 1930s, published as Introduction à la lecture de Hegel and translated into English in 1969 by Allan Bloom, was responsible (with other Hegel scholars such as Jean Hyppolite and Jean Wahl) for a Hegel renaissance, initiating a kind of existential Marxism (a reading based on Marx and Heidegger). His lectures were attended by the doyen of French thought--Sartre, Merleau-Ponty, Lacan, Bataille, Althusser, Queneau, Aron, and Breton—and through his friend Leo Strauss exerted a direct influence on Bloom and Fukuyama. (Strauss arranged for Bloom to study with Kojève in Paris during the 1960s). Fukuyama's The End of History and the Last Man follow Kojève slavishly. Kojève worked for the French Ministry of Economic Affairs after WWII and was an architect of the EEC and GATT. See his ‘Outline of a Doctrine of French Policy’ at http://www.policyreview.org/aug04/kojeve.html .

[6] This raises the question of the relation between Bush, Rumsfeld and Cheney on the one hand and neoconservativism on the other: to what extent did one usurp or exploit the other?

[7] See Norton’s (2004) Leo Strauss and the Politics of American Empire; Drury’s (1999) Leo Strauss and the American Right. See also Drury (2005). It is not clear to me why Fukuyama includes LaRouche in this grouping. There are many worth reading that have intelligently commented on Strauss relation to the American Right or his philosophy: see, for instance, Ted V. McAllister (1996), Neil Robinson (1998; 1999), Nicholas Xenos (2004), Steven B. Smith (1997), Gregory Bruce Smith (1997), Mark Taylor (2003).

[8] Fukuyama draws on Mark Lilla’s (2004) ‘Leo Strauss: The European, in New York Review of Books, Oct 21.

[9] See Georges Bataille’s (1992, orig. 1948) On Nietzsche and Henri Lefebvre’s (1939) Nietzsche who struggled to set Nietzsche free from the clutches of Nazism. Se also Heidegger’s (1991a,b) Nietzsche based on lectures dating from 1939. On the new Nietzsche see Allison (2000) and see Duncan Large’s ‘French Nietzsche’ webpage at http://www.swan.ac.uk/german/large/frennieb.htm#Foucault . See also Deleuze (1983), Derrida (1979), Irigaray (1991), Kofman (1993), Foucault (1986; 1990). For an account of Strauss as an esoteric Nietzschean see Levine (1995). For Strauss as a Heiddegerian see Luc Ferry (1990).

[10] Douglas C. North, an economic historian, is known for his institutional analysis based on an analytical political-economic framework that attempts to develop an account of institutions that explains why in the long run they do not produce economic growth, their sources and why people had the ideologies and ideas that determined the choices they made. In his view of institutions he has focused on cognitive science models for explaining the way people make choices and how they are related to their belief systems. See his most recent book Understanding the Process of Economic Change (2005).

[11] Fukuyama’s perspective on El Savador and examples of ‘successful’ U.S.-led ‘political development’ is highly suspect and open to question. The United States government supported the coup d'état in 1979 that installed the right-wing military junta, a dictatorship that had Archbishop Romero as one of his main critics. It was the subsequent assassination of Romero that sparked the events that led to a civil war. For declassified U.S. military support of the military dictatorship see the collection of documents at the National Security Archive at http://www.gwu.edu/~nsarchiv/nsa/publications/elsalvador2/ . Panama, Philippines, South Korea, Taiwan, all had coercive regimes that were initially sponsored by the U.S. Noriega worked for the CIA for nearly twenty years from the mid-1960s and the U.S. has a history of intervention in Panama dating back to the early 1800’s, invading Panama in 1989 when Noriega turned against the U.S. Similar criticisms of U.S. imperialism have been made concerning the Philippines and South Korea. I wish to thank Rodrigo Britez (UIUC) for making these points to me.

[12] See Sach’s (2005) ‘Why We Should Do It,’ Chapter 17 of The End of Poverty: Economic Possibilities for Our Time where he records the mistaken U.S. ‘investment decision to back military rather than other approaches to international relations’ (p. 329), a matter that conveniently Fukuyama does not air. Chalmers Johnson (2004) writes: ‘According to the Defense Department's annual ‘Base Structure Report’ for fiscal year 2003, which itemizes foreign and domestic U.S. military real estate, the Pentagon currently owns or rents 702 overseas bases in about 130 countries and HAS another 6,000 bases in the United States and its territories’ at http://www.commondreams.org/views04/0115-08.htm . Military expenditure is approximately 404 billion (FY2006 est.) representing 3.7% GDP (FY2005 est.) compared to 27.5 billion (FY2005 est.) or approximately 0.2% of GNP, despite agreement at the U.N. in 1970 by donor governments to spend 0.7% of GNP. See ‘The US and Foreign Aid Assistance’ by Anup Shah at http://www.globalissues.org/TradeRelated/Debt/USAid.asp#RichNationsAgreedatUNto07ofGNPToAid .

[13] These include its lack of democratic legitimacy, its inability to deal with serious security threats and difficulties of reforming it.

[14] Krasner was appointed as Director for Policy Planning by Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice on February 4, 2005. He is the author of Sovereignty: Organized Hypocrisy (1999) and Problematic Sovereignty: Contested Rules and Political Possibilities (2001). In the former Krasner argues that there are four ways in which people talk about sovereignty. ‘First, they talk about international legal sovereignty, which is the rule that you recognize an independent territorial entity… The second definition, which is very much associated with the idea of globalization eroding sovereignty, is what I call interdependence sovereignty , which is the notion that states are losing their ability to control movements across their own borders. This definition is not a rule, it's just a statement about empirical fact… The third definition is domestic sovereignty , which is the standard definition, which refers to both domestic authority structures and how effective they are. So you could say the United States has a presidential system of government, and by and large, government structures work pretty well in the U.S…. And, finally, there's a last definition which is generally referred to as Westphalian sovereignty , in my view a total misnomer, which refers to the notion that states have the right to autonomously determine their own domestic authority structures -- the corollary of that being no intervention in the internal affairs of other states.’ See his conversation with Harry Kriesler at Berkeley at http://globetrotter.berkeley.edu/people3/Krasner/krasner-con3.html.

[15] While difficult to estimate exactly the U.S. has some 1.3 million troops with over 280,000 deployed overseas and another 180,000 in Iraq and Afghanistan.


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Author´s Address:
Prof Michael Peters
University of Illinois
Department of Educational Policy Studies
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1310 South Sixth Street
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Email: mpet001@uiuc.edu