The homogenization Fukuyama saw resembled what Huntington called "Davos culture," referring to the annual meeting of elites in Switzerland. This was the transnational consensus of the jet set, who, Huntington wrote, "control virtually all international institutions, many of the world's governments, and the bulk of the world's economic and military capabilities." Huntington, however, saw politics like a populist and pointed out how thin a veneer this elite was -- "less than 50 million people or 1 percent of the world's population." The masses and middle classes of other civilizations have their own agendas. The progress of democratization celebrated at the end of history does not foster universal values but opens up those agendas and empowers nativist movements. "Politicians in non-Western societies do not win elections by showing how Western they are," Huntington reminded readers. Although he did not say so, the mistaken identification of modernization with westernization comes naturally to so many U.S. analysts because they understand exotic countries through stays at Western-style hotels and meetings with cosmopolitan Davos people -- the local frontmen -- rather than through conversations in local languages with upwardly mobile citizens.
Many misread Huntington's initial article as a xenophobic call to arms for the West against "the rest." The later book made clear that his aim was quite the opposite: to prevent the growing clash of civilizations from becoming a war of civilizations. He called for humility instead of hubris, writing, "Western belief in the universality of Western culture suffers three problems: it is false; it is immoral; and it is dangerous." Spreading Western values does not promote peace but provokes resistance: "If non-Western societies are once again to be shaped by Western culture, it will happen only as a result of the expansion, deployment, and impact of Western power. Imperialism is the necessary logical consequence of universalism." The wiser alternative, he argued, is to accept that "the security of the world requires acceptance of global multiculturality."
So Fukuyama's solution was Huntington's problem. To avoid escalating conflict between civilizations requires rejecting universalism, respecting the legitimacy of non-Western cultures, and, most of all, refraining from intervention in the conflicts of non-Western civilizations. Staying out, Huntington wrote, "is the first requirement of peace." This would turn out to be especially difficult in dealing with the Islamic world, which, he said, has a record of being "far more involved in intergroup violence than the people of any other civilization."
When al Qaeda struck the Twin Towers and the Pentagon, many skeptics decided that Huntington had been prescient after all. The Middle East expert Fouad Ajami wrote in The New York Times, "I doubted Samuel Huntington when he predicted a struggle between Islam and the West. My mistake." Fukuyama nevertheless remained untroubled. In the afterword to a later edition of his book, he argued that Muslim countries outside the Arab world would be able to democratize and that violent Islamist doctrines are simply radical ideologies inspired by Western fascism and communism and "do not reflect any core teachings of Islam." In the original book, Fukuyama dismissed Islam as a challenge to the West because it had no appeal outside areas that were already Islamic: "It can win back lapsed adherents, but has no resonance for young people in Berlin, Tokyo, or Moscow."
Writing before 9/11, Fukuyama saw the Islamic exception as a minor distraction. Mearsheimer had nothing at all to say about it, since no Islamic state is a great power, the only political unit he considers important. As for terrorism, the word does not even appear in the index to either of their books. Huntington, in contrast, forthrightly saw Islam as a significant challenge, believing that it is more vibrant than Fukuyama thought. For example, he explained that Islamic fundamentalists are disproportionately intellectuals and technocrats from "the more 'modern' sectors of the middle class."
Of the three, only Huntington anticipated how big a loose end in the end of history Islam would be. After The Clash of Civilizations was published, the Islamic world presented a multifront military challenge to Americans -- partly as the United States sought to defend itself against al Qaeda; partly because Washington backs Israel, a Western outpost in a Muslim region; and partly because President George W. Bush scorned Huntington's warning against meddling and launched the disastrous invasion of Iraq, which antagonized Muslims around the world. In the first decade of the twenty-first century, Fukuyama and Mearsheimer seemed to have missed where the action would be. None of the three, however, believed that terrorism and Islamic revolution would remain the main events.
In the post-Cold War hiatus, the visions of Fukuyama, Huntington, and Mearsheimer pointed to very different forces setting the odds of conflict or cooperation. These visions seemed starkly opposed to one another, and those who found one convincing considered the others flat-out wrong. But when one peels away the top layers of the three arguments and gets down to the conditions the authors set for their forecasts, it turns out that they point in a remarkably similar -- and pessimistic -- direction.
By the end his book, Fukuyama -- the most optimistic of the three -- turns out to lack conviction. His vision is more complex and contingent than other versions of liberal theory, and less triumphant. He goes beyond the many who embrace globalization and Davos culture and worries that economic plenty and technological comforts are not enough to keep history ended, because "man is not simply an economic animal." The real story is the moral one, the struggle for recognition. Fukuyama frets that Nietzsche's idea of the will to power -- that people will strive to be not just equal but superior -- will reignite the impulses to violence that the end of history was supposed to put to rest. He admits that this spiritual dimension gives power to the least Davos-like forces: nationalism (which Mearsheimer sees as a major engine of international conflict) and religion (which Huntington sees as the most underestimated motivating force in politics).
Converging with the other two authors, Fukuyama worries that a Western civilization that went no further than the triumph of materialism and justice "would be unable to defend itself from civilizations . . . whose citizens were ready to forsake comfort and safety and who were not afraid to risk their lives for the sake of dominion." Although confident that history is ending, he concedes that boredom with the result, or exceptions to the rule, may restart it. By the last chapter of Fukuyama's book, Nietzsche has gained on Hegel, and history seems to be at not an end but an intermission.
WILL CHINA RESTART HISTORY?
The West's future relations with China, the one country on the way to ending the era of unipolarity, is the issue that brings the implications of the three visions closest to one another. Each author offers an option for avoiding conflict. For Fukuyama, that option is for China to join the West and accept the end of history. For Mearsheimer, it is for the West to form a potent coalition to balance and contain China's power. For Huntington, it is the reverse -- to respect China's difference and hold back from attempts to stifle its influence. (Huntington considers both confrontation and accommodation plausible but believes the former would require actions more decisive than what U.S. policy has yet contemplated.) None of the three, however, gives any reason to believe that these courses toward peace are as likely to be taken as ones that promise a clash.
Fukuyama has little to say about China and does not claim that it will necessarily evolve along Western lines. This leaves it as an elephant-sized exception to the end of history, with no reason to expect that its "struggle for recognition" will not match those of rising powers that have come before. Both Huntington and Mearsheimer assume that China will seek hegemony in Asia. Huntington also presents data showing China as the only major power that has been more violent than Muslim states; in crises, it has used force at a rate more than four times as high as that of the United States. He also notes that Chinese culture is uncomfortable with multipolarity, balance, and equality -- potential grounds for international stability on Western terms. Instead, he argues, the Chinese find hierarchy and the historic "Sinocentric" order in East Asia most natural.
As for Mearsheimer, China is the issue on which his tragic diagnosis is, sadly, most convincing (although his prescription may not be). His early forecast that NATO would disintegrate after the Cold War has worn thinner with each passing year, whereas Fukuyama's and Huntington's belief that the unity of the West has put insecurity into permanent remission there has held up better so far. On the future of China, however, Mearsheimer has more of the historical record supporting his pessimism. As the scholar Robert Gilpin has argued, "hegemonic transitions" -- when a rising power begins to overtake the dominant one -- have rarely been peaceful. The United Kingdom's bow to the United States a century ago was, but Fukuyama and Huntington could chalk that one up to cultural and ideological affinity -- ingredients absent between China and the United States.
To Mearsheimer, the liberal policy of "engagement" offers no solution to China's rising power and will only make it worse. "The United States has a profound interest in seeing Chinese economic growth slow," he writes. "However," he continues, "the United States has pursued a strategy to have the opposite effect." But economic warfare that could work toward hobbling China would also provoke it and is not a plausible option in any case.
If one believes the rest of Mearsheimer's book, China's rise should not alarm the author so much. He argues that bipolar international systems are naturally the most stable. He denies that the current system is unipolar, but it is hard to see it as genuinely multipolar; no other power yet rivals the United States. If the Cold War system qualified as bipolar, a coming one in which China becomes a second superpower should, too.
So should Americans relax after all? No. Affection for bipolarity is wrong. It rests too much on the fortunate "long peace" of the Cold War -- which was not that stable much of the time -- and it is not clear why lessons should not be drawn from the other examples of bipolarity that produced catastrophic wars: Athens versus Sparta and Rome versus Carthage. Other realists, such as Geoffrey Blainey and Robert Gilpin, are more convincing in seeing hierarchy as the most stable order and parity as a source of miscalculation and risk taking. If stability is the only thing worth caring about, then conceding Chinese dominance in Asia could be the lesser evil. Yet Mearsheimer fears potential Chinese hegemony in the region. So either way, the realist prognosis looks grim.
Optimism depends on alternatives that all of the three theorists consider unlikely. One is the common liberal vision, but this is the simple materialist sort that Fukuyama considers too sterile to last. Another would be a conservative prescription of restraint, such as Huntington's, but this is out of character for Americans and has been ever since they became accustomed to muscular activism after 1945. In his book The Post-American World, Fareed Zakaria combines something of both of these. He sees a world of reduced danger as economics trumps politics. But there is a leaden lining in his optimism, too. Zakaria views the U.S. political system as its "core weakness" because of the gap between the savvy cosmopolitan elite (the Davos people) and the myopic popular majority that drags the country down. If their cherished political system is the problem, can Americans really be hopeful?
Huntington is more of a democrat, yet he also fears that Americans will not face up to hard choices. "If the United States is not willing to fight against Chinese hegemony, it will need to foreswear its universalism," he warns -- but this would be an unlikely sharp turn away from tradition and triumph. "The greatest danger," he fears, "is that the United States will make no clear choice and stumble into a war with China without considering carefully whether this is in its national interest and without being prepared to wage such a war effectively."
THE LIMITS OF BIG IDEAS
None of the three authors wrote of the darkest visions about the future, which go beyond politics. (For example, Martin Rees, in his book Our Final Hour, and Fred Iklé, in Annihilation From Within, reveal all too many ways in which natural disasters or scientific advances in bioengineering, artificial intelligence, and weapons of mass destruction could trigger apocalyptic results.) Nevertheless, the three most arresting visions that focused on world politics after the Cold War have turned out to be disturbing. The world in 2010 hardly seems on a more promising track than when Fukuyama, Huntington, and Mearsheimer made their cases, and few today would bet that statesmen will make the policy choices the three recommended.
This is a reminder that simple visions, however powerful, do not hold up as reliable predictors of particular developments. Visions are vital for clarifying thinking about the forces that drive international relations, the main directions to expect events to take, and one's basic faith in matters of politics, but they cannot account for many specifics in the actual complexity of political life. The biggest ideas may also yield the least accurate estimates. The psychologist Philip Tetlock, in Expert Political Judgment, compiled detailed scorecards for the predictions of political experts and found that ones known for overarching grand theories ("hedgehogs," in Isaiah Berlin's classification) did worse on average than those with more complicated and contingent analyses ("foxes") -- and that the forecasting records of any sorts of experts turn out to be very weak. Readers looking for an excuse to ignore dire predictions might also take comfort from evidence that forecasting is altogether hopeless. Nassim Nicholas Taleb, the author of The Black Swan, argues that most world-changing developments turn out to be predicted by no one, the result of highly improbable events outside analysts' equations. The overwhelming randomness of what causes things in economic and political life is inescapable, Taleb argues; big ideas are only big illusions.
Reminders of the limits of theory ring true to practical people. But if causes and effects are hopelessly random, then there is no hope for informed policy. Terminal uncertainty, however, is not an option for statesmen. They cannot just take shots in the dark, so they cannot do without some assumptions about how the world works. This is why practical people are slaves of defunct economists or contemporary political theorists. Policymakers need intellectual anchors if they are to make informed decisions that are any more likely to move the world in the right direction than the wrong one.
So what do the three visions offer? Despite what seemed like stark differences when they were first advanced, many of their implications wound up being on the same page. Fukuyama captured the drama of the West's final unification, a momentous consolidation of liberalism on a grand scale and a world-shaping development even if the Western model does not prove universal. A less ambitious version of Fukuyama's vision that stops short of demanding the full westernization of "the rest" is quite compatible with Huntington's, which urged the West to concentrate on keeping itself together, solving its own problems, reversing a trend of creeping decadence, and renewing its vitality. In contrast to many U.S. liberals' preference, Huntington sought universalism at home and multiculturalism abroad. Fukuyama's vision can also be surprisingly compatible with Mearsheimer's, since Fukuyama conceded that realism still applied to dealings with the part of the world still stuck in history. (Mearsheimer, however, disagreed with the notion that Western states had outgrown the possibility of war among themselves.)
Huntington, too, accepted much of realism, since in his view, civilizational struggle is still played out in large part among the "core states" in each culture. He also agreed that the China question could not be resolved by Davos-style liberalism's solution -- engagement through international institutions -- and instead required the United States to make a clearheaded choice between accepting Chinese hegemony in Asia and engineering a military coalition to block it. Huntington also believed deeply in the liberal values celebrated as the end of history and argued for strengthening them within the West; he simply believed the world has other vibrant histories, too. In the end, with a big discount for the limitations of any grand theory, Huntington's combination of radical diagnosis and conservative prescription is the most trenchant message of the three.
The most significant similarity, and a dispiriting one, is that all three authors were out of step with the attitudes that have dominated U.S. foreign policy and made it overreach after the Cold War. First, in different ways, all three saw beyond Davos-style liberalism and recognized that noneconomic motives would remain powerful roiling forces. Mearsheimer did not focus on the importance of moral dignity and identity, as the other two did, but he argued even more forcefully than they did that trade, prosperity, and law in themselves do not guarantee peace. Second, none supported crusading neoconservatism. (Fukuyama broke with the neoconservatives over the Iraq war.) Neoconservatives share Huntington's diagnosis of the threat to peace but recoil from his prescription of U.S. restraint. And they fervently reject realists' preference for caution over idealism. The problem is that Davos-style liberalism and militant neoconservatism have both been more influential than the three more profound and sober visions of Fukuyama, Huntington, and Mearsheimer. If good sense is to shape U.S. foreign policy, there needs to be a fourth vision -- one that integrates the compatible elements of these three in a form that penetrates the American political mainstream