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— Leslie H. Gelb, President Emeritus, Council on Foreign Relations
"Bob Merry goes for the gut issue in Sands of Empire — what kind of America is fighting today's war against Islamic terrorism, and does this war have a coherent intellectual and cultural foundation? People will agree or disagree with Merry's conclusions, but he's asking the right questions."
— David Ignatius, associate editor and columnist, The Washington Post
"Bob Merry has laid bare the bankruptcy of the historical and philosophical neoconservative argument that so powerfully drives our current national strategy. Anyone interested in the integrity and likely success of our foreign policy should read — no, study — his critique."
— General Montgomery C. Meigs (ret.), Lewis A. Bantle Chair at the Maxwell School of Syracuse University and NBC military analyst
"In Sands of Empire, Bob Merry, a great political reporter, has written a provocative and truly thoughtful book. Merry subjects to rigorous criticism the assumptions of both Democrats and Republicans that since the end of the Cold War have forged U.S. foreign policy. Bob Merry and Sands of Empire will make many of the most powerful Washington policymakers furious, will make every reader think anew, and will help ignite a needed national debate about the vital interests of the United States."
— Mark Shields, syndicated columnist and political analyst on The NewsHour with Jim Lehrer
"Robert Merry writes with clarity and common sense, a deep sense of history, and a sure feel for the complexities and foibles of human nature. His book is a timely and disturbing warning against American hubris."
— Evan Thomas, assistant managing editor of Newsweek and author of John Paul Jones
In 1910, a starry-eyed British economist named Norman Angell published a book called The Great Illusion, positing the notion that war among the industrial nations had become essentially obsolete. "How," he asked, "can modern life, with its overpowering proportion of industrial activities and its infinitesimal proportion of military, keep alive the instincts associated with war as against those developed by peace?" The book was an instant smash, translated into eleven languages and stirring something of a cult following throughout Europe. "By impressive examples and incontrovertible argument," wrote Barbara Tuchman in her narrative history The Guns of August, "Angell showed that in the present financial and economic interdependence of nations, the victor would suffer equally with the vanquished; therefore war had become unprofitable; therefore no nation would be so foolish as to start one."
At major universities throughout Britain, study groups of Angell acolytes sprang up. Viscount Esher, friend and confidant of the king, traveled widely to spread the gospel that "new economic factors clearly prove the inanity of aggressive wars." Such wars, he suggested, would spread "commercial disaster, financial ruin and individual suffering" on such a scale that the very thought of them would unleash powerful "restraining influences." Thus, as he told one military audience, the interlacing of nations had rendered war "every day more difficult and improbable."
In recounting all this, Tuchman barely conceals her contempt for Angell and Esher, which seems understandable given the carnage unleashed upon the European continent just four years after Angell's volume began its massive flow through bookstores. And yet there's something remarkably durable about the Angell thesis. In 1930, a year when the memory of World War I's rivers of blood must have been vivid in European minds, the king of England gave him a knighthood. Three years later he won the Nobel Peace Prize for his earnest agitations for world tranquillity. And in 1999, nearly ninety years after The Great Illusion appeared, a prominent New York Times columnist, Thomas L. Friedman, pronounced Angell's thesis to be "actually right," although he leavened his endorsement with a bow to Thucydides' observations about the causes of war.
All this poses a question: to what can we attribute the durability of Angell's discredited thesis and its reemergence after nearly a century filled with global conflict? The answer lies in the convergence of two developments of significance to Western thought -- one distant and occurring over centuries, the other recent and bursting forth with stunning rapidity. The recent development was the West's Cold War victory over the Soviet Union in 1989 after nearly a half century of eyeball-to-eyeball confrontation. The distant development was the emergence of that seminal Western concept, the Idea of Progress.
This convergence is reflected in two publishing events of deep significance in America's recent intellectual life. One was the 1989 publication, in an obscure scholarly journal called The National Interest, of that essay by Francis Fukuyama entitled "The End of History?" Fukuyama, then a functionary on the State Department's planning staff but now a prominent academic, posited the notion that the West's coming Cold War victory represented "the end point of mankind's ideological evolution and the universalization of Western liberal democracy as the final form of human government." Borrowing from Hegel, he said this represented "the end of history" in that the ideological struggles of the ages had reached absolute finality, with profound benefit to the cause of world peace. It was a bombshell article, stirring debates that still reverberate among academics and intellectuals.
The other publishing event was the 1999 publication of Thomas Friedman's The Lexus and the Olive Tree, an analysis and celebration of what he called "the new era of globalization," characterized by the triumph of Western-style democratic capitalism and by greater prospects for global tranquillity than ever before in history. Friedman's book was widely reviewed, generated abundant favorable comment, and spent several months on the New York Times bestseller list. One reviewer called it "[perhaps] the first indispensable book of the new millennium."
These two efforts to explain the post-Cold War world reflect a fundamental reality of current Western thinking -- namely, that the Idea of Progress remains for many the central underlying philosophical precept and the wellspring for much of what we see today in the way of perceptions, outlooks, predictions, and convictions. Both "The End of History?" and The Lexus and the Olive Tree are distillations of the Idea of Progress, applied to the post-Cold War world. And both embrace the mischievous corollary and the two great contradictions of the Progress concept. The mischievous corollary suggests that progress can alter fundamental human nature. The contradictions are, first, the notion that this inexorable progress can actually stop at a perceived end point of history; and, second, the persistent underlying idea of Eurocentrism, the perceived superiority and universality of Western ideas and ideals.
Francis Fukuyama, the son of a Congregational minister and religion professor, grew up in a middle-class housing development on Manhattan's Lower East Side. At Cornell, he majored in classics and lived at a residence called Telluride House, a haven for philosophy students who enjoyed sitting around and discussing the great thinkers. After Cornell it was on to Yale, where he did graduate work in comparative literature, and then to Paris to further his literary studies. But he became alienated from what he considered the postmodern nihilism of the prominent scholars there, and he redirected his focus toward the tangible world of geopolitics. Three years later he had a Ph.D. from Harvard in political science, with a specialty in Middle Eastern and Soviet politics.
Upon getting the doctorate he joined the RAND Corporation in Santa Monica, where he spent several years writing papers of informed speculation on the fine points and likely implications of Soviet foreign and military policy. Then in early 1989, just before he was to join the State Department's planning staff, he delivered a lecture at the University of Chicago that sought to place the day's geopolitical events in a broad perspective. Owen Harries, editor of The National Interest (just four years old at the time, with a circulation of 5,600), read the speech and considered it precisely the kind of attention-grabbing analysis he wanted. Running to ten thousand words and appearing in the summer issue, it instantly thrust Fukuyama into the role of intellectual celebrity.
Fukuyama's embrace of the Idea of Progress is manifest in his provocative title, in his declaration that Western democratic capitalism represents the final destination point of human civic development, and in his belief in the universality of Western political ideals. But more fundamental is his reliance on the philosophy and dialectic of Hegel, the great nineteenth-century German philosopher.
Penetrating Hegel and his thinking is not an easy task. Irving Kristol, the neoconservative intellectual, calls Hegel "the most unreadable of our great philosophers." But more than anyone else Hegel established the history of philosophy as an important area of study. Robert Nisbet calls him "without question the preeminent philosopher of the nineteenth century." Kristol calls him "along with Kant the greatest philosopher of modernity." Aiming to develop a field of philosophy that would integrate the thinking of all his great philosophic predecessors, he posited the notion that these predecessors represented so many states of mind, each signifying a particular stage in the development of the human spirit toward ever greater levels of maturity.
Thus he was crucial to the development of the Idea of Progress. "In no philosopher or scientist of the nineteenth century," writes Nisbet, "did the idea of progress...have greater weight than in Hegel's thought. There is scarcely a work in Hegel's voluminous writings that is not in some fashion or degree built around the idea of becoming, of growth and progress." In his essay replying to the Fukuyama article, Kristol offers a penetrating analysis of Hegel and his significance to Fukuyama's End of History thesis. On one level, he writes, Hegel's outlook was rather conventional in that he viewed history as an evolution from the more simple to the more complex and from the more naive to the more sophisticated. "All this," he writes, "was familiar to the eighteenth century under the rubric of Progress."
But Hegel went further, suggesting that this evolution represented a destiny determined by an inner logic -- "an inner dialectic, to be more precise" -- of which the historical actors were themselves ignorant. Thus, it was left to Hegel to reveal this whole inner dialectic and this destiny. "From a metaphysical point of view," writes Kristol, "this accession of self-consciousness by a German professor represented an achievement of the universe itself, of which humanity is the thinking self-conscious vehicle." In other words, before Hegel came upon the scene the various philosophers hammered away at their various bits of thinking, not knowing how they all fit together. But now they had the benefit of Hegel's dialectic showing how these fragments fit together and showing further how they would continue to develop into the future. Thus the history of philosophy now could be regarded as a kind of cultural evolution "whose inner dialectic," writes Kristol, "aimed always at increments of enlightenment -- an evolution which we, from the privileged heights of modernity, can comprehend as never before."
This was breathtaking. And soon it wasn't just the history of philosophy that came under the spell of the Hegelian dialectic, but history itself. As Kristol points out, the idea that history is a human autobiography in which events gradually and inexorably mature into modernity serves as the underpinning for nearly all of today's historical inquiry, which assumes, he writes, "that we have the intellectual authority to understand the past as the past failed to understand itself." And this heady, self-congratulatory thinking inevitably captured Western politics as well. "After Hegel," writes Kristol, "all politics too becomes neo-Hegelian." Hegel saw the modern constitutional state and its liberal social order as the end point and the final purpose of history. But he realized that this end point resided largely in the realm of theory and that, in the practical world, the evolution was ongoing. "Now," writes Kristol, "Mr. Fukuyama arrives to tell us that, after almost two centuries, the job has been done and that the United States of America is the incarnation we have all been waiting for."
Viewing the Fukuyama thesis through such a prism, it is easy to see why he stirred such interest and controversy. In his essay, Fukuyama identifies Hegel as "the first philosopher to speak the language of modern social science." That's because he pioneered the idea of man as the product of his concrete historical and social environment and not, as earlier natural right theorists had suggested, a collection of more or less fixed "natural" attributes. This is precisely where Hegel embraced the concept of the malleability of human nature. And this is where Fukuyama did likewise.
As Fukuyama sees it, this perception of human nature is fundamental to the inescapable modern view of mankind. He writes: "The notion that mankind has progressed through a series of primitive states of consciousness on his path to the present, and that these stages corresponded to concrete forms of social organization...[culminating in] democratic-egalitarian societies, has become inseparable from the modern understanding of man." In other words, we're all Hegelians now.
Fukuyama moves from his Hegelian analysis to the question of whether the modern world harbors any fundamental "contradictions" that cannot be resolved in the context of what he calls the "universal homogenous state" of liberal democracy. The End of History, after all, represents a state of human development in which no such contradictions can emerge because we have reached "the common ideological heritage of mankind." But to make his point he runs through the possibilities.
First, communism. Fukuyama wrote prior to the profound events of 1989 that marked the end of the Cold War -- the massive exodus of East bloc citizens through Hungary and into Austria in late summer; the Soviet loss of nerve in the face of this display of defiance; the consequent disintegration of the Soviets' Eastern European empire; and the dramatic demolition of the Berlin Wall and the reunification of Germany. Thus he was prescient in seeing that Soviet communism was disintegrating and that it posed no serious alternative to Western democracy. "The Soviet Union could in no way be described as a liberal or democratic country," writes Fukuyama. "But at the end of history it is not necessary that all societies become successful liberal societies, merely that they end their ideological pretensions of representing different and higher forms of human society."
Next he looked at the "Asian alternatives," with similar results. The Fascism of Imperial Japan had been smashed, and postwar Japan had created a consumer culture "that has become both a symbol and an underpinning of the universal homogenous state." In other Asian societies economic liberalism was ushering in varying degrees of political liberalism. And even China had abandoned the strictures of Marxism-Leninism in an effort to foster growing prosperity. China was a long way from accepting the Hegelian formula, Fukuyama suggested. "Yet the pull of the liberal idea continues to be very strong as economic power devolves and the economy becomes more open to the outside world."
Fukuyama notes the speculation of some that the Soviet disintegration could usher in a threatening wave of Russian nationalism. He dismisses this as "curious" on the ground that it assumes unrealistically that the evolution of the Russian consciousness had "stood still" during the Soviet interregnum. Similarly, he dismisses the idea that nationalism or ethnic zeal could emerge from any quarter to pose a serious threat to the universal homogenous state.
As for Islamic fundamentalism, he concedes that Islam has indeed offered a theocratic state as a political alternative to Western liberalism. "But," he adds, "the doctrine has little appeal for non-Muslims, and it is hard to believe that the movement will take on any universal significance."
So there it is, the triumph of Western democratic capitalism. The death of Marxism-Leninism, writes Fukuyama, will usher in the growing "Common Marketization" of international relations and a sharp decline in the likelihood of large-scale conflict between states. Oh, sure, he adds, there would be holdout adherents of this dying ideology in places such as Pyongyang and Cambridge, Massachusetts, but the ideological battle had been waged and won. And, sure, there will be ongoing struggles among those peoples who had not yet reached the End of History, such as Palestinians, Kurds, Sikhs, and Irish Catholics. Moreover, states residing at the End of History may find themselves having to put down peoples whose consciousness had not yet evolved to history's end point. "But large-scale conflict must involve large states still caught in the grip of history, and they are what appear to be passing from the scene."
Fukuyama concedes that this new era could be a "very sad time" in some respects. What's missing is any sense of principle or idealism that is larger than the individual, something to believe in and to die for, any ideological struggle calling for daring, courage, imagination, and idealism. No, in their place will be mere economic calculation, endless technical advancement, a drive to satisfy sophisticated consumer demands. "In the post-historical period," concludes Fukuyama, "there will be neither art nor philosophy, just the perpetual caretaking of the museum of human history."
The response to all this was quick and powerful. Chicago Tribune columnist Stephen Chapman first called attention to the thesis. Then George Will took it up in his Newsweek column. Time ran a story, along with a photo of Fukuyama. By autumn of 1989 the thesis had been discussed in just about every major U.S. publication. In September the story hit the London papers, and a month later it was discussed in France's Le Monde. Reprints were translated into nearly a dozen languages. A Washington newsstand dealer, according to the New York Times Magazine, reported that the little quarterly journal containing Fukuyama's article was "outselling everything, even the pornography." And many of those writing about the thesis used the same words of flattery to describe it -- "bold," "important," "stimulating," even "brilliant."
But many critics attacked it. Time writer Strobe Talbott called it "pernicious nonsense." Christopher Hitchens, the prominent British writer based in Washington, dismissed it with the words, "At last, self-congratulation raised to the status of philosophy." Columnist Charles Krauthammer suggested Fukuyama had entirely missed a fundamental reality of mankind, namely, man's ongoing struggle with evil. "Hence conflict, hence history," he wrote.
Irving Kristol's words, "I don't believe a word of it," capped a pungent critique in The National Interest itself. In dismissing this particular "wave of the future" and expressing his general skepticism of all such perceived waves, Kristol suggested they are no more than "mirages provoked by a neo-Hegelian fever of the political imagination." And in arguing that all forms of government are inherently unstable, he added that he assumed that even the American democracy was "at risk" precisely because of its particular brand of democracy with all of its inherent "problematics," including the longing for community and spirituality, a growing distrust of technology, the confusion of liberty with license, "and many others besides."
Similarly, Harvard's Samuel P. Huntington argued that the End of History overemphasized "the predictability of history and the permanence of the moment." Current trends may or may not continue, he writes, but past experience would indicate that they are unlikely to do so. "Indeed," he suggests, "in the benign atmosphere of the moment, it is sobering to speculate on the possible future horrors that social analysts are now failing to predict." (Note that he wrote well before September 11, 2001.)
More important, Huntington zeroes in on Fukuyama's seeming obliviousness to the "weakness and irrationality of human nature." He writes that Endists (his term for Fukuyama and his adherents) tend to assume that human beings will operate in ways that are rational. Sure, says Huntington, human beings are at times rational, generous, creative, and wise, but they also can be stupid, selfish, cruel, and sinful. "The struggle that is history began with the eating of the forbidden fruit and is rooted in human nature." Therefore, while there may be total defeats in history, there are no final solutions. "So long as human beings exist, there is no exit from the traumas of history."
Putting the debate into its most stark perspective, Huntington suggests that dreamy attitudinizings about eras of natural peacefulness can be worse than merely wrongheaded; they can be dangerous. "To hope for the benign end of history is human," he concludes. "To expect it to happen is unrealistic. To plan on it happening is disastrous."
The End of History reappeared in a new guise a decade later when Thomas Friedman's The Lexus and the Olive Tree appeared in 1999 to declare the triumph of globalization. There wasn't anything particularly new about the book's underlying concept. Intellectuals and academics had been touting the emergence of this new era for years. But Friedman popularized the concept by explaining it in everyday terms and seeking a synthesis between the juggernaut of economic development and the imperatives of cultural preservation. Indeed, that was the symbolism of the Lexus and the Olive Tree. Friedman had been riding a Japanese train one day in 1992, speeding through the countryside at 180 miles per hour and pondering the Lexus factory he had just visited where three hundred luxury cars were being produced every day with 310 robots and just sixty-six human beings. Reading the International Herald Tribune, he encountered a story about a territorial interpretation by the U.S. State Department that had angered both Arabs and Israelis in the disputed lands of the West Bank.
There he was, experiencing the very latest in economic and technological advancement while reading about people who were still arguing over who owned which olive tree. It occurred to him that this was indeed the great conflict of the post-Cold War era. The Lexus represented "all the burgeoning global markets, financial institutions and computer technologies with which we pursue higher living standards today." The Olive Tree represented "everything that roots us, anchors us, identifies us and locates us in this world -- whether it be belonging to a family, a community, a tribe, a nation, a religion."
Friedman avers that "olive trees are important." But he clearly accepts the idea that a lot of olive trees are going to be destroyed by the crushing force of globalization, and while he wants to preserve as many as possible his heart is with the Lexus. Globalization, he writes, "involves the inexorable integration of markets, nation-states and technologies to a degree never witnessed before -- in a way that is enabling individuals, corporations and nation-states to reach around the world farther, faster, deeper and cheaper than ever before." The globalization culture is "homogenizing" and consists largely of the spread of Americanization on a global scale -- "from Big Macs to iMacs to Mickey Mouse." Globalization's defining technologies -- computerization, miniaturization, digitization, satellite communications, fiber optics, and the Internet -- are fostering the era's defining perspective, which is "integration," symbolized by the World Wide Web, "which unites everyone."
And ultimately, suggests Friedman, nearly everyone will join this great new era, and pockets of resistance will fall away, because it is essentially about finding a better life, as symbolized by a woman he once encountered on the streets of Hanoi who took a bathroom scale to the sidewalk to offer people a chance to get weighed for a small fee. "That lady and her scale," he writes, "embody a fundamental truth about globalization....And it is this: globalization emerges from below, from street level, from people's very souls and from their very deepest aspirations." Ultimately, it is about "the basic human desire for a better life -- a life with more choices as to what to eat, what to wear, where to live, where to travel, how to work, what to read, what to write and what to learn. It starts with a lady in Hanoi, crouched on the sidewalk, offering up a bathroom scale as her ticket to the Fast World."
Thomas Friedman is a reporter of rare ability and one of the most influential journalists of his generation. Born in 1953 and reared in Minneapolis, he grew up in a middle-class family and developed an early passion for the history and politics of the Middle East. He pursued that passion in undergraduate studies at Brandeis University and at St. Antony's College, Oxford. After schooling he joined United Press International and got himself assigned to Beirut, where he covered Lebanon's fiery civil war. Later he moved up to the New York Times, served as bureau chief in both Beirut and Jerusalem, and won Pulitzer Prizes for his reporting in both capitals. His first book, From Beirut to Jerusalem, won a National Book Award in 1988. Transferred to Washington, he covered the State Department and international economics before landing the coveted Times foreign affairs column in late 1994. In 2002 he won a third Pulitzer for his op-ed analytics.
In his current job Friedman travels the world in search of stories and the meaning behind events, and he is a master at collecting, collating, and synthesizing information, as attested by The Lexus and the Olive Tree. The book pulls together fragments from an interview here, a dinner conversation there, a factory briefing elsewhere, a government report somewhere else, a story told by a friend -- all strung together into a chatty and charming analytical structure. Like his columns, though, the book has a certain preachy quality, and it manifests elements of naiveté when it comes to human nature and the forces of history.
Friedman identifies the "three democratizations" that he says are the engines of globalization. The first is the democratization of technology, which "is enabling more and more people, with more and more home computers, modems, cellular phones, cable systems and Internet connections, to reach farther and farther, into more and more countries, faster and faster, deeper and deeper, cheaper and cheaper than ever before in history."
The second is the democratization of finance, which encompassed a number of important financial developments: the emergence of junk bonds, or high-risk but potentially high-yield instruments; the lending revolution that "securitized" the international debt market, allowing mutual funds, pension funds, and individuals to buy a piece of foreign countries' debts; the democratization of investing, with more and more Americans owning 401(k) pension accounts and participating in defined contribution retirement programs; and the emergence of floating exchange rates, which encouraged more and more countries to open up their capital markets to foreign investors. Thus, writes Friedman, we have gone from a world in which a few bankers held the sovereign debts of a few countries to a world in which millions of individuals, through pension funds and mutual funds, hold the sovereign debts of many countries.
The third is the democratization of information. "Thanks to satellite dishes, the Internet and television," writes Friedman, "we can now see through, hear through and look through almost every conceivable wall." This is most vividly seen in the emergence of global multichannel television, which has destroyed the ability of governments to isolate their people or keep them in the dark about life in the rest of the world.
These three democratizations are fueling the juggernaut of globalization, which in turn is giving just two choices to countries, companies, and individuals. They can embrace this awesome force and join the Fast World, or they can resist it and get crushed. Indulging his propensity to create clever phrases of illustration, he concocts a disease he calls Microchip Immune Deficiency Syndrome, or MIDS, which afflicts "any bloated, overweight, sclerotic system in the post-Cold War era." It is contracted by countries and companies that fail to inoculate themselves against changes brought about by the microchip and the three democratizations. The symptoms include "a consistent inability to increase productivity, wages, living standards, knowledge use and competitiveness, and [an inability] to respond to the challenges of the Fast World."
To ward off the disease, countries need to don the "Golden Straitjacket," which means free market capitalism of the Thatcher or Reagan variety, including privatization, free trade, relatively open borders, anti-monopoly policies, an ongoing assault on government bureaucracy and bloat, and deregulation of commerce, industry, and finance. Countries that put on the Golden Straitjacket will thrive in the Era of Globalization, says Friedman; countries that don't will fail. And that's why, he predicts, more and more countries ultimately will come around and join the Fast World. In this amazing new era, countries can simply choose prosperity over stagnation.
But of course this Fast World generates an inevitable backlash. As Friedman points out, nearly every country that has donned the Golden Straitjacket has spawned at least one populist party or major political candidate bent on fighting the onslaught of globalization. "They offer various protectionist, populist solutions which they claim will produce the same standards of living, without having to either run so fast, trade so far or open the borders so wide."
Perhaps more important is what Friedman calls the Super-Empowered Angry Man, which is another word for terrorist. Friedman's point in creating such a term is to convey not just the anger spawned by "Americanization-globalization," but also the new tools available to these angry men in the era of globalization -- cell phones, Internet communications, handheld Blackberries, jet travel, the fungibility of money, easy passage across national borders. Friedman cites Ramzi Yousef, a mastermind of the first World Trade Center bombing in 1993, whom he describes as having "a high degree of motivation or depravity." We won't be able to tame such people with social programs based on compassion. "The only defense," writes Friedman, "is to isolate that hard core from the much larger society around them. The only way to do that is by making sure that as much of that society as possible has a stake in the globalization system."
And that's where America comes in. We are not only the world's role model for "globally integrated free-market capitalism," says Friedman (writing, of course, before September 11, 2001), but we also have a responsibility to support, foster, and sustain globalization worldwide. Fortunately, he adds, most peoples and nations around the globe, except for those Super-Empowered Angry Men, accept American might as the linchpin of world stability. Still, we might have to get rough from time to time. "The hidden hand of the market will never work without a hidden fist," Friedman writes, adding that the relative peace of recent years stemmed in large part from "the presence of American power and America's willingness to use that power against those who would threaten the system of globalization."
And, in the Friedman view, by protecting this globalized system, America will be fostering global peace as well. He posits what he calls the "Golden Arches Theory of Conflict Prevention," which notes that no two countries with a McDonald's franchise had fought a war against each other since each got its McDonald's. "I'm not kidding. It's uncanny," he writes with apparent wonderment.
Friedman concedes that America may be a bit reluctant to assume this role of global enforcer and regulator. Americans at the time of Friedman's writing were in the "odd position" of being responsible for nearly all of world stability while not being particularly willing to die for anything. But American reluctance, if it extends too far, "can threaten the stability of the whole system," and so America must play the role of its destiny -- "the ultimate tolerable hegemon."
To support his admonition, Friedman quotes an academic named Paul Schroeder, who once posed to Friedman the view that periods of peace often flowered in history when a "tolerable hegemon" emerged to enforce the norms and rules of the era. Schroeder cited the so-called Vienna system of nineteenth-century Europe that was dominated by Britain and Russia, and the later Bismarckian period in the same century when Germany played the dominant role. As Friedman puts it in his characteristic breezy idiom, "Attention Kmart shoppers: Without America on duty, there will be no America Online."
An assessment of the Friedman formulation might well begin with this idea of the benign hegemon and the Schroeder analogies. The so-called Vienna system lasted all of thirty-three years, the later Bismarckian period for less than two decades. And yet Friedman seems to be saying, echoing Fukuyama, that this grand new era of globalization represents a kind of culmination in man's development -- or at the very least a long era of relative world peace fueled by the powerful economic forces of our time, regulated and enforced benignly by the one great nation, America, which Friedman views as "a spiritual value and a role model" for all the world.
This is naive stuff. Friedman is deft in identifying and analyzing the global economic forces of our time, and they are indeed every bit as powerful as he suggests. But when it comes to placing these forces into a context of history and human nature, his musings lack analytical rigor. This is particularly true when he discusses globalization's inevitable impact on culture. "A healthy global society is one that can balance the Lexus and the olive tree all the time," he admonishes, adding that America stands as the premier role model here. But when discussing how America itself can maintain this balance, he suggests that "we can do this by supporting our public schools, paying our taxes, understanding that the government is not the enemy and always making sure we're still getting to know our neighbors over the fence and not over the Web."
Political analysis as exhortation is not serious political analysis. And this particular exhortation reflects the underlying naiveté of Friedman's thinking, for it seems to be inserted precisely to fill the gap in his analysis. That gap is human nature and historical forces. The impulses of human nature go far beyond the material comforts and options that so preoccupy Friedman; it isn't simply a matter of being free to decide what to eat, what to wear, what to buy, where to go, and what to read. Indeed, many societies come to regard such things as destructive of the verities of life. There are deep human motivations that go beyond mere material matters and reach to religious identity, national identity, cultural identity, ethnic identity -- all bundled up into individual identity. And many of the cultural and national and ethnic impulses of non-Western peoples flow from their nature, developed over centuries and reflecting fundamental elements of identity.
But Friedman clearly sees human nature as malleable, subject to the powerful material forces he writes about so pungently. When he suggests, for example, that America should handle the Super-Empowered Angry Man by inundating his society with Americanization-globalization and thus isolating him, he is falling into the trap of the mischievous corollary of the Idea of Progress -- the notion that we can change human nature to fit our own concepts of the good society. We may find that what we're really facing is the Super-Empowered Angry Nation or the Super-Empowered Angry Culture. Certainly, world events since Friedman's book first appeared would suggest as much.
Friedman seeks to pay obeisance to the importance of culture with his olive tree metaphor, but ultimately he gives it short shrift. His answer is for other peoples around the world to simply be more like America, whose growing multiethnic character he extols. Thus Friedman slips into one of the two great contradictions of the Idea of Progress -- Eurocentrism; in this case more of an extreme Americentrism. He seems to understand the potential dangers in this when he quotes historian Ronald Steel as saying, "It was never the Soviet Union but the United States itself that is the true revolutionary power....The cultural messages we transmit through Hollywood and McDonald's go out across the world to capture and also undermine other societies....We are not content merely to subdue others: We insist that they be like us. And of course for their own good....The world must be democratic. It must be capitalistic. It must be tied into the subversive messages of the World Wide Web. No wonder many feel threatened by what we represent."
And yet Steel's critical portrayal of the American outlook pretty much captures the Friedman outlook as well. He expresses utter confidence that the world has no choice but to adopt the American model. But what if he is wrong? What if major areas of the world simply refuse? Then Friedman's grand vision of peace could turn out to be as ephemeral as that of his great precursor, Norman Angell.
Another great threat to globalization is globalization itself. As we have seen, Irving Kristol perceptively cites Aristotle in arguing that all forms of government are inherently unstable and inherently transitional. History tells us that what is true of forms of government can be equally true of economic systems. Sometimes they collapse, and almost never is the collapse predicted. If the U.S. economy should somehow slip into a deflationary spiral, as it almost did a short period back and as the Japanese economy actually did a decade ago, that single development would do in Friedman's globalization system like a bullet to the head.
In putting forth his broad geo-economic thesis, Friedman wisely avoids any grandiose notions about the end of history or the culmination of human development (although he comes close to the latter), and thus he largely avoids the controversy that greeted Fukuyama's essay ten years earlier. But the two views of America's post-Cold War destiny sprout from the same soil. It is the soil of the Idea of Progress. And such was their ultimate influence that their views seeped inexorably into the American consciousness, guiding the thinking and debates that surrounded the country's geopolitical actions. But even before 9/11 it was clear to some that history hadn't ended with the fall of the Berlin Wall and that globalization would not define the future of the world.
Copyright © 2005 by Robert Merry