Saturday, December 27, 2014

Francis Fukuyama on ‘The End of History’, the crimes of the neocons and having the ear of the Chinese leadership

“The End of History?” began as something of a recondite joke. Fukuyama was at the time a mid-level figure in the Reagan State Department witnessing the rapid unravelling of the Soviet mystique. “I remember there was a moment when Gorbachev said that the essence of communism was competition, and that’s when I picked up the phone, called my friend and said, ‘If he’s saying that, then it’s the end of history.’” Fukuyama is careful to point out that the coinage was not of his own making, but instead that of a Russian émigré professor named Alexander Kojève whose seminars on Hegel influenced postwar French existentialism.


In some ways, Fukuyama says, he has been “trapped” by the ideological cul-de-sac in which his claims regarding the “End of History” have placed him. Though he still stands behind the assertion that liberal democracy is the eventual destination of history, he has qualified his argument and narrowed the scope of his ideological triumphalism, postponing the arrival of liberal democracy to the indefinite “long run”. He would not, he tells me, use the same heightened rhetoric today that he used in 1989..


The first volume of Francis Fukuyama’s history of political development has been one of only a handful of books by a foreigner to make a profit in China. As Fukuyama explains when we meet near his home in Palo Alto, California, foreign books in China are usually pirated. But The Origins of Political Order, which narrates the emergence and growth of the state “From Pre-Human Times to the French Revolution”, engages respectfully with Chinese history and culture, and features an overarching version of national history that the Chinese themselves no longer teach or learn. Enough of his account of the country’s enormous historic strengths and equally enormous historic weaknesses survived the censor’s scalpel to make the work valuable to the Chinese reading public.
Fukuyama goes on to say that a friend in Beijing had learned that the Communist party would translate that book’s recently published companion volume, Political Order and Political Decay for publication in a private edition for its senior leadership. “They take the analysis seriously,” he said. The two volumes set out to compare and contrast the progression of various societies across time, in pursuit of a goal he calls “Getting to Denmark”. The proverbial Denmark, like the actual state, is a robust liberal democracy with an effective state constrained by the rule of law – a package “so powerful, legitimate, and favourable to economic growth that it became a model to be applied throughout the world”.
As he describes his reception in China, Fukuyama beams with pride that the authorities regard him as sufficiently impartial to take notice of, especially as he is perhaps the person most closely identified with the espousal of the victory of western liberal democracy over all its ideological competitors. Fukuyama became an unlikely intellectual celebrity back in 1989 when he declared that the defeat of the  USSR in the cold war represented not “the passing of a particular period of postwar history, but the end of history as such: that is, the end point of mankind’s ideological evolution and the universalisation of western liberal democracy as the final form of human government.” To have written a book 25 years later that the Communist party elite in Beijing feels compelled to make compulsory reading is a feat plainly gratifying to its author and ensures that his stern and chastening message will have been received by at least one of the audiences to whom it is addressed.
His book makes clear the fundamental debility of a political system lacking upward accountability, as the still nominally communist Chinese system does. But it also emphasises the dangers of the improper sequencing of different elements of political development: too much rule of law too soon can constrain the development of an effective state, as happened in India; electoral democracy introduced in the absence of an autonomous administrative bureaucracy can lead to clientelism and pervasive corruption, as happened in Greece. 

Even the societies in which a proper balance of democracy, rule of law and an effective state has been struck in the past are susceptible to political decay when rent-seeking extractive elite coalitions capture the state, as has happened in the US. The failure of democratic institutions to function properly can delegitimise democracy itself and lead to authoritarian reaction, as happened in the former Soviet Union.
“They understand that their system needs fundamental political reform,” Fukuyama says of the Chinese. “But they don’t know how far they can go. They won’t do what Gorbachev did, which was take the lid off and see what happens... read more:
http://www.theguardian.com/books/2014/dec/27/francis-fukuyama-end-history-books-interview

Two comments:
A classic example of an intellectual lightweight over hyped by the dimwits who inhabit the Washington Beltway to give themselves some sort of credibility. A product of the rolling news sound bite culture... "a rock star"? Who - Nigel Tufnell?

"Fukuyama goes on to say that a friend in Beijing had learned that the Communist party would translate that book’s recently published companion volume, Political Order and Political Decay for publication in a private edition for its senior leadership. “They take the analysis seriously,” he said."
Now I might not be as bright as Mr Fukuyama but even to my untutored eyes he doesn't seem to be engaging in very analytical thinking there.
"a friend" - one person whose name he isn't prepared to give.
"had learned" - someone (who?) had told his friend? - his friend had heard a rumour?
"would translate" - it hasn't happened yet then.
“They take the analysis seriously,” - maybe they just think that they can benefit from an understanding of the facile or misguided or self-delusionary or just plain wrong analysis - or maybe they just think it's funny.

The Future of History: By Francis Fukuyama