Magazine article The Spectator

Danger: Men at Work

Magazine article The Spectator

Danger: Men at Work

Article excerpt

OUR POSTHUMAN FUTURE: CONSEQUENCES OF THE BIOTECHNOLOGY REVOLUTION by Francis Fukuyama Profile, L17.99, pp. 256, ISBN 18619 72970

Francis Fukuyama is a brilliant phrase-- maker, there's no doubt about that. In 1989 he published an essay entitled `The End of History', which proposed that all viable alternatives to liberal democracy would soon have exhausted themselves. The fall of the Berlin Wall a few months later briefly enshrined Fukuyama as the American Right's pre-eminent prophet, and the title of his book passed into intellectual legend. Then came the Gulf war, however, followed by the Balkan conflicts and Rwanda, and many of those looking for a catch-all model for third-millennial history turned away from Fukuyama, to the Harvard political scientist Samuel Huntington, who in 1993 proposed that instead of history ending `the clash of civilisations' was soon to begin.

11 September unsurprisingly lent more weight to Huntington's thesis (Fukuyama's current answer to 11 September is that Islamic radicalism will in the long run be mollified by the subtle forces of Westernisation and modernisation), but by then Fukuyama had moved on. In 1995 he published Trust, on the concept of social capital, and in 1998 The Great Disruption, about crime and the disintegration of community. Now comes Our Posthuman Future, another memorably titled book about a big idea.

The book begins with a back-pedal. History, Fukuyama has now realised, can't be over until its chief driver, science, is over. And with the life sciences currently going through 'a monumental period of advance', history doesn't look like finishing any time soon. The plea of the book - and it is more a plea than a thesis - is that greater legislative control should be exercised over biotechnology at a national and global level, because without it contemporary biotechnology will profoundly alter human nature and thereby move us into a `post-- human' stage of history. Fukuyama is usually aligned with American neo-conservatism (he served in Ronald Reagan's administration), but here he is arguing for greater interventionism on the part of governments.

Fukuyama's chief problem, of course, is how to define human nature in a sufficiently exact and appealing way to convince us a) that it exists and b) that we don't want it changed. It isn't a problem which he surmounts, but rather one which he tries to disguise behind a smokescreen of vagueness. `Human nature', according to Fukuyama, is `some essential quality that has always underpinned our sense of who we are and where we are going. …

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