JOANNE MYERS: I'm Joanne Myers, director of Public Affairs Programs, and on behalf of the Carnegie Council I'd like to thank you all for joining us.
Our speaker, Professor Richard Betts of Columbia University, is the author of a fascinating review essay, which appeared in the November-December issue of Foreign Affairs. His article, entitled "Conflict or Cooperation?" addresses three visions of foreign policy theories that appeared between the end of the Cold War and 9/11.
This was a time when questions about world politics and new models for organizing societies were being raised, thereby providing scholars of international relations with a unique opportunity to posit their interpretation of the new international landscape and provide what they saw as road maps for the future.
While several scholars set out their ideas, three well-known academics rose to the challenge in presenting a bold vision of what they saw as the future driving forces of world politics. These theorists—and the book that sets out their views—were Francis Fukuyama in The End of History and the Last Man, Samuel Huntington in The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of the World Order, and John Mearsheimer in The Tragedy of Great Power Politics.
Professor Betts writes about how all three sought to cast the future of the world after the end of the Cold War. Although all satisfied the demand for new paradigms, with greater or lesser success, Professor Fukuyama's rang truest when the Berlin Wall fell, Professor Huntington's did so after 9/11, and Professor Mearsheimer's may do so once China's power is full-grown.
Professor Betts reminds us that theories, however powerful, oftentimes do not always hold up as reliable predictors of particular developments. Still, all three ideas remain beacons, as the issues they flagged and their policy recommendations continue to shape the debate on Capitol Hill today.
As world events are rapidly changing and none of these three visions rings completely true today, perhaps it is time, as our guest writes, "to integrate the most relevant elements of these three approaches into a fourth, one that would penetrate the American political mainstream of today."
For a more complete review and incisive dissection of these three theories, please join me in welcoming our guest today, Richard Betts.
Thank you for joining us.
RICHARD BETTS: I want to thank the Carnegie Council for inviting me to speak.
I spend most of my time working on fairly particular issues of U.S. defense policy, but Jim Hoge, in putting together his last issue as editor of Foreign Affairs, gave me the chance to give sweeping reflections on three visions about the future of world politics. So I jumped at the chance.
What struck me about the three books, which stand out as different but essential approaches to trying to outline the driving forces of world politics, was that when each one came out, it struck a chord with a lot of people and it also repelled a lot of others. People's feelings tended to be fairly intense about whether these ideas were or were not convincing.
Francis Fukuyama's End of History argument was the most optimistic, and it was especially striking that he developed the argument even before the Cold War ended. It was first published as an article before Gorbachev essentially handed over the keys to the Soviet Empire. Fukuyama was celebrating what he saw as the final consensus on Western democratic liberalism and capitalism, and the globalization of these values as essentially the future of the world, pointing to what he called the homogenization of all human societies.
Of the three, Fukuyama's vision was the closest to traditional mainstream American thinking about what was logical as the way of organizing society and the way the world was naturally headed once it could get over the rough spots.
Fukuyama also went beyond some of the more common celebrations of economic globalization and the sorts of arguments of pundits like Thomas Friedman. Fukuyama's argument was deeper, and in a way that would ultimately—I don't want to put words in his mouth—make him stand back a bit from his original argument or optimism, to make his forecasts at least potentially more compatible with Mearsheimer's and Huntington's, even though in most respects they seemed quite opposed to each other.
Fukuyama deemphasized mainstream liberalism's focus on economic factors, materialism, and political justice when he stressed "the struggle for recognition"—the spiritual quest for human dignity and equality, and sometimes superiority, which might point in different directions from the economic trends.
Also, it's important to realize that Fukuyama was not as naïve as many of his critics assumed. All of these authors provoked strong reactions, in part because their arguments were publicized in initial short articles before being fully developed and refined in the longer books, and therefore some of the reactions jumped to conclusions.
Fukuyama is not arguing that history had completely ended, that there would be no change of any sort. He realized that much of the world was not subject to this development. The so-called Third World, he said, was still stuck in history. His main point was that there was no longer any competitor to Western liberalism as a world-spanning ideology and vision for organizing society.
The image he used was the image of a wagon train that was strung out, in which some wagons would get stopped temporarily or others would get diverted or damaged, but they would eventually wind up at the same destination. With no more fundamental disagreements about how society should be organized, there wouldn't be anything significant to fight about.
Like most red-blooded Americans, Fukuyama had a fair amount of disdain for what academics call the realist theory of international relations, which sees history not as a story of progress, but as a cycle of conflict. Realism is often persuasive in periods of conflict, as during the Cold War, but when peace seems to break out, most Americans find it an alien idea, and after the Cold War most assumed it was more or less passé.
Fukuyama wrote: "Treating a disease that no longer exists, realists now find themselves proposing costly and dangerous cures to healthy patients."
John Mearsheimer was an unapologetic and unregenerate realist. He threw cold water on the Cold War victory. He believed that the future of world politics would be the past of world politics, a brutal competition for power between nations, as it always had been. Without any world government, mutual suspicion would drive this competition towards conflict rather than cooperation. To Mearsheimer there wasn't anything new about the new world after the Cold War. He was in this sense a party pooper. He defied what seemed to most people at the time to be common sense.
The vision that Mearsheimer had was especially telling and useful to look at because it was a fairly extreme version of realism. He didn't have many nuances or qualifications. He didn't see any benign actors in world politics. He assumed that all states, not necessarily out of malevolence but just because of the circumstances they found themselves in, would seek hegemony, or at least all great powers would.
Huntington's idea was of the three, probably the most novel and jarring to many people. Like Fukuyama, Huntington recognized the impact of globalization, but he saw it as generating conflict rather than cooperation.
In tune with Mearsheimer, Huntington saw competition for power as a continuing significant force in world politics. But unlike Mearsheimer, he didn't see traditional states as the essential sources of power in this competition, but what he called "civilizations," or eight basic culture areas in the world.
To Huntington, what Fukuyama saw as the wave of the future, global liberalism, Huntington saw as the crest of the wave, an ethnocentric Western model whose force had peaked. The West would continue to be dominant for a long time, and if it got its act together it would prosper and remain important, but that other civilizations, especially in Asia, would chart their own course in a way that Fukuyama didn't assume.
Huntington, in making this argument, went beyond the article that many people misread, and he packed the book with data that he thought supported this argument. The data indicated the limits of Western domination of the world: the shrinking proportion of world population in the West, about 15 percent, including Japan, that he counted at the time; the indigenization of higher education in many countries in the Third World, reducing the tradition of sending Third-World elites to the West for their education, exposing them to the West in ways that maybe increased the parochialism of elites in some of these countries, especially places like Iran; or the revival of non-Christian religions everywhere. Trends of this sort Huntington believed mitigated the post-Cold War triumph of the West.
His main argument, in contrast to Fukuyama's, was that modernization is not the same as Westernization. Just because consumer culture was spreading throughout the world—Western capitalism and economic modes of organization—did not mean that other important Western values were spreading and becoming institutionalized in the same way—values like social pluralism, the rule of law, the separation of church and state, representative government, and individualism.
As Huntington wrote: "The essence of Western culture is the Magna Carta, not the Magna Mac." He said this means that "somewhere in the Middle East a half-dozen young men could well be dressed in jeans, drinking Coke, listening to rap, and between their bows to Mecca putting together a bomb to blow up an American airliner."
The homogenization that Fukuyama saw resembled what Huntington called "Davos culture," referring to the annual meeting of elites in Switzerland, which he presented as the "transnational consensus of the jet set." It was important because these are the elites that control most of world governments, the bulk of the world's economic and military capabilities, and obviously crucial indices of power. But Huntington argued that this should be seen in the context of how thin a veneer this elite was—he said they are about 50 million people, less than 1 percent of the world's population.
Huntington believed that the trends toward democratization that Fukuyama celebrated didn't necessarily foster the spread of universal Western values, but they opened up the agendas of local groups and interests and empowered nativist movements as well. As he reminded readers, "politicians in non-Western societies do not win elections by showing how Western they are."
Many people misread Huntington's argument, especially in the original 1993 article, as a xenophobic call to arms to the West against the rest. But the book made clear that his aim was quite the opposite: it was to prevent the growing clash of civilizations from becoming a war of civilizations.
He emphasized the need for humility rather than hubris. He wrote: "Western belief in the universality of Western culture suffers three problems: it is false; it is immoral; and it is dangerous." "Spreading Western values," he said, "doesn't promote peace but provokes resistance."
He wrote: "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 thought, was to accept that the security of the world requires acceptance of global multiculturality.
What was a solution to Fukuyama was the problem to Huntington. To avoid escalating conflict between civilizations, he thought, required rejecting Western universalism and respecting the legitimacy of non-Western cultures, and most of all, refraining from intervention in the conflicts of non-Western civilizations. Staying out of those conflicts, Huntington said, is the first requirement of peace.
On the post-Cold War hiatus between the fall of the Berlin Wall and September 11, these three visions pointed to very different forces setting the odds of conflict or cooperation, and the visions seem to most people to be pretty opposed to each other. But if you peel away the top layers of the arguments, they turn out to be to a surprising degree similar in their implications, and to me somewhat pessimistic.
Fukuyama, for example, by the end of his book, seemed to be less optimistic than his main argument indicated. He saw beyond the versions of liberalism that emphasized what Huntington would call Davos culture. Fukuyama said the limitations were because man is not simply an economic animal, and he saw the real story as being the moral one, the struggle for recognition.
He was concerned that this struggle for recognition in various places could reignite impulses to violence that the end of history was supposed to have put to rest. He worried that they could restart the significance of nationalism, which Mearsheimer emphasizes as the main engine of conflict in the world; or religion, which Huntington emphasized as one of the most underestimated political forces in the world.
In a way converging with Mearsheimer and Huntington, Fukuyama worried that if Western civilization didn't go further than the triumph of materialism and justice, it wouldn't be able to defend itself against other civilizations that might have more of an interest in other things, like honor and self-assertion.
One issue that brings some of these questions and predictions together is the future of China and, in a way, the question of whether, in Fukuyama's terms, China might restart history, because China is the one country now that is on the way towards ending the era of unipolarity, or at least bringing into question how long the American dominance we took for granted after the Cold War will define world politics.
Fukuyama's solution to the question was for China to join the West, to join the end of history, to become Westernized. But he doesn't say really anything about whether that is likely to happen. In that sense, it leaves this question as a huge potential exception to the end of history.
Mearsheimer's solution to China is, given his assumption of almost inevitable conflict between great powers, to try to create a potent military coalition to contain China.
Although he offers two possibilities, Huntington's main solution is the reverse of either of those, and that is to respect China's differences and to accommodate China. He says there would be a reasonable alternative of confronting and containing China, in the sense that Mearsheimer considers, but Huntington just didn't think that the West had faced up to what that would require.
None of the three authors give reasons for confidence that the rise of China will end in cooperation more than conflict. In this sense, maybe Mearsheimer's is the most prominent, because he is the most forthright in predicting conflict between China and the West, although his solution is dubious since he believes the liberal policy of engagement doesn't work to solve the China problem, and in fact makes it worse.
He writes: "The United States has a profound interest in seeing Chinese economic growth slow. However, the United States has pursued a strategy to have the opposite effect." It's hard to imagine that some sort of economic warfare that might work in the other direction is either feasible or not counterproductive.
On the other hand, if you believe the rest of Mearsheimer's book, it is uncertain that we should be as alarmed as he says, because elsewhere in the book he argues that the most stable solution to international conflict is the bipolarity that we had during the Cold War, where power is so evenly balanced that neither of the main power centers dares risk escalating conflict to the level of war. If that is the case, and if China is going to be the second superpower in the future, one might think that Mearsheimer would be more relaxed than he is.
I don't take much comfort from that alternative either, because his affection for bipolarity is wrong. It rests too much on the fortunate outcome of the long Cold War, and it doesn't look to other examples of bipolarity that ended badly, like Athens and Sparta or Rome and Carthage.
There is an argument other scholars have made that is more persuasive, that hierarchy may be the most stable order and parity is a source of miscalculation and risk-taking. In this sense, if all you were concerned about was stability and cooperation, one could make the argument that conceding Chinese dominance in Asia in the future could be the lesser evil, a conclusion that I don't think many Americans have, at least consciously..
In this sense, optimism depends on alternatives that all three of these theorists don't consider overwhelmingly likely.
One is the common liberal vision, which Fukuyama would see as the simpler materialist sort that he thinks is too sterile to last.
Another would be a conservative prescription of restraint, like Huntington's—but that's usually out of character for Americans, at least in the post-1945 era, where we've become accustomed to thinking of ourselves as natural managers of world order. That waxes and wanes. We may be entering another period of disillusionment with American activism. But it is still hard to imagine as a long-term solution.
Huntington is useful in pointing out the need for some clearer choices on particular policy issues that many Americans have not yet decided. He is concerned that Americans won't face up to hard choices, for example, in relation to China.
He says: "If the United States is not willing to fight against Chinese hegemony, it will need to forswear its universalism." But this is unlikely for Americans to do.
The greatest danger he fears is, "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."
In the twist I'm putting on them, these three visions of world politics turn out to be potentially disturbing. But it helps then to remember that single, simple versions of what is likely to be the future don't hold up as reliable predictors.
Academics earn their living and are useful in presenting these visions, for clarifying essential aspects of reality, but that is a different function from dealing with the particulars that will ultimately determine reality.
If we look to academics as forecasters, their record is certainly no better than that of most pundits, which some academic studies have shown turn out to have terrible records as forecasters. If any of you have any doubts about this, Philip Tetlock's book Expert Political Judgment is a fairly systematic study that is quite embarrassing to anyone who pretends to make a living telling others what the future is likely to be, at least if you look at their track records.
There are other arguments of this sort, which may reassure us about pessimistic general visions but don't reassure us about our ability to know what is going to happen. Nassim Nicholas Taleb's book, The Black Swan, which has been very popular, emphasizes how absolutely random everything is.
While we can remember that grand theories have severe limits at best, we can't fall back on the idea that nothing is predictable and that causes and effects are hopelessly random, if policymakers are going to have any basis for making decisions that are any more likely to go in the right direction than the wrong one. So we are back to the question of what the three visions offer, since each of them represents a basic theoretical approach to the future.
As I suggested, perhaps in a way that the three authors might not agree with, ultimately their implications wind up to a significant degree being on the same page. If Fukuyama would admit that his argument may be more limited to the future of the West rather than the whole world, it's still an important argument, because the triumph of the spread of Western liberal values throughout that leading part of the world is a tremendous development in its own right and will continue to have significance.
Similarly, Mearsheimer and Huntington can agree on certain things. Huntington can comport with Fukuyama in the sense that Huntington believes it is important for the West to continue to develop and nurture its values. He's just skeptical about how much they should try to be imposed on others.
Huntington, in contrast to some American liberals, argues for universalism at home and multiculturalism abroad.
Fukuyama, when he admits that much of the world is still stuck in history, can accept some of the implications of the other two.
Of the three, maybe on balance I find Huntington most useful, but I have to give full disclosure. He was my mentor years ago in my academic career, so I may be biased in that respect.
But one significant similarity between the three, and potentially a dispiriting one, is that all three were in a sense out of step with attitudes that have dominated U.S. foreign policy in recent times. All three argued beyond what Huntington would call Davos-style liberalism and recognized that non-economic motives would remain powerful forces in world politics.
Also, none of them supported crusading neo-conservatism. So neither of the prominent political forces in American foreign policy get a lot of support from these three theorists. Neoconservatives, for example, share Huntington's diagnosis of the threat to peace, but they don't want anything to do with his recommendation that the solution is restraint rather than more activism.
The problem is that Davos-style liberalism and militant neo-conservatism have both been more influential than the three more perhaps profound or sober visions of Fukuyama, Huntington, and Mearsheimer. So I closed my essay in Foreign Affairs by saying that maybe we need a fourth vision to integrate those three.
I don't have some grand new fourth vision to offer that might get me a best-selling book. Real life is too complicated for that. But there is a synthesis of the three that could be useful, where each of those sweeping visions clarifies one important aspect or one set of trends, even though they conflict with each other. The world tends to be full of important forces that don't all go together.
If the qualifications of those arguments and their common elements can be brought together, then those three sweeping visions may remain useful, even given their limitations.
Questions and Answers
QUESTION: I'm Dr. Jeff McCausland, a senior fellow at the Carnegie Council.
Again, thank you for that great presentation and summary. I'm going to press you, though, a little bit on the last point.
As we see things going on right now in the Middle East, which may be a sort of 1848 or the end of World War I—as we see this massive unrest, and as one worries that perhaps people in the White House are more worried about how far the rebels are from Sert than the broader perspective, what would these three models or your synthesis tell you? How does one now envision in all this a wider-ranging strategy or approach to deal with this sort of tectonic change we see in Middle East politics?
RICHARD BETTS: In a rough sense what the modelists could do would be to caution any leader against confidence in one line of attack on the problem. For example, to oversimplify, the Fukuyama model would suggest: "We saw what happened in Egypt, Tunisia, Bahrain. This is Westernization breaking out. They are joining up with the end of history finally."
Whereas the skeptic Huntington would say: "Let's wait and see what things look like a couple of years from now in these revolutions, how they turn out."
Mearsheimer would say: "However they turn out, the potential for conflict among states in the region is going to remain, and perhaps get worse." For example, he would argue: "Democratization in Egypt may not lead to greater peace in the region but towards more hostility between Egypt and Israel than the authoritarian Mubarak government had stood for."
This would just be a reminder to presidents to beware of ideological confidence and consistency in assuming that any one development can be the basis for policy. It's a recommendation for very difficult hedging.
To many that may be obvious, especially to people who have actually spent a lot of time in real-world politics and policymaking. But not all of our presidents have been free of ideological overconfidence, and in that sense these approaches could be useful in reminding them of each other's limits.
QUESTION: Rita Hauser.
Richard, thank you for a good synthesis. All three of these thinkers wrote before the great recession and the realization of America's financial limits. I find rather interesting in today's debate about Libya that most of the congressmen are raising questions about "can we afford it?" and "look at how much it's costing every day." That is something that never entered into the thinking of these three theorists. Would that dramatically change their outlook, that the United States is now a declining economic power?
RICHARD BETTS: I'm not sure. I don't want to put words in their mouths about how they would see the significance of these developments.
For Huntington or Mearsheimer, at least there would be a reminder of the potential limits of the triumph of the Western model and the fragility in some ways. If you go back to the Depression, at that time there were great questions about whether capitalism would survive. We're far from that sense of crisis.
Maybe they would have been more receptive to seeing the important implications of this than Fukuyama, who is more or less premised on assuming indefinite progress. I assume Fukuyama would say: "This is a bad problem, but our system is robust, it has proved itself able to deal with crises before, and we'll get over it. The spread of Western values will continue even if it's two steps forward, one step back."
I don't see any of the three in what they wrote clearly implying the meaning of these events for their arguments. They more or less just didn't deal with it.
QUESTION: Richard Valcourt, International Journal of Intelligence.
Richard, you talked a little bit about the foreign policy specialists. But about four years ago, you did have kind of a best-selling book, certainly within the intelligence community, and that was Enemies of Intelligence.
RICHARD BETTS: I wish it were best-selling.
QUESTIONER: Certainly within the community it has been.
In that book you pointed out that there are certain elements that make it very difficult to deal with ongoing evaluation of situations, particularly right now in the Middle East. Can you identify some of those impediments?
I also want to flip into a second question. You and Loch Johnson and others were part of the Church Committee staff, which did the evaluation of congressional oversight of intelligence. Are you satisfied with the results of that oversight and its impact on intelligence operations?
RICHARD BETTS: On the first question, it seems to me the overriding challenge to intelligence, and thereby the policy—because policy has to be informed on huge matters like the overturning of political order in the Middle East—that the huge challenge to intelligence is knowing the nature of the movements that are taking over.
I hope things look better on the inside of the intelligence community than is obvious from the outside. But my impression is we don't know very much at all. It's in the nature of revolutionary events that you can't expect to have an inside track on that.
But this is going to be the crucial factor. It's going to matter more than anything whether Gaddafi actually turns out to be right, that al Qaeda has some role in the Libyan resistance, or not. It's going to be crucial whether the Westernized Egyptians out in Tahrir Square take over and create a regime that is parliamentary democracy or the follow-on to the Mubarak regime turns out to be something different because of the dominant forces in the army or the Muslim Brotherhood. I don't think we are well equipped as a society to staff an intelligence community that can get at these questions.
One of the problems traditionally for American intelligence and foreign policy in general is our ethnocentrism, which is in part due to history, having these two oceans on either side, and in part due to our recent dominance, where we don't have to learn foreign languages because we expect everybody else to speak English. This is a weakness that is hard to fix.
That is a longwinded way of saying I don't have an answer, and what I fear is that we're not institutionally equipped to get the answer very well.
The intelligence oversight question is really a different one. I've been gone from Washington for 20 years now. I'm not well-plugged-in anymore. But certainly my impression is that there has been a general consistent decline over time in the success and effectiveness of oversight, mainly due to growing politicization of the oversight process.
For many years after the 1970s, it was remarkably successful because there was a general commitment to bipartisanship on the oversight committees for a number of reasons, because of the assumption that intelligence was special and sensitive. In line with the polarization of politics in general, this has declined.
But compared to what? What should we expect? Compared to how intelligence is overseen in other societies, I don't think we're doing too badly.
QUESTION: Susan Gitelson.
In your very comprehensive and enlightening analysis, there were two words that we always talk about now that I didn't hear. One is terrorism. Another is Islamicism.
If Huntington was talking about a clash of civilizations and religion, it was Islam. But what happens when a religion is distorted and used for political purposes that may be contrary to the religious impulses? How would you place these two very important concepts in your analysis?
RICHARD BETTS: Huntington was the only one of the three who addressed these questions in any real sense.
Fukuyama and Mearsheimer didn't even mention terrorism. In part, this was because their arguments were developed before September 11th, and they were talking about what they saw as priorities in world politics.
Fukuyama did a bit. He didn't see Islam as as big a potential problem for world order as Huntington did.
Huntington worried about Islam, not because it was in some sense intrinsically bad or aggressive, but simply because of its difference and the difficulties of accommodating it in many ways. Huntington didn't talk a lot about terrorism either, but his argument clearly pointed to the linkage between terrorism and the general cultural conflicts between civilizations, in the sense that at least part of some explanations of terrorism link it to rebellion against Westernization.
He also emphasized the importance of religion. His argument essentially is that religious differences need to be respected and accommodated, that one of the problems between Islam and the West is the perceived lack of such respect, accommodation, or concession of autonomy.
But none of them really addressed in a direct and sustained way these questions, in part because their arguments were developed before September 11, and even though there were obviously issues before then, their overwhelming salience or domination of the agenda weren't apparent then.
QUESTION: Ron Berenbeim.
Your discussion of China, at least implicit from what I understand it to be, is that you are looking to those three authors to see how we might respond to a Cold War model, the kind of model that Harry Truman was faced with during the period of the beginning of the Cold War.
Let us possibly consider just how valid that assumption might be, and also whether or not, given the tremendous problems that China has—I won't go into any detail on that; I'm sure most people here are familiar with them—that perhaps the actual paradigm might be managing China's decline, the issue which Ronald Reagan and the elder Bush faced.
I'd like your thoughts on where China actually is right now and where we are vis-à-vis China.
RICHARD BETTS: It's true that many people assume the inevitable, continued, indefinite rise of China and are insensitive to the ways that could derail. I'm not a China expert nor an economist. But there are reported underlying, unresolved problems with the banking system and other aspects of economic development, or the potential for political fragmentation, that make that more of a possibility than most people dwell on.
But if one had to bet on which direction you should focus your attention in preparing for the future, probably the best bet is still that China is going to become relatively more powerful. Even if its growth continues at half of recent levels, it is still not going to be too long before it's a superpower in a class that would match the old Cold War model of Soviet power. So I don't think there's any way around preparing for that eventuality.
How to prepare for Chinese decline is a good question, because some people would welcome it. Mearsheimer would say, "We dodged a bullet."
Another opinion might say we've seen instability and disorder in China before, in the early and mid-20th century, and that turned out to be a nightmare for world politics. It's not necessarily promising even for cold-blooded realists who only want to see a reduced potential threat in terms of other countries' power.
If you want to hedge against the possibility of Chinese decline, you'd need to get advice primarily from economists, which I'm not competent to give.
A lot of the same issues having to do with the potential rise of China would remain. It's conceivable that in a period of decline in which there is internal controversy in China, searching for blame, outlets for frustration—international activism of a negative sort, could be seen as a way of dealing with that.
I don't think the West or other countries are necessarily home-free either way.
The real essential choices outlined in these visions are either between assuming or hoping that China is going to see its natural interest in continuing its integration with the West through economic globalization and international institutions and become as peacefully integrated in the world order as Europe, Japan, and other advanced countries; or whether China is going to "feel its oats" and assume that it has, once it's a superpower, the same rights and prerogatives that other superpowers have had.
For example, the worrisome model for the future of China is not the common one that is thrown out—and that is Wilhelminian Germany—but the more worrisome model is what some people would think of as more reassuring, and that is the model of the United States; because if China starts acting in its neighborhood the way the United States has traditionally acted in our neighborhood, we're going to be hysterical. If China simply decides to be as reasonable and as good for children and other living things as Americans have thought we are for the world, we're in for big trouble.
That's a concern that Huntington had. He posed what for many Americans, for good reasons, would be the unpalatable or discomforting alternative of saying the way to protect world order and minimize violence is to more or less accept China's rise and to assume that it is inevitably going to want and expect to have more prerogatives in its neighborhood as most great powers historically have had in theirs.
QUESTION: John Richardson.
I have a question which is slightly different. But I just have one comment on Fukuyama. I understand from my reading that the Chinese leader Zhou Enlai was once asked, because he'd spent some time being educated in France, what his judgment of the French Revolution was. He said, "It's too soon to tell."
But my question is really about education. One thing that I see that is a constant, that seems to be true in China, in the Middle East, and in this country is that people with college degrees are not doing too well and people with college degrees in history or the arts are being told to go and work serving lattes in Starbucks. So I'm just curious. This seems to be a constant. Is there something going on?
RICHARD BETTS: On the first point, I love that story about Zhou Enlai and Kissinger. It's a great story, and if it's not true, it should be true. But I've been told there was a confusion, that Zhou Enlai thought Kissinger was talking about the events in Paris of 1968. But let's not tell anybody else that. Let's keep the story going. [Laughter]
The issue about education is a general problem in many parts of the world. I don't know about China, but it seems to be obviously one of the major problems in the Middle East, in that area, of overeducated, unemployed elites.
Where do revolutionaries come from? Revolutionaries don't usually come from the proletariat, the way Marx would have liked. They come from elites, as Lenin recognized, and elites that don't have jobs, don't have satisfaction.
And there are other problems in the Muslim world, cultural problems, like the lack of access to marriage for unemployed men.
I don't know about China. My impression was that this is not yet a major problem in China, that educated elites are being absorbed pretty well into the economy.
A problem related to this is that in some societies there is still a disproportionate emphasis on classical humanistic education as opposed to the hard sciences, engineering, and technical education. As somebody who is in the former, I have to like that in a sense. But if you are interested in economic development, you might question the cultural attachment to that emphasis in education.
I don't know well enough how those patterns are distributed throughout the world, but I worry about it more in parts of the so-called Third World. "Third World" is not a satisfactory term, especially in these days, but you know what I mean. It's a shorthand for poorer countries.
That's where I would worry about it—the inability, first of all, to integrate the products of the educational system, and secondly, to gear the educational system productively to the economic system in a way that seems to work better.
QUESTION: Robert James. I'm a businessman.
My question is: Is it likely that the world over time is recognizing the appeal of the combination of some sort of democracy and capitalistic enterprise, and that these are not necessarily Western concepts but somewhat universal?
RICHARD BETTS: Fukuyama certainly thought so, and that is the essence of his argument, that this is the way history has moved—not in a straight line, there are ups and downs, reverses, but that this is the way things have gone over time, and it's the wave of the future and eventually what the world will settle on. It's what the other two challenge.
Also, one question which is getting more attention from scholars, at least, looking at historical patterns, is the question of whether political liberalization and economic liberalization will necessarily coincide; and, if perhaps they don't, what the implications are.
For example, it probably makes a big difference whether you believe that it is economic interdependence that generates peace or that it is political liberalization and the spread of democracy that generates peace, because if it's the former, then the outlook with China looks pretty good; if it's the latter, it's more dubious, because if there's one thing economic development will do, it is increase Chinese power.
But if it turns out that the real engine for peace between nations is the spread of democracy—and there is a lot of data that democracies, while they fight lots of wars, do not fight wars with each other—if it is the democratization that is the key to peace and you have a richer, more powerful, but undemocratic China, then the implications are potentially radically different.
There is debate about whether economic liberalization almost inevitably produces political liberalization. Many argue that you just can't have continued economic development and efficiency without the openness, freedom, and respect for law that's associated with political liberalization. That debate is yet unresolved, but the answer matters a lot for your question.
QUESTION: Ernestine Bradley, New School of Social Research.
Thank you very much for this very thought-provoking lecture. At the end of what you said—and this is where I am really throwing my thoughts out to be criticized or decimated—I have the feeling that you suggested maybe the hope for a unified field theory of historic utopias.
My question is: Is there such a possibility? Or, what I have heard in the questions and answers, and also in your presentation, is really a focus on the mechanics of progression: how do we get from here to there, and the dialectics. All the topics that have been discussed—religion, education, and diplomacy—could fall under these mechanics, which we can obviously not predict.
But we need a kind of structure—maybe a utopian structure—behind it, which you presented in the three authors, who obviously were not right either, just as Hegel and Marx and Spengler had not been right. But we need them in order to walk in the fog and hear the foghorn once in awhile.
I was wondering whether you think there is any sense even in trying to arrive at a unified field theory?
RICHARD BETTS: One reason I don't have a highly prominent best-seller is that I don't believe in unified theory.
What's interesting and useful about each of these three authors is that's more or less what they try to offer: a general vision that they think defines the dominant causal forces, trends, and things that point to the future.
What I suggested at the end was, given both the essential insightsand the important limitations that address each other, what we should look for is a wobblier, less elegant, messier synthesis, which takes some of the valuable insights but steps back from running too far with them. That's not a very edifying conclusion for academics or theorists who really want that unified theory, or for highly ideological politicians who want a simple vision that they can claim to people is what needs to be pursued. But being somewhat conservative by nature, I think it's the more realistic approach.
You bring up the mechanics of progression. That is an important point, because when you get down to dealing with any of the implications of these theories, however qualified they may be, they bring up so many variables that it is increasingly hard for politicians to try to manage.
The world only gets more complex, and, despite how computers have simplified life in many ways, it doesn't seem that the management of all these political, economic, and social factors has gotten any easier.
As far as structure goes, what is highlighted in these theories are the questions of how economic, political, and social structures relate to each other, and whether any one of those overarching general categories dominates the others.
There is a common assumption among many that economic structure dominates everything and that globalization is more or less the story in the recent and future world. Other skeptics, like Huntington, would say that political and social developments may in some important respects be independent of or antithetical to that.
As far as international politics goes, you have Mearsheimer saying the important structural question is whether you have a balance of power among states. That was the question in the 18th, 19th, and 20th centuries. Even if it looked like it's not a question in the era of unipolarity, it is going to be again, even though many would see that as increasingly irrelevant because of the spread of the Western model.
Those are the questions I don't think leaders have gotten more clues about how to handle more coherently because of the overload of particular questions that are thrust onto their agendas, and usually, with Gresham's law, push out long-range planning.
QUESTION: Mary Belknap.
Most of the countries that are having problems in the Middle East now are because the young people who are rebelling are educated but they don't have jobs, and they are talking about democracy and capitalism. But here in our country we don't have jobs either, and we don't have them in Europe. So what's the result of all of this uprising?
RICHARD BETTS: This gets back to an earlier question too. One result of the last couple of years' economic crisis or downturn in the United States is probably to make many more Americans somewhat more receptive to the cautious and humble arguments as opposed to the adventurous and activist ones about the American role in trying to manage world developments. But exactly how that will play out or how much is not obvious.
I don't have an better answer to your question, unfortunately, than those of most commentators and pundits who have pet solutions for getting over our economic disaster. Especially since I lack any expertise in economics, I have even less confidence in my instincts about that.
So I'm not really answering your question, but to a certain extent it's in the nature of the problem that the question is hard to answer.
As you can see, I am on some subjects more mealy-mouthed than on others, but honesty is better than false confidence.
JOANNE MYERS: You have been gracious in answering everybody else's questions. Thank you. That was a wonderful presentation.