[Paleopsych] Hedgehog: An Interview with Francis Fukuyama by Joseph E. Davis
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Tue Oct 19 17:04:28 UTC 2004
An Interview with Francis Fukuyama by Joseph E. Davis
The Hedgehog Review - Institute for Advanced Studies in Culture
Francis Fukuyama is Bernard Schwartz Professor of International
Political Economy at the Paul H. Nitze School of Advanced
International Studies of Johns Hopkins University and a member of the
President's Council on Bioethics. He has written widely on questions
concerning democratization, the role of culture and social capital in
modern economic life, and the social consequences of new technology.
His books include The End of History and the Last Man (1992); The
Great Disruption: Human Nature and the Reconstitution of Social Order
(1999); and Our Posthuman Future: Consequences of the Biotechnology
Joseph E. Davis is Research Assistant Professor of Sociology at
the University of Virginia. He is also the Program Director of the
Institute for Advanced Studies in Culture and Co-Director of the
Center on Religion and Democracy.
You are best known for your writing on liberal democracy and the
nature of politics, but your recent book, The Great Disruption, dealt
in part with information technology, and your new book, Our Posthuman
Future, deals with biotechnology. How is your concern with liberal
democracy and political institutions connected to your concern with
The issue that I've been thinking about for some time has to do
with this whole question of how technology impacts politics. It
actually started with a study group on the information revolution and
world politics that I started seven or eight years ago, and it
gradually broadened because the sponsor really liked it and said, "why
don't you look at other issues in science," one of which was
biotechnology. The more I started thinking about biotechnology and
reading about it, the more it seemed to me that this was the more
consequential of the two ongoing technology revolutions. So that was
one origin of my interest.
Compared to information technology, the impact of biotechnology
on politics is potentially quite different. It has become a cliché at
this point to say that the IT revolution has been good for democracy,
but I think, like a lot of clichés, it's got something to it. IT tends
to spread out power rather than concentrate it, and it gives ordinary
people access to valuable information. But what would happen if you
had a real cognitive neuroscience, for example, that understood the
biological bases of behavior and gave you tools for manipulating it?
That would make possible certain forms of social engineering that by
the end of the 20^th century we had thought were pretty much dead. I
guess that's the central concern that animates this current book. In a
certain sense, liberal democracy emerged preeminent at the end of the
20^th century because of the failure of the more utopian types of
social revolutionary programs to actually shape human behavior and
re-engineer societies in a way that the planners had hoped for. It
could be that with better understanding of the brain we could see new
political possibilities arise.
There's also a broader context for this interest that speaks
more to my earlier book The Great Disruption. It's been fascinating to
me as a social scientist watching the development of the life sciences
over the past generation or so because we've moved from this extreme
of social constructionism in our views of how human behavior is shaped
to one that has restored some real substance to the idea of human
nature. This is a development that I think a lot of people in
different parts of the academy haven't really taken on board, and that
was a key interest I had in writing The Great Disruption.
I want to come back to the question of human nature, but let me
first ask about a couple of issues that always seem to come up when
concerns are expressed about biotechnology. The first is the issue of
inevitability. There's a lot of comment on the economic forces driving
the advance of biotechnology. The claim is made that these
technologies can't be stopped or effectively regulated. What do you
say to that?
People are probably thinking about different things when they
talk about inevitability. In terms of the simple accumulation of human
knowledge and the basic science, I think it's probably right that most
of that is unstoppable. But in terms of technological applications and
particularly with regard to developments that involve choices of where
society decides to put its money, it's simply not the case that things
are unstoppable. We regulate all sorts of activities in biomedicine,
not just drugs, but also the way we do research, and so forth. We
regulate nuclear weapons and hazardous materials, and we regulate
industries very heavily to prevent various kinds of environmental
damage. If you pose the question not whether technology can be stopped
but whether technology can be directed and channeled and in some cases
slowed down, I think there's plenty of precedence for that.
Attitudes toward technology tend to come and go in cycles. The
most recent cycle concerned information technology, which produces
relatively little social harm. In this area, it has been much more
common to think that progress is inevitable and unstoppable and
illegitimate to stop, even if you could. But consider the difference
in the European and American reactions to genetically modified foods.
I don't think there's a deep cultural difference between the U.S. and
Europe. It's a question of who has had the more recent experience with
regulatory failure. The British had mad cow disease (BSE), and the
French had the tainted blood scandal and a few other problems that
haven't occurred in the United States. If you look back code 25 /code
years or so, the regulatory climate was reversed. American
environmental regulations were much more stringent than that of
Europe, and the Europeans at that point were kind of clucking about
how the United States was hobbling itself economically by imposing all
these restrictions. The reason, I think, is because we had Love Canal
and Three Mile Island. Today, it's the Europeans who have had the more
recent experience with regulatory failure, and I think that's really
what affects people's view of the possibility of guiding and limiting
technology. The idea of inevitability is not an eternal verity.
A second issue that comes up a lot when concerns are being
expressed about potential negative outcomes of biotechnology is that
one is either being alarmist or confusing science with science
fiction. I wonder if you'd comment on that because surely some issues
of regulation in this area have to do with being able to make
prudential judgments about what outcomes might look like.
First of all, for the most part in my book, I was talking about
developments that are already on the way. I said I thought that
germline engineering would be the most consequential, but such
engineering is probably further down the road than most people think.
Anyway, my argument doesn't rest on the possibility of doing that.
We're already, for example, in the midst of a revolution in
neuropharmacology. I think that over the next ten years we're going to
see a lot of developments in that area that will allow us to modify
behavior in virtually all the ways that we expect from genetic
engineering. It won't be as consequential because it doesn't involve
the germline. It's not inheritable, and it's reversible to a large
extent just the way any other drug therapy is. But it really does
raise all the same questions of therapy versus enhancement uses and on
what grounds we want people to compete. In fact, there was recently an
article in The Washington Post about Modafinil, which is a new drug
that allows people to basically defeat the sleep impulse. With the
drug, you can now stay awake for code 40 /code hours at a stretch.
There's going to be a whole succession of such developments.
It's true that you don't want, in the short term, regulations
that anticipate something that may never happen, but many of the core
issues are here today. Do we want, for instance, to give parents
unlimited freedom of choice in selecting the genetic characteristics
of their children? We already have preimplantation genetic screening,
and before long we will have screening available not just for
therapeutic purposes but also for what amount to enhancement purposes.
These are near-term issues, and in fact other countries have already
written regulations to control enhancement uses of genetic screening.
All I'm proposing is that we have a society-wide discussion
about when and how to do this kind of regulation. Obviously it's going
to take some time to think this through and then come to any kind of
agreement about it, but it's not too early to have the conversation.
What resources do we have for evaluating these new technologies?
We have the field of bioethics. Are the standard approaches there
Yes, I would say so. I keep getting in trouble for making
over-broad assertions about bioethicists, and so I want to be careful
about generalizations. There are some very serious people in
bioethics. Having said that, I also think that there are many
professional bioethicists who have in effect been captured by the
community that they're trying to oversee or regulate. For a variety of
complex reasons, they have tended to narrow the ethics discussion to
either a utilitarian calculus or simply the maximization of individual
autonomy. Especially among the newer generation of bioethicists, it's
harder to find people who raise more substantive kinds of moral
concerns. In a sense the whole field of bioethics was created with the
help of the scientific community in order to put some boundaries
around the potential restrictions or regulations that might impede the
activities the scientists wanted to engage in. It's time to broaden
the conversation so that not just bioethicists but a broader range of
ethicists are involved.
Perhaps other people as well?
Certainly theologians and politicians. These are matters that
cannot simply be left up to experts.
Let's talk about the question of human nature and human dignity.
What is your view of human nature? And can we have a view of human
nature that is not in some way grounded in religious beliefs?
I think we can. In cognitive neuroscience and evolutionary
biology, for instance, human nature is used quite commonly in ways
that have, of course, nothing to do with religion. These fields
suggest elements of human nature. There are certain cognitive
functions whose specific content is cultural but whose general
structure is genetically programmed. Thus, facial recognition, the
ability to respond to certain emotional signals, the way that language
is learned, the way that social interaction is learned, all of these
things I would say are actually components of human nature.
But there is no simple answer to this question because human
beings are extraordinarily complex creatures. One of the recurring
problems in discussions of human nature is the tendency to reduce
human nature to one or another of its components. The neo-Kantians
emphasized moral choice; in the more modern version the emphasis is on
the capacity to express preferences. Other people have argued for
other aspects, such as reason or language. My view is that human
nature is all of these plus some. For me, a key feature is the range
of emotional responses that give people the ability to respond to each
other in social situations. In fact, I think these responses are at
the core of what most people commonsensically understand to be their
human nature. But it's not any one of these features by itself because
all are in fact components of the complete human being.
How is this understanding of human nature connected to, or the
grounds for, a conception of human dignity?
I think a conception of human nature has to be the reasoning
behind most thinking about human dignity. Unless we have a specific
nature that distinguishes us from other kinds of creatures or other
parts of the natural world, then there's no grounds for special
treatment. I take seriously the dignity of human persons because they
possess some combination of reason, the capacity for moral choice and
moral behavior, the ability to socially interact, language, and the
like. All of these are specific to human beings as a species and
explain why human beings can have political rights and other kinds of
Yet not everything on your list is unique to humans. Wouldn't an
animal rights advocate agree on the genetic capacities we have but
then argue that a lot of these are shared with other species?
For the animal rights position to have any coherence at all, it
has to make distinctions between a species' typical characteristics
and the level of dignity that we accord it. I think the core of the
moral impulse behind the movement is the recognition that non-human
creatures can suffer. Some animals may also have consciousness and
even some rudimentary moral qualities, but that's not as central as
the idea that they can suffer and anticipate suffering: that's what
gives them a certain measure of rights. I think that's a perfectly
acceptable argument. However, we also have to allow that non-human
animals don't share other species-typical characteristics with humans,
like the ability to communicate in human language and to make human
social and moral choices. These would disqualify chimpanzees, for
instance, from voting, even though they do have a rudimentary type of
language, our genomes overlap by 97%, and so forth. If we go further
down the complexity scale, we get to creatures that don't have central
nervous systems, don't have consciousness, and can't feel pain. It
makes no sense to argue that creatures like that have rights of any
sort. The animal rights position, it seems to me, in fact lacks a
theory that links the respect with which we treat different natural
organisms to their specific characteristics as a species. If we make
that link, then I think there are grounds for according humans a
You argued in both your recent book and in Congressional
testimony last year that one of the reasons why reproductive cloning
should be banned is because it is "highly unnatural." Does knowledge
of human nature, our innately given capacities, give us enough
direction to make clear judgments about what is natural with respect
to particular biotechnologies or their applications?
The links between specific judgments and this broad view of
human nature are very complex and will be quite controversial, but I
think that the links still exist. For example, I think there are
certain forms of family organization that are clearly grounded in
nature and that on the whole provide for the healthiest kinds of
family situations. A type of reproduction, therefore, that
short-circuits or bypasses that form has, all other things being
equal, got problems. Now, not everything that has a problem
necessarily has to be banned or has to be the subject of legislation
or regulation, but I do think that human nature gives us some grounds
for making judgments, including judgments about risk.
If cloning would be unnatural, then wouldn't that be true of
something like in vitro fertilization (IVF) as well? Mixing sperm and
egg in a petri dish is certainly a far cry from the natural method of
Not necessarily. The aspects of nature that I'm most concerned
about have to do with child welfare and the social relations that
would exist within families that are produced by these different
technologies. That for me is the more essential issue, and IVF doesn't
really affect that terribly directly.
I'd like to push this issue a little bit, because before IVF
became a routine way of conceiving children, critics argued that it
would be dehumanizing precisely because it was unnatural. Of course,
many critics were making a deontological argument about dehumanization
rather than a necessarily consequentialist one, but if we do just
focus on outcomes in individual cases, I don't know of anyone making
the argument that IVF has been directly dehumanizing for those
I guess my argument about cloning was really consequentialist in
terms of the family dynamics that would be produced, and I would not
argue that it's dehumanizing purely because it's unnatural. I wouldn't
have made that argument in the case of IVF, and I wouldn't make it in
the case of cloning. While I doubt many people will be interested in
cloning themselves, I do think it could lead to some fairly unhealthy
situations, and I try to outline some of these in my book. Nature
points us toward certain family forms and that gives us some guidance.
It still leaves us with some potentially complicated calculations of
Let's turn to the distinction between therapy and enhancement.
You make the argument--as, of course, do many others--that what might
be acceptable for therapeutic purposes, taking Prozac for instance,
should not be allowed for merely enhancement purposes or entertainment
purposes. Yet this distinction is not always easy to draw, and some of
the new biotechnologies may make it harder still. Can we draw the line
such that it provides clarity for distinguishing between appropriate
and inappropriate uses of technology?
I recognize that there's a big gray area in a lot of medical
technologies, and it's not just the genetic ones. Drugs are a good
example. Ritalin is a classic case where the distinction between
therapy and enhancement is almost impossible to define in any
theoretical way. But just because there is always a gray area or
sometimes a larger gray area is not a reason for invalidating the
basic distinction. At the ends of the spectrum, there are things that
are clearly enhancements, and there are things that are clearly
therapeutic. Using a genetic technology to help someone with cystic
fibrosis, which is a genetically linked disorder, is therapeutic,
while taking a kid who would normally be a certain height and then
boosting his height using some genetic technique would clearly be an
enhancement. We have to argue these distinctions on a case-by-case
basis, and some of these distinctions will be very difficult ones to
I argue in my book that making a distinction between therapy and
enhancement is actually something that is easier to do in practice
than it is theoretically and that regulatory institutions make such
distinctions all the time. They do so in the case of Ritalin, for
example. We've banned steroids for some uses, and we control steroids
in others. A lot of times it's not really clear on what theoretical
basis the therapy/enhancement distinction is being made, but as a
practical matter there are regulatory institutions that make it.
You're in favor of a ban on reproductive cloning, but am I right
that you do not think outright bans are a useful model for dealing
with problematic developments?
That's right. I think regulation is really what we need. I'm in
favor of the cloning ban, in part, because I think, for tactical
purposes, it's important to show that the political community actually
can draw the line somewhere. In general, though, Congress should not
be in the business of legislating broad bans on technology. We need,
as we have in other areas, a delegation of regulatory authority under
some broad set of guidelines. The detailed decisions can then be made
by the regulatory agency.
Incidentally, regulation does not have to involve any direct
prohibition. For example, it's perfectly possible to enforce a
preference for therapeutic uses of a technology over enhancement ones
simply by manipulating the cost/safety parameter. If someone wanted to
propose germline engineering of an otherwise normal child, you could
raise the safety requirements to a much higher point than if someone
wanted to use the same kind of genetic technology for treatment of a
child with a genetic disease. We wouldn't actually ban the former, but
we'd make it much more expensive and difficult to do. That's one
possible approach to enforcing the distinction that doesn't involve
bans at all. It simply allocates the incentives for pursuing different
uses of technologies in favor of one over the other.
Are you optimistic that there exists the political will to
introduce these types of regulation and create new regulatory
I don't know. I honestly don't know about that. The situation is
certainly different in different societies. I just returned from three
weeks in Europe, and the differences between countries are really
striking. Germany is always criticized for being much too liberal on
these matters, and yet they have banned virtually everything that is
under consideration in my book. Britain, by contrast, is quite
different. Then you get countries like Holland, which I don't really
understand. They're very permissive on gay marriage and prostitution
and a lot of other things, but then they completely ban all of these
genetic modification technologies. So the answer depends on each
society, and I honestly don't know what the prospects of doing this
kind of regulation are in this country.
In the cloning and the stem cell debates, an alliance emerged
between religious conservatives and environmental liberals, on the one
side, and liberal democrats and the biotech companies, on the other.
Given their larger differences, these groups' alliances seem temporary
and perhaps limited to the specific issues at hand. Surely creating
new regulatory institutions will require coalition building. Is there
a natural constituency that might emerge around these issues?
Well, it's possible. This is all so new that people haven't
really defined their positions on a lot of it. In Europe there has
emerged an anti-GMO (genetically modified organisms) coalition that
aligns the environmentalists and other parts of the left with
religious conservatives, so in a way that's already happened there.
The U.S. is different. On the one hand, the American environmental
movement is less anti-corporate and anti-American than in Europe. On
the other hand, we've got more principled libertarians, more
technology enthusiasts, and more anti-abortion social conservatives. I
guess the short answer is I don't know what's going to happen. It's a
very new set of political alignments, though I can see the potential
for some of them growing and strengthening over time.
To return to your earlier point about the regulatory climate, do
you think it will take some accidents?
That's very possible. If you look at the history of regulation
in this country as well as in other countries, it's almost always the
case that they follow on some big screw up or accident, like a
Thalidomide scandal. It may be that nobody is going to have the
political will to do any of this until something like that happens.
In your congressional testimony on the cloning ban, you
expressed a concern that if legislatures don't act, the court system
might later be drawn in. Why would that be problematic?
Making legislation through the courts is terrible public policy,
and Roe v. Wade is the classic case. If we wanted to legalize
abortion, then state legislatures, which were moving in this direction
anyway, or perhaps the U.S. Congress should have changed the law. For
it to happen through the courts, through the creation of a previously
unrecognized right, is not a good way to make public policy, and it's
added a level of controversy to the whole abortion debate that I think
was not really necessary. We could, in theory, replay this scenario if
somehow a court found that we have a hitherto undiscovered right to
clone ourselves or to genetically modify ourselves. Perhaps we have
such a right, but if so, it ought to be created legislatively rather
than through the court system. In light of the criticism that the
Supreme Court took for Roe v. Wade, I suspect they would be
disinclined to wade into such waters, particularly if legislatures
express some clear judgments.
Opponents of regulation have argued that regulations on
biotechnology would be ineffective because attempts to control the
technology by, say, the United States, could easily be avoided. The
companies, scientists, and so on could just move their operations to
another jurisdiction. How do you respond to that criticism?
I think it all depends on what we're worried about. If it is a
really hot technology that promises lots of economic benefits, that's
one thing; if it's potentially extremely dangerous, like nuclear
weapons, that's another. In the latter case, if you have only one
instance of getting around the regulation, we're all cooked. But for
the kinds of things that I'm talking about regulating, violations are
probably far less consequential.
My sense is that the idea that there'll be all this jurisdiction
shopping or jurisdictional arbitrage is overblown. I suspect, for
example, that stem cell researchers at Stanford or MIT or other
centers of genetic research in the United States would really think
twice about leaving for, say, Singapore with their families solely to
work in a more favorable regulatory climate. There are a lot of other
reasons for wanting to be in the U.S., for wanting to be at a
Stanford. Admittedly, in some cases relocations may happen if the
technology is really promising, and there's a lot of money behind it,
but that's not necessarily going to be the case.
In other instances of regulation, such as with cloning, I don't
think it matters at all what happens in other jurisdictions. Would it
really matter to us if the Chinese legalized cloning? I doubt if their
policy would compel us to change ours.
You're a member of the President's Council on Bioethics. What do
you hope that the Council will achieve?
At our first Council meeting I said that my hope was that the
Council would leave an institutional legacy by dealing precisely with
regulatory institutions. Our influence would be very limited, I felt,
if we didn't move beyond abstract questions of ethics. One of the
possible ways out of the impasse over cloning legislation, for
example, would be to create a body like the Human Fertilisation and
Embryology Agency in Britain that would regulate embryo
experimentation. I think we are probably going to take that up as part
of our broader considerations, so I hope that will be one of the
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