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Feb. 23 2010 - 2:15 am | 173 views | 3 recommendations | 4 comments

Matt Bai contra the blogosphere

Matt Bai often writes things I find perspicacious, but occasionally writes things I find infuriating. Today, via Kevin Drum, I see that he has advanced the following argument against the intellectual value of the blogosphere served up a slow floater, right over the center of the plate:

Perhaps the pace and shallowness of our political culture — the echo chamber of pundits and bloggers in which the shelf life of some new slogan can be measured in weeks or even days — makes it all but impossible to sustain a serious public argument over a period of years. Something like Francis Fukuyama’s 1989 essay on the “end of history,” which influenced a generation of conservative foreign policy, probably wouldn’t resonate today beyond the next news cycle or partisan branding session.

How much better off would we all have been, had Francis Fukuyama’s 1989 essay on the “end of history” not influenced a generation of conservative foreign policy? Let us recall that the centerpiece of Fukuyama’s argument was that G.F. Hegel had correctly solved the entire riddle of human political philosophy and that there remained no interesting questions left in the aftermath of the victory of Western liberal democracy.

Beyond the dubiousness of this thesis, we have the question of which “conservative” foreign policy it supposedly influenced. Arguably, it played a role in the “new world order” rhetoric the Bush Senior administration used to marshall its coalition for the Gulf War and to establish (rather effectively, it might be added) the principle that state-on-state warfare was largely a thing of the past. But the Bush administration then did a quick pivot to “no dog in this fight” realism in notably oil-free Bosnia, which, whatever the merits, didn’t really comport with the Fukuyama worldview.

One could argue that it was Clintonian liberalism, or at least its internationalist Wilsonian wing, that was more strongly influenced by the end-of-history mood, in which the remaining tasks of global governance were basically clean-up problems for a mainly liberal-democratic, all-capitalist “international community” trying to make sure everyone pragmatically chose Lexuses over olive trees—or if not, that their olive trees were protected by appropriate environmental and trademark regulations and perhaps EU subsidies. Certainly, the Newt Gingrich right, with its militias, black helicopters, raptures and bathtub-government-drowning schemes didn’t seem to have much to do with Fukuyama.

If there is one segment of the conservative foreign policy establishment that really was influenced by the “end of history” idea, it was the Doug Feith/David Frum/Michael Gerson types. They were actually capable of writing things like “our ideals and our interests are now one.” But in their reading, as implemented under Bush Junior, the received wisdom of Fukuyama’s “end of history” became little more than a license for America to do whatever it wanted: history had ended and we were it, so shut up. That other peoples might have different historical arcs in mind, and that shouting these narratives down or dropping a couple of JDAMs on their GPS coordinates was unlikely to be a successful strategy — what do you, want the terrorists to win? If Iraq and Abu Ghraib were an “end of history”, it was an “end” that looked like Vietnam on continuous loop. Hits the end, rewinds, plays again. Shows every hour on the hour.

Anyway. The point is, if Fukuyama’s “The End of History” is the kind of essay we’re doomed to go without in the bloggy blogosphere stretching bloggily to the blog-rizon, I for one welcome our bloggish bloggolords.


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  1. collapse expand

    Well said. I note that Bai doesn’t mention that the blogosphere hastened word of Fukutama’s repudiation of neoconservatism a couple years ago. I’m quite certain that many people who never read “The End of History” did read his editorial about the moral corruption of the ideology he helped shape.

  2. collapse expand

    “t” too close to the “y” on the keyboard, and I haven’t had enough coffee yet.

  3. collapse expand

    Funny, but I suspect (and we’ve witnessed together) that in bloggoria, too, pretty much any apparent event can be spun to justify exceptionalism, supremacism, and Hegel.

  4. collapse expand

    Mr. Steinglass,

    1) You wrote “perspicacious” but I think you meant “pre-specious”.

    2) If Mr. Fukuyama, or his essay, had never existed, neo-conservatives would have had to invent him (and/or it).

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    About Me

    I've reported from Vietnam since 2003. I'm now the Hanoi correspondent for the German-based, English-language wire service Deutsche Presse-Agentur, and was previously a Hanoi-based stringer for the Boston Globe and for Voice of America. Before that I reported from West Africa, and before that from the Netherlands; my articles have appeared in the Washington Post, the Nation, the New York Times Magazine and the New York Times. I've got a thing for languages, and have picked up Russian, French, Dutch and Vietnamese. I used to write scripts for the children's cartoon shows "Arthur", "Doug", and a few others. I got a degree in interactive telecommunications back when most people had never sent an email. In April 1991 I predicted the USSR would collapse into its constituent republics and that Boris Yeltsin would become president of Russia. Since then most of my predictions have been rather less accurate, so it was probably a fluke.

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