The Great Disruption

Author: Francis Fukuyama

Simon & Schuster, 1999

Francis Fukuyama is the sociologist who has written about the end of history -- in the Hegelian sense of history moving by major conflicts. He has seen liberal capitalism becoming triumphant in the world.

In The Great Disruption Francis Fukuyama writes about the disruption of social harmony in the sixties and seventies, as in rising crime rates, a breakdown of shared values and trust. And the Great Disruption, writes Fukuyama, has put the "nuclear family into a long-term decline."

Fukuyama's work is not pessimistic. He points out some ups and downs in social disruptions across recent centuries, and he believes that just as creativity brought new harmonies following those disruptions, so too will creativity bring new harmonies in our times. There will be, he claims, a Great Reconstruction, in other words a rebuilding of harmony, good will and trust.

Associated with this rebuilding, Fukuyama writes of human nature. He draws from the recent trend in viewing genetics as playing a role in human behavior, away from the notion that we act merely in response to our environment and cultural upbringing. Fukuyama does not mention empathy specifically – the inborn empathy that has helped dogs, chimpanzees and humans live in a group and preventing them from tearing each other apart. But empathy has to be a part of his optimism about the new reconstruction.

Fukuyama examines the cause of the last Great Disruption – which took place in the 1960s and 70s. Fukuyama appears to see different explanations of the disruption as exclusive of each other, and he writes that a plausible cause was diverging values – a cultural divergence.

Some of what Fukuyama calls the Great Disruption was itself a healing process. The civil rights movement was America coming to terms with its past.

Fukuyama equates people getting along with each other with what many call morality, and in his last thirty-three pages he writes a summary that includes a description of capitalism as simultaneously injuring and improving moral behavior. He sees capitalism as a part of our future. He disagrees with Daniel Bell and others that capitalism necessarily undercuts its own moral basis. "There is little evidence," he writes, "that the need for informal ethical norms will disappear, or that human beings will cease to set moral standards for themselves and seek to live up to them."

Fukuyama sees no conservative religious revival in western society similar to what Iran experienced in 1979. He claims that a return to religiosity in the United States would far more likely be decentralized and without a dominant dogma. People in the United States, he suggests, will continue to hold to their individualism and to their belief in individual choice for others.

About modern industrial societies in general Fukuyama writes:

Nations built on … universal liberal principles have been surprisingly resilient over the past two hundred years, despite frequent setbacks and shortcomings. A political order based on Serb ethnic identity or Twelver Shi'ism will never grow beyond the boundaries of some miserable corner of the Balkans or Middle East, and could certainly never become the governing principle of large, diverse, dynamic, and complex modern societies... The logic of a liberal and democratic political order becomes more pressing as societies develop economically, since reconciliation of all of the diverse interests that make them up requires both participation and equality.

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