A Few Notes on Higher Education in the Age of Trump...
(Early) Monday Smackdown: Annals of Low-Quality Sociometry: Andrew Sullivan Edition

Weekend Reading: Ralf Dahrendorf on Frank Fukuyama: from "Reflections on the Revolution in Europe"

Let me note that the very sharp Ralf Dahrendorf is, I think, pretty much 100% wrong here in his criticisms of Frank—but it is worth noting precisely because Frank's "The End of History?" struck such a powerful nerve here...

Weekend Reading: Ralf Dahrendorf on Frank Fukuyama: from Reflections on the Revolution in Europe http://amzn.to/2setj8C: "It is perhaps not surprising that Hayek's near-total constitutionalism...

...made him view the course of events in the world with unrelenting gloom as late as 1988, when The Fatal Conceit was first published. After all, it is said that he regards even Margaret Thatcher as a traitor to the pure doctrine of Hayekism. Others who share Hayek's frame of mind, though hardly his erudition and perseverance, have interpreted the events of 1989 more airily and instantaneously as the triumph of capitalism over socialism.

Let me spend a few moments on the U.S. State Department official Francis Fukuyama, who had his fifteen minutes of fame when he published a rather crude article entitled "The End of History?" in the summer of 19S9. The "apocalyptic charge" of this article has even led an author in Moscow News to discuss it with perhaps undeserved politeness and caution.

Fukuyama says that he likes Hegel. History for him has a capital H; "it" moves inexorably along paths only known to the world spirit, whether we want it to move that way or not. (Hayek, we notice, is Hegel without history, or more plausibly perhaps, Fukuvama is Hayek set in historical motion.)

History has done strange things in the twentieth century. It began in a liberal vein, but then created the socialist challenge. Indeed, for a while it appeared as if the two were equivalent modes of social development; there was talk of convergence. At the end of the century, however, we see the "unabashed victory of economic and political liberalism." Moreover, "the triumph of the West, of the Western idea," marks the end of history as such because there remain no fundamental conflicts between concepts of order. Instead, we begin to see the outline of what Fukuyama insists on calling a "universal homogenous [sic!] state which consists of "liberal democracy in the political sphere combined with easy access to VCRs and stereos in the economic." (VCRs and stereos indeed! I shudder to think of your reaction as I remember your concern about the destruction of culture by the consumer society.) Not all societies have reached this point, to be sure; many are still mired in history and will be for some time to come.

In a subsequent article Fukuyania also insisted that he had been misunderstood by those who read him as saying that nothing would happen anymore; there were plenty of struggles ahead. But essentially the game is up. The triumph of one idea is not just a time for joy:

The end of history will be a very sad time. The struggle for recognition, the willingness to risk one's life for a purely abstract goal, the worldwide, ideological struggle that called forth daring, courage, imagination, and idealism, will be replaced by economic calculation, the endless solving of technical problems, environmental concerns, and the satisfaction of sophisticated consumer demands."

VCRs and stereos again, no doubt. But who knows?

Perhaps this very prospect of centuries of boredom at the end of history will serve to get history started once again...

Caricatures make their point by exaggerating the characteristic features of real persons, and Fukuyama's piece is a caricature of serious argument. It is doubtful whether he has even read Hegel, whom he likes to quote by way of Kojeve. He might have been embarrassed by Hegel's apotheosis of the Prussian state. Clearly, he knows little about the world today, and less about history.

Nevertheless, there is a case in his apercu which is important, if only because it has become the implicit worldview of many in both the "capitalist" and the "(post-)Communist" worlds. The view is simple, and it is wrong. It needs to be refuted and reiected.

Many people see the last forty years as a great battle between systems, The battle stretches back even further, to the Russian Revolution of 1917 perhaps, or indeed to the publication of the Communist Manifesto in 1848. It is the battle between communism and capitalism, between a socialist commonwealth and liberal democracy. For a long time liberal capitalism was the stronger force; but in the course of this century, the scales gradually tipped in favor of socialism-communism. In the 1960s it looked for while as if the two systems would converge. To some extent this may have happened, but in the end another option prevailed.

Both systems settled in their mold and accepted the other in its own right. A truce was arranged which guaranteed the integrity of both. Perhaps it was called the Helsinki Final Act, though some would argue that the famous "Third Basket" of Helsinki, with its mention of human rights, contained the seeds of upsetting the truce.

In any case, the standoff did not last. Revolutionary processes took their course. One of the two systems looked increasingly shaky until it began to crumble and finally collapsed in 1989. After that only one option is on offer, the capitalist option of liberal democracy.

Let me just make sure that I am not misunderstood: this is not my view of things, though it is that of many who find Fukuyama "brilliant" and want to follow Hayek's extreme constitutionalism. Its fundamental mistake lies in the implicit or explicit understanding of the assumptions of American or British or German or French societies today as "systems." Paradoxically, if this understanding were correct, "history" as Fukuyama sees it would still be with us. We would still be involved in a battle of systems.

In fact, we are not. At any rate, we are not if the revolution of 1989 can retain its initial gains. For the common language we speak today is not the language of the West, now adopted by the East; it is an intrinsically universal language which belongs to nobody in particular and therefore to everybody.

The countries of East Central Europe have not shed their Communist system in order to embrace the capitalist system (whatever that is); they have shed a closed system in order to create an open society, the open society to be exact, for while there can be many systems, there is only one open society. If any creed has won in the events of last year, it is the idea that we are all embarked on a journey into an uncertain future and have to work by trial and error within institutions which make it possible to bring about change without bloodshed.

What has died in the streets of Prague and Berlin and Bucharest, in the endless meetings of Budapest, on your Round Table and now in your parliament, is not just communism, but the belief in a closed world which is governed by a monopoly of "truth."

Francois Furet has remarked to me that for the first time in 150 years, if not more, no alternative total view of society is on offer in the intellectual and political battles of the world. This means (I would add) that we can at last get down to the real business of history, which is to advance the life chances of men and women everywhere. The road to freedom is not a road from one system to another, but one that leads into the open spaces of infinite possible futures, some of which compete with each other. Their competition makes history. The battle of systems is an illiberal aberration.

To drive the point home with the utmost force: if capitalism is a system, then it needs to be fought as hard as communism had to be fought. All systems mean serfdom, including the "natural" system of a total "market order" in which no one tries to do anything other than guard certain rules of the game discovered by a mysterious sect of economic advisers...


Let me use a Swiss author to make my case. The said author recently wrote a calm and reasoned article in the liberal Neue Zuercher Zeitung on "the possibility of a third way for Eastern Europe." He cautions the West against the self-important arrogance of the view that the collapse of really existing socialism leaves no alternative to its victims but to adopt allfeatures of democratic and capitalist market economies on the ground that one cannot be "a little pregnant."

The author reminds us of the "pure doctrine of capitalism": self-organization, private property, the market, reliable rules of the game. He adds that the reality of the West is often far from this doctrine, and makes a number of points. Private property has changed its complexion in giant enterprises which are run by people who do not own them; at the other end, small family-owned firms are by no means a model of efficiency. Planning and market forces have long ceased to be incompatible; the real question is where to draw the boundary between the two. Transparent cost and price structures are a good idea, but very far from the murky reality of the "markets" for agricultural products, or the labor "market." The free movement of people, or even of goods, is as much a promise as it is a reality. "Let us not be more popish than the pope," he counsels.

So far so good. But the author then links his observations with a plea for "Utopian visions" which "transcend systems." There is much space for reform everywhere (he argues), and the analogy to being "a little pregnant" is a misleading description of economic structures in view of the need to seek complex mixtures of elements. This need has to be explored "across the systems without ideological prejudice and self-important arrogance. Liberal and socialist Utopias might thus be turned into a synergetic third." The "socialist Utopia" could be enriched by entrepreneurial initiative, and the "capitalist Utopia" by the insight that the economy serves human beings, and not vice versa. Thus, we should begin "the kind of intercultural dialogue which might lead to a variegated and dynamic path to Central Europe."

"No" is the simple answer to this demand. We should not engage in this "intercultural dialogue," and more, the very idea needs to be quashed. It is wrong because it is another version of system thinking, and thinking in terms of systems lies at the bottom of illiberalism in all its varieties. It is no accident that our author uses notions like "transcending systems," or exploring ideas "across the systems." This is how he sees the world. The only difference from, say, Fukuyama is that he wants to introduce a third system, "Central Europe" as it were, halfway between socialism and capitalism. (I know that you like the notion of Central Europe because you do not want to be labeled East European; indeed, Poland has set its clocks to Central European Time throughout all these years and against Soviet pressure as well as the logic of geography; but the concept is nonetheless laden with ideological baggage—especially in its German incarnation, which brings back the "National Socialist" Friedrich Naumann and his Mitteleuropa as well as other unsavory characters—so let us be careful in using it!)

Our Swiss author fortunately calls the system "variegated" but is nevertheless taken by its "Utopian" qualities. His is a kind of Rousseauean Utopia in which the "ritual competition between majority-forming pseudoalternatives" is replaced by "committed discussions of political programs" and of course a good dose of "human warmth, empathy, and solidarity."

We must beware of Utopia too, and not only if it is of the Rousseauian variety. Utopia is in the nature of the idea a total society. It may exist "nowhere," but it is held up as a counterproject to the realities of the world in which we are living. Utopia is a complete alternative, and therefore of necessity a closed society.

Why did I not write the planned anti-Orwell hook, Nineteen Eighty-nine? Because I could not find a way out of Big Brother's Nineteen Eighty-Four for Winston Smith. Benevolent Utopias are no better. Karl Popper's demolition of Plato's Republic has precisely this theme. Whoever sets out to implement Utopian plans will in the first instance have to wipe clean the canvas on which the real world is painted. This is a brutal process of destruction.

Second, a new world will have to be constructed which is bound to lead to errors and failures, and will in any case require awkward transitional periods like the "dictatorship of the proletariat." The probability must be high that in the end we will be stuck with the transition; dictators are not in the habit of giving up their power.

The Utopian, writes Popper:

may seek his heavenly city in the past or in the future; {he] may preach 'back to nature or 'forward to a world of love and beauty'; but [the] appeal is always to our emotions rather than to reason. Even with the best intentions of making heaven on earth it only succeeds in making it a hell—that hell which man alone can prepare for his fellow-men.

All this applies to the Utopia of the middle way as it does to all others. As a complete "third system" it remains primarily a system, never mind the "third" or "fourth" or "fifth" In the conflicts between advocates of systems and defenders of the open society, it therefore belongs on the side ot illiberalism, where all systems have their place. Neither Central Europe nor social democracy nor any other euphemism for the "middle way" must be thought of as a system, or indeed a Utopia, if liberty is what we want. The choice between freedom and serfdom is stark and clear, and it offers no halfway house for those weaker souls who would like to avoid making up their minds.

All this time we have been talking constitutional politics, of course. It is therefore necessary to define more precisely the ingredients of the open society...