77 North Washington Street


FRANCIS Fukuyama, the author of "The Great Disruption," this month's cover story, made his public reputation with "The End of History?," an article published a decade ago in the journal The National Interest. Fukuyama, then thirty-six, was the deputy director of the State Department's Policy Planning Staff, between stints at the Rand Corporation. His article, which appeared just as the Soviet bloc was decisively crumbling, revived the Hegelian notion that there is a "direction" to history -- and argued that the direction runs toward liberal democracy and capitalism. His article became the subject of considerable national debate. An expanded version of Fukuyama's argument was published as a book, (1992).

Some saw Fukuyama as a propagandist for a "triumphalist" view of U.S. foreign policy and the Cold War. Fukuyama frankly celebrates what he considers to be the superiority of Western values. But as he demonstrated in his next book, (1995), he is no unalloyed free-marketeer or apologist for capitalism. Fukuyama pointed out in that book that the workings of market forces vary widely -- and produce widely varying levels of inequality and injustice -- from place to place. He argued that the social success of capitalism depends heavily on cultural factors, notably the extent to which a presumption of trust exists beyond the core family unit. In his new book, Fukuyama probes the connections between economics and culture even more deeply.

Fukuyama himself would make for an intriguing study of the impact of cultural factors on personal outcomes. He grew up on the Lower East Side of Manhattan; his father was a sociologist and a Congregationalist minister. Fukuyama's academic career took him to Cornell, Yale, and Harvard; along the way his interests evolved from philosophy and the classics to comparative literature to international affairs.

Describing the trajectory of his career, Fukuyama makes reference to his father's work: "The kind of moral and social issues I am writing about in The Great Disruption were always very important to him. I'm coming back to the set of issues that I grew up with. The biggest problems we face are in our moral and social life. Everything else is going pretty well."


Photograph by Laura Holmgren

The Atlantic Monthly; May 1999; 77 North Washington Street; Volume 283, No. 5; page 6.