More Fukuyama: "Liberalism and Its Discontents"
how dare they!
I had a bit of fun with a Quillette piece on Francis Fukuyama, noted author of The End of History and the Last Man. Fukuyama is a think-tanker at Stanford and was a “researcher at the RAND Corporation” and was once “deputy director for the State Department’s policy planning staff.”
I realized that I needed to read his books, and so I’m out at the bookstores. And my first kill was his latest, Liberalism and Its Discontents. It’s pretty short, only 150 pages. But it was very helpful to me, as Fukuyama never departs from the educated-class narrative. So I get to see the justifications behind some of the crazier policies that our rulers have imposed on us — like unlimited immigration.
But first, Fukuyama gives us his judgement on “What is Classical Liberalism?” For him it is the ideas of 17th century thinkers that emerged after a century of violence following the Protestant Reformation and towards the end of the Thirty Years War in the German lands in which about one-third of the people are said to have died. It was a time to dial down the rhetoric — or at least the violence associated with the rhetoric.
Liberalism sought to lower the aspirations of politics[.]
Thus Hobbes proposing a strong state to avoid the “war of ‘every man against every man.’” It’s a “solution to the problem of governing over diversity”[.]
This made me think, and disagree with the noble Francis.
Because, for me, the Protestant Reformation and the Brit Civil War were more about the educated middle class feeling its oats. Permit me to put it in the context of a three layer theory of late Middle Ages society.
You had the upper class of kings and nobles and Church potentates that had ruled for centuries. Let’s call them Nobles. Then you had a rising middle class of the newly literate and educated. Because Gutenberg and printing. Let’s call them Educated Middle Class. Then you had the peasants on the land who were in a pretty bad way, because the rise of the absolute monarchs and national armies and “improvement” meant that the landowners were kicking the surplus population off the land. Let’s call them Vagrants.
So my idea is that the Educated Middle Class was feeling its oats, and therefore developed a political philosophy that valorized and promoted the interests of people like them. As time went on — into the 18th century — the Educated Middle Class started raising its sights, not merely to obtain the respect of the rulers but to change the rules so that people like them could enter the ruling class.
By the end of the 19th century, I’d say, the Educated Middle Class was in the middle of transforming itself into the Educated Ruling Class, and left behind an Ordinary Middle Class stripped of ruling pretensions. Then, of course, the Educated Ruling Class became interested in changing the rules to keep the Ordinary Middle Class in its place, and also to present itself as the champion of the underdog.
In Fukuyama’s narrative, liberalism is whatever chaps like him want to believe. If it’s the 17th century then we are talking about the rights of rising educated people. If it’s the 20th century we are talking about the welfare state and a non-partisan administrative bureaucracy.
When we get to the 2010s and identity politics and critical theory and a progressive reaction against liberalism, that is not so good. And now the “postmodernist critique of liberalism… has drifted over to the right” and white nationalists groups power as beleaguered victims, and has escalated to eroding trust in scientists. True! If everything is a “social construction” then so are masks and lockdowns and mandatory vaccinations.
You can see the problem for regime chappies like Fukuyama. On the one hand the rulers are being annoyed by their adepts, who have taken modern philosophy and made it into a critique of their magnificent regime. On the other hand are the far-Right nationalists that would turn the clock back to the pre-WWI feast of nationalism. And you know where that ended up: on the killing fields of Flanders.
Maybe our Educated Ruling Class is in a spot of trouble right now.