Freedom's Cost Has Been Too High Not the End of History, but the End of 'Unnatural Individualism'

Article excerpt

Francis Fukuyama is one of America's most provocative social analysts. His much-discussed 1989 essay, "The End of History," declared that the collapse of Soviet communism eliminated ideological conflict as the engine of historical change. The ultimate stage in human history had been reached. Market capitalism had triumphed, and democratic values were spreading inexorably across the globe.

Fukuyama, a freethinking neoconservative who teaches public policy at George Mason University, has since admitted that liberal democracy is far from universal and that the dynamics of historical change remain more problematic than he had earlier assumed. Yet he remains audacious in his analysis of the social scene.

In "The Great Disruption," he announces that the fractious individualism spawned during the 1960s is coming to an end - and none too soon. Fukuyama contends that beginning in the mid-1960s a wave of disruptive values washed across Western civilization. Individualism asserted itself over community needs; personal rights and freedoms triumphed over familial and social responsibilities. The result was a "great disruption," a seismic shift in the fragile balance maintaining social order. This breakdown, he asserts, occurred in many countries, and can be statistically demonstrated in trends related to crime, fatherless children, public trust, and other social activities. THE GREAT DISRUPTION: HUMAN NATURE AND THE RECONSTITUTION OF SOCIAL ORDER By Francis Fukuyama Free Press 354 pp., $26 True to the sweeping nature of his argument, Fukuyama marshals an impressive array of data from over a dozen countries to bolster his broad thesis. He demonstrates that in the last 50 years, every major Western democracy has witnessed sharp increases in crime, dramatic declines in family stability, and the erosion of trust in core societal institutions. Fukuyama then systematically considers and dismisses as incomplete the most prominent explanations for this "great disruption" - growing poverty and social inequality, the anarchic excesses of the counterculture, mistaken government welfare policies, the decline of conventional religious belief. His own cross-cultural analysis leads him to fasten on two interrelated factors that have affected developments in all Western democracies: the emergence of an information-based economy and the reverberating implications of the birth-control pill. He emphasizes that the rise of excessive individualism resulted primarily from technological and economic factors "that are products of the capitalist economy conservatives celebrate." By elevating mental work over physical labor, the knowledge revolution eliminated most of the stable blue-collar jobs upon which postwar American society was based. It also has thrust millions of women into the workforce and thereby undermined traditional family roles by freeing many men from their economic responsibilities. …