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National Greatness
June 15, 2014 11:11 AM   Subscribe

Francis Fukuyama on 'The End of History?' twenty-five years later: "liberal democracy still doesn't have any real competitors," but to get there...
None of this means, however, that we can rest content with democracy's performance over the past couple of decades. My end-of-history hypothesis was never intended to be deterministic or a simple prediction of liberal democracy's inevitable triumph around the world. Democracies survive and succeed only because people are willing to fight for the rule of law, human rights and political accountability. Such societies depend on leadership, organizational ability and sheer good luck.

The biggest single problem in societies aspiring to be democratic has been their failure to provide the substance of what people want from government: personal security, shared economic growth and the basic public services (especially education, health care and infrastructure) that are needed to achieve individual opportunity. Proponents of democracy focus, for understandable reasons, on limiting the powers of tyrannical or predatory states. But they don't spend as much time thinking about how to govern effectively. They are, in Woodrow Wilson's phrase, more interested in "controlling than in energizing government."

[...]

The inability to govern effectively extends, unfortunately, to the U.S. itself. Our Madisonian Constitution, deliberately designed to prevent tyranny by multiplying checks and balances at all levels of government, has become a vetocracy. In the polarizedindeed poisonouspolitical atmosphere of today's Washington, the government has proved unable to move either forward or backward effectively.

Contrary to the hysterics on either side, the U.S. faces a very serious long-term fiscal problem that is nonetheless solvable through sensible political compromises. But Congress hasn't passed a budget, according to its own rules, in several years, and last fall, the GOP shut down the entire government because it couldn't agree on paying for past debts. Though the U.S. economy remains a source of miraculous innovation, American government is hardly a source of inspiration around the world at the present moment...

The problem is the intertwining of politics and economics... which constitutes a down escalator. All institutions can decay over the long run. They are often rigid and conservative; rules responding to the needs of one historical period aren't necessarily the right ones when external conditions change.

Moreover, modern institutions designed to be impersonal are often captured by powerful political actors over time. The natural human tendency to reward family and friends operates in all political systems, causing liberties to deteriorate into privileges. This is no less true in a democracy (look at the current U.S. tax code) than in an authoritarian system. In these circumstances, the rich tend to get richer not just because of higher returns to capital, as the French economist Thomas Piketty has argued, but because they have superior access to the political system and can use their connections to promote their interests.
also see...
-Francis Fukuyama: "Democracy and the Quality of the State"
-Francis Fukuyama's "The End of History?" 25 Years Later
-Francis Fukuyama on the 25th Anniversary of the "End of History?" Essay
-Bring back ideology: Fukuyama's 'end of history' 25 years on
-Reflections on the upheavals of 1989
-Three events that shaped our world

and btw...
-Why Is Japan So Different?
-Japan's Abe Is the World's Best Leader
-The aim of Xi's reforms is to preserve party control
-China Building Dubai-Style Fake Islands in South China Sea
-China Tries to Woo India's Prime Minister Narendra Modi
-Why you really want India to join the US and China as a superpower
posted by kliuless (29 comments total) 17 users marked this as a favorite

 
Fukuyama should team up with Thomas Friedman and William Kristol.

Call it the "Why Is Anyone Still Listening To Us?" tour
posted by leotrotsky at 11:35 AM on June 15 [33 favorites]


The fact that this man still feels free to prognosticate in public proves he has no conscience or sense of shame. If there was any fairness in the media, any article written by him should be rebutted by 1000 pages of full color photos of dead Iraqi civilians.
posted by [expletive deleted] at 11:51 AM on June 15 [9 favorites]


On the one hand, you have to be a flagrant moron to think that politics and economics aren't always already intertwined. But on the other hand, even Francis Fukuyama, of all people, seems to be edging toward the relatively obvious insight that capitalist markets and democracy are mutually incompatible, and that moreover the world democracy makes is vastly better than capitalism's.

Of course, he then desperately runs away from this insight, because he's Francis Fukuyama.
posted by You Can't Tip a Buick at 11:59 AM on June 15 [7 favorites]


Call it the "Why Is Anyone Still Listening To Us?" tour

Perhaps the "We Can Do What Even A Stopped Clock Can't!" tour.
posted by yoink at 12:12 PM on June 15 [6 favorites]


"liberal democracy"

to paraphrase a great movie quote: "You keep using those words. I do not think they mean what you think they mean."
posted by oneswellfoop at 12:29 PM on June 15 [2 favorites]


Fukuyama's ignorance of national finance is disheartening in the extreme.
posted by wuwei at 1:03 PM on June 15 [2 favorites]


If there was any fairness in the media, any article written by him should be rebutted by 1000 pages of full color photos of dead Iraqi civilians.

After Neoconservatism, by Francis Fukuyama.
posted by Sticherbeast at 1:26 PM on June 15


Der Spiegel had another interesting interview with Fukuyama about the Iraq War.
posted by Sticherbeast at 1:27 PM on June 15 [1 favorite]


Well, Fukuyama is a serious scholar. I'm not buddies with the whole neocon system of thought there, but Origins of Political Order was a weighty tome that I do not regret reading.
posted by pmv at 2:50 PM on June 15 [2 favorites]


Yeah, there are many ways to criticize Fukuyama, but there is also a breathtaking amount of lulzy ignorance out there about what he had even ever said in the first place.

And yes, The Origins of Political Order is a perfectly good book. Very interesting especially for the ruminations on the common law.
posted by Sticherbeast at 2:53 PM on June 15 [4 favorites]


Yeah, there are many ways to criticize Fukuyama, but there is also a breathtaking amount of lulzy ignorance out there about what he had even ever said in the first place.

I think there is a lot of Fukuyama successfully erasing his role in pushing for the Iraq invasion in the first place. For one thing, he never really repudiates the idea that the US military should be used to spread democracy. He laments that Iraq has discredited this idea.

Then there is the little matter of his signature on Project for a New American Century's September 2001 letter to George Bush begging him to invade Iraq because Freedom.

The letter also calls more or less for the invasion of Syria and Iran, and to cut off all support to the Palestinian Authority.

To be fair, he's not quite as bad as Tom Friedman.
posted by [expletive deleted] at 3:39 PM on June 15 [2 favorites]


I kinda think a lot of people heard about the End of History and immediately (& prob accurately) concluded that he is an asshole with asshole ideas.

(Reading Origins, it was amusing to see his rightish nature seep thru his writing, but that's par for the course with right-wing historians).

But at least from what I recall from some interview where he discussed the End of History, (not that I remember reading it), his observation is basically valid. It's not that fall of Berlin wall meant war was over, and everything would become Just Like America now. It was that after the USSR imploded the only remaining system of governance with even a shred of political legitimacy was the parliamentary liberal democracy.

Recall that only a scant hundred years prior prior a vast majority of states had some form of autocracy.

And in that sense, he's right; most (all? post ghaddafi) tin pot dictatorships at least have the pretence of being some form of liberal democracy, complete with constitutions, pseudo representative or pseudo autonymous legislatures and semi regularly occurring sham elections.

It's an interesting way of putting it, I think.

So, he has right wing ideas and right wing callousness but he's at least a rigorous right wing guy.
posted by pmv at 4:04 PM on June 15


I can't help wonder if Fukuyama regrets the title, it helped garner him fame, certainly, but it seems 99% of people know nothing about him or the thesis but that, and that includes mefites.

I'm hardly his greatest fan, but most the stuff people think Fukuyama said or thinks, he didn't and doesn't. He's not Amartya Sen, no, but he's not Thomas Friedman, either and it's a gross disservice - and ignorant to boot - to lump him with the latter. It was an important work, and its thesis remains compelling twenty five years later. The fact he was naive and stupidly wrong about Iraq does not invalidate a lifetime of work.
posted by smoke at 4:04 PM on June 15 [1 favorite]


I can't help wonder if Fukuyama regrets the title, it helped garner him fame, certainly, but it seems 99% of people know nothing about him or the thesis but that, and that includes mefites.

You know, I'm all for the "this person is far more complex than we usually give him credit for" angle, but "The End of History" wasn't just a bad title--it was a profoundly silly piece of writing whose thesis was not in any way belied by the profoundly silly title. It really does suggest not only that history is teleological, but that it's telos is--well, gosh, shucks, who'da guessed it?--lil' ol' us. It tells us that basically all that is left in history and politics is minor technocratic tinkering around the edges of a basically settled and stable world historical order--indeed that art and philosophy and so forth are also, essentially, finished. All the Big Ideas have played their course, and it all basically adds up to "late C20th America is it, boys; you can pack up your things and go home now; history's done."

He may well have written better things since (after the staggering idiocy of that drivel I haven't bothered to find out), but "The End of History" deserves all the mockery it has ever received.
posted by yoink at 4:15 PM on June 15 [12 favorites]


Yeah, I suppose I was driving a derail with my Iraq talk, but I read The End of History in 2002 or thereabouts, and given recent events, I find it hard not to mention.

That said, I largely agree with yoink that The End of History is a bad book with a profoundly flawed thesis, and it makes me not terribly interested in reading more of his work.
posted by [expletive deleted] at 4:48 PM on June 15


"To Fukayama (v) to say something so false that people can't resist writing about how false it is thus making the Fukayamer famous."
posted by Pyrogenesis at 4:51 PM on June 15


I disagree with your assessment. I'm not saying it's an incredible piece of work or anything; it is, like much of fukuyama's work a product of its times and a touchstone of them, too.It was representative of, and inspiration to, a large number of the elite and world leaders and I feel like a lot of people (not you) underestimate Jay how accepted and mainstream the thesis - originally quite "woah" -has become.

Certainly, it has been a key plank in the neoliberal paradigm, and owes much of its stature and continued resonance to that, but he is no Friedman, it's a coherent and genuine piece of philosophy, however flawed. And, though it didn't really matter, the thesis is still largely correct. I

believe it's wrong, naive like he was about Iraq and calls out in the pull quote in the OP - it was an exception and we're in the process of reverting to the historical mean of aristocracy and oligarchy, but it's still off interest.
posted by smoke at 4:51 PM on June 15


There's this aspect of question-begging, in the actual technical sense, that shows up again and again in Fukuyama's writing; he'll say something sane, and then something else sane, and then something that might be taking a particular contingent event and treating it as if it were necessary and universal, but that's okay, everyone does that, and then here's another sane thing... but then he'll reveal that his entire argument revolves around a set of implicit assumptions that just so happen to perfectly align with the conclusions he wants to reach. And then, after that, he'll say something sane, and then something else sane, and if you're paying attention you can practically see him smiling to himself about the cleverness of the sleight-of-hand routine he's pulling.
posted by You Can't Tip a Buick at 4:52 PM on June 15 [2 favorites]


Recall that only a scant hundred years prior prior a vast majority of states had some form of autocracy.

So I guess back then it was autocracy that was the "only remaining system of governance with even a shred of political legitimacy" and thus marked the end of history, huh?
posted by Pyrogenesis at 4:53 PM on June 15 [3 favorites]


And, though it didn't really matter, the thesis is still largely correct

No, it's not. History is not, never has been, and never will be teleological. The (relatively short) history of historiography is littered with the short-lived wreckage of hubristic claims to the contrary.
posted by yoink at 5:58 PM on June 15 [2 favorites]


believe it's wrong, naive like he was about Iraq and calls out in the pull quote in the OP - it was an exception and we're in the process of reverting to the historical mean of aristocracy and oligarchy, but it's still off interest.

the bigger problem is that if you believe that the invasion of Iraq was the result of the process of liberal democratic governance then the words have no meaning. in other words, liberal democracy would be a nice idea.
posted by ennui.bz at 6:21 PM on June 15 [2 favorites]


the bigger problem is that if you believe that the invasion of Iraq was the result of the process of liberal democratic governance then the words have no meaning.

Yes, that was always my main problem with it; Fukuyama has a kind of question-beggy modus operandi where democracy has a pretty loosey goosey definition wherein anything that fits his thesis is part of it, and anything that doesn't somehow doesn't count etc. I mean, he puts a circle around "parliamentary democracy", but questions of relative representativeness, the rise of non-democracies like China, and if parliamentary democracies can really justifiably be lumped together are all problematic, I think.
posted by smoke at 8:00 PM on June 15


>So I guess back then it was autocracy that was the "only remaining system of governance with even a shred of political legitimacy" and thus marked the end of history, huh?

No, because post Enlightenment there was actual a lot of debate over how states should be governed and organized, and a few active experiments ranging from the nascent modern democracies (with differing and evolving opinions on who deserved the franchise) to anarchism, old school socialism, whatever marx had in mine, feudalism, absolute and constitutional mornarchies and fascism.

In this light, the USSR was the last remaining alternative form of state organization; very few leaders claim that their power comes directly from their mandate of heaven visavis the power of the people as instantiated by the constitution of the republic, etc.

To quote wikipedia,
"The end of history means liberal democracy is the final form of government for all nations. There can be no progression from liberal democracy to an alternative system."
and as far as political history and political philosophy goes is not prima facie an unreasonable thing to argue.

The rest depends on democratic western values delivering a new epoch of propserity, but that's a wholly separate thing that he's since walked back as the confident conservative certainty of the late 80s/early 90s crumbled after the Iraq debacle.
posted by pmv at 8:55 PM on June 15 [1 favorite]


I'm saying is, within the world view of these people these are serious arguments. You did used to have people go about sincerely believing that democracy will always pop up wherever markets become free.
posted by pmv at 8:56 PM on June 15


I'm saying is, within the world view of these people these are serious arguments.

Ok, thanks for this clarification. Because for the rest of us historicism died in 1957.
posted by Pyrogenesis at 1:40 AM on June 16 [1 favorite]


The real reason American Democratic Republicanism is failing, is that it has no ability to correct for bad actors in the system - those who use the trappings and mechanisms of democracy for profoundly undemocratic ends and who have no respect for or belief in the value of the very institutions they inhabit. No cure for cancer.
posted by stenseng at 10:14 AM on June 16


pmv, I appreciate your analysis of Fukuyama's argument. I sometimes Fukuyama or Huntington to get students thinking about contemporary history. Of course the fall of the USSR was momentous, but Fukuyama forgets there is a world beyond the West.

The End of History came out in 1992. China was stronger than ever, having resumed "capitalism without democratization" policies. The Party had crushed the Labor and the Student leaders of the Tiananmen Square in 1989. So China remained one alternative completely outside the US sphere of political influence.

Then there are Iran and Saudi Arabia. Fukuyama should have taken them seriously. Huntington did, albeit in a clumsy way using Islam as a touchstone. Those regimes might be better seen in post-Enlightenment terms as alternatives to failed imperial projects.

But that's not all. The US actively impeded the growth of "liberal democracy" in many parts of the world when it didn't suit its strategic objectives. South Koreans and Taiwanese fought against military regimes backed by the US for decades... for the right to vote in free elections. It wasn't until the 1980s and 1990s that they won the vote.

That story isn't well known and sure isn't told by "experts" like Fukuyama. Latin America is another region with a long and bitter history of US intervention.

I will continue to use "The End of History" as a historical document, but I will get my analysis from people who have knowledge of history and people who aren't enthralled by American power. Usually, but not always, that means people who aren't focused on American history and politics.
posted by CtrlAltD at 10:24 PM on June 16 [4 favorites]


Fukuyama strikes me as a person who somehow managed to explain our (or at least the conservative leadership's) national reaction to the startling collapse of Communism and it has set the tone for his whole career. My mind agrees with his thesis in The end of History but my heart badly wants it to not be true. I want to believe that as a human race we can self organize in ambitious ways that can actually shape our self notion of being human. The communists believed strongly that the very nature of humanity could be altered. As painful as the experiment was, the petri dish was abandoned before the experiment could be finished.

I find it peculiar that western dialog about it for the past 25 years has been to declare victory over great society experiments. In the long view I hope in ~200 years our ancestors speak with scorn about our small vision in the post-communist world order.
posted by dgran at 8:11 AM on June 17 [1 favorite]




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