My ruminations are in red.
EXCERPTS from WSJ REVIEW, 7 June
LIBERTY MARCHES ON
Twenty-five years after Tiananmen
Square and the fall of the Berlin Wall, Francis Fukuyama finds that liberal
democracy still has not rivals on the world stage. The big challenge for todays
elected government: decay.
observing broad historical trends, it is important not to get carried away by
short-term developments. The hallmark of a durable political system is its
long-term sustainability, not its performance in any given decade.
consider, to begin with, how dramatically economic and political systems have
changed over the last two generations. On the economic front, the world economy
saw a massive increase in output, roughly quadrupling between the early 1970s
and the financial crisis of 2007-08. Though the crisis was a large setback,
levels of prosperity throughout the world have increased massively and on all
continents. This has come about because the world has been knit together in a
liberal system of trade and investment. Even in communist countries such as
China and Vietnam, market rules and competition dominate.
changes have taken place in the political sphere as well. In 1974, according to
the Stanford University democracy expert Larry Diamond, there were only about
35 electoral democracies, which represented something less than 30% of the
world's countries. By 2013, that number had expanded to about 120, or more than
60% of the total. The year 1989 marked only a sudden acceleration of a broader
trend that the late Harvard political scientist Samuel Huntington labeled the "third wave" of democratization, a wave
that had begun with the transitions in southern Europe and Latin America some
15 years earlier and would later spread to sub-Saharan Africa and Asia.
emergence of a market-based global economic order and the spread of democracy
are clearly linked. Democracy has always rested on a broad middle class, and
the ranks of prosperous, property-holding citizens have ballooned everywhere in
the past generation. Wealthier,
better-educated populations are typically much more demanding of their
governments—and because they pay taxes, they feel entitled to hold public
officials accountable. Many of the world's most stubborn bastions of
authoritarianism are oil-rich states such as Russia, Venezuela or the regimes
in the Persian Gulf, where the "resource curse," as it has been called,
gives the government enormous revenues from a source other than the people
"He who pays the piper calls the tune" is an over simplification, but there is something to it.
You only have to look at how politicians make promises (some much exaggerated and untruthful) in countries where they have to win relatively open and free elections.
And you'd be surprised when dealing with government employees (e.g. in USA) how helpful they try to be - unlike in 'newly developed countries' and many in Asia (I have not experienced bureaucracy in South America or Africa nor some parts of the European continent).
granting the ability of oil-rich autocrats to resist change, we have since 2005
witnessed what Dr. Diamond calls a global "democratic recession."
According to Freedom
House, which publishes widely used measures of political and civil
liberties, there has been a decline in both the number and the quality of
democracies (integrity of elections, freedom of the press, etc.) over the past
eight consecutive years.
let's put this democratic recession in perspective: While we may worry about
authoritarian trends in Russia, Thailand or Nicaragua, all of these countries
were unambiguous dictatorships in the 1970s. Despite those thrilling
revolutionary days in Cairo's Tahrir Square in 2011, the Arab Spring doesn't
look like it will yield a real democracy anywhere but the country where it
started, Tunisia. Still, it is likely to mean more responsive Arab politics over
the long haul. Expectations that this would happen quickly were extremely
unrealistic. We forget that following the revolutions of 1848—Europe's
"Springtime of Peoples"—democracy took another 70 years to
the realm of ideas, moreover, liberal democracy still doesn't have any real
competitors. Vladimir Putin's Russia and the ayatollahs' Iran
pay homage to democratic ideals even as they trample them in practice. Why else
bother to hold sham referendums on "self-determination" in eastern
Ukraine? Some radicals in the Middle East may dream of restoring an Islamist
caliphate, but this isn't the choice of the vast majority of people living in
Muslim countries. The only
system out there that would appear to be at all competitive with liberal
democracy is the so-called "China model," which mixes authoritarian
government with a partially market-based economy and a high level of
technocratic and technological competence.
Yet if asked to bet whether, 50 years
from now, the U.S. and Europe would look more like China politically or vice
versa, I would pick the latter without hesitation. There are many reasons to
think that the China model isn't sustainable. The system's legitimacy and the
party's ongoing rule rest on continued high levels of growth, which simply
won't be forthcoming as China seeks to make the transition from a middle-income
country to a high-income one.
Even countries whose governments are legitimately elected face economic transitions and uncertainty as their economies adjust in anticipation or in response to changing circumstances. Sustaining growth and income, year on year, becomes increasingly challenging.
has accumulated huge hidden liabilities by poisoning its soil and air, and while the government remains
more responsive than most authoritarian systems, the country's growing middle
class likely won't accept the current system of corrupt paternalism when times
get tough. China no longer projects a universalistic ideal beyond its
own borders, as it did in the revolutionary days of Mao. With its rising levels of
inequality and the massive advantages enjoyed by the politically connected, the
"Chinese dream" represents nothing more than a route for a relative
few to get rich quickly.
This danger is not only China's. There are 'pork barrel' politics and examples of 'crony capitalism' in the Western democracies too.
None of this means,
however, that we can rest content with democracy's performance over the past
couple of decades. My end-of-history hypothesis was never intended to be
deterministic or a simple prediction of liberal democracy's inevitable triumph
around the world. Democracies
survive and succeed only because people are willing to fight for the rule of
law, human rights and political accountability. Such societies depend on
leadership, organizational ability and sheer good luck.
While there is no accounting for loads of good luck (or bad luck) the rule of law, human rights and political accountability are vital. Stagnating leadership and lack of organizational experience more than offset brilliant academic minds especially in an environment of denial.
The biggest single problem in societies
aspiring to be democratic has been their failure to provide the substance of
what people want from government: personal security, shared economic growth and
the basic public services (especially education, health care and infrastructure)
that are needed to achieve individual opportunity. Proponents of democracy
focus, for understandable reasons, on limiting the powers of tyrannical or
predatory states. But they don't spend as much time thinking about how to
govern effectively. They are, in Woodrow Wilson's phrase, more interested in
"controlling than in energizing government."
Individual opportunity is key, even if only a hope that exists in one's mind. Extinguish or suppress aspiration and you snuff out any spark of enthusiasm or desire to excel - for what would be the point of making the effort?
was the failure of the 2004 Orange Revolution in Ukraine, which toppled Viktor
Yanukovych for the first time. The leaders who came to power through those
protests—Viktor Yushchenko and Yulia Tymoshenko—wasted their energy on internal
squabbling and shady deals. Had an effective democratic administration come to
power, cleaning up corruption in Kiev and making the state's institutions more
trustworthy, the government might have established its legitimacy across
Ukraine, including the Russian-speaking east, long before Mr. Putin was strong
enough to interfere. Instead, the democratic forces discredited themselves and
paved the way for Mr. Yanukovych's return in 2010, thus setting the stage for
the tense, bloody standoff of recent months.
This is the threat used on people everywhere and most of it is true; people unaccustomed to self-government or live in countries that have only known one type of rule have to go through trials and hardship if and when governments change.
However an effective and efficient public administration would ameliorate the suffering and minimise the chaos; would middle and senior public servants would abandon their offices en masse? They would be forsaking their salaries and benefits and give up chances to rise faster in a time of opportunity.
So it's a matter of voting in clean hands who might make learning mistakes or keeping old hands who certainly would know where the dirt is and might have contributed to its accretion.
has been held back by a similar gap in performance when compared with
authoritarian China. It is very impressive that India has held together as a
democracy since its founding in 1947. But Indian democracy, like
sausage-making, doesn't look very appealing on closer inspection. The system is
rife with corruption and patronage; 34% of the winners of India's recent
elections have criminal indictments pending against them, according to India's
Association for Democratic Reforms, including serious charges like murder,
kidnapping and sexual assault.
rule of law exists in India, but it is so slow and ineffective that many
plaintiffs die before their cases come to trial. The Indian Supreme Court has a
backlog of more than 60,000 cases, according to the Hindustan Times. Compared
with autocratic China, the world's largest democracy has been completely
hamstrung in its ability to provide modern infrastructure or basic services such
as clean water, electricity or basic education to its population.
some Indian states, 50% of schoolteachers fail to show up for work, according
to the economist and activist Jean Drèze. Narendra Modi, a Hindu nationalist
with a troubling past of tolerating anti-Muslim violence,
has just been elected prime minister by an impressive majority in the hope that
he will somehow cut through all the blather of routine Indian politics and
actually get something done.
We often read or hear about the necessity of the rule of law. Laws are made by man and are changed or interpreted by man. Look no further than the USA to see how fame, money and influence can make a difference in the way justice is served.
It's always an uphill effort to take on a government in their own courts. In some countries it is futile.
Americans, more than other people,
often fail to understand the need for effective government, focusing instead on
the constraint of authority. In 2003, the George W. Bush administration seemed to believe
that democratic government and a market-oriented economy would spontaneously
emerge in Iraq once the U.S. had eliminated Saddam Hussein's dictatorship. It didn't understand that these
arise from the interaction of complex institutions—political parties, courts,
property rights, shared national identity—that have evolved in developed
democracies over many decades, even centuries.
In this day and age it IS possible for major changes happen without total disruption; human beings are adaptable or how could we have survived for so long? How long it takes depends on the new rulers, the public administration and myriad other factors, but it is not impossible.
The inability to govern effectively
extends, unfortunately, to the U.S. itself. Our Madisonian Constitution,
deliberately designed to prevent tyranny by multiplying checks and balances at
all levels of government, has become a vetocracy. In the polarized—indeed
poisonous—political atmosphere of today's Washington, the government has proved
unable to move either forward or backward effectively.
to the hysterics on either side, the U.S. faces a very serious long-term fiscal
problem that is nonetheless solvable through sensible political compromises.
But Congress hasn't passed a budget, according to its own rules, in several
years, and last fall, the GOP shut down the entire government because it
couldn't agree on paying for past debts. Though the U.S. economy remains a source of miraculous
innovation, American government is hardly a source of inspiration around the
world at the present moment.
While the American president seems to blow hot and cold on issues and would rather move his position than follow up on threats, present day American government has its admirers.
It's the way in which elections are conducted and Americans elect their President which is in need of repair and improvement.
It's fiscal clout and economy - as long as the financial world and all forms of commerce transact in US Dollars and Americans continue to be conditioned to spend - is both a firewall and a hammer.
Not many other countries can live like America, no matter what a feckless government it may have. There's always the consolation that like so many things in life, this too will come to pass!
years later, the most serious threat to the end-of-history hypothesis isn't
that there is a higher, better model out there that will someday supersede
liberal democracy; neither Islamist theocracy nor Chinese capitalism cuts it. Once societies get on the up
escalator of industrialization, their social structure begins to change in ways
that increase demands for political participation. If political elites
accommodate these demands, we arrive at some version of democracy.
But 'closed shops' make it much more difficult for new leaders to come to the fore. Use of the carrot and the stick: making life unpleasant for new politicians combined with sweet offers to attract newcomers to the ruling elite does work. Question is - for how long?
question is whether all countries will inevitably get on that escalator. The
problem is the intertwining of politics and economics. Economic growth requires
certain minimal institutions such as enforceable contracts and reliable public
services before it will take off, but those basic institutions are hard to
create in situations of extreme poverty and political division. Historically,
societies broke out of this "trap" through accidents of history, in
which bad things (like war) often created good things (like modern
governments). It is not clear, however, that the stars will necessarily align
second problem that I did not address 25 years ago is that of political decay, which
constitutes a down escalator. All institutions can decay over the long run.
They are often rigid and conservative; rules responding to the needs of one
historical period aren't necessarily the right ones when external conditions
Whether it's decay or perpetuating mediocrity, such political inbreeding is unhealthy in the long run. Unless, of course, citizens choose to keep their governments. In which case, they deserve what they get.
Moreover, modern institutions designed
to be impersonal are often captured by powerful political actors over time. The
natural human tendency to reward family and friends operates in all political
systems, causing liberties to deteriorate into privileges. This is no less true
in a democracy (look at the current U.S. tax code) than in an authoritarian
system. In these circumstances, the rich tend to get richer not just because of
higher returns to capital, as the French economist Thomas Piketty has argued, but because they have superior access
to the political system and can use their connections to promote their
As for technological progress, it is
fickle in distributing its benefits. Innovations such as
information technology spread power because they make information cheap and
accessible, but they also undermine low-skill jobs and threaten the existence
of a broad middle class.
One can see this in the USA today.
one living in an established democracy should be complacent about its survival.
But despite the short-term ebb and flow of world politics, the power of the
democratic ideal remains immense. We see it in the mass protests that continue
to erupt unexpectedly from Tunis to Kiev to Istanbul, where ordinary people
demand governments that recognize their equal dignity as human beings. We also
see it in the millions of poor people desperate to move each year from places
like Guatemala City or Karachi to Los Angeles or London.
Yet immigrants (legal and illegal) flock to the USA. As well as to any country that can offer them the promise of a better life - better jobs, higher income, quality of life.
Does this mean that such countries do not have to 'liberalise'? Time will tell.
Even as we raise questions about how
soon everyone will get there, we should have no doubt as to what kind of
society lies at the end of History.
Mr. Fukuyama is a senior fellow
at Stanford University's Freeman Spogli Institute for International Studies and
the author of "Political Order and Political Decay: From the Industrial
Revolution to the Globalization of Democracy," which will be published on
Oct. 1 by Farrar, Straus and Giroux.