Note: This transcript has not been proofread, and therefore its accuracy is not guaranteed.
Note: This transcript has not been proofread, and therefore its accuracy is not guaranteed.
Wright: Francis Fukuyama is a professor of public policy at George Mason University. His books include "The End of History and The Last Man" and "The
Great Disruption: Human Nature and the Reconstitution of Social Order." I interviewed him at the George Mason University School of Public Policy in Fairfax, Virginia. Well, thanks for letting me come here and talk to you today. I was just thinking this morning that I still remember the moment when you became famous. I was at the New Republic magazine here in Washington and you know the Cold War was winding down and everyone was trying to figure out how to make sense of this new era and how to orient themselves. Then suddenly the talk to the town was an essay in the Journal of the National Interest by someone named Francis Fukuyama called "The End of History." You probably remember the essay...
Francis Fukuyama: I do remember yes.
Wright: ... and then it became your best selling book "The End of History and The Last Man." "The End of History" ... one reason I find the phrase interesting is that the word "end" has two separate meanings. It can mean just kind of the final stage of a process but it can also denote purpose. In other words, the idea is that the whole point of the process was to get to this final stage. Maybe the process was in some sense designed to get there. Now, later I'm going to ask you about this kind of cosmic sense of end. which you actually haven't talked much about in your writing, but first, what did you mean at the time when you said that the end of history may be near.
Francis Fukuyama: Well, I believe that the experience of the 20th Century or at least the way the 20th Century ended indicated to me that we really ought to revive a notion of historical progress because I think that is one of those ideas that was once believe in the 19th Century and then rejected for most of the 20th Century but that the reject was really due to all of the horrible circumstances that were I think in some ways special to the first half of the 20thCentury. But if you take a longer term view there in fact has been gradual evolution and directionality to human history that points in a certain direction and it can go backwards, there can be backsliding and all sorts of short term disasters but overall there has been a evolution in political institutions, for example, towards modern liberal democracy and a growing universalism about the spread of that institution and the legitimacy that encompasses more and more of the world. So that's the sense in which I thought History -- with a capital "H" -- the sort that Marx and Hegel wrote about needed to be resurrected and an end of History because where they said it was going to end is just different from where it looks like it really is ended because they said it was all heading towards socialism or communism whereas now it seems pretty clear that we're not going to get to that state. We're going to end at the stage before that which is capitalist liberal democracy.
Wright: Now like most people who go out on a limb you've been subjected to a certain amount of second guessing. Critics say in some of your earlier writing you suggested that after the end of history things almost might become boring... life would be so sedate and stable and people say "Tell that to the Bosnians. Tell that to the Rwandans." What's your reply?
Francis Fukuyama: I think actually the world, if you think about it, has been, despite the Bosnias and Rwandas, it's been largely peaceful because what it takes to create instability in all the large powers of the world to be fighting each other on a planetary scale, that's what happened in the first half of the 20th Century whereas today the most powerful industrialized countries are all liberal democracies. They wouldn't even think of going to war... Japan or Germany or the United States... wouldn't even think of competing with each other in a military sense and so what you have is a world that we haven't seen in a few centuries where essentially you get a lot of peripheral war among a lot of the smaller countries but really a fairly peaceful situation and no history... history isn't just a matter of war and conflict. It's also you're fighting over something that there are really big issues that seem to be at stake. That I think in a way has disappeared because everybody agrees on the basic shape of institutions now.
Wright: So you more or less stand by your thesis?
Francis Fukuyama: I do.
Wright: History as a direction and in some ways it is toward the Good.
Francis Fukuyama: I think that's the other aspect that people really take exception to that progress should also be progress toward morality but I think that if you think about this on a much longer term sense what you've been this is an idea that you've talked about it in "Non Zero," but you think about the scope or what you might call the radius of trust in different societies as you move up from hunter gatherer through agricultural society up to the present day institutions and what we see as fighting at the periphery of that radius in fact the radius has constantly been growing larger and larger and the principle that liberal democracy embodies is that the radius ought to encompass all of all of humanity. There is a moral universalism to it. Which means that it can't get any larger and that's the sense in which I think we've reached an end. Maybe we might have aliens to deal with at some point but for the time being at least...
Wright: Ok. Well that will give you something to write another book about. So have you in some in any fundamental respect revised your thinking?
Francis Fukuyama: Well I have in the following sense that, if you asked a question: "Why is there history?" My basic answer to that was that you have history because you have modern science. But science unfolds in one direction, you don't uninvent newtonian laws of physics or relativity or any thing of that sort. Science give you technology, technology give you an economic horizon of production possibilities, it gives you military technology and the various things that define the level and the political institutions and the economic institutions ultimately of society. Now, in my view, you can have an end of history in a sense only if you have ... there's two things that you'd have to have to have a true end of history. One, I think, we do have, which is human nature and the kind of argument I was trying to put forward is you have this evolution where you try different institutions and some of them work and some of them don't and you only learn that over time. But ultimately the ones that are permanent and the ones that will work are the ones that are most compatible with human beings as they actually are. This is why utopian regimes like you know various socialist ones we've seen failed because they had the wrong view of what human beings or what human nature was. SO that's one thing that can produce the end of history but the other thing is you know in a sense you have to have an end of science because science is and the technology produces is constantly changing the environment that people have to adapt to and I think that it's fairly clear especially with biotechnology that we're not anywhere near the end of science you know as we enter the 21st Century.
Wright: And you're working on that question now, right?
Francis Fukuyama: That's right. I'm trying to do a book on the political implications of essentially the ability to abolish human nature because you know as I said that's directly you know one of the consequences of human nature as it is I think liberal democracy and market-based economics. If you take away the premise that human beings are you know the way we understood them for the last few tens of thousands of years then other political forms might become possible.
Wright: Now on this on the question of the second meaning of the word "end." Do you think that to say that history has a direction, especially to say that it heads toward the Good in some sense, is to suggest that there is some kind of overarching purpose at work?
Francis Fukuyama: Well of course teleology has been out of favor for at least the last 2500 year well maybe not that long... a good long while. And I think that it is something that we at least ought to be open to the possibility of because I believe that in a certain sense modern natural science is much more confident that it has closed all of the door and the avenues to teleology than is actually the case. That's not to say that you couldn't prove that there isn't an end or that you know that you wanna make an easy resort to that sort of explanation but I do think that we do at least have to be open to that possibility and I certainly think the directionality of this evolutionary process suggests there might be at least some purpose. Tocqueville, for example, he said that the march of democracy has been going on for at least 800 years prior to when he wrote and you know it seemed to show the hand of you know some higher you know some higher being you know at work and it is a remarkable thing if you think about you know why it's going on at the end.
Wright: You said that you said that you think that science is in some ways a little too cock-sure. At least on this teleology issue on the question of whether history has some kind of higher purpose,,,,
Francis Fukuyama: I think that you know what science has shown is that you know if there is an intervention from something outside of the laws of physics, it's not something that comes about in the year four-thousand B.C. or whenever in the sense of you know creationism that the laws of physics are fairly well fairly regular and we don't see any reason to doubt them. i think there are 2 real aspects where no all the doors are closed. The first has tp dp with cosmology, modern cosmology, because, in a sense, you know this idea that creation began with this big bang immediately raises the question "Well what existed prior to the big bang?" You know in a sense all teleological theories you know argue that there is a beginning of history and therefore an end. What modern physics has show is that in fact we can point to a beginning. The universe in that sense was not eternal, it was created and in fact a lot of modern cosmological theories show that it was a event of such low unbelievably low probability that it makes you wonder why did it lead to the universe that we see. I think at the other end you have a further question abput human uniqueness and human dignity because I think that the product at the end at the other end of this evolutionary chain is something that i think is quite hard to understand in terms of all of the parts that came before it, things like human consciousness, human emotions, all of the things that actually make us believe that we are something special in creation i think have not been fully demystefied by Darwinism or modern neuroscience or by all of the other scientific disciplines that have been chipping away at that but I think have not really gotten there yet.
Wright: Do you think some modern scientific interpreters have bene a little facile in their handling of consciousness for example in that way in dismissing the difficulty of the problem.
Francis Fukuyama: Well I think not some, most of the field has been much to facile in the questions of consciousness you know. A large # of the writers on consciousness have basically defined the problem away either by overtly saying that it doesn't exist or somehow what we think of as consciousness is just some how an illusion or defining it in terms that are then explainable by the material causality that they understand to be the only form of causality that exists and I think that in fact no one has even come close to asking or to answering the basic Cartesian question you know that consciousness and thought and emotion al of those subjective states are just a different order of beings seems to be a different order of beings so it's even harder to understand what a scientific explanation of its emergence would even look like. That's not to say that it has a divine source but it just means that I think you know modern natural science is not as certain as it thinks it is that it can answer these questions it's true.
Wright: And certainly true or at least arguably consciousness in the broad sense of subjective experience is what gives life meaning. I mean if it weren't...
Francis Fukuyama: That's right.
Wright: ... if we were just robots you know if we looked just like we look and behave just like we behave but it was not like something to be us then it seems to me moral questions would really lose their significance.
Francis Fukuyama: Well that's absolutely true. You know there's a silly line that comes out of strong artificial intelligence that holds that the mind is just this big computer and that if you had the computer that gets up to the same level of complexity as the human brain then it's going to start acting like a conscious human mind. I think what that abstracts from is that you know the human mind is really much more than that. It's the seed of all of the emotions and the desires and ultimately you know these are the source of moral feelings and of human morality itself. Human morality really has to do with human purposes that are defined by wants and desires and indignation and all of those internal states and if you don't have that, you don't have 99% of what it means to be a human being.
Wright: Yeah, and further if you ask me why do I think it's wrong to walk up to someone and you know whack them in the head it has to with the fact that it hurts when you do it. I mean, subjective experience is for me at least what gives meaning to the concepts of right and wrong when you're dealing with human beings.
Francis Fukuyama: No, that's absolutely right and you can certainly I mean if you just take a functionalist interpretation of you know why the ... you say that well You know you have this subjective sense of pain because you want to avoid you know damage if you put your hand in the flame but you know you can do that without the subjective sensation I mean You can design a robot that will sense flame and pull itself away but why we have to feel the things that we feel I think are much less clear.
Wright: Yea. And it seems to me that ironically that view emerges from actually quite scientific view of the world. It's if you are a true scientific materialist then you believe exactly that, that in principle you can build a robot just as complex as us and in you're whole causal flow chart showing how it works, consciousness doesn't have to enter in anywhere. You do it all mechanistically in principle. And yet and yet consciousness is here it seems to be for reasons more mysterious than anybody but You and me see.
Francis Fukuyama: That's right.
Wright: There are others, there are others.
Francis Fukuyama: And also it's the tail end of a process of such unbelievable complexity that I mean I think that just in itself is You know is a matter worth pondering I mean I suppose people will say You know given four or five billion years You can do anything but it is You it is really astonishing that it leads to such an organized result.
Wright: lately, I've kind of been thinking about the evolution of religion. And one thing religions have done is help kind of give coherence to social organization at various levels. If You go way back and start You know with kind of hunter gatherer societies agrarian cheifdoms and so on very often You find religions playing a very fundamental role in holding societies together. One of You books is called "Trust," and it was about the importance of trust within societies and just conducting day to day economic activities solving various kinds of problems and religions of course have played a role in...
Francis Fukuyama: A critical role, sure.
Wright: Yeah. Do You... have You seen any kind of directionality in the evolution of religions?
Francis Fukuyama: Well first of all I think that there is a functional purpose to religion as you've indicated that a lot of natural scientists You know don't take at all seriously which I think is a big mistake. And there is a kind of modernist world view that says that religion belong to an age of pre-scientific rationalism and that all of religion is just these silly myths that people make up. But that You can somehow stand disabused of them. I think that if You look at the actual sociological function of religion they're extremely important and continue to be important today and I think that we're never going to ever have a workable disenchanted totally religiously disenchanted society because in fact religion is the source of common cultural and moral rules by which social cooperation happens. You can have social cooperation like economists try to try to argue on the basis of rational individuals interacting in a game theoretic manner but I think realistically that's not the way that real world societies ever arrive at cooperative rules. In fact, they are handed down from peoples culture and their toilet training and you know they're based on unquestioned assumptions and authority but that you can't get away from that.
Wright: So so ... so religion is more functionally important than maybe some people realize. But you are still even if even if having said that you are still left with the problem the oft commented on problem of kind of religion in an age of science and in an age when science has stripped away at least some of the beliefs on which traditional religions have rested. What are the prospects for keeping alive a belief system that you're saying is essential even as it seems to be threatened in some ways.
Francis Fukuyama: Well I think that religions evolved to meet new circumstances and so in some sense the development of monotheistic religions was critical in getting people away from this simple kind of animism that it allowed people to abstract from you know the concrete reality that was around them and it also laid the basis for you know what we understand to be modern moral universalism, this idea that there is an essence to all human beings regardless of their outward appearances, I mean this is this is an idea that doesn't come out of philosophy or out of science it really comes directly I think out of in a way the whole Judea-Christian tradition spread to other parts of the world. And I think that in a sense the possibility of having cooperation at larger levels way beyond the level of the nation state really depends in part in people having shared cultural outlooks. Samuel Huntington has talked about the clash of civilizations in a very pessimistic sense. He says there are seven or eight major cultural systems and the fault lines between them are going to be the source of global conflict but you can look at that as either being half empty or half full. You can also say well look we are down to seven or eight I mean if you looked at what the world was like 10,000 years ago there would have been you know as many different religious systems as you had little tribes running around in the world, each one of which would bump up against another little tribe and club each other to death because of (()) differences in particular gods that they You know that they worshiped. Now you're down to world system in which all 5 billion people in the world can be grouped into seven or eight major cultural groups where You have hundreds of millions of people that basically share a common assumptions and I think that the prospect is that you know in a sense you know that is not going to be the end ... end story in that evolution but that there will be you know a movement towards greater shared assumptions about what constitutes the basis for morality that arise out of this.
Wright: And have you seen signs of even either in what Popes do or in what any one else does these days of more and more of an attempt to at least tolerate other religions.
Francis Fukuyama: Well there certainly you know a lot of toleration the question is you know the usual sociological problem is that if you tolerate too much you actually don't end up believing in anything sort of like mainline Protestantism they became so ecumenical. Everyone stopped going to their churches..
Francis Fukuyama: ... because there wasn't anything you know any core to the to the belief. What I perceive is that you had 50 years ago you had a broad belief among sociologists that modernization meant secularization, that there is no question that more modern technologically a society became the more disabused of religion it would be. As an empirical fact that just seems not to be true. The only part of the world where it is true is Europe, is Western Europe and other modern societies, the United States in particular but Japan and other places don't seem to necessarily be following that pattern and so the European experience, in a way, may be simply related to thing having to do with European culture at this particular juncture and not a universal fact of history and in fact if you look around the United States there along of longing and kind of a return to religious belief among well educated you know people that accept modern science in large measure but feel that it's simply is not enough to make their lives satisfied.
Wright: Does that figure in to what you wrote about in the book "The Great Disruption"? About a kind of restoration of moral values that maybe going on now.
Francis Fukuyama: No I think that's absolutely true that I believe that morality actually has a very natural basis because in a way we're programmed by evolution to cooperate socially and so we have emotions that promote that kind of cooperation among which are the very strong desire for bonding in various sorts that is traditionally satisfied by things like shared religion and so in a sense you know the Woody Allen movie where he gets, Woody Allen gets cancer and then decides that he has to have some religion any religion so he goes on this shopping spree in the supermarket of you know world's religions you know in a way that's that's a lot of people think of religion in America like that everyone makes up their own religion and just picks The one that You know they like The best but I think in fact that's not what drives most people to religion. Most people want shared values that create community and common bonds with You know with other people., They don't want infinite moral autonomy. And I think that's part of what's going on in The U.S. right now, people want to bond with their communities they want to You know their neighbors they want to be able to, You know, communicate in a shared language with other people and I think that's what drives a lot of The return to religion.
Wright: You said that The basis for your everyday life and your everyday moral conduct is not fundamentally a religious one. It's You said it's Aristotelean. What what does that mean in a kind of concrete everyday sense I mean when You are trying to decide whether to do something that is right or wrong and You don't do The wrong thing it's not just for fear of being caught right?
Francis Fukuyama: Well that's a little complicated because you're everyday behavior is shaped really by your culture and I would not argue that all of The cultural rules by which You live are You know The direct products of what You are naturally or You know you're instincts and so forth I mean there really is an interplay between environment and nature that produces The actual moral decision, so whether You know inform on a relative that's cheating on their You know broken The law or something is something that I think is answered differently in one culture and You know and in another. So that kind of decision is really You know Aristotle has nothing to do with that kind of decision. I think what that means though is that in terms of how You think about moral choices is very much influenced by The degree to which You think that moral rules are universal or are simply culturally determined. I You know believe that there is much more much less flexibility in You know moral rules than a lot of people believe I'm not a relativist so I think that in fact You know certain kinds of choices that are made in societies today You know are ones that people will live to regret because in fact they kind of violate norms that would be established by this You know this more universal kind of human nature. It also has an effect, I mean I am getting You know You wanted to talk about me and I'm getting away You know I'm abstracting but it effects issues like human rights and your view of whether human rights are enforceable in a country like China. If You believe that there is a moral universalism that transcends You know cultural distinctions that I think You know you'll believe that there is a duty You know that foreigners or outsiders or people outside of The culture have to try to You know have those certain kinds of rights respected.
Wright: So You have a sense of absolute right and absolute wrong without appealing to religion.
Francis Fukuyama: Well... it becomes yes it's hard when You pose it in those terms. You say You believe in absolute rights so give me an example of an absolute right and in fact You know nothing ends up being that neatly categorical but I do think there are universal right yes that and that You can make The argument for them without having to appeal to religion. Religion is very helpful in getting people to agree with You but I think that I think that it's possible to make The case without religion.
Wright: And this is kind of what you've referred to as The Aristotlean project.
Francis Fukuyama: That's right. Aristotle really doesn't talk about religion anywhere, And his philosophy was adopted by Thomas Aquinas And Medieval Catholicism And put You know into a Catholic framework but in fact Aristotle stands on his own in terms of beliefs about nature that don't require religion.
Wright: But you're not yet convinced that The Aristotlean project can work I mean it's a kind of a work in progress in The modern world?
Francis Fukuyama: Well I guess I have a very strong intuition that it has to be right on some level. And whether You can You know make The philosophical argument for why everything that we know about modern science will support an Aristotlean argument is a very You know tough one to make. Among other things, Aristotle believe in teleology he believe in The eternity of The species, he believed in formal causality, a lot of things that modern natural science has either debunked completely or threatens in a very strong way. So The question is, how much of that framework can You keep You know accepting something like Darwinism. I believe that You can still keep an important part of it for example belief in a sort of universalism about morality. But it's a hard argument And I have to admit that You know I'm not absolutely sure that You can make You certainly can't make it in a way that'll convince everybody whether You can make it in a respectable philosophical way is still a challenge.
Wright: And does that matter whether you can make it in a philosophical way, in other words in terms of everyday life, are there many people whose moral conduct depends on whether you can come up with this philosophical underpinning?
Francis Fukuyama: Probably not but I think that's important in the following sense, that if you believe that you know certain kind of moral outlook is important and The only basis that You can convince people that it is true is on the basis of a religious prior then I think that you're in a certain amount of trouble because you know in a country like the United States it is very diverse religiously and also I think people tend to dismiss your argument if you say that it has to stand on a religious principle. It's certainly a nice short cut you know if in fact people share your religious assumptions you know and you don't have to explain to them why you know why it's true but there is an important audience out there who can be convinced of an important moral argument but not if it requires a religious you know starting point and that's you know that's the group I think might be susceptible to a more Aristotlean argument that is based on you know empirical you know natural science that doesn't require a big leap of faith to explain why it's the case.
Wright: Although you still think that the smooth functioning of the world may always depend on a certain number of people actually having taken a leap of faith.
Francis Fukuyama: That's right, that's right. I think in the United States if you're going to make a case for anything you got to rely on both people that have those prior that had made that prior leap of faith and people that will never make it but can still be convinced in a more empirical You know rational way.
Wright: Ok. And finally you're everyday kind of orientation to the world is not fundamentally a religious one. Is there any connection between it and the work that you're probably best know for that's the idea of a direction in history, does the idea that history is heading somewhere help orient you on an everyday basis?
Francis Fukuyama: Well sure I mean I think if you believe that you're institutions or the institutions that we see or the struggles the political struggles we see around us are not just the you know accidental byproduct of today's politics but actually represent a much larger evolution in human affairs then I think it puts things in a different perspective and I think it forces you to see kind of abstract to the basic principles and ask, you know, where did they come from and why have they survived. So I think it does have a very direct impact.
Wright: So in your mind it imbues them with a kind of significance even if you don't make the inference that they are The end in some purposeful sense, that they represent a kind of divine design.
Francis Fukuyama: No, that's right. Well as I said earlier the I believe that you know you can make a strong case for the end of history based on human nature, that there is a certain set of institutions that are more much more appropriate than all of The competitors given The way human beings actually are which I believe are liberal democracy and market based economics. And that doesn't give them the sanctity as if this were an eternal principle laid down by a divine creator but it gives them much greater solidity than you know a lot of other interpretations which will simply say well this is a cultural creation of a certain segment of Northern Europe you know at a particular point in the 21st Century just happened to spin out these crazy ideas and impose them on the rest of the world.
Wright: Ok, so we're it's a pretty good time to be alive then in your judgement.
Francis Fukuyama: Well I think so.
Wright: Well thanks a lot for letting me come here.