“Humanity must remain as it is.”
-Pope Leo XIII

A sad thing about being American is that patriotism has never had much of a chance to find genuine expression in our souls, we having been taught that Americanism has to do with a love of our republican system of law and government (or whatever our system is) as opposed to a concern for deeper realities, such as that which brought Odysseus to tears in that fine TV adaptation when, after 20 years, he again tasted the cheese of his beloved Ithaca.

A Frenchman may be a republican, a monarchist, or even a communist; whichever he is, he knows it is a grand thing to be a Frenchman. Russians, Asians, and most Europeans resemble the French in this way, though with variations. While a study of these by someone of (considerably) more insight than Francis Fukuyama might prove fascinating indeed, the essence of patriotism is finally some je ne sais quoi quality, like that cheese.

That is why expressions of American patriotism always seem so forced and artificial. Asked to define his patriotism, the Frenchman would doubtless find the question simply irksome, knowing how inadequate an invocation of the cheese, or Charles Martel, or even Joan of Arc would be, not to mention the glories of the Fifth Republic. My own patriotism has, I think, something to do with William Faulkner and bourbon, a lake in northern Michigan and the Empire State Building, but the truest expression of American patriotism is probably fighting for Mom and apple pie. In this regard, George Bush the Elder’s comment about thinking of the separation of church and state as his plane went down is surely exemplary and—since what he had in mind was probably the Post Toasties his mother fed him as a child—as touching as it was ridiculous.

The problem of patriotism becomes still more acute as American society grows increasingly coarse and culturally hollow, and a growing intimation suggests to us that, like the Soviet system Whittaker Chambers thought would ultimately triumph and no one (save possibly Ronald Reagan) thought would simply vanish of an afternoon, our own structure might be on the verge of an horrific collapse. Still worse is the suspicion that we deserve it; worst of all, the recognition that the crueler punishment might be the avoidance of collapse, allowing the coarseness, cruelty, and empty self-congratulation to intensify for decades to come.

Various efforts have been made to address such fears. Some observers deny the existence of danger; some give up, embracing and extolling the hollowness itself; many explore means to reverse the situation; while others—chiefly neoconservatives —insist that the means of reversal are already at hand, cause for a resurgent burst of patriotic pride.

Francis Fukuyama achieved some fame earlier in the decade by claiming that the glories of our present world—not Hitler’s Reich nor the people’s communist paradise—represent the fulfillment of Hegelian prophecy. Rejoicing in this truth, but aware perhaps of the uneasiness it engenders, Mr. Fukuyama has written another book in the hope of reassuring all who share his premises:

[B]roadly speaking, the technological change that brings about what economist Joseph Schumpeter called “creative destruction” in the marketplace caused similar disruption in the world of social relationships. It would, indeed, be surprising if this were not true.

Mr. Fukuyama does not deny the severity of the destruction, whatever creativity it may bring in its wake. In plodding sociologese accompanied by dozens of charts and graphs, he simply tells us what we all already know: In the last three decades and more,

the breakdown of social order is not a matter of nostalgia, poor memory, or ignorance about the hypocrisies of earlier ages. The decline is readily measurable in statistics on crime, fatherless children, reduced educational outcomes and opportunities, broken trust, and the like.

Signs of decay have been “dramatic, they occurred over a wide range of similar countries,” and are

marked by seriously deteriorating social conditions in most of the industrialized world. Crime and social disorder began to rise, making inner-city areas of the wealthiest societies on earth almost uninhabitable . . . Fertility in most European countries and Japan fell to such low levels that these societies will depopulate themselves in the next century . . . divorce soared and out-of-wedlock childbearing came to affect one out of every three children born in the United States and over half of all children in Scandinavia.

Prudently, Fukuyama declines to provide statistics pertaining to such matters as the decline of religious faith, the explosion of the pornography industry, and the literally millions upon millions of unborn children slaughtered to advance not only the lucrative profits of abortionists but a new conception of freedom itself

Mr. Fukuyama posits a modern economic transition from the industrial age to the information one as profound in its implications as the earlier transition to the industrial from the agrarian age was; this, along with the birth control pill, he imagines to be the source of the creative destruction which functions also as a disruption. His analysis sets the modern agenda (unless, as Fukuyama possibly does not anticipate, you condemn contraception) beyond the reach of moral condemnation and of the moral argument advanced on behalf of creative destruction itself. It has as its premise what Chesterton called the great Darwinian principle of the survival of the survivors, or historical inevitability: to wit, that whatever happens in society is destined to happen.

Mr. Fukuyama exhibits a weak imaginative grasp in all this, as in his support for the strange argument that

the feminist revolution was made virtually inevitable by the simple fact of increasing human longevity . . . by 1980, the average woman had 32.5 years extra to live—more than half her adult life—outside either her birth family, or free from the demands of raising her own children. Even if a woman wanted to devote herself to family, and even if the information age had not opened up so many new career possibilities, what was she to do with all that extra time?

Yet why might not the same development have made higher birthrates inevitable, or encouraged the social reintegration of grandparents in the task of raising children? Again, because these things did not happen, we are expected to believe they could not have and that the social forces working to achieve the present result must surely be benign ones.

Fukuyama repeatedly indulges in meaningless boilerplate (“society built around information tends to produce more of the two things people value most in a modern democracy, freedom and equality”) while unintentionally revealing that, whatever our society is built around, it is producing a most vapid idea of freedom quite destructive of the real thing and an equality that exists only in our mutual suffering of destruction. He further claims that the

market-based capitalist economic system that went hand-in-glove with political liberalism . . . created on . . . individualistic premises [has] worked extraordinarily well. . . . [U]niversal liberal principles have been surprisingly resilient . . . we can therefore expect a longterm progressive evolution of human political institutions in the direction of liberal democracy. . . . [I]n the political and economic sphere, history appears to be progressive and directional and . . . has culminated in liberal democracy as the only viable alternative for technologically advanced societies . . . [S]o close is the association between civil society and liberal democracy that [Ernest Gellner argues it is] a virtual proxy for the former.

All of his graphs indicate the opposite, but Fukuyama seeks to dispose of this salient contradiction by the claim that, while politics and economics are “progressive and directional . . . [i]n the social and moral sphere, however, history appears to be cyclical”; from this he concludes that a cycle of social strength (“growing evidence that the Great Disruption has run its course and that the process of renorming has already begun”) is at hand. In evidence of “renorming,” Fukuyama offers the recent decrease in crime — an argument which ignores certain painful racial implications, as well as the related decrease in the young male population (responsible for the vast majority of crimes in all societies since relevant statistics have been gathered) that is itself attributable to a proliferation of illegitimacy and fatherless children, the depopulation of Western society, the decay of marriage as an institution, the slaughter of millions by abortion, the huge profits of the pornography industry, and more.

Fukuyama’s uneasiness reveals itself further by endless dithering about whether signs of disaster might be undermining our confidence in the glories of the age. Are “we fated to slide into ever-increasing levels of social and moral disorder”; are

capitalist societies destined to become materially wealthier, but morally poorer as time goes on? Is the very ruthlessness and impersonality of markets undermining our social connectedness and teaching us that only money and not values matter? Is modern capitalism destined to undermine its own moral basis, and thereby bring about its own collapse?

Furthermore, Fukuyama asks, does

going forward . . . promise ever-increasing levels of disorder and social atomization, at the same time our line of retreat has been cut off? Does this mean, then, that contemporary liberal societies are fated to descend into increasing levels of moral decline and social anarchy, until they somehow implode?

That the answer to these queries might be “yes” does cross the mind—as Mr. Fukuyama, undermining his own purposes, tends to settle it the more by his embarrassing refusal to address, much less lay to rest, his own doubts. I was struck by the air of scientific analysis with which he delivers the grim news, in contrast to the simple assertiveness that only pretends to address that news: his apparent hope that, by dressing assertions in principles valid of themselves, the reader will fail to notice that these provide no evidence for the argument Fukuyama pretends to advance. Ignoring the experience of Russia, the Roman Empire, or less socially complex places like Rwanda, he argues, in effect, that modern society will revive itself because it will; because the

situation of normlessness—what Durkheim labeled anomie—is intensely uncomfortable for us, and we will seek to create new rules to replace the ones that have been undercut. If technology makes certain old forms of community difficult to sustain, then we will seek out new ones, and we will use our reason to negotiate different arrangements that will suit our underlying interests, needs, and passions. . . . There is, in other words, such a thing as human nature.

Perhaps sensing this might not be quite enough smoke, Mr. Fukuyama wants us to note the not exactly sociological point that societies, particularly those of the United States and Great Britain, have declined and revived before. Indeed they have, but as those revitalizations were invariably religious movements at bottom and Mr. Fukuyama is openly hostile to the possibility of similar awakenings occurring in the present age, they are obviously irrelevant to his argument. (He does suggest that something called “religion” might be allowed to play a part in the Great Renormation as long as it is militantly devoid of any such unpleasantness as doctrinal content.) Generally, however, Mr. Fukuyama wants us to know that “God, religion, and age-old tradition . . . are not necessary.”

Perhaps Mr. Fukuyama is just being patriotic—or just hoping to get paid—when he insists, against all evidence and argument, that

the Great Disruption does not represent the finale of some long-term moral decline that was made necessary by the advent of the Enlightenment, secular humanism, or any other deep historical source . . .

but is instead the product of “much more proximate causes like the shift from an industrial to a post-industrial economy, and the changes in labor markets this made possible.” And though he grants that we “can accept the fact that capitalism is often a destructive, disruptive force that breaks apart traditional loyalties and obligations,” it is only to drive home the point that “it also creates order and builds new norms to replace the ones it destroyed.”

Well, we may all hope those “new norms” will not form themselves into a more formal police state to be wielded against those who doubt the value of said norms, but you can be sure that, if they do, Mr. Fukuyama will write a cheerful book about it, detailing the horrors and then explaining that, really, it was all quite inevitable and for the best, and besides, things are bound to get better still. Until then, his present work is sure to receive accolades from those who confuse patriotism with cheerleading, while sending the rest of us back to our Faulkner, hungry for cheese.


[The Great Disruption: Human Nature and the Reconstitution of Social Order, by Francis Fukuyama (New York: The Free Press) 471 pp., $26.00]