Beware beatification. Few things must disturb the soul more than sudden conscription as a global guru. A decade ago this was the fate of Francis Fukuyama, a US government Soviet foreign policy specialist who wrote an article, "The End of History", for fellow policy-makers. His piece predicted an end to competing ideologies, and no sooner did it hit the stands than Egon Krenz and other comrades began the demolition of communist eastern Europe. Suddenly Fukuyama had shot to planet-wide superstardom. He had, however bizarrely, defined his era.
But since then, feted by heads of state, policy wonks and dinner-party hard-nut professionals alike, he has suffered his fair share of brickbats. It is not even certain that he has relished the fortune life has forced on him; to his lasting credit, he looks almost in physical agony when on chat shows he is asked for the third time in a minute: "What can you foresee?" His own quandary, in a world that, as his critics rightly point out, reveals history moving again, is over what to do next. More seminars. Lectures. Appearances. Shows. And books. Well, what's a guru to do?
As marooned by circumstance as Monty Python's Brian or Tony Hancock's Rebel, Fukuyama, now 47, has responded with fair honour. His latest work, The Great Disruption, is striking in its earnestness and assuredly sincere intentions. But it also betrays a weariness with the whole charade of foretelling humanity's destiny. Fukuyama is no longer - if he ever was - the gleeful young prophet; rather he is exhausted, a fading player on another dead evening on another summer season at the pier.
All too readily he betrays his doubts in his argument, which reasons that, given the precedent of 19th-century recoveries from widespread vagrancy to restored social order in both Britain and America, a recent slight tempering of several leading measurements of social upheaval indicates that a similar improvement is now under way. He says that, because people have a biological tendency to co-operate and to make rules, the upheavals of the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s may be set to abate. Disturbingly, though, he also readily agrees that we could instead face, like the Romans in AD300 or 400, several centuries of Dark Age barbarity. "It's perfectly possible. I am not a soothsayer. I really don't know. My argument is just out there. It could easily be proved wrong." Human beings like "societies where they have morals and are related to each other at a community level". There are "some empirical grounds for thinking that might have happened, but who knows?".
But these doubts have not prevented his publishers from aiming his book squarely at the fears of the airport bookshop victim. The design is dark and threatening: lightning forks cut across the cover to add yet more volts to every reader's worst nightmare of social collapse. The actual text - like its author, well expressed, gracious and informed - provides a comparatively undistinguished trawl through a mountain of statistics and, more sadly, an often repetitive secondary meander through the work of others. Certain near-lethal doses of the worst of social science jargon (one especially cringe-making new term is the "New Hamelin", so named because we'll get there without the Piper) truly jar.
He is on far more comfortable territory when it's time to shock: having warned that the introduction of the pill for Japanese women would do more for east-west convergence than the Internet, he admits sheepishly to intentional provocation: "That article? Well sure!" So the pill isn't as large a shockwave to hit Japan as the net? A cheeky, you've-caught-me grin. "Well, you know, that, I think, may have been a little bit of an overstatement."
Beyond that, what remains is a series of all-too-blatant assaults on the headline writers' barricades. Having vanquished communism, he has turned his fire on the feminists - though women in their fifties and sixties, he says, have been the "most hostile". He feels it is easier now to have a "more intelligent discussion" than ten or 15 years ago. Other than that, certain purple patches cause anxiety. Any religious revival is dismissed as one driven by a need for ceremony, not sincere belief. There are brisk pot-shots at Mediterranean Catholic states, but other faiths are barely mentioned. And the music plays on; in Britain last week, with no eye, surely, on current UK debates, he expressed special fears of rampaging biotechnology. It is "potentially very scary stuff", he says. "Don't mess with human nature."
If these antics create anxiety, the subjects about which Fukuyama is more serious trouble for good reason. Although the new book tackles important themes that deserve full debate, it smacks horribly of being written mostly about America, a tiny touch covering Europe, with precious little for the rest of an expectant planet. On top of that, the admission is too instant that the slight recovery of American social order is greatly dependent on a runaway economic boom. "There is a real vulnerability there," he says. The last few years have indeed, he says, provided a "gigantic job creation engine". So, what if the stock-market music stops? Then there'll be "very bad consequences". After all, "no society does well in a correction".
Not even fleeting prosperity is open to the many. Fukuyama shows little sympathy for those older workers downsized out of their livelihoods by large firms. Indeed the great thing about the 1991-92 recession was that it gave some firms "an excuse" for lay-offs.
Beyond US borders, his seeming lack of concern is often frankly terrifying. What about the failures of South-east Asian states which tried to join the west's economic party? "One of the great things" about the Asian crisis, he says, was that certain investors "got burned". Was it an error that the Russians were inveigled into starting their rush for the capitalist goal line too quickly? Well, they had an "inability for cultural and various political reasons to get their own act together". How did Central African states stand in his version of events? Sadly, political inadequacies meant they were just, it seems, non-starters in the great globalisation steeplechase. "How can you have economic growth in Zaire [its name, in fact, altered some years ago] or Rwanda . . . [or in] a state like Nigeria, where the whole place is such a kleptocracy?"
So not everyone can join. Apart from that, for the lucky ones who were within the perimeter fence, would his favoured restored world of stable families, neighbourhoods and greater order not be, well, a little stale, a little boring? What of the more outlandish people, the great entrepreneurs, inventors and iconoclastic thinkers, any number of whom could easily be crushed under the re-emboldened conformism?
He admits that having such guru status carries responsibilities: "I obviously feel the responsibility if I tell people things that I think lead them to make wrong choices." He has, to his credit, admitted errors made a decade ago, although he does also have an apparent instinct sometimes to flee the scene of the crime. "Nobody was listening to me particularly," he says. "I don't have anything, I think, particularly to apologise for."
The far darker reality for him is that his worldwide fame has become a vicious curse that generates a daily appetite for more truths, more insights, more profundity. He is, if you like, the King Midas of best-selling futurology; a little trapped, a little transfixed by the cameras, he is more victim than victor in his own micro-fragment of history.
He is not, however, in jail. He is free to leave whenever he wishes. He could just walk away to a life with no more TV, no more books, no more ceaseless tramping the boards, year in, year out. He must dream of those less pressured days when all he did was prepare obscure State Department papers on the Soviet Union's latest moves. But if he walked out now . . . oh, those fears, that dread that curdles the blood so monstrously: what if he left and then they never allowed him back?
Decisions, decisions. Let's hope he gets it right.