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Francis Fukuyama began by describing the four most significant challenges to the thesis in his famed 1992 book, The End of History and the Last Man. In the book he proposed that humanity’s economic progress over the past 10,000 years was driven by the accumulation of science and technology over time. That connection is direct and reliable.
Less direct and reliable, but very important, is the sequence from economic progress to the adoption of liberal democracy. Political modernization accompanies economic modernization. This is a deep force of history, the book claims.
Fukuyama describes the rise of the idea of human rights in the West as a secularization of Christian doctrine. That led to accountability mechanisms— “You can’t have good governance without feedback loops.” Once there is a propertied middle class, they demand political participation. The threshold for that demand appears to about $6,000 per capita per year. It’s hard to get to, but hundreds of millions of people in the world are making that climb right now.
China and Russia will be a test of his thesis, Fukuyama said. They are getting wealthier. If they democratize in the next twenty years, he’s right. If they remain authoritarian, he’s wrong.
Fukuyama is most intrigued by a challenge that comes from his old teacher and continuing friend, Samuel Huntington, author of The Clash of Civilizations. Culture can trump modernization, says Huntington— current radical Islam is an example. Fukuyama agrees that people at the fringe of modernization feel a sense of onslaught, and they can respond as Bolsheviks and Fascists did in the 20th century. “A Hitler or a Bin Laden proclaims, ‘I can tell you who you are.’”
A second challenge to the universalism of liberal democracy is that it does not yet work internationally. Fukuyama agrees, noting that the major current obstacle is America’s overwhelming hegemony. He expects no solution from the UN, but an overlapping set of international institutions could eventually do the job.
A third challenge is the continuing poverty trap for so many in the world. Fukuyama says it takes a national state with the rule of law and time to learn from mistakes before you get economic takeoff. He sees later colonialism, done on the cheap (instead of with the patient institution building that England did in India), as a major source of the world’s current failed and crippled states.
The final challenge that impresses Fukuyama is the possibility that technology may now be accelerating too fast to cure its own problems the way it has done in the past. Climate change could be an example of that. And Fukuyama particularly worries that biotechnology might so transform human nature that it will fragment humanity irreparably.
While he sees meaning in history, Fukuyama said it’s not a matter of iron law. Human agency counts. History swerves on who wins a battle or an election. We are responsible.
Two further angles on Fukuyama’s thesis emerged at dinner. One concerned how society’s morality should express itself in dealing with the threat/promise of biotechnology. Conservative Fukuyama promoted strict government regulation while the liberals (and libertarians) in the room said the market and Internet should sort it out. Kevin Kelly asked Fukuyama, “Do you think human nature is as good as it can be?” I proposed to Washington-based Fukuyama that he was in the midst of a classic argument between the coasts. East Coast says, “Ready, aim, don’t fire.” West Coast says, “Fire, aim, ready.”
Then there’s the European Union. In his talk Fukuyama praised it as the fullest realization of his theory. At dinner he acknowledged his concern that Europe may be headed toward permanent conflict with its growing immigrant populations, whose first allegiance continues to be to their own cultures.-- by Stewart Brand