Francis Fukuyama ’74, a distinguished public policy scholar and Cornell alumnus, kicked off the Center for the Study of Economy and Society fall lecture series with “The American State in a Multipolar World,” which centered on the importance of international cooperation during moments of global crisis.
The lecture was held at Klarman Hall on Monday afternoon. The purpose and mission of the center’s four-part series is to facilitate a broad and thoughtful exchange of views on American foreign policy from within and outside of the University, according to Prof. Victor Nee, sociology, director of the Center for the Study of Economy and Society.
“The center has had a longstanding interest in studying the interaction between economic and social forces in moments of transition,” Nee said at the start of the lecture. “We’re certainly in the midst of one such transition. It is a period when the substance of American exceptionalism is being called into question on multiple counts.”
Fukuyama is currently the Olivier Nomellini Senior Fellow at the Stanford Freeman Spogli Institute for International Studies, the director of the Ford Dorsey International Policy Master Program at Stanford and a professor of political science. He was previously a public policy professor at George Mason University and Johns Hopkins University. Fukuyama was also a member of the political science department at the RAND corporation, a global policy think tank, as well as a member of the policy planning staff for the United States state department. He served on the President’s Council on Bioethics from 2001 to 2004.
In his lecture, Fukuyama cited 9/11, the 2008 recession and the coronavirus pandemic as recent critical points in global history, saying that international collaboration has decreased from 2001 to the present.
“The most recent crisis, the pandemic, did not produce a single, durable political institution in this way,” Fukuyama said. “In fact, the pandemic produced a lot of conflict of itself, even on a national level.”
According to Fukuyama, the reasons for this lack of collaboration include a rise in geopolitical division, a rise of populist nationalism and the increased use of the internet to spread disinformation and form political tribes.
Fukuyama emphasized that during the next, inevitable global crisis, nations must work together collaboratively, citing the increasingly visible negative effects of global warming and climate change.
“We know that global warming is upon us already,” Fukuyama said. “And we know that we need further cooperation, so we desperately need to create institutions that are sufficient to address this problem.”
According to Fukuyama, global warming is the hardest international problem to solve, as its effects are not always immediately visible and the politics of climate change are challenging in unprecedented ways, citing the dependence that many countries have on fossil fuels for the economy.
Discussing the American state, Fukuyama said he believes there are two broad issues affecting our ability to make decisions that can contribute to international agreements toward the resolution of global crises –– polarization and hostility toward the state.
“If we cannot, as Americans, agree on getting vaccinated as a matter of helping people and actually keeping ourselves from harm, how are we going to agree on some costly new measure to deal with climate change?” Fukayama asked.
Fukuyama, who traveled from Palo Alto for the event, said that he comes back to Cornell to give lectures because he wants to support the University. The decorated alumnus said the series is important as it addresses important global issues and is helpful for him to think through the topics.
The public intellectual said he believes college students ought to learn about these major issues to weigh how to practically deal with urgent global issues such as climate change.
“We should focus on fixing governance institutions at a national level,” Fukuyama said when asked about the main takeaway of his lecture. “And we should do that as a matter of urgency. We should do it before we start imagining other kinds of international structions out there.”