I planned this morning to elaborate on my argument that the concept of “the end of history” is not dead and remains central to national security policy goals and top of mind among ‘thinkers at tanks’. I was reminded that Fukuyama has recently weighed in and that his recent words present my case for me, if you can but read between the lines.
Fukuyama is a Straussian, perhaps a late adopter, or maybe he drank a full glass as an undergraduate but he is not just adjacent, he walks the path and thinks thoughts from that perspective. And if you are for any reason disinclined to buy some of the arguments I am about to make concerning what Fukuyama writes that is plain versus what he intends I offer this. “Waltzing with (Leo) Strauss”, a book review and defense of Arthur Melzer’s Philosophy Between the Lines: The Lost History of Esoteric Writing, a book that is itself a defense of Strauss’ concept of hiding ideas for the few in words to the many. None of that is conspiracy stuff, it is what Leo taught, it is how Straussians write to each other, even when they are writing in major publications. If you want to understand what they are really saying, you have to understand how and where they are saying it. Fukuyama is no different.
I argued recently as I have done numerous times in the past, that one of the greatest debates of recent history occurred in the early 1990s. On one side of the debate, Samuel Huntington argued that geopolitics would drive future conflicts (geography, history, culture, religion). Francis Fukuyama argued the counterpoint that classical liberalism had prevailed and would eventually encompass the world, ushering in a new era of peace and prosperity (the end of history as man had known it to that point). Neither man created a new theory, Huntington spoke about how historians and geopolitical experts had always seen the world. Fukuyama wrote of something that was present in US foreign policy since WWII, perhaps since before WWI. But with the fall of the Soviet Union, the time was ripe to look ahead and ask. When conflagration erupted across the world, along geopolitical or ideological fault lines many in the main threw up their hands and said Fukuyama was wrong. Many (perhaps only just a few really) Republicans began to look at the Straussian neocons that trumpeted for more war with disdain. We did not hear much more about “the end of history”, not directly, not openly, not until Obama revived the term after the 2020 election. The concept of ‘end of history’ never left us, it is written into every National Security Strategy document since it became a disfavored term. It was always there, just not talked about openly.
We come to the present in our story. Since Obama brought the term back into the parlance of the common and mundane we can observe its fruits. Some argue for greater Western involvement in Ukraine, because “EoH”, others that it failed, but there is much we can take from it. The irony is, the greatest debate of the last few decades, where Huntington’s ideas clearly proved to be most accurate and despite Fukuyamas' repeated failures, it is he that keeps getting revived and drug out. But why?
Fukuyama has a new book out, Liberalism and its Discontents. David Corey wrote a review of it and we can see that Corey does not truly believe that Fukuyama is a Straussian, or perhaps does not grasp the importance of that fact. Corey apparently read the book as it is written for the plain and ordinary and missed the full meaning, he grabbed at some level the deeper meaning but read it all as a defense to return to something that never really existed. To summarize Corey’s take we can rely on these words, “Francis Fukuyama has offered a welcome defense of liberalism, but often treats it as an essence rather than a human practice.” That is precisely it, it is an essence to Fukuyama, a view he and most Straussians share. Corey here even picks the right word “essence” as it speaks to the metaphysics behind Straussian conceptions of ideas. It is the essence that allowed Fukuyama to write idealistically about classical liberalism in ways that appear coherent with a rules-based world order that shares nothing in common other than the essence of the terms they commonly use. The words do not mean what the common man thinks they mean.
There is a meme that floats around from the Princess Bride where Montoya says “You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.” Fukuyama uses liberalism, but he knows what he means by it, even if most that read him grasp only part of the story. Fukuyama is wary of populism because at the core of his conceptualization is a ‘rules-based’ order and real populism breaks a rule. That concept is written between every line of every Straussian political premise because it can be no other way. Most of the framers of the US Constitution understood the need for ‘norms’, underlying rules that make laws, institutions, and a system viable. You can find it in their writing. The underlying ‘norm’ that most of those men perceived was a basically good and decent society, that our laws were for good people and good people only and would be of no use to evil people. Alexis de Tocqueville made the same observations about the American system, detecting its apparent essence of it in his travels across America in the 1830s while missing the underlying essence.
The Federalists (progenitors of Straussians) did not fully understand the true essence of the thing that made America compatible with a system that enshrined classical liberalism into parts of the system. Most were theists or deists, they could not understand such. But they did understand something of the baser parts of human nature. They understood the appeal to lesser men of the notions of liberalism and they grasped the need for a rules-based system created by their own hands to manage the friction between the passions of man and what their betters saw as good. The Federalist Papers are filled with double speak and esoteric references that say one thing to the common man and another to the ‘better’ men. Other documents too, The Declaration of Independence, for instance, contains three explicit and implicit meanings for three audiences. Strauss did not invent the concept of writing between the lines, he popularized it for a new generation.
It is curious, the revival of the concept of ‘the end of history’. I say revival and that is not entirely correct, there have been minor figures that wrote about it and never let it go, even in the face of it being utterly eviscerated by the reality of geopolitics. I mean, revived by people that are heard, by Obama. It was at the end of Obama’s last term and particularly upon the election of Trump that the chorus raised. “My God” they proclaimed, “we are headed back to a world of war and of geopolitical canings”. The realists among us would look at the world that neoconservatives, neoliberals, Straussians, and progressive foreign policy had combined to create and we might channel Montoya and say to them, you used the word ‘liberal world order’ but I do not think it means what you think it means…and yet it means exactly what they mean, rules-based morality (their rules) imposed on all that stand in the way in order to paint the veneer of liberalism upon the world – whether they want it or not. And if they do not want it, we will fight them and kill people to make it so.
Don’t be fooled by any of it. Liberalism is a sham that can never work in a society writ large, not for long. Straussians are Platonists and they believe what I just said is true, we Aristoteans and those Platonists can agree on that much. They understand the base nature of man, and his passions. They do not understand what might tame some of those passions, not the metaphysical answer, they instead believe that if man believed he had freedom and a system of laws he would be happy. But at the essence of it, they believe that system and those laws must be guided by a system of rules, of norms and that the common people do not need to really know those and have zero input into writing them – people just need to stay within the rules.
Domestically to them, this means you have parties and elections but neither party drifts too far away from centrality. Populism is a terrible thing, deviating from a Platonic elite's control would be devastating. Political squabble ought to be over minor issues, with sufficient uniformity on large matters to advance programs. The window dressing of liberty ought to be sufficient to appease the masses and expend their energy on minor skirmishes while the important work continues. Internationally the Straussian views it all no differently. Window dressing is given to Westphalian concepts of national sovereignty but the rules-based system explicitly authorizes the collective to ignore that silly notion if any nation goes too far astray.
This view of the world cares little for popular ideologies it can take or leave any of them so long as the ideologies popular with the masses can be turned to support the general philosophy and does not break any of the rules. Communism, Progressivism, Fascism, or Democracy all would do equally well for the purpose, so long as the idea's essential feature of making the people feel valuable with a voice is kept.
What the Straussians and their allies in neoconservatism and neoliberalism say and believe is a lie, but we cannot really call most of them liars. The prophets, seers, and oracles of their philosophy write to two audiences, not to deceive, but to say different things to different groups of different levels of mental capability (they might say) or at the least of differing levels of understanding. That Fukuyama writes now at this late hour of Liberalism and its Discontents, just as we see a revival of end of history talk and the increasing beating of drums for more war to see it through, those of us that know, we know why he has written this book. The veneer has worn off. There are populists of a progressive bent that would see the end of history made real but in an overly authoritarian way. Fukuyama is suggesting we stay the course and return to the kindler gentler sort of liberalism, hidden authoritarianism based upon the rules. Don’t be fooled by any of this.
This article was written to explain a presupposition I stated in a recent essay. The Shape Of Things To Come (21 June 2022)
One of my assessments in that article was that the Ukraine conflict would expand, but I am not positive that would mean in a kinetic way, in Europe. I was reminded this morning that others see the potential more direly (and I do not entirely disagree with the potential). Yarvin addresses in this piece the potential outcome of the conflagration in Europe at present and some of the reasons (mentioned above) - Gory to Ukraine by Yarvin