Errors Away! Fukuyama Strikes Again

I’m listening to Francis Fukuyama on C-Span2 and he’s demonstrated again why I am leery about the claims he makes. He just asserted that Herbert Spencer was an advocate of genetics and somehow involved in the foundation of “scientific racism.” It’s pretty obvious that he has never read Spencer and doesn’t know the first thing about what Spencer thought, and doesn’t care, either. Spencer preceded the science that we call “genetics,” did not believe in what we call “genes,” and believed that acquired characteristics could be passed on, as had been proposed by Jean-Baptiste Lamarck, an earlier evolutionary theorist. (For a quick summary of Spencer’s views, see the essay in the Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy.) And to associate him with racism, “scientific” or otherwise, is both ignorant and absurd. This recalls to mind Fukuyama’s claims in his much acclaimed but remarkably flawed work The End of History, in which he suggested that the English civil war pitted Catholics against Protestants (!!) and stated that Thomas Hobbes’s “great political work, Leviathan” was influenced by Isaac Newton, for “nature, in turn, can be fully explained by the laws of matter-in-motion, laws that had been recently explicated by Sir Isaac Newton.” Oops! Newton was born in 1643, and Hobbes published De Cive in Paris in 1642 and Leviathan in London in 1651. (He should have mentioned Galileo, whose views were quite different from those of Newton.) But why worry about facts when you can be provocative?

Now he’s saying “a lot of libertarians are looking ahead to the time when they can turn themselves into cyborgs, or whatever,” but what “they do not understand is that this would affect the nature of rights themselves.” Um, whatever. (If human agency is the foundation of rights, why would increasing my intelligence change that?) For a remarkably kind but still critical assessment of Fukuyama’s newest book Our Posthuman Future: Consequences of the Biotechnology Revolution, see Cass Sunstein’s review in The New Republic.