Walzer and Fukuyama

I believe the future of humanity will stand on a combination of both claims by Walzer and Fukuyama. The end of history I believe has not come and we will progress as a species on this earth by expanding the reach of our moral minimum. Currently in the world in which the world order has become majority democratic and capitalist, there are still many forgotten people. Economist Paul Collier has spoken on and wrote a book titled “The Bottom Billion.” This population is living in the same world of great prosperity and security that those in the first world are however they face abject poverty, and all of the negative outcomes that flow from it, such as increased levels of disease and hunger. I believe as we move forward it is very possible that there will not be another geo-political breakthrough and another legitimate viable alternative to the democracy that is presiding over most of the developed world. However in the coming years, with more complacency being seen in the forms of government, there will be less in the sphere of influence from our powerful governments to solve the moral problems of the world. When Walzer speaks of his moral minimum he states that in conventional democratic societies the area where such ideas would be housed would be that of rights, which in the united states and many other countries round the world are considered to be unalienable. Walzer outlines some elements of this minimum morality specifically stating it would include “rules against murder deceit, torture, oppression, and tyranny.” when looking at the most developed countries of the world most of these aforementioned transgressions are not to be found but there are many places among the world where they are still a part of the daily lives of citizens. Also I would venture that in addition to negatives like those above, moral minimum also includes positives such as having enough food, clean water, and access to medicine. These positives are sometimes not even seen in first world developed societies. I believe the next epoch of human civilization will be to find compromise between democracy and capitalism in which everyone globally is subject to inspection under the lens of minimal morality.

Nietzsche, forgetfulness, and a Chinese proverb

In the second sentence of Nietzsche’s second treatise in  On the Genealogy of morality he states “Forgetfulness is no mere vis inertiae as the superficial believe; rather it is an active and in the strictest sense positive faculty of suppression.” He then goes on to say later in the paragraph ” a little tabula rasa of consciousness so that there is again space for new things, above all for nobler functions and functionaries, for ruling, foreseeing, predetermining — that is the use of this active forgetfulness, as a doorkeeper as it were to an upholder of a psychic order, of rest, of etiquette: from which one can immediately anticipate the degree to which there could be no happiness, no cheerfulness, no hope, no pride, no present without forgetfulness.”

Here Nietzsche presents a polar circumstance in which there is no forgetfulness, but the overall point in made in these sentences is that forgetfulness must be used strategically. There will be instances where forgetfulness will keep a society from moving forward and will place democratic institutions, tendencies and aspirations into harms way, this is the when it is beneficial. However, in the real material world justice must at times be served and those who committed atrocities must be held accountable.

There is an ancient Chinese proverb my father would mention, “be as hard as the world makes you be, and as soft as the world lets you be.” I feel as if this principle can be applied to the situation of forgetfulness. If there is a way that the new democracy of a nation coming out of non-democratic rule can function and become prosperous and stable while also finding justice for actions committed in the past, than this is probably the best course of action. But if not some level of forgetfulness must be adopted to keep the stable democratic trajectory.

Please vote for me, Burmeo, aversion to Uncertainty, and Chinese culture

I believe that the documentary Please Vote for Me does show an instance of democracy in action. Here I feel as if the three candidates are representative of bigger motifs in national and global political society. Lou Lei seems to represent the established centrist, while respectively I took Cheng Cheng and Xiaofei to be loosely representative of the right and left. Noting this, I believe one can pull from the Burmeo thesis in that when presented with a candidate that has the potential to threaten democracy, the general populace moves to the middle. I believe the class was aware of Cheng Cheng’s “machiavellian” actions and actively voted against them. Cheng Cheng I believe also had something like this hypothesis in mind when he brought up heavily Lou Lei’s history of violence and tried to play that against him in the political arena. I believe the final scene of the election also played a big role in the documentary. Barring terrible government or perceived disaster of some sort I believe that many voters are just looking for something to sell to them that the current state is okay, because with change there will be increased uncomfortable uncertainty, especially in a very new democracy, and the gifts that Lou Lei brought out for the class before the vote was that indicator to the class that his tenure as class monitor wasn’t that bad and potentially there was something to lose when voting for another candidate. It may be possible that this feeling goes back deeper into Chinese history and culture to the time of dynasty rule. There, it was only common for an Emperor to lose support if there was a natural disaster or some other sign from a higher power that the current ruler was not fit for the position.

Poor People’s March as an example of Walzer minimalism and maximalism

Today, I participated in the Poor People’s Campaign, a national 40-day movement that is occurring in 36 state capitals all around the United States. Though smaller than most, the Albany one that I attended was still quite captivating, and also garnered a relative amount of attention from passerby’s and the media. While marching, I was struck by the signs that we were carrying, things like ‘water pollution is violence’ and ‘lack of sufficient health care is violent.’ Though not as simple as “truth” and “justice” like the examples given by Walzer, topics like clean water, poverty and health care are universal topics that worked to unite hundreds today in Albany, and thousands all around the nation. Not only did the campaign use the term ‘violence’ strategically to denote that the government/systemic policies are enacting violence onto people who are subjected to such oppression, they also framed these issues on a highly ‘moral’ platform. For instance one of the signs stated, “Systemic Poverty is Immoral.” By centering their mission on morality, those who are outside of this frame are therefore immoral, and position as being in the wrong. Even if the countries are not centered on continuing the struggle first started by Martin Luther King Jr 50 years ago, these conversations are not only happening nationally but also internationally as people all around the world (Puerto Rico and Gaza for instance) fight for basic human rights. In the United States, the marches used simple phrases to create an easy and fast sense of unity. The domestic campaigns themselves did not stay in the minimalist realm but also transcended to the maximalist platform through its list of demands. In that sense, the universal than became the particular, embedded specifically in the history of the United States that is so entrenched in American imperialism, capitalism and racism.

The Unpredictable Nature of Our Actions

While I want to believe Walzer’s theory claiming that we stand up for justice whenever we see oppression in the world, I think it contradicts a lot of the other compelling literature we have read throughout the semester. While it might be nice if Walzer’s claims were true, I believe he over-generalizes and over-ascribes people’s actions to their morals and beliefs. Walzer suggests, “It’s not the case, however, that people carry around two moralities in their head, two understandings of justice, for example, one of which is brought out for occasions like the Prague march while the other is held in readiness for the debates soon to be joined on taxation or welfare policy.” I would suggest that people’s actions in the situations are less dependent on a constant, unchanging set of morals, and instead, more dependent on the context and what they themselves have at stake in the situation.

In The Unthinkable Revolution in Iran and in Shah of Shah’s, we are shown that small events like a newspaper being distributed sparked key moments in the Iranian Revolution, and we are introduced to the concept of viability, which explains why people were wary to join protests or demonstrations until they could imagine the revolution actually achieving its goals. Similarly, when Professor Malekzadeh asked in class which of us would participate in a revolution, most students needed more information before being able to even try to predict their behavior in such a situation. Along the same lines as Kurzman’s argument in The Unthinkable Revolution in Iran, I believe our beliefs and preferences are constantly changing, and it is impossible to predict exactly how we will respond to any given situation.  While our actions might suggest a shift towards universal trust in liberal democracy, which might seem to confirm Walzer or Fukiyama’s theories, I think our actions in any given situation cannot be explained or predicted to the extent Walzer suggests.

There is no End of History

Both Walzer’s theory and Fukuyama’s “End of History” theory fail to convince me. A big part of this is because, as we discussed in class, they are very difficult to falsify (which I think is totally intentional in this case). I am wary of believing any theory that cannot be proven or disproven until years later – it seems as though such theories aren’t based in anything solid enough to truly convince. In Fukuyama’s case specifically, the final line of his essay (which suggests that when this end of history comes, “boredom” may lead us to restart history) is somewhat contradictory to the rest of his thesis and makes it even more impossible to falsify, which gives it less credibility in my eyes. Attributing something like this to “boredom” also seems a little silly, and definitely unconvincing.

Beyond these difficulties with falsification, I am also generally unconvinced by the idea of an end to history. As he have been saying in class all year, democracy is a second-best solution. I think that, while democracy is the best system of governance around today, it is just a stepping stone in our political evolution – it is a system we can, and I think will, improve upon eventually, and it is for this reason that I am 1) doubtful that it will ever be adopted universally, and 2) sure that humankind will move on from democracy at some point.

Walzer and Fukuyama: a False Dichotomy

The grammar of the prompt suggests a tension between the work Fukuyama and Walzer, that the notion of moral minimalist and an end-of-history are incommensurable ideas. I believe this to be a false dichotomy as Walzer’s notions of moral maximalist are simply culturally contingent and specific articulations of universal moral values, an idea that is not in conflict with Fukuyama’s thesis. Even if one believes that societies around the world are moving inexorably in the direction of a single notion of moral good, that does not in any way mean that that moral system is upon us now. As Fukuyama said in his review of Walzer’s work in Foreign Affairs magazine, in which he largely praised Walzer’s formulation of moral minimalism and maximalism, “compartmentalization of “maximalist” critiques may be an unnecessary concession to relativism given the degree of cultural homogenization that is going on in the world alongside cultural differentiation”.  Thus Fukuyama does not reject Walzer’s descriptive analysis of moral system, he merely questions its relevance given the eventuality of universal system of values and goods, of which morality would no doubt be an integral piece.

The Dangers of Walzer

Michael Walzer’s Moral Minimalism seems to make a series of assumptions are not only unacceptable from a social/political science point of view, but are dangerous when applied to any theories about current or past events. In particular, when he discusses his maximal meaning of morals we see him speak in generalities about the universal meanings about the signs that were being paraded through Prague or the general understanding about the immorality of totalitarian regimes, he seems to be speaking on behalf of all people everywhere across every time in a way that is blatantly overstepping his bounds as a political scientist. His evidence for the Prague demonstration is “What they meant by the ‘justice’ inscribed on their signs, however, was simple enough: an end to arbitrary arrests, equal and impartial law enforcement, the abolition of the privileges and prerogatives of the party elite -common, garden variety justice” (Walzer, 2). However, he gives himself room to maneuver when he says that their actual understandings of “justice” may be different. In this way, he is saying that there is a universal meaning based on a shared set of morals, but there is no way to pin down exactly what that meaning is. This is similar to Fukuyama’s “End of History” thesis where the author states that we are coming to the end of history and that there are no new ideas, but at the same time, he does not say when the end of history and some great convergence will actually occur.

On a more personal, and albeit biased, note, the idea of universal morals does not make sense to me as a whole. Even such fundamental moral rules in Western culture such as not taking the life of another human being (which Walzer addresses) are not a universal moral by which all humans abide as there are plenty of instances of ritual sacrifices or the killing of newborns that are part of the culture of other societies. With cases like these, the idea of a universal moral that we all understand is difficult to reconcile.

End of History – Adjusted to Individuals

I agree with Garton Ash’s point of view that is in line with Fukuyama’s regarding the end of history. However, I want to think of this in light of our own class discussion on the individual level. It seems that, given time, democratization, the influence and technology, and other factors, we will end up with the everyone-on-a-phone-in-the-coffee-shop dynamic: a bunch of people all shut into their own universes, losing their individuality through individualism, to quote Rory.

As I said, this seems inevitable. In all western nations, these circumstances are becoming increasingly the norm. Then, based off of Fukuyama’s thesis, to which we could not find an alternative, most nations are headed along that route. What happens when the entire world has this loss of individuality? Where will our sense of community come from? I think that, because of these two processes, there’s an increasingly real chance that community and a sense of community will come through internet communities. These will extend beyond borders and likely decrease nationalism and the potential for it. At this point, questions are raised regarding the nation-state – if people are no longer loyal to their state as a community (taking my argument to its extreme), what happens in the event of war or some other event that mobilizes a traditional state? I don’t have an answer…

Astounding Ambiguity

I find Michael Walzer’s argument rather incomplete, mainly due to its inability to be falsified due to its ambiguous and unspecific nature. Walzer’s theory does not include the notion of time, therefore preventing it from being proven or disproven given that it is dependent on events and interactions that are ever-changing. In Walzer’s argument advocating for ‘moral minimalism,’ he discusses how “unless we can identify a neutral starting point from which many different and possibly legitimate moral cultures might develop, we can’t construct a proceduralist minimum.” I find Walzer’s claim that humanity’s progression is much dependent on a universal set of minimalist ideologies and cultures to be not only ridiculous, as that is next to impossible, but contradictory, as ‘ethnic,’ cultural, and ideological divides are much of what is hindering peace and progression today. Due to how incomplete Walzer’s argument seems to me, as he can be proven neither right nor wrong, I find it to be largely irrelevant as a whole.

While I find it easier to stand alongside Fukuyama’s point in the “End of History” after reading it, I don’t believe it due to the empirical data that we have witnessed since its publication in the early 1990s. While the article may be harder to falsify, as there is always a chance that countries will progress towards the ‘end of history,’ it is fairly easy to see, due to what is unfolding before us, that there is a great chance that that may never happen.