Francis Fukuyama's passion for democracy seems to have deserted himby Adam Kirsch / October 16, 2014 / Leave a comment
The End of History and the Last Man, the book that made Francis Fukuyama’s reputation as a political thinker, was a product of its moment. Published in 1992, and based on an essay from 1989, it captured the heady, world-historical optimism that accompanied the collapse of the Soviet empire. With the disappearance of communism as a credible form of government, liberal democracy had triumphed over its last philosophical rival. What had ended was not history in the sense of things happening—commentators who try to rebut Fukuyama by pointing to the latest war or disaster are off the mark. Rather, Fukuyama argued that the age-old argument about the best kind of government had been concluded. Even if many people still lived under undemocratic regimes, said Fukuyama, democracy was the destination to which they were headed.
A quarter of a century later, however, the west’s mood has soured considerably. Liberal democracy is in retreat. After a brief window of liberalisation, Russia has returned to its traditional identity as an aggressive authoritarian state; China remains under the grip of the Communist Party; the revolutions of the Arab Spring have dissolved into civil strife and repression; America’s attempts to build democratic states in Iraq and Afghanistan have largely ended in failure. If democracy is so desirable, we may well wonder, why is it so hard to achieve? When will the rest of the world catch up to the west at history’s pleasant terminus?
In his new book, Political Order and Political Decay, Fukuyama puts the question this way: how do you get to Denmark? “By this I mean less the actual country Denmark,” he explains, “than an imagined society that is prosperous, democratic, secure, and well governed, and experiences low levels of corruption… The international community would like to turn Afghanistan, Somalia, Libya and Haiti into idealised places like ‘Denmark,’ but it doesn’t have the slightest idea of how to bring this about.”
“The international community,” here, seems more like a euphemism for the west and its NGOs. If you asked the leaders of China or Russia whether Denmark was their role model, you might get a very different answer. From the opposite end of the political spectrum, many American conservatives would also contest the…