Francis Fukuyama’s fourth book seems out of place. It does not neatly fit into the canon of political science. Fukuyama admits as much. His preface reads like something between an apology and an explanation. His first words read, “Writing a book on biotechnology might seem to be quite a leap for someone who in recent years has been interested primarily in issues of culture and economics, but there is actually a method to the madness.” Over the next few pages he places the idea within the context of a retrospective he wrote on his End of History essay. It is portrayed as a sort of “end of science” or even an “end of humanity.” Yet this explanation is not intellectually honest since the book never fully embraces this theme.
Instead, Fukuyama develops and extends ideas about human dignity which have been common to nearly all his work. According to Fukuyama, liberal democracy is the natural conclusion to political history because it fulfills the need for recognition and dignity for every person. This theme becomes central within his recent book Identity, but it was present within his earliest published work. For Fukuyama there is no clear divide between the political and the social. Social behavior establishes the political culture which sets the tone and establishes the norms of political institutions.
Sociology and political science have struggled to establish clear boundaries. Seymour Martin Lipset served as President of the American Political Science Association and the American Sociological Association. Sociology seems like the broader discipline so political science is naturally a subdiscipline. But political scientists have not accepted their inferior status. Theorists like Robert Putnam have allowed their ideas to blur the line which ought to divide political science from sociology. Of course, this interdisciplinary approach is not new. Emile Durkheim’s classic The Division of Labor in Society examines the origins of law in ways which turn social contract theory on its head.
The political for Fukuyama goes deeper than just humanity’s place in society. The political rests on a person’s sense of self. This approach goes beyond sociology to incorporate philosophy. This isn’t a stretch on my part since his books are littered with references to Hegel and Nietzsche. Neither is considered a traditional political philosopher. Of course, Lipset began his Political Man with a series of quotes from Aristotle. But he focused on the Politics and did not delve into Aristotle’s ontology or metaphysics. Fukuyama goes beyond political philosophy to claim the foundations for liberal democracy depend on universal characteristics of humanity.
Biotechnology represents a threat to the political order because it has the potential to change the fundamental meaning of humanity. Fukuyama examines this threat on multiple levels from the potential to change human emotions to the creation of designer babies. Some of these ideas remain in the realms of science fiction but his aim is not to predict future scientific breakthroughs so much as to offer a thought experiment to examine their potential repercussions. His approach is unique because he is not an ethicist. Rather his analysis naturally leads to its effects on political systems. Because Fukuyama bases the foundation of liberal democracy on a natural equality based on human dignity, the potential for a posthuman future where leadership is conferred at birth portends the development of a new aristocracy.
But this conclusion is also a result of oversimplifications within his own analysis. There is an assumption that some traits are universally good. Fukuyama hints at his own mistake when he recognizes the gene for sickle cell anemia also protects against malaria. Yet he fails to recognize the full value of diversity. There is an implicit assumption that a society with exceptionally smart children would make them natural leaders. But business acumen is not directly correlated to intelligence. Indeed, many business leaders look down on intellectuals because they overanalyze situations when decisiveness is key.
There is a natural tension within our society between equality and diversity. There is an implicit belief that anyone could do any job if given the training and the opportunity. But any hiring manager knows this is not the case. There is a natural difference in personality between a salesman and an actuary. Sometimes a person has the right balance to do both but there is typically a difference between the extroverted sales rep and the introverted actuary which allows them to excel in their profession.
The recent arms race in education rests on an implicit acceptance of human equality. Those who believe people are fundamentally equal, use education to set themselves apart. A bachelor’s degree is better than a high school diploma. A master’s is better than a bachelor’s degree. And Harvard is better than Truman State University. But the economy and even society depend on a diversity of skills, traits and characteristics. A degree has economic importance when it confers important knowledge necessary to develop skills. But it is no replacement for the traits, skills, experiences and character which are specific for each individual person.
My aim is not to devalue education. Nor is it to justify policies which foster de facto segregation. Rather it is to value and celebrate our differences. Anyone who has hired their own team knows the interview process is not a competition. Employers look for the right fit rather than the best resume or even the best interview. This does not justify discrimination based on race, sex, sexual orientation or other factors based on a person’s identity rather than their qualifications. However, it is appropriate and necessary to discriminate based on skills, experiences or character.
Genetic engineering, according to Fukuyama, becomes a threat to democracy because it threatens to undermine the fundamental equality of humanity. Yet it was Durkheim who showed society had evolved to depend on the differences of individuals within the population rather than their similarities. The most coveted roles in business and politics rely on leadership which depends less on a person’s genetic makeup than their character and experience. Leaders typically emerge not out of their similarities to others, but from their differences. It is true some people thrive on empty qualifications and superficial characteristics. But greatness depends on deeds rather than expectations.
jmk, carmel, indiana, email@example.com
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