Policy Review Banner

The Future of "History"

Saturday, June 1, 2002

This is Samuel P. Huntington’s moment. The world of cultural and religious strife anticipated by Huntington in his much-discussed (and widely excoriated) book, The Clash of Civilizations, has unquestionably arrived. Yet whether we might also someday see an alternative world — the global triumph of democracy envisioned in Francis Fukuyama’s brilliant work, The End of History and the Last Man — is also a question that seems very much before us as we contemplate what it would mean to “win” the war in which we are engaged. The question of our time may now be whether Huntington’s culture clash or Fukuyama’s pax democratia is the world’s most plausible future.

This is a question with policy implications, of course, and both The Clash of Civilizations and The End of History are, in part, books about policy — what the United States government should do. Ultimately, however, to choose between Fukuyama and Huntington is to articulate a vision of human social life. What are the mainsprings of human action? How salient is religion as a cultural force? Is democracy the most civilized and natural way of life? Questions like these are at the heart of the contest between Huntington and Fukuyama, and we can take the measure of the concomitant policy disputes only by moving through these larger problems, not around them.

Philosophically and spiritually, The End of History and The Clash of Civilizations could hardly be more different (although each book can fairly be called “conservative”). Read closely, unexpected areas of convergence emerge. Nonetheless, ultimately, neither Huntington nor Fukuyama tells us what we need to know in order to synthesize their perspectives — or to finally decide between them. The books are at once complementary and irreconcilable. Taken together, they frame our current perplexity. So let us explore the dilemma that is the state of the world at the moment by considering each book in turn.1

Templates of conflict

Anyone who has followed the war and the debates surrounding it will find something familiar and thought-provoking on nearly every page of The Clash of Civilizations. The book often reads as though it had been written this year. It’s easy to forget how controversial it was when it appeared. For all the respectful (if often skeptical) attention Huntington’s views have garnered from the policy community, his reception within the academy, among liberal opinion makers, and in many overseas capitals has been, and remains, overwhelmingly hostile.

The reason why is that The Clash of Civilizations sticks a thumb in the eye of liberalism and multiculturalism alike. For Fukuyama, the mainspring of history is the liberal yearning for equal recognition. Huntington gruffly retorts, “It is human to hate.” Humans require identity, and they acquire it, says Huntington, through the enemies they choose. With the collapse of Cold War enmities, new forms of identity will inevitably be constructed upon new patterns of hostility. Differences of religion and culture, says Huntington, will provide the needed template for the clashes to come.

This vision of a civilizational state of nature in which hatred is rife and trust and friendship rare was bound to get a rocky reception in a nation where every other ad or song is about harmony. But Huntington pushes his argument further. Not content to affirm the inevitability of human hatred, or to predict the rise of cultural antagonisms in general, Huntington singles out “the Muslim propensity toward violent conflict” as the most important coming challenge to world peace and American power. “Muslim bellicosity and violence,” says Huntington, “are late-twentieth-century facts which neither Muslims nor non-Muslims can deny.” Yet until last September, deny they did. For the post-September 11 reader, watching Huntington demolish President Clinton’s contention (so like the current president’s) that the West has no problem with Islam, but only with violent Islamic extremists, is a fascinating bit of reverse déjà vu:

The underlying problem for the West is not Islamic fundamentalism. It is Islam, a different civilization whose people are convinced of the superiority of their culture and are obsessed with the inferiority of their power. The problem for Islam is not the cia or the U.S. Department of Defense. It is the West, a different civilization whose people are convinced of the universality of their culture.

The litany of Huntington’s insults to liberalism does not end there. Whereas Fukuyama is at pains to point out how seldom established democracies take up arms against one another, Huntington insists that promoting democracy and modernization abroad means more war, not less. Electoral competition in non-Western countries, says Huntington, heightens appeals to nationalism and brings belligerent fundamentalists to power, thus increasing international conflict. Social and economic modernization, he adds, uproots societies and thereby spurs traditionalist reaction. But Huntington’s deepest assault on liberalism may be his insistence on treating our belief in democracy’s global appeal as a characteristic (and characteristically naïve) trait of Western culture rather than as a universal truth.

Multiculturalist ideas fare no better at the point of Huntington’s sword than do liberal ones. Picking up on Max Weber’s classic (but now taboo) thesis, for example, Huntington maintains that cultural factors are responsible for the differential rates at which various societies have modernized. More than that, Huntington launches a frontal assault on the carriers of both democratic and postmodern culture worldwide.

Huntington pokes fun at the educated international elite that favors the spread of democracy and capitalism, needling them by showing just how small a minority they are — culturally marginalized within their own societies, even where they rule. The neo-Marxist carriers of “post-colonial” theory within the academy are a sub-group of this class — highly educated, multicultural migrants, fully at home neither in the West nor in their countries of origin.

The term of art among aficionados of post-colonial theory these days is “hybridity.” Over and above its reference to the mixing of cultures, “hybridity” doesn’t mean much. Instead of using it to build a systematic theory of cultural interaction, post-colonial critics simply employ the term to undermine claims that coherent and bounded cultures can be usefully defined or analyzed. Pouncing on any indications of cultural mixing, the post-colonialists label these “hybridity” and satisfy themselves thereby that the demon of unbridgeable cultural difference has been slain.

From this perspective, then, Huntington’s greatest sin is his cultural “essentialism” — his insistence on dealing with cultures as bounded wholes with defining “essences” instead of as indefinite, interpenetrating hybrids. When Huntington singles out “the Muslim propensity for violent conflict,” scholars rarely reproach him openly for cultural bigotry. Instead they deride him for his naïve “essentialism” — his “propensity for violent generalization,” so to speak. But the post-colonial theorists are only selectively critical of generalization. In fact, their own work depends upon the highly generalized concept of “Orientalism” to discount, at a blow, several hundred years of Western scholarship on the Middle East.

Read in the wake of September 11, it is more than clear that Huntington’s book is filled, not with impermissible “essentialism,” but with useful generalizations. Again and again, and in so many words, Huntington successfully predicts the future. Repeatedly, Huntington tells us that we’re in for a long-term struggle (including periods of intense violence) with the Muslim world. But these generalized predictions are the least of it. Not only is Huntington right, he is right for all the right reasons — and correct in depth and detail as well. The Clash of Civilizations, for example, features an extended and still quite useful analysis of the social roots of Islamic fundamentalism.

How did Huntington manage to predict the future so uncannily? He recognized that the future already existed in the present. He acknowledged and explored what others failed to recognize — that America was already engaged in a war of sorts with the Islamic world, even before September 11. And in yet another uncanny moment, Huntington casts his eye eastward and effectively predicts the advent of an “Axis of Evil” — an alliance of Middle Eastern and East Asian states in opposition to America and the West. He also points to a future in which weapons of mass destruction will act as military equalizers between civilizations in confrontation.

But even this summary does not do justice to the level of detail at which Huntington reflects upon our current dilemma. Here are some developments anticipated and discussed in The Clash of Civilizations: the advent of terrorist attacks on core cultural symbols; the emerging importance of the “floating army” originally created by volunteers from many Muslim lands to fight against the Soviets in Afghanistan; the tendency of Muslim fundamentalism to push Russia and the United States more closely together; the key military dynamic of terror versus air power.

Huntington has done remarkably little crowing about all this since September 11. Wisely, he has adopted the most conservative possible interpretation of his own work by maintaining publicly that we have not yet arrived at a full-fledged civilizational clash between the Muslim and Western worlds. That is true, in a sense. Only the coming attack on Iraq will reveal just how completely and forcefully the Arab and Muslim world will line up in opposition to America and the West.

But in large measure, the world is already living out the truth of Huntington’s thesis. The very possibility of a definitive, radical, and large-scale mobilization of the Muslim world is already at the center of Western policy calculations. And of course, the threat of such a mobilization explains the entirely sensible decisions of Presidents Clinton and Bush to publicly proclaim that our problem is only with the extremists and has nothing to do with Islam or Islamic society itself.

So Huntington’s triumph must be acknowledged. This is not to say, however, that his thesis is free of problems. On the contrary, there are a slew of them. Nor does Huntington’s prescience gainsay the possibility that Fukuyama might ultimately be proven right about the global spread of democracy. Before turning to Huntington’s troubles, however, let us take stock of Fukuyama’s optimistic vision in the light so harshly cast upon it by the present crisis.

Fukuyama’s tradition problem — and ours

Since september 11, and despite the apparent vindication of Samuel Huntington’s prophecies in The Clash of Civilizations, Francis Fukuyama has steadfastly maintained that the end of history is nigh. For Fukuyama, the war itself is a tribute to the forces driving fundamentalist reaction in the Islamic world — the forces of modernization. And Fukuyama points out that Islamism is an inherently parochial phenomenon, not a universal ideology that can serve as an authentic rival to democracy. So Fukuyama maintains that, while the revolt against modernity in parts of the Muslim world may briefly slow the spread of democracy and capitalism, it cannot ultimately halt or replace it.

These are important points. We cannot assess them, however, without confronting certain problems in Fukuyama’s thought. The End of History and the Last Man is constructed around a Hegelian framework that is at once the source of Fukuyama’s extraordinary insights and the reason why he seems to have missed or slighted the phenomena at the center of Huntington’s work. So it is to the intellectual framework of The End of History and the Last Man that we must turn.

Fukuyama’s great accomplishment in The End of History is to establish that democratic rights and participation are fundamental ends in themselves, not mere epiphenomena of capitalism. Communist dictatorships and capitalist autocracies alike rob human beings of their dignity, and Fukuyama successfully shows how the growing turn toward democracy in both types of society is not simply a demand for wealth but, at the deepest level, an insistence upon equal personal dignity and recognition.

To establish these points, Fukuyama makes use of the philosopher G.W.F. Hegel to revive and reformulate the Anglo-American tradition of liberalism.2 The liberalism of Hobbes and Locke is founded upon the relatively “low” human goals of self-preservation and the desire for wealth. Hobbes, for example, singles out “vainglory” as the greatest threat to peace. Only by abandoning the wish to be acknowledged as superior to others, says Hobbes, can we escape the war of all against all, thereby attaining both security and prosperity. So in its classic form, liberalism eschews the drive for recognition in favor of the safer, if humbler, pleasures of prosperity and peace.

Yet Fukuyama notices that liberal theory, in grounding itself on security and prosperity, overlooks something fundamental about democracy — namely, the desire for recognition by others of one’s freedom and equality as a human being. This desire for recognition has actually been driving the worldwide democratic revolution. So rather than simply reject the quest for superiority as dangerous and alien, Fukuyama makes use of Hegel to show how democracy actually tames the human craving for superiority by transforming it into a thirst for equal recognition.

This is what Hegel’s famous account of the master and slave is all about. In Hegel’s reconstruction of the prototypical human situation, a master subdues a slave through his willingness to risk his life in a battle for pure prestige. The slave, valuing life above prestige, submits to the master and acknowledges his conqueror’s superiority. Yet the master’s seeming triumph turns out to be hollow since the recognition obtained from a slave is necessarily inferior in quality. Through a series of transformations, both the master and the slave eventually discover that only formal and mutual recognition of their equal dignity achieves authentic self-respect for each.

Fukuyama’s extraordinary accomplishment is to give life to Hegel’s abstract account by using it to illuminate the dynamics of the global democratic revolution. Unfortunately, however, while Hegel’s story brilliantly illuminates the dynamics of decrepit communist dictatorships, the parable nonetheless falls flat as an account of life in other large areas of the world: those known as “traditional” societies. Fukuyama treats traditional societies as simple variants of slave-states or dictatorships, where recognition is granted to a supreme leader or a small ruling class, and the humanity of the masses is denied. Yet that is far too simple an account of the actual distribution of recognition in traditional societies. Nor can the problem be solved, as Fukuyama sometimes tries, by classifying traditional societies as stuck in some transitional stage of “irrational” recognition on the pathway toward the rational endpoint of modern democracy.

Fukuyama’s impressive reworking of liberal “state of nature” teachings by way of Hegel suffers from a problem common to such theories. It assumes what is to be proven, in his case by constructing an imaginary history which, unlike actual history, takes the individual as the fundamental unit of society. In the actual history of human societies, it is far too simple to say either that the individual is denied recognition by his masters or that he gains recognition at the expense of his rulers. On the contrary, in most traditional societies, the interests of individuals are inextricably intermingled in the groups with which they identify. Individual recognition is a function of the honor both of the larger group and of leaders of that group. By devising an imaginary state of nature in which the subjects are a single master and a single slave, and by treating more complex social structures of recognition as mere elaborations of this fictitious individualist construction, Hegel elides the fundamental question — the extent to which human beings are individual subjects in the first place.

Throughout the bulk of The End of History, Fukuyama writes as though recognition in traditional societies was effectively denied to the great mass of people. Yet late in the book, when he is probing the vulnerabilities of democracy, Fukuyama abruptly reverses ground and for the first time acknowledges that mutual recognition in traditional societies may actually be more widely distributed than in modernity. Recognition in such societies, says Fukuyama, may not be equal in the modern sense, but in small, pre-industrial agricultural communities, life is built upon small and stable social groups knit together by ties of kinship, work, and religion. In that sense, mutual recognition in such societies may actually be more pervasive and satisfying than in our own.

That isolated passage notwithstanding, Fukuyama never grasps the principle of hierarchy that structures the distribution of recognition in traditional societies. Traditional hierarchies are not so much master-slave relationships as they are by-products of group solidarity. Real solidarity is impossible without a leader who embodies the honor and interests of the group. The patriarchs who rule families, tribes, and states in traditional societies are bound by webs of responsibility and customary obligation to their subjects, just as those subjects gain much from the reputation and success of the groups (and thus the leaders) with which they identify.

Most traditional religious and kinship systems are mechanisms for distributing recognition within hierarchy — again, meaning “hierarchy” not in the simple sense of a master’s domination of a slave, but in the sense of a leader as the embodiment of a larger and mutually dependent group. Not coincidentally, as with Fukuyama’s Hegelianism, Marx’s own adaptation of Hegel also stumbles on the problem of religion and traditional societies. Precisely because it is grounded on an underlying master-slave dynamic rather than on solidarity-based hierarchies, Marx’s class analysis has never managed to unravel the secrets of religion or family life in traditional societies. And of course, it is upon the recrudescence of religion in kin-based societies that Huntington rests his analysis in The Clash of Civilizations.

True, Marx and Fukuyama alike are seemingly able to handle these problems by classifying traditional solidarities as “transitional” forms and by dismissing them as false consciousness. Yet, in the end, neither Fukuyama nor Marx are able to turn Hegelian categories to the task of producing a truly nuanced analysis of traditional solidarities.

To put it another way, Fukuyama portrays the structure of the desire for recognition as the willingness to risk one’s life in a battle for pure prestige — the battle of a master to conquer and rule a slave. Yet this is only a single version of the human desire for recognition, and not the most fundamental. Historically, the desire for recognition has been structured not simply by the quest for individual mastery, but by the willingness to sacrifice one’s life in a battle for the prestige of one’s group. Following Hegel, Fukuyama brilliantly traces the path from dictator to democrat — from the quest for individual mastery to the solution of equal mutual recognition. What’s left out is the way of the suicide bomber and of the solidarities that the suicide bomber embodies and defends. In actual — rather than fanciful — human history, self-sacrifice on behalf of group prestige is at least as fundamental as personal risk for the sake of individual domination.

Fukuyama also presents yet another fascinating account of democratic evolution. In contrast to the foregoing, more “spiritual,” story, the other one is an economic argument, grounded on the mechanism of modern natural science.

Simply put, scientific progress yields economic, technological, and especially military power. In order to harness that power and thereby avoid subjugation by other states, traditional societies have no choice, Fukuyama says, but to modernize economically. Yet economic modernization invariably disrupts traditional social forms and, in time, creates a society of individuals — independent subjects who are bound at some point to demand the equal forms of recognition embodied in democracy. So for Fukuyama, the economic effects of modern natural science dovetail with Hegel’s dialectic of recognition to produce an inevitable triumph for democracy.

But what if the mechanism of modern natural science does in fact push us toward a world of democratic individualism, even though (contra Fukuyama) democratic individualism may not necessarily be the only fulfilling, or even the most fulfilling, way of life? In that case, we might expect a certain persistent dissatisfaction to trouble the spirit of democracy. In a sense, Fukuyama takes that dissatisfaction as his subject, as in his extraordinarily insightful application of Nietzsche’s “last man” problematic to the malaise of modernity. Indeed, Fukuyama’s use of Hegel to dignify and elevate an otherwise “low” and excessively “bourgeoisified” democratic theory is in many ways a response to the dissatisfactions inherent in modern democracy. More than Fukuyama concedes, however, these chronic problems of modernity are tributes to the ongoing power and appeal of traditional solidarities, and explain why history’s end has so lately been delayed.

Clash of paradigms — and policies

This is not at all to say that Fukuyama is mostly wrong while Huntington is mostly right. The truth, both trickier and messier, is something that Huntington and Fukuyama are equally reluctant to allow. Read closely, these two extraordinary books overlap far more than one might think.

Huntington, like Fukuyama, is too wise to entirely ignore the phenomena that preoccupy his counterpart. For example, Huntington acknowledges the global power of technological and economic modernization; he simply stresses the fact that modernization is actually driving the worldwide rise of fundamentalist reaction. Fukuyama, on the other hand, acknowledges the importance of reactionary antimodernism; he simply notes that the cultural reaction is testimony to the power and reach of the modernizing process.

Both are right, of course, and each is wise enough to touch lightly upon the truth in his counterpart’s assertion. Yet each is also reluctant to alter his theory according to the other’s insights. This is because both Huntington and Fukuyama have some very specific policy goals in mind. Fukuyama wants to see America actively promote democracy abroad. Huntington, on the other hand, ever the realist, warns about the potentially disastrous effects of an arrogant and naïve democratic imperialism. Were Huntington to treat the modernization process as something other than the mere occasion for cultural reaction, or were Fukuyama to explore the deeper social and spiritual roots of Third World fundamentalism, these clashing but relatively clear and consistent policy prescriptions would each be called into question.

At one point in The End of History, Fukuyama at least acknowledges that the global advent of capitalism and democracy might well leave room for the persistence of cultural differences on the “sub-political” level (for example, family life, kinship structure, religion). Yet Fukuyama never really integrates that insight into his Hegelian account — never develops a convincing way of looking at cultural difference in his own theoretical terms. Nor does Fukuyama grant that the persistence of certain traditional social forms in, say, capitalist East Asia could be a significant spur to conflict within a future international system dominated by capitalist democracies. And of course, Fukuyama doesn’t consider that the partial retention of traditional social forms in East Asia might suggest that a still more tenacious cultural resistance to capitalism and modernity might be conceivable in a region like the Middle East (a region about which Fukuyama has relatively little to say in The End of History).

By the same token, while Huntington stresses the disruptive effects of modernity on traditional social forms, he never considers that a nativist or fundamentalist response might ultimately fail to reverse that disruption. Nor does Huntington consider that the very fact of his being right about the clash of civilizations might actually help to push the international system in Fukuyama’s direction. Arguably, in fact, that is what we are witnessing right now.

For all of his eerily prescient statements in The Clash of Civilizations, there are a number of discordant declarations. In accordance with his cultural-regional realism, for example, Huntington is at pains to stress that “no country, including the United States, has global security interests.” In the wake of September 11, with American security interests and power rapidly expanding across the globe, that statement is almost embarrassingly false. A major theme of Huntington’s book, in fact, is the coming decline of American power, which will inevitably be reined in by the demographic growth of the Muslim world and the economic development of East Asia. Huntington will not likely prove entirely wrong on that score in the long run, yet certainly one plausible effect of the war on terror is a significant extension of American power across the globe in the short and medium term.

Huntington notes that the Islamic resurgence in the Middle East has given the Muslim world renewed confidence in itself, confidence spurred on by the defeat of a world power like the Soviets in Afghanistan. Of course, he was right about renewed Islamic confidence — so right that he might now be proven wrong by the American response to Islamic overreach. With the Taliban defeated, Osama bin Laden taken down a notch or two, and perhaps the ousting of Saddam Hussein and the installation of a pro-Western regime in Iraq, can the forces of Islamic reaction remain as confident and ascendant as Huntington once suggested?

Ultimately, therefore, the resolution between Fukuyama and Huntington is still in doubt. Huntington was right about a conflict in the offing between the Middle East and the West. But we still don’t know whether that clash is just the beginning of a long-term civilizational stand-off or a stimulus to democracy’s and capitalism’s final and successful push to establish themseleves around the world.

Consider Pakistan, which plays a central role in Huntington’s treatment of the Islamic world. Huntington sees Pakistan, because of its role in supplying the Afghan resistance to the Soviets, as a leading power in the Muslim world and a key potential partner in any anti-American alliance between Islam and East Asia. Of course, that all changed after September 11, when President Bush forced Pakistan to fall in with America or be deemed an enemy, after which Pakistan switched sides.

Will the change hold? That is an open question. Certainly President Pervez Musharraf has enjoyed considerable success to date, with relatively few domestic protests erupting against his tilt toward America. Yet the murder of journalist Daniel Pearl and other terrorist incidents make it clear that Musharraf’s government will face continued internal pressure from Islamists.

Huntington’s model would explain Pakistan’s tilt toward America as an attempt by a “secondary” civilizational power to stifle a cultural “fault-line” war that could cut against its own interests. Yet that only begs the question. What is the source of Pakistan’s interest in moving toward closer cooperation with the West in the first place? I think Fukuyama explains this better than Huntington. The military and economic advantages of being part of the Western camp are the carrots held out by President Bush to President Musharraf. Ultimately, therefore, it is Fukuyama’s scientific-economic mechanism of modernization that has enabled the United States to pry Pakistan loose from its erstwhile Islamist allies.

Yet the new pattern of alliance is clearly unstable. Musharraf, as noted, is still under internal pressure from Islamists, and an American attack on Iraq may yet produce a change of mood within Pakistan, just as fighting between Israelis and Palestinians has put pressure on moderate Arab leaders to cut their ties with Israel. And even if Pakistan’s American alliance holds, the nation may turn into what Huntington calls a “torn country” — a society unable to resolve the contradiction between its global economic and security interests and its cultural center of gravity. Nor is a future American tilt toward India inconceivable. A civilizational alliance between victims of Islamic terror could put further pressure on Pakistan’s pro-Western stance. In short, both Huntington and Fukuyama are right, although we cannot yet know in what measure. In the real world, the policy prescriptions that flow so neatly from their crisply consistent theoretical frameworks are profoundly muddled.

Realist restraint or democratic missionizing? Which shall it be? We have to be prepared for both, I believe. The coming years will be a time of reluctant imperialism for the United States. Inevitably, our victories in the war against terror will give us greater and greater power within the Muslim world. We exercise that power now in Afghanistan; soon we are likely to hold it in Iraq. Should our policy be to spread the gospel of democracy to these newly conquered Muslim lands, or should we eschew cultural arrogance and thereby escape the danger of a traditionalist reaction? That is a question that will be answered only in the doing. We have to be ready to experiment, to learn from our failures, and to quickly shift gears if need be. When it comes to the question of exporting democracy to the non-Western world, a foolish consistency will be the hobgoblin of small policy.

Even in their own terms, we can see certain paradoxes and contradictions built into both Fukuyama’s and Huntington’s policy recommendations. Maybe more than he knows, Fukuyama really does succeed in casting Hobbes aside — and not just on the question of liberalism’s internal rationale. Fukuyama’s commitment to the global spread of democracy may well dignify liberalism by restoring to it a certain nobility of spirit. Yet at a cost, for all we need do is recall Hobbes’s warning that nothing is more disruptive to peace within a state of nature than vainglory. In effect, Huntington’s complaint about Fukuyama’s foreign policy is borrowed from Hobbes. If the world is a state of nature on a grand scale, then surely a foreign policy governed by a “vainglorious” missionizing spirit rather than a careful calculation of national (and civilizational) interest promises dangerous war and strife.

Yet Huntington’s policy prescriptions are also rent by paradox. Huntington wants the West to defend its democratic traditions as a specifically Western cultural heritage, not as magical solutions to the problems of the world. The trouble, one might say, is that it’s not in our culture to see our culture as simply a culture. Huntington’s anti-universalist realism, even insofar as it may be correct, will always be “counter-cultural” policy in an inherently missionizing Western democracy.

Modernization: the missing link?

In the end, the most fundamental issue separating Fukuyama and Huntington receives only very passing treatment from either thinker. Ultimately, it is impossible to adjudicate the Fukuyama-Huntington debate without a well-grounded theory of modernization. In the absence of a clear conception of how, why, and when modernization blends, or fails to blend, with particular social forms, there is simply no basis for making decisions about the relative long-term prescience of either man. And while both Huntington and Fukuyama touch on these underlying social-structural questions, neither explores them in anything like systematic fashion.

As noted, Huntington does put forward a very nice account of the social roots of Islamic fundamentalism. Yet that account only begs the question of the long-term effects of modernization. Huntington rightly notes that the tendency of modernization to break traditional social bonds has actually stimulated an identity-preserving return to Islam. Yet if the forces of modernization continue to disrupt the older social solidarities, a long-term cultural shift toward individualism is entirely conceivable, and that is a possibility Huntington does not entertain. In an effort to distinguish between modernization and Westernization, Huntington rightly points out that the West’s cultural individualism predates modernity and cannot be treated as entirely synonymous with it. Yet that does not preclude the possibility that the long-term effect of technological and economic modernization might be to dissolve traditional social forms and thereby generate exactly the sort of cultural individualism long familiar to us in the West.

This is precisely Fukuyama’s claim, yet he does not substantiate it so much as assume it. Fukuyama does show how urbanization and bureaucratization served to undercut traditional social ties in the West, thereby leading to an individualist world of capitalism and democracy. Unfortunately, he simply presumes that this pattern will hold for the non-Western world. That is too simple. Western feudalism, for example, was structured around localized patron-client relationships and tied to agricultural production. Feudalism was therefore effectively broken when an uprooted peasantry flooded the towns. Dense systems of kinship, however, were never critical to the Western social system. In most of the non-Western world, on the other hand, kinship is at the core of traditional social structure, and kinship ties have proven highly portable and adaptable to urban environments. The urban shanty towns of Cairo and Istanbul (filled with migrant peasants soon to become the foot soldiers of Islamism) are still very much structured by traditional kinship bonds.

In Cairo, for example, the resources, time, and energy that Westerners channel into developing a business, a unique career, or a civic association are instead devoted to complex marriage negotiations. The family alliances built through such marriages stand as the surest security against poverty and the helplessness of aging, even as those same connections feed the endemic corruption that hampers the development of capitalism and bureaucratic competence in Muslim lands.

Likewise, the shanty towns of Istanbul have in many respects recreated village life, except for the fact that in the more Islamist sectors, women’s observance of proper Islamic dress is more strict than in the countryside. Even regional ties remain strong among peasant immigrants in Istanbul, who often travel to other sectors of the city just to arrange marriages for their children with immigrants from their old localities — people with whom they already have ties of kinship.

When it comes to modernization, these traditional social forms can cut in different directions. On the one hand, the persistence of arranged marriage and other kinship practices has clearly helped to fuel the rise of Islamism, which is in many respects an attempt to protect traditional family forms from the “acid of modernity.” On the other hand, kinship connections have sometimes proven adaptable to capitalism. Many women in the poorer quarters of Istanbul, for example, do piecework for businesses that export clothing to Europe. The piecework ateliers are organized around kinship connections, real or fictive. Yet, as in Egypt, that very same kinship ethos impedes the efficiency of Turkish bureaucracy. Without a link, real or fictive, through your kinship network, it can take up to six years in many sections of Istanbul just to get a phone connected. Much of the piecework activity, moreover, is hidden from the state, and so represents a serious tax loss to the government.

So while Fukuyama is correct to say that the power that emerges from economic and technological development exerts a constant pressure on non-Western states to modernize, the actual nature and extent of the social changes that flow from, say, urbanization are not predictable from that fact. Some Third World countries have barely begun to modernize. Others, like Turkey and Japan, nicely bear out Fukuyama’s model of non-Western states drawn into the web of modernization by the need to maintain military-economic parity with the West. Yet Japan retains much of its traditional social structure, while Turkey is still very much what Huntington calls a “torn country.”

The future, therefore, is anyone’s guess. In contrast to Fukuyama’s expectations of a quick and easy link between economic and technological modernization, urbanization, and cultural individualism, a traditional kinship structure has reconstituted itself at the center of the great urban migration that is driving the spread of Islamism. Yet that same traditional structure is under siege from the forces of modernity — a siege that at once provokes the fundamentalist reaction and threatens, over the long term, to undercut that reaction. Will we ultimately see a slow but complete dissolution of traditional Muslim social forms and the emergence of something recognizably modern and even “Western” in the Islamic world, or will we see instead some complex social blend — and with what political-cultural consequences? No one knows the answers to these questions, and neither Fukuyama nor Huntington comes close to giving us the tools we need to puzzle the long-term problem out.

Maybe with time, for example, the “acid of modernity” will dissolve Turkey’s traditional social structure and the modernizers will win out. Or maybe the piecework ateliers of Turkey will develop into a working blend of capitalism and the traditional social structure. Or will the kinship structure’s formidable interference with bureaucratic and capitalist efficacy tell the tale in the end? To begin to answer the question, we need detailed case studies and hard analyses of the social and economic riddles at the heart of the urbanizing Islamic world (and the Third World more generally). At the moment, however, we have too little in the way of either data or theory to make an informed decision. That, in the end, is why neither Huntington, nor Fukuyama, nor anyone else at the moment can plausibly resolve the issue.

The question of time, moreover, is a central, though hidden, difficulty in the Huntington-Fukuyama debate. There is a tension in Fukuyama’s account between his long-term prediction of the triumph of capitalism and democracy and his near-term critique of foreign-policy “realism.” When democracy swiftly spreads, Fukuyama can take credit for having predicted the change. On the other hand, when Huntingtonian civilizational clashes emerge to complicate the picture, Fukuyama can fall back on his confidence in the eventual triumph of democracy and remind us that he never said that universal democratization would come swiftly or easily, only that democracy is the sole remaining political ideology with universal potential. Between the short- and long-term prediction, there is a fair amount of wiggle room.

In response to Huntington’s apparent vindication by the events of September 11 and their aftermath, Fukuyama has written, “Modernity is a very powerful freight train that will not be derailed by recent events.” One wants to know the precise speed at which this powerful train is traveling. It hardly seems a stretch to say that the current dynamic of civilizational strife could last for decades, even if a worldwide triumph of democracy and capitalism is eventually in the cards. Huntington explicitly notes that his proposed foreign policy paradigm will likely be every bit as time-limited as was the Cold War paradigm that preceded it. So conceivably, Fukuyama could be correct about the long term, while Huntington could nonetheless be correct about the next several decades. Yet that would leave Fukuyama’s policy proposals in tatters.

In fact, however, our present global dilemma borrows liberally from both The Clash of Civilizations and The End of History. Policy prescriptions will therefore have to be cribbed unsystematically, and on the fly, from Huntington and Fukuyama alike. Ultimately, this is because both thinkers are on to something fundamental about human social life. There is no doubt that, worldwide, we continue to live out the process of social and cultural democratization and individualization described most brilliantly by Tocqueville more than a century and a half ago.

Yet it is nonetheless the case that the war between modern democracy and traditional society may never quite come to an end — even if, at a given moment, democracy appears triumphant. This is because (notwithstanding assorted “state of nature” fantasies), until relatively recent times, human societies have always assigned more weight to the collective than the individual. The mechanism of modern natural science may lately have uprooted those traditional social forms and created a novel human ideal, but the chronic disenchantment at the heart of modernity bespeaks a yearning for the firm direction, shared identity, and common purpose that the old hierarchical collectivities used to provide.

In a sense, Fukuyama’s charge to spread democracy around the globe is a very modern attempt to restore that feeling of collective purpose. Yet nothing entirely modern can fully replace the satisfactions of traditional religious and family life. That is why, even within triumphant capitalism and democracy, our domestic culture war lurches on inconclusively. That culture war is simply an internal manifestation of the incomplete and unnatural character of modernity. And even if modernity’s external enemies are someday vanquished, its internal upheavals and doubts will remain, forever unresolved and irresolvable.

Of course traditional societies have more than their fair share of social and psychological costs, and especially in a modernizing environment, those costs can be profound indeed. Nonetheless, we are, all of us, perpetually suspended between tradition and modernity, neither of which will quite do, yet one of which now has the weight of science and technology (and therefore of “history”) on its side. The only good solution to this dilemma is a blend, in the best Tocquevillian sense, of the old and the new. Different societies will find (or fail to find) that blend in different ways and at different rates. Perhaps someday, the peoples of the world will all be seeking to strike the balance of modernity and tradition within a broadly liberal democratic framework. Until that day, however, the end of history and the clash of civilizations will remain perplexing and simultaneous truths, the measure of which we shall be compelled to take without benefit of overarching formula or guide.


1Huntington first put forward his thesis in an essay, “The Clash of Civilizations,” in Foreign Affairs (Summer, 1993). He published his book-length elaboration, The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of World Order, in 1996. A paperback edition is available from Touchstone Books. Fukuyama likewise first put forward his argument as an essay, “The End of History?,” in the National Interest (Summer, 1989). His book appeared in 1992 as The End of History and the Last Man. It is available in paperback from Avon Books.

2It is important to note that rather than directly adapting Hegel, Fukuyama is actually drawing on the interpretation of Hegel articulated by the Marxist philosopher Alexandre Kojéve. In fact, Fukuyama makes a point of instructing the reader that, when he says “Hegel,” he is actually making reference to a sort of composite philosopher who might be called, “Hegel-Kojéve.” Here, too, I will speak of Hegel when “Hegel-Kojéve” is actually at issue. It will emerge, in fact, that some of the difficulties I point to in “Hegel” below may more appropriately be laid at the door of Kojéve or at Fukuyama’s reading of Hegel-Kojéve — perhaps a third philosopher, Hegel-Kojéve-Fukuyama.