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(abbreviated titles)

  Closing of the Frontier
  Scientific Racism
  The Children's Bureau
  Recent Social Trends

  The Great Depression
  The Gallup Poll
  World War II
  Suburban Nation
  Sexual Behavior

  The Feminine Mystique
  The Moynihan Report
  Broken Windows
  Middletown IV
  Census 2000


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Francis Fukuyama Interview

Francis Fukuyama is Professor of Public Policy at George Mason University. 

He is the author of The Great Disruption: Human Nature and the Reconstitution of the Social Order; The End of History and the Last Man; and Trust: The Social Virtues and the Creation of Prosperity.

Francis Fukuyama

Professor Of Public Policy, George Mason University, Fairfax, Virginia 
Author, The Great Disruption

QUESTION: The political journalist Teddy White wrote a book called The Making of the President 1960, which came out in 1961. In it, he talks about the census of 1960 and how it has shown vast changes in America, the move from farm to city, from city to suburb. And he talks particularly of the situation of blacks in America at that time. And he notes the growing political influence, educational advancement, legal progress in the Supreme Court and in Montgomery, Alabama bus system. But then he talks about Chicago, noting that blacks make up 17 percent of the total population and 65 percent of the prisoners. And he notes the huge rates of blacks on welfare and living in public housing and the beginnings of a rise in out-of-wedlock births. In doing so, he forecasts some trends that would become very important in the years to come. Could you pick the story up from there? 

FRANCIS FUKUYAMA: Theodore White was, in fact, quite prescient in noting trends that were about to explode on the American scene. And they really exploded in about 1964, 1965, because that was the year that crime rates - after dropping since the end of World War II - began to then pick up at a rather alarming pace. To the point that, already in the 1968 election, law and order was one of Richard Nixon's big points against his democratic rival, that there was a breakdown in [urban life]. You had the race riots in the 1960s, but ordinary street crime was [also on the] rise. And this is a trend that would continue really up until the early 1990s. It was very massive. 

One explanation for the rising crime rates was simply demographic, that you had a big baby boom generation that was born in the late '40s and 1950s. Crime is committed largely by young boys age 15 to 25, and so this cohort came of age in that period. But in a sense, it was larger than you would expect simply by pure demographics. And it went on longer, well into the time when these boys were now turning into middle age men, because you had crack and a lot of other things that I think kept it going. 

QUESTION: And what about family life? 

FRANCIS FUKUYAMA: Well, 1965 was also the point at which family life began to change very dramatically. Of course, that was the beginning of the feminist movement that went hand in hand with the other liberation movements, and the anti-war movement in the late 1960s. But 1965 was the inflection point where the divorce rate in the United States began to move up very rapidly. The rate of illegitimacy or children born to a single mother, to an unwed mother had been down around 4 percent of all children born in the 1950s. And this rate began to rise for blacks. At the time that Moynihan published the Moynihan Report in the mid 1960s, about 30 percent of all [black] children were born to a single mother. By the end of this period, by the mid 1990s, that was the rate for the nation as a whole. For African Americans the number was up at something like 70 percent. 

QUESTION: Tell me about Pat Moynihan's views and his impact over the years on these sorts of issues. 

FRANCIS FUKUYAMA: Pat Moynihan's report on the Negro was probably one of the most important intellectual developments in the social sciences. 

Everybody knows that bad things go together and, as statisticians would say; they're highly correlated: family breakdown, drug use, crime, poor education and the like. And the question is really one of what causes what. And typically liberals have said, well, it's the lack of economic opportunity that causes families to break down, that causes people to commit crime. And that was really the model from the 1930s, where people were thrown out of work involuntarily and you had a lot of bad social consequences flow from that. 

What Moynihan did was to notice, particularly for African Americans, that perhaps the causality was the other way around. That it may have been the absence of stable families that was, in fact, the cause of poverty and the failure to transmit certain kinds of habits and social values across generations. And he suggested that perhaps the family itself ought to be addressed as an explicit issue for social policy, and not simply the economic issue of having enough jobs and opportunities. 

Which of course set off a firestorm at the time, because he was accused of blaming the victim and not appreciating the fact that blacks had simply different kinds of families. Or [people argued] that not everybody had to live up to this ideal of a white, middle-class, two-parent family and the like. And, of course, it immediately got caught up with feminism as well, which had its own scores to settle with the traditional nuclear family and patriarchy and the like. 

I think that one of the most remarkable intellectual changes that has taken place over this period was, in a sense, the shifting of the center of gravity of the whole social science community from denouncing Moynihan in the early '70s to largely supporting him, I think, by the early 1990s. 

QUESTION: And he used public data as the basis of his argument. How important in a modern society is measurement? 

FRANCIS FUKUYAMA: I think that measurement really is extremely important as the basis for any kind of social or public policy in a modern society. And politicians frequently don't recognize this. Politics is always argued on the basis of anecdote: "I know somebody that had a broken family and the son went wrong, and therefore broken families cause crime." You cannot get beyond that kind of anecdote slinging unless you turn to statistics that apply to broad populations. 

And one of the problems, I think, in understanding our own social history is that, for most categories of things that we now regard as important, a lot of those statistics simply weren't kept reliably up until some point in the early twentieth century. So that now if you want to go back and look at things like rates of alcoholism, or rates of illegitimacy, or other sorts of anything beyond plain vanilla - births, deaths and marriages - for most of the nineteenth century and the early part of the twentieth century, they simply don't exist. 

QUESTION: Give me the pocket course on the rise of measurement in America in the twentieth century. 

FRANCIS FUKUYAMA: The history of measurement in American social policy in a way parallels the rise of public policy as a field. The areas, I think, where it was first applied actually came out of the military - in the use of mathematical methods, for example, during World War II. The first real use of that to solve a public policy problem was with submarines. You had German U-boats out in the Atlantic. The Navy had planes and ships. And you had what mathematicians call an optimization problem: "How do you get the most efficient search patterns so that you will pick up the most number of U-boats and protect your ships?" And it turned out that [this] was a problem that was inherently quantifiable and it could be solved through good mathematics. And after the war that was applied first to a whole range of national security problems, bomber basing and military logistics and nuclear strategy. 

But I think what happened - particularly in the 1960s - as the country then turned to trying to solve some of these broader social problems of education, housing, poverty and the like, people then tried to apply these same mathematical techniques to the solving of social problems. And it was connected very much with the availability of much better data about the nature of society. The RAND Corporation, for example, was, I think, very instrumental in that. It was created by the US Air Force in 1948 [as a military think tank]. But by the 1960s, [it] was using all of that statistical methodology to attack questions of how you deploy fire engines in New York City and how you allocate money for teacher salaries and textbooks and the like. 

And besides the Moynihan Report, I think the [1965] Coleman Report on American education was a landmark in the application of very sophisticated statistical techniques to try to uncover which of the public policy inputs to education actually led to genuine educational improvement. 

And like a lot of good social science, it had a very pessimistic conclusion. Which was that none of the inputs that politicians and officials could control had the slightest impact on educational performance. That it was really largely a matter of family and peers that determined what was a good school and what wasn't. 

QUESTION: The other great measuring tool that we have is, of course, public opinion data - specifically in the realm of trust. Could you sort of march me through how that came about? 

FRANCIS FUKUYAMA: Well, public opinion polling really got its start in the 1950s. It is possible to get public opinion data that goes back [to] earlier decades. But I think it becomes institutionalized really in the 1950s with the rise of the Roper Organization and other organizations that are dedicated to creating what's called "time series" data. Where you ask the same question year after year or at regular intervals, and so you can trace the evolution of popular attitudes over time. And I think that that became an extremely useful thing to politicians simply to track opinions of voters, and to try to develop marketing data. 

For social scientists, I think [the public opinion poll] was very important [in] getting at this whole layer of values. Because, you know, the conventional sorts of statistics can [only] measure behavior: how many marriages are recorded, how many people are killed in a particular city or a particular neighborhood. What is much harder to get at is motives, why people were behaving the way they were, why they were disaffected or poor or ended up without a job. And for that, survey data was really the only source by which you could get behind the behavior to intentions and beliefs. 

Of course, survey data has got its own weaknesses, because most surveys ask very simple-minded questions. They don't probe in depth. They often require just a yes or no. But it's better than nothing. 

QUESTION: When you look at the survey research data for the 1960s in the realm of trust, what do you pick up? 

FRANCIS FUKUYAMA: Well, first of all, there's been a massive shift towards distrust. The Roper [Organization] and organizations like the General Social Survey [have data that very consistently shows] that in the 1950s [there] are really high levels of trust for all sorts of things: for the federal government, for Congress, for scientists, for all the major institutions in society - corporations, the military and the like. And all of those see a very dramatic decline over the next 30 years. So that in the late 1950s people were asked, "Do you generally trust the [federal] government to do the right thing?" And perhaps 70 percent of the respondents would answer yes. By 1991 that number was down to something like 15 percent, which is a just astonishing change. 

It wasn't just government. The General Social Survey asks a question, "Do you trust your fellow citizens, or can you never be too careful in dealing with other people?" And in the 1950s about 60, 65 percent said that they could trust their fellow citizens. By the 1990s that [number] had fallen to about 30 percent. 

So all across the board there was a growth of cynicism and [a] distinct rise of distrust on the part of Americans. 

QUESTION: Could you sum up for me the theme of the first part of your book, The Great Disruption? 

FRANCIS FUKUYAMA: My book, The Great Disruption, is about the disruption of social values that occur[s] not just in the United States, but really all across the developed world, roughly from the mid-1960s up through the mid 1990s. And it's measured in terms of three indicators. One is the growth of crime and social disorder. The second has to do with the breakdown of families and the rise of divorce, out-of-wedlock births and the like. And the third has to do with the increase in distrust (or the decrease in trust) in institutions, in fellow citizens, in the government and other aspects of social life. 

If you [look at] the data for the developed world, [you'll see that] the United States, of course, experienced very rapid changes. The ratio of divorced to married people, [for example,] increases fourfold in a twenty-year period. We're familiar with that. But, in fact, this was going on in really all western developed countries at pretty much the same time. Obviously, in Europe they start from a much lower level of crime and divorce and the like, but everybody sees a pickup pretty much at the same period. 

QUESTION: As you reckon it, why did this "Great Disruption" happen? 

FRANCIS FUKUYAMA: My view of why the Great Disruption happened is that it reflects the change out of an industrial society into a post-industrial or information age - one in which services become more important than manufacturing, in which the nature of work becomes more mental rather than physical. And this had a lot of cascading consequences. 

For one thing, it propelled millions of women into the workplace over this period from the 1960s to the 1990s, all across the West. Which had very beneficial effects, certainly in terms of economy and in terms of opportunities for women. But it clearly had a very disruptive effect on families and the socialization of children. Which, I think, stands to reason, given the traditional role of women in families. 

It also, I think, promoted a kind of individualism that is necessary and works very well in the marketplace, but doesn't work so well in terms of our moral and community life. Innovation is a good thing, by and large, whether it's Bill Gates [the development of] the latest generation semiconductor. But it's not so great when you have a neighborhood that is disrupted by new people, by new norms, by a lot of transients. Because moral communities in many respects - or communities in general - are based on rules, and the ability of people to observe and follow and know what those rules are. And I think a lot of the turbulence in the economy spilled over into turbulence in moral life as well, and led to a lot of the kinds of pathological conditions that we recognize from that period. 

QUESTION: What happened in the wake of the Great Disruption and when did it happen? 

FRANCIS FUKUYAMA: The Great Disruption started approximately [in] the mid 1960s. In some countries it was a little bit delayed. In the United States I think it really peaked in the recession of the early 1990s. And I think it's a little bit too early to say that it's over. But there are a lot of indications in the 1990s that we're now on the downside of the cycle. Crime rates have come down perhaps 20 percent nationally. There's been a decrease in the divorce rate, a flattening out of the rate of births to single mothers, a fairly large drop in teenage pregnancy. Obviously welfare rolls have decreased very dramatically in the 1990s. So all of these indicators have shifted to some extent in the years between, let's say, 1992 and 1999. 

QUESTION: In this general process of social change, what is the role of liberty? Personal liberty, political liberty, economic liberty? 

FRANCIS FUKUYAMA: Liberty is clearly the basis of a liberal society. What a liberal society means is that the state steps out of the way of individuals and grants them a free space in which they can engage in commercial activity, in which they have a personal [life] and family and other kinds of life that they determine for themselves. And so it's critical - and not only for the political order, but for the economic order as well - because a market society is driven by the freedom to innovate, the freedom to exchange, to buy and sell without constraint and without interference by the government. 

The ideal way that a liberal society exists is that instead of the government setting rules, individuals come together in communities and set their own rules in a voluntary way, because no society can live simply on liberty alone. You have to have community. You have to have responsibility to other people. People have to be able to cooperate in groups. They have to have what's called "social capital" in order to organize politically, in order to build businesses, really to do anything that a society wants to do. 

So the question is always how you balance the fundamental need for liberty and [the] lack of constraint over innovation with the need for people to live by established rules, to relate to one another. 

QUESTION: This is the old argument of liberty versus order. 

FRANCIS FUKUYAMA: That's right. 

QUESTION: There's always that tension. 

FRANCIS FUKUYAMA: That's right. And I think in the United States we've always erred on the side of liberty rather than order. And so we've constantly been, I think, threatened with a fraying of all of the kinds of social solidarities that in other societies they take for granted more readily. 

QUESTION: But your point in The Great Disruption, as I sense it, is that just as liberty may encourage disruption, liberty itself has within it the seeds of its own renewal. 

FRANCIS FUKUYAMA: I believe that moral order is something that is built into the human psyche or into human nature, that people have great cognitive and instinctual drives to create rules for themselves. And in a sense, if they are left to their own devices, they will do precisely that. And that in many ways the state, by interfering excessively, can prevent people from actually coming to norms by which they can govern themselves in families, in neighborhoods and in other kinds of voluntary communities. 

QUESTION: So are liberal societies more likely to adjust more rapidly than non-liberal societies? 

FRANCIS FUKUYAMA: I believe that a truly liberal society has the flexibility to re-norm itself more rapidly. If you take a very state-centered society like France, nothing can happen unless the bureaucracy says that that it should happen. People don't have this ability to spontaneously come together and build a university or a school or a hospital. I think a more genuinely liberal society really does have that flexibility, because people know how to work with one another without being told by a hierarchical source of authority to do so. 

QUESTION: Let's talk for a minute about the 1920s in America. There too you had - at least if you follow the popular intellectual currents of the time - a time of great disillusionment, a fraying of social bonds, promiscuous sexual behavior, familial erosion. Did that happen, and did your pattern of re-norming then come about? 

FRANCIS FUKUYAMA: Well, first of all, you've got a big problem talking about that period. Because we really do not have the kind of social data, particularly when it comes to things like people's private sexual behaviour, you have almost no data whatsoever until the Kinsey Report and so forth, which is questionable in itself how valid it is. 

But with that caveat, it appears that there was an important rise of experimentation and breaking rules. And there was a women's liberation movement that occurred really in the 1910s and 1920s. 

But I think that what was different about that period from later periods like the 1960s and 1970s was that [the experimentation and rule-breaking] was probably confined to a relatively small elite in the United States, and also in Britain, the whole Bloomsbury Circle. 

One of the big mysteries - if we had better social data, we would know - [was] whether it was going on, for example, among working class Americans. My suspicion is that much of America outside of those elite, well-educated, artistic and literary circles probably [wasn't] experimenting terribly much in the 1920s. 

QUESTION: You know, you did have in the 1920s a new invention that changed sexual behavior, I think, as much as you say the Pill did in the 1950s and the 1960s. Which was the automobile. How did this affect the lower and middle classes? 

FRANCIS FUKUYAMA: Well, if, in fact, it was the automobile that allowed couples to escape the eyes of their parents and their control, then it would have applied only to a relatively small elite. Because the automobile became a mass commodity item beginning in the 1910s, but it really did not penetrate, to, let's say, working-class families until a much later date - I think until the post-war period. 

QUESTION: Social scientists are often accused of pushing an agenda rather than staying in the realm of (allegedly) pure, objective science. How common has this been throughout the century? 

FRANCIS FUKUYAMA: I think that the tendency of social scientists to use data to support ideologically preconceived notions, in fact, has been so prevalent. And it's so easy to do in this area that it has led to a discrediting of social science in general. Because you can always find an equal number of experts arguing polar opposite positions, looking pretty much at the same data. And if it's truly a science, that shouldn't really happen. So I think that it's made people very pessimistic and cynical about data in general. 

But on the other hand - and maybe this is excessively optimistic - [you have some positive things happening.] Over time, in some cases, the weight of evidence simply becomes so overwhelming that it is pretty hard to maintain certain points of view. Or at least the social science allows you to reject certain points of view. 

For example, there was a kind of racialist view of immigrant behavior in the United States. The argument was that native-born Americans had bigger heads and were therefore smarter. And [Franz Boas] simply measured them after they'd been eating an American diet and realized that immigrant children's heads, once they had better nutrition, were no smaller than those of the native born. So that settled one kind of argument. 

I think similarly, with smoking, there was a period when you could have said, "well, it may or may not be good or bad for you," but that's been pretty conclusively settled. And I think the question of a family has been settled. 

QUESTION: How important in the history of social science in America in this century was Franz Boas? 

FRANCIS FUKUYAMA: I think that Franz Boas was extremely important - and, in fact, probably one of the most under-recognized figures in the history of the social sciences - because he is really the fountainhead from which later trends like cultural relativism spring. He had a very important positive effect, I think, in finally putting [to rest] this earlier, overtly racist form of social science that saw everything as a racial hierarchy at which northern Europeans were at the top and everybody else was strung out in an evolutionary tree. 

But he, I think, is really also the inventor of a certain type of ethnography that basically eliminated any kind of value judgment from the evaluation of cultures. The whole concept of Eurocentrism or ethnocentrism, I think, really begins with him. 

And, of course, there's an extremely important basis for guarding against that. But it also, I think, led to the view that no culture or no cultural practice could ever be evaluated by anyone outside of that culture. [Which] in a sense led to a great deal of the moral relativism that then came to characterize not just the social sciences, but the culture in general in latter years. 

QUESTION: Who were some of Boas's principal disciples, and how far did they go with this? 

FRANCIS FUKUYAMA: Boas's two most famous students were Ruth Benedict and Margaret Mead. Ruth Benedict was probably best known for her work on Japan, where she helped the Allies in World War II try to understand Japanese mentality. But she also was very much a proponent of cultural relativism - that is to say the belief that cultures had to be studied and they could be described, but they could not be judged or ranked - and was very important in propagating that. 

Margaret Mead, of course, played a very important role, I think, in shaping views of sexuality in the United States in the 1950s. Because she was not simply an academic anthropologist, she also had a column in Life magazine, and was one of the first great pop intellectuals of the early post-war period. And by reporting that young girls in Samoa were sexually uninhibited, she awakened a lot of American girls to the idea that perhaps the values that they had grown up with - the Puritanism and constraints on their sexuality - were not something universal or God-given, but simply the result of their particular corner of Western civilization. And I think [this] laid the intellectual basis for much of the liberation movements that came later. 

Now, of course, it turned out that Margaret Mead had - if not fabricated - at least misrepresented a lot of her data from Samoa. But people didn't find out about that until a few years later. 

QUESTION: Was she grinding an axe? 

FRANCIS FUKUYAMA: Well, I think clearly she also wanted to demonstrate that the kinds of puritan constraints on sexuality that existed in the America she understood in the 1950s were undue ones, and unduly constrictive of women. 

QUESTION: So, as you look at this century of social sciences, it is on the one hand the great invention; on the other hand it is self-undermining through agenda-ism. Is it also self-renewing and re-norming itself? 

FRANCIS FUKUYAMA: I think that social science tends to go in big cycles. And it always commits excesses and goes wrong at the outer reaches of the cycle. So that in the early twentieth century you had an excessive belief in biology, [in] genetic predestination as determining everything. After Boas and Benedict and Margaret Mead, the center of gravity in the social sciences shifted way over [in] the other direction, where everything was simply socially constructed, that human beings were infinitely plastic. And now we're shifting really back towards the biological determinism. 

Now, the question is whether we simply bounce back between two ideologically driven poles, or whether we can ever arrive at a more balanced view, for example, of the interrelationship of nature and nurture. 

QUESTION: Could you give an example of some of the biological determinism that we now see? 

FRANCIS FUKUYAMA: Well, Freudianism, for example, is by many biologists, no longer taken seriously, certainly as a therapeutic method. I mean, it turns out that the advent of lithium and then a lot of neuro-pharmacological approaches to treating schizophrenia and serious mental disorders have been so effective that it became very clear that brain chemistry was really responsible for a lot of these pathological conditions. And so once you understood that chemistry and the neural wiring within the brain, you could accomplish what Freudianism, through hours and hours and hours of talk, had failed to accomplish. 

QUESTION: How should an alert and aware American, trying to make sense of what is going on, deal with the social sciences today? Especially when different interpretations of the same data are coming in from all sides? 

FRANCIS FUKUYAMA: Well, I think, in the first place, you need to really be skeptical of all of those people. Obviously everyone comes to this with [his or her] own ideological agendas. And so you're going to prefer one side or the other. There's always going to be a debate on at least two, if not more, sides to the question. And so I think that, first of all, you shouldn't believe anything that you read in the newspaper from a social scientist. But also you just need to follow the debate. Because a debate, in fact, I think, bring[s] about a certain kind of progress. You know, there is a real exchange of opinions and at a certain point, just like cold fusion, things end up getting discredited and you move on to something else. 

QUESTION: So it is social science still a useful discipline? 

FRANCIS FUKUYAMA: I think there's no alternative to it. I believe that there is no avoiding social science and the use of data, because really there's no alternative for understanding how the world is except through measurement. And that's really the only way that you can get past your anecdote versus my anecdote.


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