Robert Kagan vs. Francis Fukuyama

Historians in the News

If you're not supposed to judge a book by its cover, can you judge it by its author? It would seem to be a safe bet in most cases, but Robert Kagan delights in defying conventional wisdom. Though his views are always contentious and often questionable, Kagan is one of the most interesting, intelligent and perceptive foreign-policy intellectuals of the past quarter century. He has written several bestselling books on international politics and the U.S. role in the world. He is also one of John McCain's principal foreign-policy advisers. But he is perhaps best known as a leading neoconservative intellectual, probably the leading neocon intellectual now that Francis Fukuyama has deserted the sinking ship. Yet anyone prejudging The Return of History and the End of Dreams will be in for a surprise. This is not neoconservatism as you've known it.

Although he is mentioned only briefly, Fukuyama is Kagan's foil. In 1992, Fukuyama published the provocative The End of History and the Last Man. Like all grand, influential ideas, Fukuyama's "end of history" thesis was deceptively simple: The end of the Cold War marked the final triumph of liberal democratic capitalism. Its rivals, from premodern monarchy and theocracy to ultramodern fascism and communism, had all failed. After 1989, history would no longer be marked by the struggle between competing systems of government; instead, it would be shaped by the inexorable spread of democracy. Thanks to the United States, humanity had reached its end point in a nirvana of political and economic freedom.

Fukuyama's post-Cold War triumphalism became the accepted wisdom for U.S. leaders across the political spectrum. Under Bill Clinton, the dynamic concepts of globalization, free trade and the "democratic peace" replaced the rather static Cold War priorities of containment, deterrence and mutual assured destruction. Not even spasms of ethnic cleansing in the Balkans or violent protests in Seattle and Genoa could deflect the spread of free markets and democracy around the world.

Then came 9/11. History may have appeared to be ending from the comfortable perspective of Washington, but around the rest of the world it continued to rumble along as usual, only to explode, literally, in the political and economic centres of the United States.

As its title suggests, The Return of History and the End of Dreams tries to make sense of what followed 9/11. Kagan portrays a world Fukuyama would scarcely recognize, where autocracy is on the rise and democracy on the defensive. Old-fashioned, great-power politics have returned at the expense of the democratic peace. Kagan dismisses post-Cold War hopefulness as "a mirage." Instead, the world is now entering "an age of divergence."...
Read entire article at Andrew Preston in the Globe and Mail (Canada)

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