Fukuyama, Discontents, and Humpty Dumpty

My apologies: I just caught up with Francis Fukuyama's 2022 book, Liberalism and Its Discontents. So I spent the week blogging about it. The book was mentioned in a Quillette piece celebrating "Fukuyama's Victory." And I realized that I had never read any of his books, least of all his famous The End of History and the Last Man.

Since Fukuyama is a think-tanker at Stanford and was a professor at Johns Hopkins and George Mason Universities, I was interested to find out what a regime noble thought about current affairs.

Needless to say, classical liberalism -- he means pre-French Revolution philosophy and political ideas -- is the natural order of things. And so is its spawn liberal democracy. But the "discontents," from populist nationalists on the right and critical theorists on the left, are a real challenge. Right-wing populism is the bigger and more immediate threat, because

On the right, there have been efforts to manipulate the electoral system in the United States in order to guarantee that conservatives remain in power… [plus] use of violence and authoritarian government…

Sounds pretty serious. I think it might be a good idea for the FBI to set up a Foreign Influence Task Force to fight Russian collusion and maybe a National Election Command Post to instruct the Trust & Safety kiddies at social media how to fight misinformation and disinformation from the far-right.

Thanks Matt Taibbi: now we know we already did that. What a relief!

Meanwhile, on the Left:

On the left, there are demands for a massive redistribution of wealth and power… as well as policies to equalize outcomes between groups [based on race and gender].

You mean redistribute power from the Pelosi deep state to the AOC deep state-in-waiting?

But why? Why are all these ungrateful discontents pushing back against the glorious liberal democracy with which they have been blessed?

It's all the fault of neoliberalism, according to Fukuyama, by which he means the economic policies implemented by Reagan and Thatcher in accordance with the ideas of the Austrian school of Mises and Hayek and the Chicago School of Friedman and Stigler -- what you and I call supply-side economics. You see,

[neoliberalism] dramatically increased economic inequality and brought on devastating financial crises that hurt ordinary people far more than wealthy elites in many countries around the globe.

The only "devastating financial crises" he mentions is the 2008 meltdown. Misinformation warning! Experts agree that the credit meltdown was a consequence of the New Deal era mortgage subsidy scheme -- and Little Ben Bernanke's failure to act as "lender of last resort." But I can understand that the profs and think-tankers would rather blame Milton Friedman.

Despite the majesty of Fukuyama's narrative, I have a different explanation for the "discontents" of the present moment.

I'd say that the discontent of the "far-Right" comes from a combination of: 

  • unlimited immigration that lowers wages for native-born Americans;
  • big spending on climate change and systemic racism that doesn't help ordinary middle-class Americans;
  • racial quotas that harm ordinary white male middle-class Americans;
  • the Jobs for Educated Gentry regulatory state;
  • the post-2008 low interest rates that pumped stock prices up way above wage gains.

And you did it, liberalism.

I'd say that the discontent of the "far left" is a bit different. The problem here is that the activist kiddies actually believe that the world is drowning in oppression as taught by their professors. They don't realize that it's all just a grift, to get the oppressed peoples du jour into the polling booth. You did it, liberalism.

Let's have a bit of fun. Let's construct a narrative to understand the arc of liberalism over the last 500 years in the Three Ages of Liberalism.

First is the Age of Ideas, when a new educated class was creating a cultural space for the educated middle class in a feudal world that only valorized Those Who Pray and Those Who Fight. Hey, whatabout Those Who Think? That's what classical liberalism was all about.

Second is the Age of Revolution, when the educated class transformed its ideas into political power in the Glorious Revolution of 1688, the American Revolution of 1776, the French Revolution of 1789, and the Bolshevik Revolution of 1917. They replaced titles of nobility with titles of credential, Dr. Jill Biden. Democracy, baby!

Third is the Age of Supremacy, when the educated class ruled the world and imposed its ideas -- at enormous expense in lives and treasure -- on the lower orders, in their own best interest, of course. That's what presidents Wilson, Roosevelt, Johnson, Clinton, Obama, and liberal democracy were all about.

Okay, so I had my bit of fun. Francis Fukuyama's Liberalism and Its Discontents is not much fun; it is all about liberals patting themselves on the back, with No Idea why the natives are restless.

Don't blame me, Humpty Dumpty, if you have a great fall.

Christopher Chantrill @chrischantrill runs the go-to site on US government finances, usgovernmentspending.com. Also get his American Manifesto and his Road to the Middle Class.

Image: Farrar, Strauss, and Giroux

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