Fukuyama bemoans the crumbling state

May 23, 2004|By Scott Shane | Scott Shane,SUN STAFF

State-Building: Governance and World Order in the 21st Century, by Francis Fukuyama. Cornell University Press. 160 pages. $22.50.

Francis Fukuyama impressed a great many readers by declaring, in 1992, the end of history. By that he meant nothing apocalyptic, but merely that democratic politics and market economics were the laudable endpoint that many countries had already reached and toward which others were heading.

Even after Sept. 11, 2001, when history seemed to roar back with a vengeance, Fukuyama's point remained essentially valid: No one anticipates war between Canada and the United States, famine in Japan or the breakup of France. But recent events have demonstrated that all it takes to make trouble for a post-history superpower is a band of fanatics scattered about the globe.

The End of History and the Last Man, like his other books, showed Fukuyama as a writer with a genius for abstraction, for thinking up the boldest of big ideas. His timely new book, State-Building, demonstrates both the power and the flaw of that genius.

Since the rise of Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher, it has been popular to deride the state and its institutions, both in the rich countries where taxes and bureaucracy are seen as a burden and in the Third World where corruption and incompetence rule. But Fukuyama persuasively argues that the great problems of our day - "from poverty to AIDS to drugs to terrorism" - result not from excesses of the state but from its persistent weakness or utter failure in many countries.

"The end of the Cold War left a band of failed and weak states stretching from the Balkans through the Caucasus, the Middle East, Central Asia, and South Asia," Fukuyama writes. "State collapse or weakness had already created major humanitarian and human rights disasters during the 1990s in Somalia, Haiti, Cambodia, Bosnia, Kosovo, and East Timor."

Americans once could believe that such disasters would affect us only to the degree that we chose to help out by sending cash or peacekeepers. But 9Ú11, of course, showed that even a rich and powerful country remains vulnerable to catastrophes brewed in distant, troubled lands.

Today, both hawks and doves generally agree that state-building is a critical American responsibility in Afghanistan and Iraq, under Colin Powell's "Pottery Barn rule" - if you break it, you own it. Alas, as Fukuyama points out, little is known about how to create or shore up a failing state. In many cases, well-intentioned aid actually weakens an already weak state, by taking over critical tasks of government from local institutions.

But the reader who enters here should first fortify himself with a caffeinated beverage. The book is based on lectures delivered to university audiences presumably equipped to make sense of social-science name-dropping such as "the Barnard-Simon-March line" or sentences like this: "By relaxing assumptions about rationality and adding altruistic or social preferences to individual utility functions, human behavior in organizations becomes increasingly indeterminate."

When Fukuyama grounds his theory in examples, the book can be provocative and original, as when he finds a common thread from the United States' humanitarian interventions in the 1990s to the Bush wars of the last three years, or when he exposes the cultural blindness of the overseers of the U.S. occupation of Japan.

Such passages make it regrettable that Fukuyama didn't take the time to put his important ideas into a book for ordinary readers, who prefer that real examples and rich anecdotes enliven dry theories.

Scott Shane covers national security for The Sun. A former Moscow correspondent, he wrote a book, Dismantling Utopia, on the collapse of the Soviet Union, and has written for The Sun about terrorism, poverty in Nepal and the welfare state in Sweden, among other topics.

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