February 24, 2003

Getting to Know Francis Fukuyama '74

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“I’m amazed at how little Cornell has changed,” said Dr. Francis Fukuyama ’74 in an interview with The Sun Friday afternoon.

Fukuyama, author of several books, most notably the award-winning works The End of History and the Last Man and Trust: The Social Virtues and the Creation of Prosperity, arrived on campus last Tuesday to deliver three Messenger Lectures.

The Messenger Lectures were established in 1924 by a gift from Hiram Messenger 1880. The lectures are intended to help raise the moral standards of political, business and social life at Cornell.

Besides giving the lectures, whose theme was “The State After Sept. 11,” Fukuyama was also in Ithaca for the inaugural symposium of the new Center for the Study of Economy and Society.

“I haven’t been here in 20 years,” Fukuyama said. “I remember hearing Messenger Lectures in the 1970s, so … this has been a great opportunity to visit.”

As an undergraduate, Fukuyama was a classics major and college scholar. “The course that stayed with me the longest was a seminar on Plato’s Republic,” he said.

Social Life

Fukuyama also lived in the independent cooperative, the Telluride House. “Social life revolves around it,” Fukuyama said. “It was extremely important to my intellectual development.”

Outside of the Telluride House and academics, Fukuyama “went to The Palms and had a few drinks there on the weekend,” he said.

Fukuyama then discussed his experience entering Cornell following the tumultuous years of The Straight takeover by African American students in 1969.

“This was a low point in the history of the modern academy,” he said. “Administration and professors who should have been protecting academic freedom weren’t.”

In discussing the war in Iraq, Fukuyama said that the “rights and wrongs of the war are more complex than people give it credit for.”

“This is not just a war about oil,” he said. “The problem with Iraq is a security problem. And now, it’s too late. If we back down, it will create more problems than it could solve.”

“The top order now should be figuring out what to do after the war,” Fukuyama said.

In response to recent limitations of American civil liberties, like the USA PATRIOT Act, Fukuyama said that “Americans have probably scared themselves too much in the aftermath of Sept. 11 … This is possibly an overreaction, although it’s not possible to know how big the threat is right now.”

Fukuyama divided American political discourse after Sept. 11 into two major forces. The first argues that the United States is overreacting to the current situation and this in turn is “polarizing the world.” The other force strongly believes in the possibility of a terrorist attack on home soil. “People should be less certain about which of these worlds will materialize,” Fukuyama said.

Future plans for Fukuyama involve turning his lectures into a book with views of the current state.

“[The state] needs to get stronger,” Fukuyama said. “It’s hard not to get involved in political debates though living in Washington.”

And although this visit to Cornell was Fukuyama’s first in close to twenty years, with three growing children, he may be spending a lot more time in Ithaca in the future.

“I bought them all Cornell sweatshirts,” he said. “Just to give them the idea.”

Archived article by Marc Zawel