The (Dead) End of Determinism

Article excerpt

Few arguments have stirred as much discussion in recent years as Francis Fukuyama's "The End of History," first published as an article in 1989 and then, in 1992, as a book by the same tide. More recently, his The Great Disruption: Human Nature and the Reconstitution of Social Order (Free Press) has appeared, and we will be giving it major attention in these pages. While admiring the author's manifest brilliance and imaginative powers, I confess that I was not much taken with the "end of history" thesis. My reasons were similar to those expressed by historian Gertrude Himmelfarb in her essay in a symposium on Fukuyama published in the summer issue of the National Interest. She is suspicious of grand "philosophies of history," recalling Fernand Braudel's writing of history in terms of "inanimate forces" and "deeper realities," by comparison with which human interests, passions, and ideas were of slight consequence. Braudel exclaimed, "Down with occurrences, especially vexing ones! I had to believe that history, destiny, was written at a much more profound level." For Himmelfarb, history is occurrences, and much of the time they are vexing ones. As I have probably written too often, whether in philosophy, theology, or social criticism, we should profoundly distrust theories that slight the thusness and soness of things.

The symposium is in response to Fukuyama's "second thoughts" on his 1989 article--thoughts which have led him to a greater appreciation, evident in the most recent book, of the "new science" that is transforming human nature and the social order. Writing in the Weekly Standard (June 28, 1999), Andrew Ferguson takes on both Fukuyama and the new science for their construction of an essentially unscientific (in the sense of testable or falsifiable) mythology of materialism and determinism. Ferguson and some in the National Interest symposium accuse Fukuyama of wanting to have his cake and eat it, too: to assert a continuing "human nature" that is, at the same time, infinitely malleable, to affirm scientific determinism while leaving room for human decision and even for something like the soul. Harvey Mansfield of Harvard takes up a somewhat different but related concern:

   Fukuyama concentrates his doubts on the new developments in biotechnology,
   particularly on two new drugs, Ritalin and Prozac, illustrating the scary
   character of modern science. Such drugs may seem capable of creating a "new
   type of human being." But in fact they simply help to constitute the Last
   Man, whose definition has been available at least since the early writings
   of Marx. Ritalin tempers the high spirits of boys, and Prozac raises the
   low spirits of women. The result is that we will no longer be troubled by
   psychic sexual differences and all will be equally capable of the same
   equanimity. Anyway, why would we want to be troubled if, life being
   perfect, there is nothing to be troubled about? Fukuyama can see that these
   drugs contribute to the belittlement, not the esteem of man. Men are
   belittled when they do not feel joy or despair, even though, or precisely
   because, such sentiments are often mistaken or excessive. Nothing great is
   gained for us if nothing important can be lost. The modern project for
   reducing risk can be seen at work not only in economics but even in the
   element of esteem, where it moves us to equalize our chances and to smooth
   out life's ups and downs. Fukuyama rightly wonders whether, when you take
   such drugs or other soothing therapy, you are still yourself; or have you
   given your self away to keep it safe? The situation gets worse if one were
   to push Fukuyama to decide whether esteem is really recognition in the
   Hegelian manner. Hegel conceived that recognition is equal because in
   recognizing what is other, one recognizes oneself. But if the other is
   always the alienated self, there is nothing in the universe except the
   self. …