Day By Day

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Fukuyama Responds to Critics

Several years ago Francis Fukuyama wrote a hugely influential essay titled "The End of History" in which he argued that with the fall of Communism, classical liberalism, both economic and political, had triumphed over all alternative forms of political and economic organization. Free markets and democracy, he argued, no longer faced serious opposition anywhere in the world.

Since then Fukuyama has been widely criticized on two grounds. The rise of radical Islamism, many have argued, constitutes a challenge to Western liberalism just as profound as that formerly posed by Communism. To this Fukuyama responded that the brutality and poverty of Islamism would ultimately limit its appeal and bring about its marginalization. It offered nothing that could effectively compete with the freedom and allure of democratic market societies. Recent trends throughout the Islamic world would seem to bear him out. Thanks in large part to the Bush administration's perseverence in Iraq radical Islamism has indeed been marginalized and America is now seen as the "strong horse".

A second line of criticism has been based on the emergence of an "Asian model" for development -- one based on a fusion political authoritarianism and market capitalism. The recent success of Asian [and now Russian] economies would seem to invalidate Fukuyama's brief for political democracy. In his latest piece, Prof. Fukuyama replies to this criticism. He writes:

[W]hile bullies can still throw their weight around, democracy and capitalism still have no real competitors. The facile historical analogies to earlier eras have two problems: They presuppose a cartoonish view of international politics during these previous periods, and they imply that "authoritarian government" constitutes a clearly defined type of regime -- one that's aggressive abroad, abusive at home and inevitably dangerous to world order. In fact, today's authoritarian governments have little in common, save their lack of democratic institutions. Few have the combination of brawn, cohesion and ideas required to truly dominate the global system, and none dream of overthrowing the globalized economy.
It's an interesting article, filled with sharp and penetrating observations on a variety of authoritarian regimes. None of them, he concludes, truly threaten democratic institutions in the West. They are a diverse group of powers with varying interests and taken together do not pose a coherent authoritarian alternative to liberal democracy. Read the whole thing here.