The Great Debate

In sum, the main policy debate in the United States after the decades-long ‘Cold War’ centered on the famous ‘Huntington-Fukuyama Debate.’ Interestingly, Francis Fukuyama was Samuel Huntington’s student before the two became the main interlocutors of the biggest and most important policy discussion in the United States towards the end of the 20th century.

On one hand, Huntington argued that culture would be the defining feature of international affairs after the Cold War, and that the United States should look inward in order to maintain its cultural vibrancy amidst the geopolitical competition of the 21st century which would be cultural and civilizational in nature. Huntington warned against blowing America’s post-Cold War ‘surplus’ on adventurism and a wrong-headed foreign policy. On the other hand, Fukuyama argued that the power of liberal discourse, capitalism, and the ‘democratic’ norms of Western society marked “The End of History,” in the sense that cultures around the world would be re-defined by Western liberalism and Western norms now that the ‘Cold War’ had finally come to an end. Fukuyama even argued that in their adoption of liberal discourse, foreign nations and societies might become even more ‘modern’ than Western nations and Western societies.

At the heart of Fukuyama’s theory of history and international affairs was the notion of “progress” that had been brought up by the most famous idealist philosophers of the ‘Enlightenment’ period of European history, namely, Kant and Hegel. “Progress” was believed to be an inevitability based on Kant and Hegel’s political philosophy and theory of history, and Fukuyama adopted this particular political philosophy and theory of history. Thus, Fukuyama equated Kant and Hegel’s notions of “progress” to liberal discourse and Western culture. By doing this, Fukuyama downplayed and underestimated the role that culture would have on the socioeconomic and sociopolitical conditions as well as the way of life which belonged to non-Western nations and societies as time progressed and as history took its course.  

And as a result of downplaying and underestimating the role of culture and one’s way of life in the overall dynamics of international affairs, Fukuyama arguably lost the debate to his teacher, who in contrast upheld the notion that culture would in fact be the defining feature of international affairs in a post-Cold War era. In addition to losing the debate and losing the battle of ideas to Huntington, the neocons who stole the 2000 presidential elections from Al Gore ended up militarizing Fukuyama’s wrong-headed idea that Western liberal discourse and Western cultural mores and norms would become the main discourse and the preponderant cultural mores and norms around the entire world. Ironically, Fukuyama – who was one of the founding fathers of the neoconservative movement towards the end of the 20th century – ended up distancing himself from the group and the movement he helped create.

And if one looks and observes closely, the talking heads and the public “intellectuals” in America’s mainstream who claim to praise liberal discourse and Western cultural mores and norms are in fact the most backward and retrogressive when it comes to action and practice. When it comes to calling out the violations of the liberal rules and norms which define today’s international order and international society, all of these people are silent. Thus, there is more to broader reality than what meets the eye.

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