Tribute from Marc Plattner at the Democracy Service Medal Presentation to Francis Fukuyama
It is a great honor for me to speak to you tonight in praise of Francis Fukuyama. Frank was a friend of mine even before he accepted an invitation to join the Editorial Board of the JoD in 1993. Given tonight’s setting and occasion, however, I feel compelled to begin my remarks with what he has done for this institution. His contribution to the success of the Journal has been inestimable. In addition to being an engaged and unfailingly helpful member of the Editorial Board, he has been one of our most frequent contributors—and his articles invariably draw wide attention. Frank is the only person who has been on the panel celebrating each of the JoD’s milestones—our fifth, tenth, fifteenth, and twentieth anniversary issues.
It was his association with the Journal that eventually led to Frank’s being invited to join the Board of Directors of the Journal’s parent organization. During his maximum of three three-year terms as a NED Board member, Frank served the organization in a great variety of ways. I will leave it to Carl to describe his other contributions, and will limit myself just to saying a few words about what he has done for the International Forum. He has been a superb chairman of the Board committee on fellowships, playing a significant role in overseeing the development of the Reagan-Fascell Democracy Fellows progam. He also helped to develop the annual Seymour Martin Lipset Lecture on Democracy in the World. Luckily, membership on the JoD Editorial Board and the Lipset Lecture selection committee is not term-limited, so we look forward to Frank’s continuing collaboration.
A few weeks ago I had the privilege of attending Frank’s farewell lecture at SAIS. He gave a profound and fascinating talk, and answered questions with great precision and verve. But what struck me most was the atmosphere in the hall, which was filled to overflowing with his colleagues and students. The respect and even love that they felt for him was palpable—and not just in the T-shirts worn by many in the audience bearing his likeness and the words “Let’s be Frank.” I know that similar feelings are shared by the Forum and JoD staff, as well as many others at NED—they too love working with Frank.
Why is that? Well, first of all, he’s so damn smart and he always has something interesting to say, no matter what the subject. And second, despite his international renown, he is remarkably modest and approachable. His fame abroad, by the way, really is a little hard to grasp for those accustomed to seeing him all the time here in Washington, where sometimes he seems to be regarded as just another academic and policy wonk. In Latin America and Europe—and I would guess in Asia as well—he is treated as an intellectual rock star, and is much sought after by the media. In fact, his fame here at home is probably diminished precisely because he is so willing to participate in meetings and conferences and to engage in such a wide range of activities. Moreover, if he says he will write something for you or will attend your meeting, you can be very sure that he will come through.
This is not the proper occasion for serious reflection on Fukuyama the thinker, but perhaps a few sentences on the nature of Frank’s work would not be out of place. He is of course still best known as the author of The End of History and the Last Man, a book that seemed not to leave much room for a sequel. Yet he followed it up with a succession of important and influential books on such diverse topics as trust, social order, biotechnology, state-building, and American foreign policy. And he is now well advanced on a two-volume work that examines political developments from ancient civilizations up through the present day. As he said in his farewell lecture at SAIS, after becoming director of the International Development Program there, he realized that this subject was really his central interest. Only he understands the field of development in its broadest sense, one that not only cuts across contemporary disciplinary boundaries in the social sciences but embraces law, history, philosophy, and religion as well.
In the extraordinary range of his interests and the amazing breadth of his learning, Frank most resembles the great social theorists of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries—thinkers like Durkheim, Tonnies, and Weber. Among the eminent social scientists of the past half-century, he is perhaps closest to such figures as Seymour Martin Lipset and Samuel Huntington. In his own generation, I can think of no one who can compare with him in the originality of his thought or the scope and ambition of his intellectual enterprise. It is truly a privilege for me to have him as a friend and colleague, and it has been a remarkable stroke of good fortune for the NED to have had him as a guide.