Francis Fukuyama at UCT


Professor Francis Fukuyama gave a public lecture on his new book, “The Origins of Political Order”, at the University of Cape Town (UCT) last night. Fukuyama is visiting Cape Town to present a course on ‘the role of public policy in private sector development’. The course is under the auspices of UCT’s new Graduate School of Development Policy and Practice.

I did some research on Professor Fukuyama and the information about him was fascinating. He is a renowned American political scientist, political economist, and author who writes on “questions related to democratization and international political economy”. He published one of his best known books, “The End of History and the Last Man”, in 1992. In addition to his new book, “The Origins of Political Order” published in April 2011, his other recent books include:

  • “America at the Crossroads: Democracy, Power and the Neoconservative Legacy”
  • “Falling Behind: Explaining the Development Gap between Latin America and the United States”

In the new book “he explores the origins of three political institutions that form the basis for modern government – the state, the rule of law, and accountability”. Fukuyama thinks institutions are critical to achieving economic growth but people “take them for granted and fail to understand how difficult they were to create”. He analyses the beginning of institutions and how their progression affects the world.

In “America at the Crossroads,” published in 2006, Fukuyama “discusses the history of neoconservatism. He outlines his rationale for supporting the Bush administration, as well as where he believes it went wrong”.

In “Falling Behind: Explaining the Development Gap Between Latin America and the United States,” published in 2008, he “discusses why Latin America, once far wealthier than North America, fell behind in terms of development in only a matter of centuries. Discussing this book at a 2009 conference, Fukuyama outlined his belief that inequality within Latin American nations is a key impediment to growth. An unequal distribution of wealth, he stated, leads to social upheaval which in turn results in stunted growth”.

“As a key Reagan Administration contributor in developing the Reagan Doctrine, Fukuyama is an important figure in the rise of neoconservatism. He was active in the Project for the New American Century think tank starting in 1997. As a member he co-signed the organization’s 1998 letter recommending that President Bill Clinton support Iraqi insurgencies in the overthrow of then-President of Iraq, Saddam Hussein. He was also among forty co-signers of William Kristol’s September 20, 2001 letter to President George W. Bush after the September 11, 2001 attacks. The letter suggested the U.S. not only “capture or kill Osama bin Laden”, but also embark upon “a determined effort to remove Saddam Hussein from power in Iraq”.

“Fukuyama began distancing himself from the neoconservative agenda of the Bush administration. By late 2003, he voiced his growing opposition to the Iraq War and called for Donald Rumsfeld’s resignation as Secretary of Defense.

Fukuyama declared that the Bush administration had made three major mistakes:

  1. They overstated the threat of radical Islam to the US.
  2. They hadn’t foreseen the fierce negative reaction to its ‘benevolent hegemony’. From the beginning they had shown a negative attitude toward the United Nations and other intergovernmental organizations and hadn’t seen that this would increase anti-Americanism in other countries.
  3. They misjudged what was necessary to bring peace in Iraq and had been overly optimistic about the success with which social engineering of western values could be applied to Iraq and the Middle East in general.”

Fukuyama voted for Barak Obama in the 2008 US presidential election.

In an April 10th interview published in The Daily Beast Andrew Bast asked Fukuyama what he thinks of today’s world “with revolutions rocking the Middle East”… Fukuyama replied, “There’s something gratifying about the Middle East demonstrating that Islam is not at odds with the democratic currents that have swept up other parts of the world.” He added, “But what’s most important is what happens next.” Bast summarizes that Fukuyama refers to the “messy, often contentious process of engineering democracy. In these complicated places despotic rule has stunted political parties (or, as in Libya, erased them entirely), and gutted civil society. That’s where the trouble begins”.

On the “Arab Spring,” Fukuyama says, “I guarantee you in a year or two it will not look as hopeful. It’s the whole point of my book. You need institutions, leaders, and corruption has to be under control. These are really the failings of many democracy movements. It’s happening again—if you look at Egypt, the liberal parties are floundering.”

Andrew Bast was a senior editor at Newsweek until 2011. Currently he is at the Council on Foreign Relations where he is the editor of ForeignAffairs.com.

It was nice to be on the UCT campus and Fukuyama’s lecture was thought-provoking. A thorough understanding of the implications of Fukuyama’s writings requires considerably more time and in-depth research than I spent. It was a pleasure to hear him speak in person. How his ideas apply to the current democratic movement and issues in South Africa is another interesting subject.

One thought on “Francis Fukuyama at UCT

  1. Given Fukuyama’s supposed great intelligence, it’s too bad he didn’t see the weaknesses in the neoconservative movement’s ideals before 2000 and 2004. In my opinion, it was apparent, starting with Reagan. Unfortunately, the people who saw it didn’t get the attention they deserved and were sidelined because they weren’t espousing Friedman and neoliberal economics. Now it is interesting to see how so many of these people who influenced the movement are waking up to the destruction such the neoconservatives have wrought. I suggest they all start reading Sheldon S. Wolin.

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