Two Teachers of Evil

Francis Fukuyama is at it again. In yesterday’s War Street Journal Fukuyama — who believes that socialist "liberal democracy" is "the end of history" — gave us his distorted interpretation of libertarianism. His piece, “Conservatism Matures,” claims that "The great free-market revolution… has finally reached its Thermidor, or point of reversal" because "the libertarian wing of the revolution overreached itself, and is now fighting rearguard actions on two fronts: foreign policy and biotechnology."

Before dissecting Fukuyama’s arguments there is an irony to be savored. Fukuyama’s views on biotechnology have drawn criticism from another neoconservative, Peter Augustine Lawler, who pronounced Fukuyama a “Teacher of Evil.” Lawler is a professor of government at Berry College who has made it his mission to crusade against libertarians for the views he imputes to them about — you guessed it — foreign policy and biotechnology.

Neither of these teachers of statism (Fukuyama used to be a professor of public policy at George Mason University) displays much familiarity with the American anti-statist tradition. Their notions of libertarianism seem to be drawn exclusively from Virginia Postrel and the CATO Institute, although it’s hard to tell because both Fukuyama and Lawler have an aversion to citing specific sources for their characterizations.

Fukuyama’s foreign policy views are easily dismissed. This is, after all, a man who thinks that World War I and all the horrors that ensued from it — Bolshevism, the New Deal, World War II, the Holocaust, etc. — were worth it to bring about the spread of liberal democracy. His thoughts on 9/11 are similarly perverse. First he chastises the CATO Institute for opposing the Gulf War, and then tells us regarding 9/11:

"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."

Of course, yellow ribbons were the symbol for supporting the Gulf War back in 1991, so historical facts pose a little problem for Fukuyama. Ironically, though his own interpretation of 9/11 supports the genuine libertarian view, that terrorists would not have any reason to attack individual Americans — or a neutral America — but are spurred to action by American power, specifically American military power. And most ironic of all, had America followed a libertarian foreign policy in 1991, 9/11 would have been averted: the Gulf War brought American troops to Saudi Arabia, which was what definitively turned Osama bin Laden against America.

If you haven’t had enough irony yet, then consider this: Catoites such as Brink Lindsey (scroll down) are now enthusiastic supporters of war. Virginia Postrel, too. Fukuyama’s argument is no longer valid for his own “libertarians” of choice.

Fukuyama defines the libertarian line on biotechnology as follows. "Libertarians argue that the freedom to design one’s own children genetically — not just to clone them, but to give them more intelligence or better looks — should be seen as no more than a technological extension of the personal autonomy we already enjoy."

Lawler, writing in the Winter 2002 issue of Modern Age gives a similar but more elaborate description:

…freedom requires the embrace of every technological invention that can increase personal freedom and reduce human suffering. So it means the embrace of the biotechnological effort to produce indefinite longevity and designer…children. The libertarian hope is that human beings can live free from the miseries of birth and death and really from the cruel misery of love. Libertarians hope that biotechnology will do what communism failed to do, create a society in which politics and God can wither away. ("Religion Conservatism and Liberationism," Modern Age, Winter 2002.)

To support this sweeping characterization — libertarians want to live free from birth and death? — Lawler cites… no one. This is his own belief about what libertarians believe, and he cites no libertarian of any kind to support it, either in his Modern Age piece or on-line in his “Compassionate Conservatism Versus Libertarianism."

He does mention John Locke in his Modern Age piece, a few paragraphs before raising libertarianism by name. Perhaps Lawler used some biotechnology of his own to clone the late Mr. Locke and ask him personally for a definitive libertarian position.

Lawler and Fukuyama may not know it but there are pro-life libertarians and it stands to reason that such people do not approve of the manipulation of living human beings, no matter how young, even if they are blastocysts or embryos, whether clones or not. Other libertarians and pseudo-libertarians such as Ms. Postrel and Mr. Lindsey do support cloning.

Cloning is far from a unanimous and settled issue among libertarians of either the "limited government" or anarchist varieties. (Limited government pro-life libertarians would presumably enforce anti-cloning measures by law; anarchists would enforce them the same way anything else would be enforced in anarchism). But that’s not all. Not only are Lawler and Fukuyama on shaky ground in their characterizations of the libertarian attitude toward biotechnology, but they are hypocritical too. It is precisely non-libertarian statists who have done so much to create cloning and related technologies in the first place. In specific one can point to President Bush — Lawler’s darling — who approved the use of federal funds for stem cell research. Even the most ardently pro-biotechnology libertarian would never have done such a thing. And we can generalize from there: how much federal funding is involved in biotechnology, if not at the level of application then at least in pure research? Based on my experience at Washington University, I’d say an enormous amount.

If neoconservatives like Fukuyama and Lawler really want to stop biotechnology they should oppose the federal government quite a bit more, specifically in regards to research funding. They should also think about the prospects for truly banning biotechnology when the State has been funding it, at one stage or another, all along. The nature of the State is such that it ultimately tends toward the most anti-conservative, anti-traditionalist and anti-human directions, as anyone will find upon examination. Libertarians have always known this. Fukuyama and Lawler should learn it too, perhaps by attending the Mises Institute’s History of Liberty seminar, if they would like to become better teachers.