In St. Petersburg with Putin
Published on: June 11, 2007
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  • Bill Cherry

    The retreat, in many parts of the world, into cultural sterotypes, identity politics, and politicized religion are due exactly to matters of trust or, stated more correctly, due to matters of distrust. History has taught less modern peoples and nations, time and again, that they cannot trust modern peoples and states, their mantras, or their institutions. This is the difficulty that we — not the less modern peoples — must overcome to achieve common interests. We must, somehow, overcome our history.

  • Jordan Yankov

    While I can argue with Mr.Fukuyama regarding the end of history, I will say that his thesis is much more theoretically sound than the fashionable clash of civilizations. The public focus over the cultural differences that are tearing apart the world could be compared with a cherry picking. We see the cultural clashes but we are trying to forget that we are bonded together day by day in our everyday lives with people from the other side of the globe. A recession in China’s productivity will result in global economic crisis, exactly as this will happen if a recession hits the American consumer. No one of the world players or regions can afford to play clash games today because this will undermine their own economic interests. Of course, the people’s reaction on this global dependence is more or less negative, because in the human history the trust, that Mr.Fukuyama speaks about, has been always grown in the boundaries of the traditional local societies. Today we have global economic ties and local human minds. The reaction of the last seems like a clash of civilizations. But if the cultures are the software of the human mind according to Geert Hofstade, this is only matter of time when the economically bounded civilizations will succeed in the installation of new global visions in our heads. I don’t think that the classic forms of western liberal states will lead this process. The widespread of liberal democracies would be a result from the efforts of so hated today Transnational Corporations from both West and East origins. Yes, they are hated, but exactly because they are the means for destruction of the old local prejudices and building of new global consciousness.

  • “Thank you very much for your attention”. I don’t know. I suspect President Putin’s eyes glazed over at about the same time Max Weber arrived on stage. I can say one thing with certainty regardin Dr. Fukuyama’s oration – the interpreter really got a workout. Man, that’s dense stuff.

    The problem with academics and, by extension, the Academy is that for all the hyperactive theorizing that goes on in the Ivory Towers often the obvious is missed. In the case of the Middle East the emergence of a nuclear armed Israel in an already unstable region has had profound effects on the region and has played a role in the radicalization of the region. At least that’s the opinion of some, myself included.

    In the argument between tribalism as a motivating force in an individual’s life versus Frances Fuluyama’s vision of an internetwork of anonymous relationships based on mutual interest, I hope Dr. Fukuyama is right. Living in a country like ours with myriad tribes and an increasingly acidic polemic regarding things such as immigration and religion, we had better hope Adam Smith prevails.

    Is the United States a closed universe? That is, is there enough “matter” to provide a substantial enough gravitational force to keep us bound in a meaningful way or are we an open universe, destined to drift apart and eventually become invisible to one another? The current polemic seems to assume Anerica can operate without any attention from the federal government thus freeing us to roam the globe and make things right. I don’t know. Does Johns Hopkins, or any other university, offer any courses on America? It might be worth having a look around here before we save the world.

    Time for a vodka, Vladimir.

    Dave Pilliod
    Swanton, Ohio

  • Yes, cultural identity is important. But we also know that in reality people–as per Amartya Sen–have different ways of defining their identity and commitments. A Christian or Muslim could also be an environmentalist, a sports fan, a human rights advocate, a member of a professional organization, etc. all at the same time. Defining people’s identity based on one overarching cultural label could be very deceptive and unrealistic.

  • droog

    Mr Pilliod:
    thoughtful post, thank you.
    However, I doubt the nuclear capabilities of Israel have had much impact on radicalization of the Middle East. People are motivated to action by the day-to-day reality of their lives (family, food, water, shelter), more than the military power of their neighbors. (Mr. Putin himself still has the bad taste of Afghanistan in his mouth.)This is where the internetwork comes into action. People strive to better their situation and tend to do so as a group to maximize power. If they cannot improve their lot thru peaceful means then they turn to whatever means are necessary. I think it’s not the “ivory tower” that misses the obvious, but the satiated masses that fail to realize a meal is more important to radicalization than a warhead.

  • Brian H

    The perspective of the individual citizen is pretty much limited to the local cultural milieu, with a gradual historical expansion thereof. Not that global awareness is absent entirely in a connected society, but it is a sometimes thing, and doesn’t have much in the way of detail or texture to it.

    And there are major dangers in assuming that it is universal. It may well be that, as some have suggested, Pakistan, India, and China (e.g.) are likely to stay intensely nationalistic / patriotic in their priorities for several decades to come. Predicting their behaviour is unlikely to succeed if one assumes their priorities are the ones that rational economic and global-universal cost-benefit analyses would suggest. The defining characteristic of nationalistic decisions is the willingness to take major short- to medium-term hits in order to advance the long-term primacy of the nation and ethos.

    To take an inbetween case, Fukuyama’s own mother country Japan is a pretty globalized economy, but to this day makes it almost impossible for a foreigner to become a naturalized citizen. Even a sequence of several generations of children born in-country doesn’t cut it. Of course, Japan doesn’t share a southern border with Mexico, but it has a similar though somewhat diluted relationship with Korea. No amnesties there, though, you betcha!

    So the good Doctor’s prescription and projection still has a few generations to wait on the sidelines before it will have much bite, perhaps. Unless some Great Leap Forward of techno-economics forces the pace, of course. Which is actually possible, though he doesn’t specifically mention it.

  • “The trend towards liberalization following the end of communism and the disappearance of the former Soviet Union was understandable, given the fact that states had everywhere grown too strong and sclerotic, not just in the former Soviet Union but in other developed countries as well. In the process of adjustment, however, countries often went too far in cutting back critical state functions and capacity. Thus throughout many parts of the post-Soviet space, there was a general weakening of state authority.”

    I respectfully think you are mistaken, in this regard, Dr. Fukuyama. It is a persistent fetish of liberal and illiberal societies, for whatever reasons, to romanticize state power and rules-based governance to accomplish more than it actually can (Prohibition is the most famous example in the United States of this fetish and its failure). But all of the long-term cultural trends in liberal democracies, especially amongst younger people, are pointing in the direction of greater liberalization. The current popular political moment is romanticizing state power accomplishing more than it can, but it is also resulting in a whole host of poor cultural, economic, and political indicators (economic slowdown, two consecutive years of spikes in crime and violent crime, and a rebellious but bankrupt popular culture).

    All of the trends among younger generations in liberal and illiberal democracies point in the direction of greater liberalization (as they do for every generation, as the most general rule that we can take for granted), even as the popular political moment does not reflect those trends fully, at this point.

    The longer-term liberal democratic trends are in the direction of devolution and decentralization of state power (hence the renewed interest in federalism), national and cultural sovereignty and independence movements, greater economic liberalization and the exchange of liberal values that occurs with such exchange, especially around the most liberalized feature of the liberal and illiberal world – the internet -a mix of ambivalence, hostility, and embrace of liberal democratic values in the illiberal world that is slowly giving way to more liberal democratic values and institutions, greater expectations of freedom from state power in liberal democracies, and a general embrace of the liberal values and institutions that you rightly hail as the prevailing trend and only logical conclusion to a world coming to the realization of the stronger idea of liberal democracy.

    You were right in your book, Dr. Fukuyama. The current period is a regressive blip on that trend. It will reverse itself. As it has forever done over the long history of liberal democracy.

  • Gianni Rodari

    The crucial point is neither a jaundice for Huntington’s thesis, nor an attachment to the state, but Fukuyama’s prescriptions on governance. Mentioning two forms of accountability, vertical and horizontal, with support from the media and civil society, Fukuyama notes that the World Bank bank considers accountability a crucial requirement for good governance. So here are some questions:

    1) How much does good governance depend on accountability?

    2) Are the only forms of accountability those mentioned?

    3) Does any media do the trick? Or are there differences of quality amongs them?

    4) Civil society as in unelected, single issue, foundation-funded NGOs?

    Let’s start in reverse. What is wrong with Putin’s council of civil society?
    Is it the fact that it is actually held to account?

    What is wrong with Russian media? I.e. of 55000 newspapers, two are state owned. As for the television, the breakdown is about 50/50, which happens to match that of the UK, or Germany.
    Verticalities and horizontalities: Russia has election at all levels, and governmental checks and balances. Can you name one elected representative of America’s Communist party?

    Last, can anyone trully say Putin, whose popularity rating hovers around 70 % (without waging war against anyone), and enjoys massive support for his policies, be considered unaccountable to the people of Russia?

    So what then, is Fukuyama saying, that is worth repeating, or taking notice of? He publicly disavowed neocon sentiments, but his words echo Wolfowitz. Another case of corruption, this time in the form of intellectual inconsistency and plagiarism.

  • As Brian H mentioned, it is risky to assume that rationality will tend to trump passion. The Chinese-speaking societies, I would argue, are indeed more likely to follow a rational, individualistic, capitalistic route. From my ten years in Taiwan, you become aware that nationalism does not much influence behavior in matters affecting the individual or the family. Foreign brands are preferred in many sectors, from education to mutual funds — especially mutual funds. Huge amounts of savings are being invested by Chinese/Taiwanese in foreign-run banks, with the local-owned banks being avoided like the plague. Of course, this is all done on the quiet for fear of not appearing patriotic. I don’t see the Mainlanders behaving any different in future.

    By contrast, the Japanese are far more nationalistic. There’s even talk now of re-introducing “patriotism” into the Japanese school curriculum. For the Japanese, a rational, economic approach and a passionate, nationalistic approach is leaving it with a demographic migraine. The government views technology, specifically robots, and financial incentives for couples to breed as a solution to this. The rational is over rated and given way too much attention these days.

  • Martin Coleman

    I suspect that comments to anything Fukuyama writes are so strong because his observations are too self-evident and hence the reader looks for anomalies. In this case, the argument rests in the balance between cultural trust and self interest or economic trust. One either hides within ones culture because of crisis or celebrates in culture because of prosperity. In both cases it is tied to self interest or economic trust. If one is shut out of the economic system through corruption or inept governance, one naturally finds solace in a close cultural circle and protests against the economic system. If one is prospering in the economic system, it is equally natural to begin to presume that you are in control of your own destiny and hence celebrate your cultural identity. It is a closed system that by its nature is chaotic. It is a system that is constantly seeking balance and when it achieves balance is so unstable as to revert to imbalance. It requires governance that is aware of the systems nature and like sailing in a confused sea, requires flexibility of tactics with a steady hand on the helm. As I said at the beginning, the system is self-evident; it is the details that are devilish.

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