Fukuyama: History Ended But Not Yet Over

Francis Fukuyama reminds us again that, while his (in)famous 1992 book The End of History and the Last Man argued that free market democracy had emerged as the winner of the ideological dialectic, he is fundamentally opposed to spreading democracy through outside intervention and should not be accused of being “the intellectual foundation for the Bush administration’s policies.”

To be sure, the desire to live in a modern society and to be free of tyranny is universal, or nearly so. This is demonstrated by the efforts of millions of people each year to move from the developing to the developed world, where they hope to find the political stability, job opportunities, health care, and education that they lack at home.

But this is different from saying that there is a universal desire to live in a liberal society – that is, a political order characterised by a sphere of individual rights and the rule of law. The desire to live in a liberal democracy is, indeed, something acquired over time, often as a byproduct of successful modernisation.

Moreover, the desire to live in a modern liberal democracy does not translate necessarily into an ability to actually do so. The Bush administration seems to have assumed in its approach to post-Saddam Iraq that both democracy and a market economy were default conditions to which societies would revert once oppressive tyranny was removed, rather than a series of complex, interdependent institutions that had to be painstakingly built over time.

Long before you have a liberal democracy, you have to have a functioning state (something that never disappeared in Germany or Japan after they were defeated in the second world war). This is something that cannot be taken for granted in countries like Iraq.

Further, as we’ve seen time and again, elections do not necessarily translate into “democracy,” let alone a modern liberal society. Absent liberal cultural norms, elections can result in variations of the “one man, one vote, one time” phenomenon seen so often in Africa and Latin America or, as in places like the Palestinian territory, the election of thugs or theocrats.

FILED UNDER: General,
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. Alex Knapp says:

    To be sure, the desire to live in a modern society and to be free of tyranny is universal, or nearly so.

    In what universe can this claim possibly be made without snickering? Maybe Francis goes around proclaiming the “end of History” so that he doesn’t have to actually read any. Otherwise, I don’t see how you can help but conclude that the idea of living “free of tyranny” is universal. Even in “modern societies”, there’s no shortage of people looking to force others to live by their own ideas, ranging from banning smoking on private property all the way up to imposing religious beliefs and rules.

  2. James Joyner says:

    Even in “modern societies”, there’s no shortage of people looking to force others to live by their own ideas, ranging from banning smoking on private property all the way up to imposing religious beliefs and rules

    True. I think most people want to live free from tyranny but that doesn’t mean they don’t want to force others to live by their rules.

  3. Anderson says:

    In context, he seems to equate “tyranny” with “absence of economic liberty.” Look at his evidence for the proposition:

    This is demonstrated by the efforts of millions of people each year to move from the developing to the developed world, where they hope to find the political stability, job opportunities, health care, and education that they lack at home.

    He distinguishes this from a *liberal* society with “a sphere of individual rights and the rule of law.”

    So, economic liberty as opposed to political liberty. What’s questionable to me is the extent to which you can have one w/out the other. Maybe it’s a chicken/egg problem.

  4. James Joyner says:

    So, economic liberty as opposed to political liberty. What’s questionable to me is the extent to which you can have one w/out the other.

    It seemed that way until maybe 10-15 years ago. Certainly, though, the Asian Tigers, China, and others have managed to liberalize their economic regulations without much progress in political liberalization. As we saw in South Korea, though, economic prosperity tends to lead to pressure for more say in political matters for the affluent class.

  5. Michael says:

    Even in “modern societies”, there’s no shortage of people looking to force others to live by their own ideas, ranging from banning smoking on private property all the way up to imposing religious beliefs and rules.

    Nobody wants to be ruled by a tyrant (Francis’s point), but most people would become one given the opportunity (your point), as Jefferson rightly knew.

  6. Anderson says:

    Certainly, though, the Asian Tigers, China, and others have managed to liberalize their economic regulations without much progress in political liberalization.

    See, I would argue with you there, especially since I’m conveniently free of any facts on the subject …

    Agreed, economic liberalization can go n distance w/out political liberalization. But then you run into little things like the absence of the rule of law, which makes investors and would-be contractors leery of putting both feet in the water. I seem to recall that being a bit of a problem in China these days.

    Similarly, without individual rights, businessmen have a lot to inhibit them — Russia might be a good example of that particular problem, but I’m sure not the only one.

    Historically Speaking (in my best Masterpiece Theatre voice), the past “10-15 years” are a blip. At best, as I said, they show that China has put its left (economic) foot forward; but without bringing the right (political) foot up to stride, they’re going to be stuck in place.

  7. James Joyner says:

    China has put its left (economic) foot forward; but without bringing the right (political) foot up to stride, they’re going to be stuck in place.

    Could be. I’ve always thought that to be the case, but then all the modern economies until very recently were either Western Europe diaspora or Japan, which had rather heavy Western influence, twice, forcing them to adopt a variant of the Western model.

    Still, there is contrary evidence in recent years. How far they’ll go, I dunno. Plus, history seems to show that, as a middle class develops, they’ll demand a greater say in governance.