Liberalism and Its Discontents

[Amazon Link]
(paid link)

I confess, I've never read anything by Francis Fukuyama before. But I am interested in how "liberalism" has become a punching-bag ideology recently, derided by many on the left and right. Fukuyama does a halfway decent job of looking at that phenomenon. But just halfway.

It turns out that Fukuyama has his own bones to pick with liberalism. For example, he derides "neoliberalism", a label applied retroactively to ideas propounded by Milton Friedman, Hayek, von Mises, et al, implemented by not only Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher, but also (you may be surprised to hear) Bill Clinton and Tony Blair. Like "capitalism", it's a term invented by its opponents.

But, to Fukuyama, neoliberalism is "liberal ideas taken to extremes". (Amazon's "Look Inside the Book" search feature counts up 23 occurrences of various forms of "extreme" in this short book. Fukuyama doesn't like carrying things to extremes.)

He also dislikes the "consumer welfare standard" of antitrust litigation, first promulgated by Robert Bork. It is another example of how "neoliberalism has shifted the pendulum" too far.

Fukuyama also (somewhat surprisingly) takes potshots at John Rawls and his "veil of ignorance" justification of liberal policy. Rawls' "absolutization of autonomy, and the elevation of choice over all other human goods is "philosophically objectionable and has had "problematic" results.

Basically, Fukuyama seems to dislike arguing from principles. He's in favor of good results, though: dignity, prosperity, tolerance, pluralism, freedom of expression, individualism over identity politics, federalism. All good things, if not (once again) "taken to extremes".

An interesting discussion, and a worthwhile argument for non-dogmatism. I'm not sure how coherent it is in terms of resolving conflicts over deeply-held values. It seems that such things are irreducibly messy, and the best you can do is throw up your hands. Or, at best, engage in persuasion and evidence-based rational argument to sway people to your side.

Last Modified 2024-01-13 5:03 AM EDT