The End of Fukuyama?

So Francis "The End of History" Fukuyama has declared that libertarianism is on death’s door because of September 11. Naturally enough, just every libertarian blogger is now ripping him a new one for it. Fukuyama makes an interesting argument, but one that’s flawed to the extreme.

He first identifies September 11 as beginning a new era of big government:

Sept. 11 ended this line of argument. It was a reminder to Americans of why government exists, and why it has to tax citizens and spend money to promote collective interests. It was only the government, and not the market or individuals, that could be depended on to send firemen into buildings, or to fight terrorists, or to screen passengers at airports. The terrorists were not attacking Americans as individuals, but symbols of American power like the World Trade Center and Pentagon. So it is not surprising that Americans met this challenge collectively with flags and patriotism, rather than the yellow ribbons of individual victimization.

This analogy is extremely flawed. Libertarians, for the most part, are fine with fire departments and the military. As for things like screening passengers at airline terminals – the federal government is unlikely to be any more effective in doing this than private agencies. In fact, it’s only likely to make things worse than it was.

The kind of libertarianism that Fukuyama is a straw-man version of libertarianism. Conservatives and libertarians don’t want an abolition of government, we just want more efficient government. No government social program did anything on September 11, it was the outpouring of individual donations that did the brunt of the work. Yes, government played its part and played it well, but you don’t see libertarians say that we need to abolish the fire department. (Well, not credible ones anyway.) While some libertarians protest the war, they are a minority in libertarian thought.

Fukuyama than makes a more credible argument on cloning, but still attacks a very specific straw man. He argues that since cloning does not allow for the consent of the clone that a definable harm is done to the clone in the process, and therefore creates a situation in which government intervention is necessary. Now I will grant Fukuyama that argument. The idea of reproductive cloning seems to me a pointless endeavor. We already have in-vitro fertilization technology and other pieces of biotechnology that accomplishes the same set of tasks with far less risk.

But other than a few scientists, that isn’t the focus of cloning research. Therapeutic cloning is supported by far more, from Orrin Hatch to many libertarians. While there are still some severely thorny moral issues with therapeutic cloning, one can make the argument that since all that is created is a clump of cells, there’s no need to have the government get involved in it. That argument is predicated on the notion that embryos aren’t really humans and do not deserve to be seen as such. Yet that is a far cry from worries about creating a genetic underclass through cloning. If anything, what Fukuyama is railing against is a form of cloning that has little to do with the realities of where the science is headed.

What Fukuyama fails to understand is that individual rights are more important after September 11, not less. While the state has a strong role to play, it is our attention to individual rights that keep legislation such as the PATRIOT Act from running amok with civil liberties. If anything, it is those who profess a belief in the rights of the individual, from conservatives to libertarians to some liberals, who help define the difference between our open society and the closed and hostile ones we seek to defend ourselves against.