Obama, Fukuyamian

Obama, Fukuyamian December 9, 2015

At The Atlantic, Peter Beinart explains why Obama doesn’t think that terrorism is a threat to our way of life: “Unlike Rubio, he considers violent jihadism a small, toxic strain within Islamic civilization, not a civilization itself. And unlike Bush, he doesn’t consider it a serious ideological competitor. In the 1930s, when fascism and communism were at their ideological height, many believed they could produce higher living standards for ordinary people than democratic capitalist societies that were prone to devastating cycles of boom and bust. No one believes that about ‘radical Islam’ today.”

Obama also thinks that terrorism is getting weaker. He said in his address on Sunday that terrorists are diminished; they’ve been reduced to “less complicated acts of violence like the mass shootings that are all too common in our society.” Beinart glosses: “the Islamic State probably can’t do anything to America that we Americans aren’t doing to ourselves all the time, and now largely take for granted.”

Rather than massive retaliation, Obama thinks that the US and Europe mainly have to avoid missteps. No more occupations, for example, which arguably drive terrorism more than ideology, and no more isolation and ostracism of American Muslims: “he thinks that few American Muslims will embrace it unless the United States makes them feel like enemies in their own country.” In the abstract, this is a reasonable outlook. It has the virtue of taking the long view: Western values will win out over time, Obama thinks. Hold the course, and give it time. 

Reasonable, but unconvincing. Obama’s track record in the Middle East hardly inspires confidence. He assumes that liberalism as it now stands has the resiliency to stand up over the long haul. That is questionable. But there’s a deeper problem. Beinart calls Obama a “Fukuyamian” who is convinced of liberalism’s inevitable, faux-Hegelian triumph. That’s a naive view of history’s shape. The world isn’t a smooth unfolding of the Idea of absolute spirit or of freedom. It changes rapidly, jarringly, unexpectedly, defying the most dispassionate calculations. Fukuyamians are are liable to be overtaken by reality.

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