Fukuyama to the Farm

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Frank Fukuyama is Stanford bound.

How does a country get to be Denmark?

This is the central question for Stanford’s Center on Democracy, Development, and the Rule of Law (CDDRL) as stated by its director, Larry Diamond. It is also a question that has inspired Francis Fukuyama, who is currently a professor at Johns Hopkins and will soon join CDDRL.

Fukuyama, well-known for his book The End of History, will arrive in Summer 2010 as the CDDRL’s first Olivier Nomellini Senior Fellow.

“It was impossible to imagine a better person to fill” the new endowed position, Diamond, a long-time friend of Fukuyama, told The Stanford Review. “You look at the issues that CDDRLdeals with—there’s virtually not a single major issue that we deal with that Fukuyama’s work has not touched on in some way.”

Fukuyama noted that he has “several things on [his] agenda,” including work on a book on political development focused on the “origin of institutions.” His interest in development and democracy issues is long held—he has spent much time in Latin America working on issues of governance and poverty.

Although Fukuyama’s work has often included elements of both the practical and the theoretical, commentary on contemporary politics has brought him the most fame recently. Along-time neoconservative, Fukuyama grabbed headlines in 2003 for his critique of the Iraq invasion and in 2008 for his endorsement of Barack Obama for president. The locus point for each of these political firestorms was Washington, D.C., Fukuyama’s longtime hub. But Fukuyama’s departure for Stanford will place him a good 3,000 miles from the nation’s political capital, a fact that excites him. “Stanford is a great university with lots of opportunities for intellectual interaction that I wouldn’t get in Washington,” he told us.

Neocon No More

Fukuyama’s departure from the neoconservative movement was a steady one, although most of the ultimate motivation was provided by the Iraq War.

“I was at a dinner at [the American Enterprise Institute] in February of 2004 – approximately six to nine months into the war itself. I had heard the lecture by Charles Krauthammer, a conservative columnist who I thought was really kind of amazing. He was celebrating American unipolarity without recognizing that we had gotten into this terrible quagmire,” he said. “It struck me that I had somehow drifted away from the others in the room.”

So had Fukuyama’s own views changed radically or had the political landscape transformed around him? Diamond and Fukuyama agreed: “Both.”

Fukuyama had argued for spreading democracy with the example of America’s strong institutions. Also, he noted how his neoconservative colleagues had acquired “a sense of fetish for American military power.” In Fukuyama’s mind, the neoconservative movement no longer recognized the limits of hard power and did not fully understand the benefits of soft power. For Diamond, the story is a simple one: “Elements of the political right moved further right, and he didn’t move with them.”

But Fukuyama’s own positions have clearly evolved as well since his early End of History scholarship days. In the book, he argued that the political progression of mankind and the battle between ideologies had largely come to an end with the conclusion of the Cold War. In his estimation, economic and political liberalism had triumphed and would ultimately envelop the globe.

Now with much more experience in issues of development and democracy promotion, Fukuyama noted that he is now “more conscious of … the difficulty of creating stable institutions.” Although Fukuyama’s values remain very much in line with his neocon colleagues, his greater understanding of institutional development has renewed his commitment to the use of the American example, rather than its military might, for spreading democratic institutions.

Obama Report Card

Before last November’s presidential elections, Fukuyama came out in support of Barack Obama, the Democratic candidate. The endorsement received significant media attention and further signified Fukuyama’s departure from neoconservatism. His support of Obama was motivated by the candidate’s foreign policy stances. In a piece in the American Conservative, Fukuyama argued, “Obama is much better positioned to reinvent the American model and will certainly present a very different and more positive face of America to the rest of the world.”

When asked about Obama’s performance, Fukuyama seemed to have mixed feelings. He commended the administration on its shift toward greater use of soft power. Fukuyama also noted that Obama has “made a lot of easy gains simply by not being George Bush.” But he also admitted that the president has “not been forced to make any tough decisions” with regards to Iran, Russia, and others.

On domestic policy, Fukuyama indicated a general support of the stimulus and health care reform but was also quick to criticize Obama for being “too deferential” and “not [exercising] enough leadership in shaping both of those big initiatives.”

Away From Washington

Once at Stanford, politics may be pushed aside as Fukuyama plans to focus on his research, which has recently tilted more toward the theoretical and the historical.

Diamond told us that Fukuyama is first and foremost an academic – and not a political commentator. “I really see him as a social scientist, rather than an ideologue, and a fairly iconoclast one.”

Fukuyama expressed excitement at the prospect of working with a number of other significant democracy scholars and long-time friends, including Diamond, Coit Blacker, and Mike McFaul. Teaching will also be a priority for the incoming professor—Fukuyama expects to begin teaching as early as Fall 2010.

With this list of priorities, it seems clear that the prospect of “intellectual interaction” was what brought Fukuyama to Stanford and away from Washington—not the politics of the presidency but that ever-important question of Denmark.

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