Francis Fukuyama does two things in his latest book, “Political Order and Political Decay,” a sequel of sorts to “The Origins of Political Order,” which was published in 2011: first, he offers a historical account of the emergence of modern, democratic political institutions in the 18th century and after; then he develops an account of the “decay” of those institutions, and with it a diagnosis of the crisis of political legitimacy that is afflicting most developed liberal democracies today.
When I met him in London earlier this week, and before we discussed some of the book’s central arguments, I asked Fukuyama for his assessment of the geopolitical challenges facing the west today. In an interview in the current issue of Prospect, Henry Kissinger tells Bronwen Maddox that he is pessimistic about the prospects for global stability and order in a world in which China and Russia are newly assertive and militant jihadism is spreading chaos throughout the Middle East and elsewhere. Does Fukuyama share that pessimism?
FF: I think that we’re in for a really rough period over the next few years. In what Zbigniew Brzezinski used to call the “arc of crisis” —from North Africa, through sub-Sharan Africa and then into the Arab world, Pakistan and so forth—you’ve got a system of weak or failing states. It’s quite striking that, simultaneously, Libya, Pakistan, Afghanistan and Iraq are all falling apart. But the even bigger problem is going to be Russia and China, at either end of Eurasia. They’re well organised and have got territorial ambitions. That, I think, is a more serious challenge in the long run than Isis.
JD: Presumably there’s a connection between the account you offer in the book of political “decay” in failed states like Libya and what’s happening in Iraq and Syria with Isis?
Right. I actually don’t think that Isis, in itself, is going to be that powerful a political movement. It’s based on an idea of Islam that’s not even “medieval”—it’s a kind of ersatz. And both the Iranians and the Saudis agree that they don’t like this organisation and both want to put it back in its box. It’s going to be a very containable threat, but Russia and China are different, because they are threatening real democratic countries and are powerful and well-organised.
You discuss in the book the case of…