God help Francis Fukuyama

 

God help Francis Fukuyama. Bold, reckless and repulsive are some of the adjectives being hurled at him by women amid suggestions that there are now plenty of places where it won't even be safe for him to lecture. The crime of the American academic and author of the best selling book The End of History is his new thesis that the world is in the throes of a Great Disruption caused chiefly by, firstly the ability of women to control their fertility through birth control and abortion and secondly, the movement of women into the paid workforce in most industrialised societies and the steady rise of their incomes therein compared to men over the last 30 years.

The minute he said it the old ping pong blame game started. If for years women and men had been cast in a simplistic victims and villains scenario now Prof Fukuyama was apparently reversing things. Steadily since 1967, his date for when the rot set in, things had got better for women and worse for men and society at large. Fukuyama was seen to be blaming women and many were fighting back with all the vigour they could muster.

His latest theory is contained in The End of Order a booklet recently published by The Social Market Foundation in London. It will be more fully dealt with in the book he's currently working on, The Great Disruption, due out in 1999.

The picture he paints, largely of life in America at the close of the century, is both dismal and disturbingly familiar; the rapid growth of social deviance; the rise of physical and sexual abuse and the sharp decline in trust that he sees as a consequence of it all.

To Fukuyama the undermining of the family and marriage is central to social breakdown.

All this from the man they were calling Dr Feelgood in the early 1990s for what some saw as his championing of American beliefs and home style values.

The change was wrought, he argues, by the ability the Pill gave women to have sex without worrying about the economic consequences - plus increased female earnings which made men feel liberated from having to look after the women they'd impregnated: the result a weakening of male responsibility and the phenomenon of increasingly unreliable husbands.

The growing up of a generation of children without fathers to socialise them is a domino effect that perturbs him as does an increase in the number of births to unmarried women and a drop in the fertility of married women. Why, he wonders, is the high presentday American illegitimacy rate not of more concern?

"It is not really clear why the fact that women best able to care for and raise children properly have decided to have fewer, while those less able to do so are having more, should be considered reassuring."

Whatever about the merits and demerits of why women are criticising his current message it is certainly easy to dislike the portrait he paints of life for women in today's Japan. Time and again when painting portraits of social chaos in the developed world he adds the rider: with the exception of Japan. Though everything is backed up by research it's hard not to feel that a part of Fukuyama now somehow sees as Arcadia the Japan his grandfather fled for the States in 1905.

The Great Disruption hasn't happened in Japan where, he says, the Pill was only legalised last year. "Japanese women, in short, have had much less control over their reproductive cycles than their Western counterparts, which reinforces the male norm of responsibility towards women."

Equally in spite of greater opportunities for women to move into the workforce, the Japanese have kept a number of discriminatory measures in place that have made it less likely that women will do so. "Whether Japan can continue such policies remains to be seen," he says.

"The reason why Asian societies, beginning with Japan, have been able to avoid the kinds of social problems facing North America and Europe is because they have more strongly resisted female equality."

If women need an enemy Fukuyama can be made fit the bill though there's no suggestion that he'd like to turn the clock back. "If Western countries were to reintroduce discriminatory labour laws that kept women out of labour markets and did not permit them to earn comparable wages to men, then the resulting dependence of women on male incomes would probably help to restore traditional two-parent families. Needless to say, this is not a real policy option for anyone."

In fact if you want finger pointing it's actually men the professor attacks not women, maintaining that "the real behavioural problems have all been on the side of men". Men and women are not, he says, equally complicit in creating the social problems of today.

"Women, even working women with high-powered careers, still tend to invest more of their time in child-rearing than men. The real problem is men, who feel today that they have been released from the obligation to stay with their wives and particularly with the children they father."

There is, he adds, no deficit of mothers and motherhood. "There is, however, a serious deficit of fathers and fatherhood." While men have preferences for their own offspring "they also have preferences for fathering further children, often by different mothers, that will be rival claimants to their resources".

Policies, he argues, have now to be aimed at changing male behaviour. He quotes sources indicating that behavioural problems encouraged by the welfare system are not related to single mothers who don't want to work - but to the fathers of their children who take no responsibility for the offspring when born.

A suggestion that removing incentives for women to become single parents might make women deny sex to men unless they engaged in the age-old exchange of fertility for stability he rejects as unlikely to happen .

A major act of re-socialisation of men and things like job training programmes for "angry white males" - the kind of males affected by the disappearance of high-wage, low-skill jobs in the car and steel industries are more the kind of answers he comes up with.

It's not always easy to see why women have castigated Fukuyama for his latest gospel but many women are wary of it in the same way that many are wary of the male Promise Keepers who marched on Washington last Saturday and of organisations like the Parental Equality group championed by John Waters in his column last week.

But if, as Fukuyama suggests, the current gender revolution is as great as the Industrial Revolution, women and men will have to listen more intently to what the other is saying - sticks and stones laid aside, blame banished from the table. If we're not all to drown in the morass of Fukuyama's Great Disruption it's a dialogue that has got to take place.

The End of Order by Francis Fukuyama is published by The Social Market Foundation. Price £9.50 in the UK.