Fukuyama says political realignment
But the USA needs ideological reconceptualization
In the early 1990s, in the wake of the apparent definitive triumph of capitalism over socialism, Francis Fukuyama put forth the notion of “the end of ideology,” and his book on the theme has been printed by publishing companies in twenty countries. However, not long after the proclamation of the end of ideology, the ideologies of socialism and the Third World began to experience renewal, revitalization, and reformulation; and today the United States launches cold wars, also known as unconventional war, against Russia, China, and socialist and anti-imperialist countries of the Third World. The renewal of ideological conflict began in the late 1990s, with the emergence of “socialism for the twenty-first century” in Latin America and the retaking by key nations of the global South of the classic demands of the Non-Aligned Movement for a “New International Economic Order.” (See “China and the Third World: The construction of an alternative, more just world-system,” 10/1/2021).
Celebrating the revival of socialism and anti-imperialism, Latin American intellectuals have for the last two decades regularly indulged in making fun of the notion of the “end of ideology.” To them, it symbolizes how little Western intellectuals and leaders understand the world.
One might think that an intellectual who had earned fame in the great intellectual centers of the Western world and then had his ideas held up for ridicule by the peoples of the world would discretely retire to an oversized high-priced house on some gold coast. Not so with Fukuyama. He continues to write and publish as a senior fellow at Stanford University’s Freeman Spogli Institute. Apparently, to be discredited in the great intellectual centers, your ideas have to be rejected by people that matter, not merely by intellectuals tied to the social movements of the peoples of the world, which, I have argued, are the true sources of knowledge of the real world, as distinct from worlds that exist in Western subjectivities (see, for example, “The virtuous servants of God,” July 19, 2022).
In a recent article, “Paths to Depolarization” (published in Persuasion), Fukuyama maintains that “polarization—the sharp division of American society between red and blue—is the single greatest weakness of the United States as a country today.” The only way for polarization to be overcome, he argues, is through a decisive electoral victory by one party, not razor thin majorities, but majorities that constitute electoral mandates sustained through several electoral cycles.
In order for depolarization to occur, Fukuyama maintains, one of the two political parties has to adopt centrist policies and rhetoric, ignoring the views of its extremist wing. With respect to the Republicans, Fukuyama identifies the extremists as those who promote the “Big Lie” that Trump won the 2020 presidential elections. In the Democratic Party, extremist tendencies include gigantic spending bills that stimulate inflation; advocacy of critical race theory and transgender ideology; and defense of the rights of immigrants in a form that leads to insufficient regulation and control of immigration. The adoption of centrist policies by one of the parties, distancing itself from its extremist wing, would enable it to capture the high number of voters alienated by extremists on both sides, thus forging a political realignment that would facilitate electoral mandates in upcoming election cycles.
Fukuyama appears to think that Republicans are not going to be capable of forging such a political realignment, because Republican politicians cannot risk losing the support of Trump supporters. But the Democratic Party can adopt centrist positions, he believes, because doing so would only mean speaking with a certain degree of common sense with respect to economic and cultural issues.
Many thought that Biden would take this centrist approach when he assumed office, inasmuch as he prevailed over progressive candidates in the primaries by presenting himself as a centrist candidate. Fukuyama finds it hard to understand why Biden has made more concessions to the extremist wing of the Democratic Party than his voters had expected, although he indirectly suggests that it may have been a desire to avoid street demonstrations organized by the radical wing, and also due to the intransigence of the government bureaucracy. Fukuyama believes that it may be too late for Biden to distance the administration from the radical wing of the Party.
Thus, for Fukuyama, sharp ideological division is weakening the United States, and it must be overcome. In his view, the road to depolarization involves the Democratic Party adopting centrist positions, which involves advocating sensible economic and social policies and breaking clearly with the cultural agenda of the left wing of the Party.
Fukuyama refers to the new centrist Forward Party, founded by Andrew Yang, the former Democratic candidate for president and mayor of New York, together with former New Jersey Governor Christine Whitman. He applauds the effort for its recognition that a large majority of Americans are dissatisfied with the choice between Republicans and Democrats. Fukuyama maintains, however, that the electoral rules in the United States prevent the rise of viable third parties. But, he believes, the Forward Party could make an important contribution by pushing the Democratic Party toward the centrist road.
The need for political realignment.
Fukuyama’s premise cannot be reasonably denied. The USA unquestionably needs a political realignment, so that one of the parties can attain a sufficient electoral mandate that would make possible decisive legislation and executive action, and I would add, constitutional amendments. These are the elements of clear national direction, independent of the wisdom (or lack of it) of that direction. And Fukuyama rightly calls for principled political conduct: forging an electoral mandate through a program that is capable of attaining the support of a consensual majority.
I also am in agreement with Fukuyama that the economic policies of the Biden Administration undermine the possibilities for obtaining the support of the people. Putting more money in the hands of the people without increasing the productive capacity of the economy involves increasing the demand without increasing the supply, thus provoking inflation. Packages for stimulating the economy have to be part of a long-term comprehensive economic plan, which ought to be well-explained to the people. Although the people of the United States are not well versed in economic questions, they have been taught by conservatives that government deficit spending causes inflation (which, in general, is correct). Many of the people therefore view the administration’s economic proposals as irresponsible management of the economy, a distrust that is exploited by Republican politicians with anti-Big Government rhetoric.
In contrast to Biden’s politically motivated half-baked economic policies, a more politically effective economic policy would address the historic social justice concerns of popular movements of workers, blacks, and Latinos; and at the same time, it would propose attending to those social justice concerns on the basis of sound economic principles, including a comprehensive plan for reversing the deterioration of the productive and commercial capacity of the nation. As I have noted in previous commentaries, China, Vietnam, and Cuba in recent years have adopted economic policies that are based in sound economic principles and comprehensive long-term plans, with orientation to attending to the human needs of the people. (See “Socialist socioeconomic formations: Lessons from real socialism in the global South,” June 7, 2022; “China models a new type of socialism,” June 10, 2022; “The advance of socialism in Vietnam: The Doi Moi policy renovates socialist construction,” July 5, 2022; and “Realist pragmatism in socialist Cuba: Cuba’s socialist-oriented mixed economy under state direction,” July 29, 2022.”
And I support Fukuyama’s advice for the Democratic Party to distance itself from the extremist positions on cultural issues. I have maintained in various previous commentaries that the anti-racist theory now in vogue sets aside the quest for truth and social justice in favor of a subjectivity that promotes the interests of the black middle class, which has the consequence of dividing the people, with the cynical backing of the corporate elite. The anti-racist theory now in vogue departs from the quest for truth and justice of the African-American movement from 1917 to 1988. (See my various commentaries on race in America, on the anti-racist theory now in vogue, and on black conservative thought, which can be accessed through the Thematic Index; look for the links in the section on the USA. See also my 1994 book, The African-American Movement: From Pan-Africanism to the Rainbow Coalition).
At the same time, transgender issues are morally complicated, and transgender ideology is politically divisive and problematic. Transgender ideology is implicitly inconsistent with philosophical premises concerning truth, objective reality, and human nature; premises that have provided the philosophical foundation not only for Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, but also for democratic revolutions of the late eighteenth and the Third World socialist and popular revolutions of the last 100 years. A movement for social change ought to be cautious with respect to such radical and unprecedented cultural proposals, if its agenda is, which it must be, to unite the people behind a program for social change. A balanced and well-considered position on such complex questions with ethical and theological implications must be sought.
In my view, if the political realignment of which Fukuyama speaks were to be attained, politics would be a less caustic affair. Perhaps reasonable discussion would be possible, and some of the politically infantile absurdities of recent years would be left behind.
The need for ideological reconstruction
Fukuyama’s political realignment would make for a more civil United States, and it probably would lead to some improvement for the people with respect to health care and education, inasmuch as the end of the ideological civil war would make possible attention to real problems. However, the world would not necessarily be a much better place. In the first place, the new centrist political consensus would likely include an imperialist projection, continuing the U.S. unconventional war against numerous governments and peoples of the world, thus perpetuating a world situation of permanent global conflict. Secondly, the nation’s economic policies would not likely be based on an understanding of the necessary steps that the nation must take to improve its competitiveness in the world-economy and to renew its productive and commercial capacity.
In order to for the nation to renew its meaning and purpose, it needs to forge a political realignment that is rooted in an ideological reconceptualization. In previous commentaries, drawing upon the work of world-systems analysts and Latin American intellectuals, I have attempted to formulate a historically accurate understanding of the origin and development of the modern world system, making clear its colonial and neocolonial foundation. (See commentaries in the section on “the capitalist world-economy and the modern world-system” in the Thematic Index).
With an understanding of the historical development of the world-system and its colonial structural foundation, we can place the American Republic in historical and global context. We can formulate a narrative of the United States as a nation built on a moral and political foundation of liberty, and which at the same time successfully and spectacularly ascended in the world-economy by strategically inserting itself into evolving global structures of colonial and neocolonial domination. U.S. economic ascent thus took form in contradiction with its proclamation of liberty and justice for all.
This contradiction between proclaimed values and reality must be rectified, but it must be done with political intelligence. It cannot possibly be eliminated with politically immature virtue signaling, or by cancelling individuals of our past and present. The required political maturity perhaps would be attainable if we were to understand that modern Western colonial processes predated the formation of English settler colonies in North America; and if were to recognize that the United States has had many global partners in the further development of a colonial and neocolonial world-system. And political maturity might be aided by appreciation of the fact that modern men, in forging the modern colonial world-system, were acting in a form consistent with the dominant human tendency since the agricultural revolution more than seven thousand years ago, which has been to build advanced civilizations on a foundation of conquest and exploitation of other lands and peoples. And it also would be helpful to appreciate that modern European colonial domination, like previous conquests in human history, had certain positive material consequences, including advances in economic productivity and technology.
In placing the American Republic in historical and global context, our alternative narrative for the nation ought to stress what is most important from a moral and political point of view, namely, that colonialism endures in a neocolonial form. Indeed, the world-system today is best understood as a neocolonial world-system, which pretends to protect the sovereign equality of nations; as it permits Western powers to adopt imperialist policies that seek to penetrate the political-economic systems of nation-states in order to gain and maintain access to their natural resources, labor, and markets. As for the USA, having strategically inserted itself into developing global colonial structures, and having emerged from the Second World War with unrivaled productive and commercial capacity, it became the dominant world power during the era of the full transition of the world-system from colonialism to neocolonialism. Thus, the period of 1945 to 1965 was the height of American power and greatness.
But the neocolonial world-system itself is in decadence and decline. Since its origin, the modern world-system has economically expanded on the basis of conquests of new lands and peoples, but by the breakout of First World War, the system had run out of new lands and peoples to conquer. In fact, one of the causes of the two world wars was competition among global powers for control of already conquered peoples, in a context in which the conquered peoples were beginning to seek to liberate themselves from foreign domination. Following World War II, competition among competing imperialisms was stabilized, in the context of a Cold War division of the world into two zones of political and economic influence, as the drive of the colonized for liberation increasingly gained strength, typically misunderstood in the West as a dimension of the Cold War conflict. Meanwhile, the world-system overextended its ecological limits, creating challenges for the sustainability of human civilizations, which the political-economy of the neocolonial world-system was unable to sufficiently address, distracted by a Cold War ideology that obscured the true character of global political conflicts.
In the context of the political and ecological unsustainability of the world-system, the United States suffered an economic decline relative to other imperialist powers. There were several factors that drove the U.S. relative decline: excessive military expenditures, including the costs of maintaining military bases all over the world; insufficient investment in national industry and in new, more ecologically sustainable industries; the high costs of labor relative to competing imperialisms and emerging national economies; and low-cost imitation of American productive processes and products.
As the American power elite began to become aware of the relative economic decline of the nation in the 1970s, it did not shift economic policy toward investment in the national economy and in its productive capacity and human resources. The members of the power elite did exactly the opposite: they disinvested in the national economy. They relocated factories to other lands; they diverted profits earned from productive activities toward financial speculation; and they imposed economic policies on other nations that would increase the profitability of their own investments in other lands, thus further weakening national economies and the world-economy as a whole. In short, they turned to short-term profits for themselves, disdaining long-term corporate investment in the development of the national economy, in the socioeconomic development of the nation’s communities, and in the long-term viability of the world-economy as a foundation for world peace and prosperity and true national security. No one dared called it treason.
The betrayal of the nation by the American power elite has had four historic moments. (1) The turn to imperialist policies at the beginning of the twentieth century, using growing American military and economic power to obtain markets through force, which was an ethnocentric, short-term fix to the problem of overproduction, caused by the concentration of industry. (2) The unnecessary turn to a permanent war economy in 1948, turning away from an alternative road of leading the imperialist powers toward cooperation with the newly independent nations in the construction of a peaceful and prosperous post-neocolonial world. (3) The barbaric neoliberal turn of the late 1970s, forging an economic war against the world’s poor in defense of individual wealth and privileges. (4) The murderous wars of aggression against several nations, beginning with the George H.W. Bush administration, creating increasing dependence on the war industry, and permanently scaring a sector of American youth. Today, in order to protect itself from a potential rebellion from the people, the American corporate elite and political establishment seek to impose by decree and by sanctions ahistorical anti-racist concepts and philosophically and politically problematic concepts of sexual identity, thus dividing the people in a historic moment in which the people ought to unify in defense of their needs and rights and in defense of the nation, forging a united political front against the corporate elite and their allies in the political establishment.
In accordance with the interests of the corporate elite, the mass media of communication are ideologically selective in informing the people about the world, and they often ideologically distort what is selected. As a result, the people of the Western countries are not aware that World War III has begun. It is a war between, on the one hand, the Western imperialist powers, led by the USA, that seek to preserve their privileges in an unsustainable neocolonial world-system; and on other one hand, those nations that seek to build an alternative international economic order that protects the sovereignty of nations and their right to regulate their national economies and their natural resources. In the worldwide anti-imperialist camp are found China, Cuba, Vietnam, PDRK, Iran, Russia, Syria, Venezuela, Bolivia, and Nicaragua, among others; with the declarative support of the Non-Aligned Movement, an organization of 120 governments that represent most of humanity.
In the context of the decadence of the neocolonial world-system and the emergence of World War III, America cannot be great again in the same way that it was in the period 1945 to 1965. But an alternative narrative can redefine American greatness. Drawing upon the foundation of the nation in the principle of liberty and upon the historic efforts of various popular movements to expand and deepen the meaning of democracy, an alternative narrative can envision a great nation playing a leadership role in the construction of a post-neocolonial, more just and sustainable world-system, emerging to play such a role in a historic moment in which humanity is in the midst of a global civilizational crisis. Even though the USA, betrayed by the American power elite, lost opportunities to play this role in the past, it is not yet too late. The American economy, although not what it once was, remains one of the largest in the world, and it remains strong in some economic sectors. Moreover, the prestige that the nation has lost in recent decades would be quickly restored, when the peoples of the world see that the peoples of the United States are rising up in unity against the elite to reclaim the historic promise of the nation of liberty and justice for all.
The pieces of a possible ideological reconceptualization
I propose, then, an ideological reconceptualization with the following dimensions.
(1) The formulation of an alternative narrative that accurately places the United States in historical and global context, explaining clearly to the people: the factors that enabled the spectacular economic ascent of the nation from 1790 to 1970; the betrayal of the nation by the American power elite; the unsustainability of the neocolonial world-system; and a renewal of the American promise of democracy and American leadership in the world, based in an empirically-valid understanding of the dynamics of today’s world.
(2) An anti-imperialist foreign policy that seeks cooperation with all nations of the world in the building of a more just, sustainable, and democratic world-system.
(3) The channeling of national resources toward the development of the productive and commercial capacities of the national economy, to enable the nation to provide for the social and economic needs of all.
(4) The protection of the social and economic rights of all citizens through: (a) high quality public education for all neighborhoods and communities, with school choice, accompanied by cooperation with religion-based schools; (b) affordable college and graduate school education; (c) low-cost medical care; (d) affordable housing; and (e) safety in the street for all citizens, attained through full funding for law enforcement and criminal justice institutions, accompanied by active citizen participation and engagement.
(5) No discrimination against or special privileges for any racial/ethnic groups or gender. Equal opportunity for all.
(6) Respect for the foundational principles of the American Republic, including the fundamental principle of liberty. Full adherence to the constitutional structure of the balance of powers and federalism, even when they imply temporary political setbacks, which ought to be overcome through education, reasoning, and persuasion.
Thus, the core concepts of an alternative narrative could be: truthful descriptions of objective reality as against ideologically driven distortions; anti-imperialist foreign policy; the protection of social and economic rights of all; development of national industry and productivity; and constitutionalism, the balance of powers, and federalism.
As is evident, I propose here not a political compromise between Left and Right, uniting their more moderate manifestations; but an intellectual synthesis of Left and Right, bringing together the valid and important insights of both sides, and obtaining consensual support among the people through education and persuasion.
Because the great majority of politicians are wedded to mainstream assumptions, it would appear that the formation of a third political party is the necessary strategy, in spite of the electoral obstacles that third parties confront in the United States. In the short term, such a new third party, armed with an alternative narrative and an ideological synthesis of Left and Right, ought to focus on the education of the people, presenting candidates for the federal Congress only in favorable districts. In the long term, its goal would be the capturing of political power through electoral mandates obtained the education of the people and through politically effective communication with the people, taking seriously their concerns and anxieties.
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