Fukuyama or Berman: Whose History is Ended?
Posted by Heather Hurlburt
But I want to compare and contrast what I've been calling Fukuyama's "munchkin mea culpa"
The way the Cold War ended... created an expectation that all totalitarian regimes were hollow at the core and would crumble with a small push from the outside. The model for this was Romania under the Ceaucescus: once the wicked witch was dead, the munchkins would rise up and start singing joyously about their liberation.
with another apologia that was published last year: Paul Berman's Power and the Idealists: or the Passion of Joschka Fischer and its Aftermath.
Berman traces at some length the arc of one set of Left thought, from 1960s and 1970s radicalism to a return to institutions of power in the 1980s, to the at-first hesitant embrace of force in the Balkans in the 1990s, to -- in his case, and others -- support for the Iraq war on humanitarian and human rights grounds.
One hopes that the forthcoming book from which Fukuyama's essay was drawn contains something analogous -- and as well-written -- on the evolution of the neo-cons from the sons of Trotskyites to, as he calls Kagan and Kristol, "Leninists."
Yet Fukuyama is already on to the next solution -- "a 'realistic Wilsonianism' that better matches means to ends" -- while for Berman, history has ended. Berman's book is ultimately an elegy for a worldview that he concludes died with Sergio de Mello and his team in the UN compound in Baghdad in 2003:
The truck-bomb killed the very people whose job would have required them to labor day and night to reconcile the American-led overthrow of the dictator with the principles and legalities and political realities of the UN – a reconciliation that would have brought together, as well, the more militant ‘68ers with the more prudent and cautious ‘68ers, the antitotalitarian left with the antitotalitarian left. The story of the generation of 1968 ended there, surely. In Baghdad in August 2003.
You sense the difference. Berman, and in a different way George Packer's The Assassins' Gate, wrote an elegy for what was lost, what might have been. Fukuyama, on the other hand, has dusted himself off, and --with all the energy that wonderful munchkin metaphor implies -- is on to the next challenge.
And that prefigures a big problem for the intellectual left: can its members convince themselves that it's possible to keep the past in sight and still look ahead?
Fukuyama, you will notice, goes over the neo-con past without feeling the need to repudiate it. The founding lore -- we were the smart ones who turned away from communism -- is referenced, intact. The wisdom of Reagan, and the triumph over Soviet Communism which sprang from his wisdom as inevitably as morning follows night, also unquestioned. Neo-con intellectual heroes are still heroes, they have just been misinterpreted by second-rank followers. Now, Fukuyama acknowledges, the movement has gone off the rails. He has a proposal for putting it right; and, let's be honest and agree with Ivo, there is much in Fukuyama's vision that democracyarsenal readers could support. He's also not the first one to come up with this: Charles Krauthammer called for "democratic realism" two years ago.
(Here I disagree with Mike: if we can't marry intellectually honest realism about the world we do live in with Wilsonian ability to envision and move toward the world we want to live in, we had better hang it up. American foreign policy practitioners have alwats regarded the "schools" put forward by academics -- whether you call them realist, neo-conservative, liberal internationalist, isolationist, or Hamiltonian, Jacksonian, Wilsonian, Jeffersonian -- as a smorgasboard rather than a straightjacket.)
Berman for his part goes over the mythologized past of the New Left in Europe, and tells, wonderfully well, the unlikely story of how Europe came to terms in the late 1990s with the fact that the men who had scrapped with police and crossed paths with terrorists 25 years earlier were now leading ministers, parliamentarians and humanitarians. He concludes from this that the basic intellectual underpinnings of his strand of the left -- a strenuous concern with personal liberty and anti-authoritarianism -- are alive at the core of intellectual thought in the 21st-century West.
He draws a straight line from the Left's re-discovery of totalitarianism in Cambodia and Biafra in the 1970s to the wave of non-governmental humanitarianism in the 1980s and 1990s, to the agonizing but eventually effective Western interventions in Bosnia and Kosovo. (One of the unexpected pleasures of Berman's book was discovering the sheer number of senior European officials all over the place -- including some senior NATO officials -- who got their start as student radicals.)
So having claimed for his movement the surge of non-governmental organizations concerned with basic rights and dignity; the movement to condemn genocide and establish a "duty to protect" at the United Nations; and much of what success the international community has had in stopping genocidal violence over the past two decades, why doesn't Berman say, ok, we of the interventionist left went off the rails in Iraq, and now we need to put ourselves back on track?
Instead, Berman gives in to his exquisite despair.* He is disappointed in his heroes, Joschka Fischer and Bernard Kouchner. Fischer had the temerity to confront Donald Rumsfeld, in English, at a security policy conference in Germany and say, “I am not convinced.” In 2006, we could fill a room with liberals who wish they had said just that. Not, apparently, Berman: he wants “a left-wing alternative” – “different from the arguments of the Bush Administration, but different also from the simple Great Refusal of the antiwar attitude in Europe.”
Here he uses Kouchner to offer a justification and an epigraph for the 68ers: “Our generation wanted to react.” Having failed to react in Iraq, Berman decides, the story is over. His generation – not George W. Bush and the men who ran the war, mind you, but the left – has failed.
I think in some ways that the problem for the left is exactly the realism-idealism divide identified by Mike -- the idea that we are not true idealists unless we always, always act on our ideals. This is a good sentiment to have -- it keeps us honest -- but it is not a good sentiment to be ruled by, as I have written in other contexts.
The visions and institutions that the left's vision of personal liberty helped put in place are growing fastest not in New York, Washington and Brussels but around the world in non-governmental organizations big and little that are helping people step up to their own liberty, in ways that are sometimes positive and sometimes not. The question is not: how did our vision die, but how can power and idealism get re-married in more useful ways, with better checks and balances?
*Full disclosure: the quality of this despair defeated attempts by me and two talented editors to produce a review of Berman's book for a magazine that shall remain nameless. So I will admit to an extra edge of personal irritation on the topic.