Our Posthuman Future Consequences of the Biotechnology Revolution

Francis Fukuyama




Trade Paperback

288 Pages



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A New York Times Notable Book
A Los Angeles Times Best Book
A Choice Outstanding Academic Title
Winner of the Media Ecology Association's Marshall McLuhan Award

In Our Posthuman Future, Fukuyama describes the potential effects of the biotechnology revolution on the foundation of liberal democracy: the belief that human beings are equal by nature. In 1989, he made his now-famous pronouncement that because the major alternatives to liberal democracy had exhausted themselves, history as we knew it had reached its end. Ten years later, he revised his argument: we hadn't reached the end of history, he wrote, because we hadn't yet reached the end of science. Arguing that our greatest advances still to come will be in the life sciences, Fukuyama now asks how the ability to modify human behavior will affect liberal democracy.

To reorient contemporary debate, Fukuyama underlines man's changing understanding of human nature through history: from Plato and Aristotle's belief that man had "natural ends" to the ideals of utopians and dictators of the modern age who sought to remake mankind for ideological ends. Fukuyama persuasively argues that the ultimate prize of the biotechnology revolution—intervention in the "germ-line," the ability to manipulate the DNA of all of one person's descendents—will have profound, and potentially terrible, consequences for our political order, even if undertaken by ordinary parents seeking to "improve" their children.


Praise for Our Posthuman Future

"Fukuyama gives a fascinating tour of the post-human sciences and their implications, free of the dogma from both sides of the political spectrum that has accumulated around these breakthroughs. Fukuyama accepts the premise that life-prolonging technologies will push many citizens of industrialized countries into their second century of life. But because the developing world will still be feeling the effects of its recent population explosion, the result will be a planet divided along heretofore unimaginable demographic lines, 'with Europe, Japan, and parts of North America having a median age of nearly 60 and their less-developed neighbors having median ages somewhere in their early 20s.' Fukuyama also displays a refreshing skepticism about the prospects for genetic engineering, arguing persuasively that scientists still know too little about the ways in which genes control phenotypic expression to manipulate our genetic heritage in the near future, at least where complex attributes such as intelligence or memory are concerned."—Steven Johnson, The Washington Post

"Fukuyama has taken a stunning step forward with this exploration not only of the ins and outs of a designer-baby future, but also of the politics and the political philosophy of a world in which advances in biotechnology fundamentally shape who we are as human beings. If this all sounds a little rarefied for some tastes, the genius of Our Posthuman Future is that it brings home just how important it will be in our immediate future for ordinary people to explore such questions."—San Francisco Chronicle

"Fukuyama seeks to develop a principled middle way between the extremes of scientific libertarianism and an unrealistic idealism . . . Whether or not one accepts Fukuyama's overall argument, his practical recommendations may well hold out the best prospect for promoting a reasonable balance between a rapidly evolving field of science and the moral views of the American people."—William A. Galston, The Public Interest

"In this groundbreaking inquiry, Fukuyama warns that advances in drugs and genetic engineering will allow society to control human behavior and manipulate physical characteristics—and this power could alter our understanding of what it means to be human . . . In a contentious and fast-moving policy area, Fukuyama provides a remarkably sensible and human vision of what is at stake and what needs to be done."—Foreign Affairs

"Fukuyama has written an invaluable prescription for government regulation. Rarely has someone entering the policy arena so eloquently and precisely laid out the case for political control of emerging technology."—Robert Lee Hotz, Los Angeles Times Book Review

"A well-written and accessible discussion of advances in biotechnology and their social, ethical, legal and regulatory implications."—Dan W. Brock, Clinical Bioethics, Warren G. Magnuson Clinical Center, National Institutes of Health, Bethesda, Maryland, American Scientist

"Mr. Fukuyama's book will be indispensable."—The Wall Street Journal

"A timely, thoughtful and well-argued contribution to an important subject."—The New York Times Book Review

"Admirably informative . . . [a] prophetic book on the ‘biotechnology revolution'"—Mark S. Latkovic, S.T.D., Associate Professor of Moral Theology, Sacred Heart Major Seminary, Detroit, Michigan, The National Catholic Bioethics Quarterly

"A cogent and important argument against the technocrats and 'casual academic Darwinians' who have so enthusiastically attempted to reduce our humanity to an increasingly implausible and culturally neutral calculus."—Bryan Appleyard, The Times Literary Supplement (London)

"A provocative argument that raises the nature-versus-nurture debate and questions about the role biology plays in human nature."—Rebecca Skloot, Chicago Tribune

"In Our Posthuman Future, he has looked past the end of history and described the end of mankind . . . [It is] an informative survey of contemporary bioscience and its political implications [and] an effort to lay ethical foundations for policy judgments."—The American Prospect

"Our Posthuman Future is a profound and important book that warns how today's Ritalin for boisterous boys could be tomorrow's 'abolition' of human nature as we know it. Tinkering with biology threatens to diminish human dignity. Francis Fukuyama's answer to the ethical dilemmas of biotechnical age is a morality grounded in the needs and potentials of our species."—Frans de Waal, author of The Ape and the Sushi Master

"A lucid overview of the biotechnology revolution and its discontents . . . For anyone seeking an ideal entry into the biotechnology debate, Fukuyama's book is it."—Brian C. Anderson, National Review

"[Fukuyama argues] that the biotechnological manipulation of human beings may well [alter] human nature in ways that erode the foundations of the putative convergent political order. Fukuyama brings to this exploration considerable philosophical knowledge, including a manifest respect for Nietzsche, a quotation from whom heads many of the book's chapters. He has also done a lot of homework on biotechnology, absorbing the debates about it, especially its application to human beings . . . [Our Posthuman Future] sweeps the reader along by the provocativeness of its arguments and the originality of its linkages between the biotechnological and political futures . . . Apart from cloning, regulation is required for preimplantation diagnosis and screening, germ-line engineering, the creation of human chimeras, and the production of new psychotropic drugs. A former member of the State Department (he now teaches international studies at Johns Hopkins University), Fukuyama lays out plausible arguments for how and why such regulation would be practically achievable not only nationally but internationally."—Daniel J. Kevles, Yale University, Scientific American

"In order to evaluate this volume, one needs to ask: What perspective supports the basis of my assessment? My perspective is as an instructor, someone who teaches philosophy classes that deal with humanistic dimensions of science and technology to undergraduates, many of whom are science majors and have never thought about the social implications of scientific research and technological development. I thoroughly enjoyed reading Fukuyama, and plan on assigning his book in a subsequent semester. He is a clear writer and his ability to organize big issues surrounding the impending Brave New World in concise terms allows the ever-changing world of biotechnology, and the philosophical resources needed to make sense of it, to accessibly shine through."—n0 Evan Selinger, State University of New York, Stony Brook, The Quarterly Review of Biology

"An expansive journey through science, philosophy and politics that serves to warn us how current trends in medical science threaten to transform the very essence of what we are . . . Gazing into a biotechnological future that is very uncertain, this book provides a fascinating framework for exploring the possibilities that await us. Although many of Fukuyama's propositions are controversial—such as his often unrelenting attack on medicine and, more specifically, psychiatry—he should be applauded for attempting to move us beyond everyday talk of ethics to a deeper examination of human nature and its natural limits. Our Posthuman Future is an engaging, expansive, and well-referenced stimulus for discussion among health professionals, policy-makers, and the general public. Fukuyama challenges the reader to follow Nietzsche's philosophical ideal by becoming aware of society's chosen goals and values, so that we may move forward with our eyes open."—Alan S. Kahn, Canadian Medical Association Journal

"Fukuyama mounts a credible case . . . This is an impressive book, well documented and engagingly argued from a responsible, conservative perspective. The author who looks into the future and projects developments of an historic nature will always be subject to challenge, and Fukuyama is no exception. But he is performing a public service in addressing a most significant issue that will certainly become more urgent with every passing year."—Paul Jersild, Journal of Lutheran Ethics

"This is a major book in the public debate on genetic engineering and biotechnological manipulation of human nature, and it eventuates in some surprising conclusions—for Fukuyama, understood to be a conservative, ends up arguing for the importance of state regulation for biotechnology. In clear, thoughtful, and at times elegant prose, Fukuyama makes a case for preemptive regulation of biotechnological advances."—Virginia Quarterly Review

"Francis Fukuyama's Our Posthuman Future is a retrospective of his bold declaration that we have reached the end of history; that is, the major alternatives to liberal democracy have exhausted themselves (The End of History and the Last Man, 1992) . . . [Here] Fukuyama recognizes that history is reinventing itself—not politically or philosophically, but technologically. He spares us the obligatory
f0purview of the latest genetic engineering promises. What he does, and does very well, is to examine the early stages of biotechnology: greater knowledge about genetic causation (the heritability of intelligence or homosexuality), neuropharmacology (Prozac and Ritalin), and the prolongation of life . . . One of Fukuyama's strengths is that he is continually asking what the political implications of the new technology are and how can we prepare for them . . . Fukuyama presents a very good introduction to our posthuman future. His book is a fresh look at what biotechnology can do for us."—Richard J. Coleman, Christian Century

"Fukuyama warns that the new biotechnology threatens to weaken and perhaps even destroy the basis for liberal democracy, the very type of governance he previously hailed as history's terminus. Some of the dangers that lie ahead derive from new drugs for controlling mood and new therapies for prolonging life. (What kind of leaders get elected by an electorate heavily dependent upon Prozac? What happens to intergenerational equity in a society dominated by septuagenarians?) But the real peril for Fukuyama lies in eugenics and genetic engineering, for the spread of these technologies threatens to undermine the principle of human equality by creating a powerful new genetic overclass. Seeing no other way to avert this threat, Fukuyama calls for aggressive new government regulation both in the U.S. and the international community . . . Fukuyama's most valuable contribution may be his recasting of the key issues in terms of a strictly secular yet still moral and ethical understanding of human nature. Incisive and disturbing, an urgent summons to a critically important public debate."—Booklist (starred review)

"Fukuyama is no stranger to controversial theses, and here he advances two: that there are sound non-religious reasons to put limits on biotechnology, and that such limits can be enforced. Fukuyama argues that 'the most significant threat' from biotechnology is 'the possibility that it will alter human nature and thereby move us into a "posthuman" stage of history.' The most obvious way that might happen is through the achievement of genetically engineered 'designer babies,' but he presents other, imminent routes as well: research on the genetic basis of behavior; neuropharmacology, which has already begun to reshape human behavior through drugs like Prozac and Ritalin; and the prolongation of life, to the extent that society might come 'to resemble a giant nursing home.' Fukuyama then draws on Aristotle and the concept of 'natural right' to argue against unfettered development of biotechnology. His claim is that a substantive human nature exists, that basic ethical principles and political rights such as equality are based on judgments about that nature, and therefore that human dignity itself could be lost if human nature is altered. Finally, he argues that state power, possibly in the form of new regulatory institutions, should be used to regulate biotechnology, and that pessimism about the ability of the global community to do this is unwarranted. Throughout, Fukuyama avoids ideological straitjackets and articulates a position that is neither Luddite nor laissez-faire. The result is a well-written, carefully reasoned assessment of the perils and promise of biotechnology, and of the possible safeguards against its misuse."—Publishers Weekly

Reviews from Goodreads



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Our Posthuman Future

The threat to man does not come in the first instance from the potentially lethal machines and apparatus...

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  • Francis Fukuyama

  • Francis Fukuyama is the Olivier Nomellini Senior Fellow at Stanford University's Freeman Spogli Institute for International Studies. He has previously taught at the Paul H. Nitze School of Advanced International Studies of Johns Hopkins University and at the George Mason University School of Public Policy. He was a researcher at the RAND Corporation and served as the deputy director in the State Department's policy planning staff. He is the author of The End of History and the Last Man, Trust, and America at the Crossroads: Democracy, Power, and the Neoconservative Legacy. He lives with his wife in California.

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    Francis Fukuyama


    Francis Fukuyama

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