After the End of History
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After the End of History

Conversations with Francis Fukuyama

Francis Fukuyama, Mathilde Fasting, Mathilde Fasting

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📖 eBook - ePub

After the End of History

Conversations with Francis Fukuyama

Francis Fukuyama, Mathilde Fasting, Mathilde Fasting

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About This Book

A series of in-depth interviews between Francis Fukuyama and editor Mathilde Fasting, After the End of History grants unprecedented access to one of the greatest political minds of our time. Drawing on his work on identity, biotechnology, and political order, Fukuyama provides essential insight into the threats our world faces today.

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What Has Happened after the End of History?

In the current political context, there are many dark clouds. The question is whether liberal democracies will prove themselves capable in rainy days. The 2016 election of Donald Trump, Brexit, and the rise of populism in Europe are contributing to a more unstable and uncertain future, and the rise of China is altering the global balance of power. How does this influence liberal democracies?

Liberal Democracies Are Taken for Granted

We have in the West been taking liberal democracy more or less for granted for the past fifty years. What has happened after the end of history? Why do we need this conversation now?
I think you are right. In the United States nobody has really felt threatened. The basic constitutional system has worked for a very long time. Richard Nixon challenged it, and that led to his resignation and the whole Watergate scandal, but, in a sense, I don’t think that the threat he posed to the system was nearly as great as the one that Donald Trump poses. Nixon never openly tried to undermine his own Justice Department or the FBI. He denied that he was guilty of the things that he was accused of. He lied about things, but he didn’t say the whole effort to hold the president accountable was a big hoax or a big fraud. With Trump it is different, and I think that this kind of disrespect for legal and constitutional institutions is really spreading to too many parts of the world. He likes to attack existing institutions. And I think this is a very dangerous tendency.
In your books about political order, you have talked about the “miracle of modern liberal democracy, in which strong states capable of enforcing law are nonetheless checked by law and by legislatures, finding a balance of power that made no one dominant and forcing all to compromise.”1 People living in liberal democracies will have a sense of what they are, but it is useful to repeat and clarify. Let us start by defining liberal democracies: what are they?
Well, in my view a liberal democracy is three separate institutions. One of them is a modern state, meaning a state that is capable of actually delivering services and protecting the country both internally and externally. The second institution is a rule of law that limits the power of the state so that the state only behaves lawfully according to rules that are agreed upon by the community. The third set of institutions are the ones of democratic accountability that make sure that the state reflects the interests of the whole people.
Ultimately, an important part of liberal democracy is a combination of liberal institutions that limit power and treat citizens fairly and democratic ones that respond to the will of the population. Those two are not necessarily aligned with one another. The other thing that’s very difficult to achieve is balance because, on the one hand, you want a state that is strong enough to be able to actually do things—to enforce laws and arrest criminals and so forth—but, on the other hand, you don’t want it to be so strong that it violates the rights of its citizens. And somehow you have to have both a strong state that can constrain and at the same time let people lead their lives. This balance is important.
You are preoccupied with the value of the modern state. Why?
Liberal democracies are also modern states capable of delivering services, rules of law that limit the power of the state, and democratically accountable institutions. Of those, democracy is the easiest to achieve. It is not that difficult to hold elections and get a sense of what the people want. A modern, impersonal state and the rule of law are much more difficult to create. What I think is incredibly common all over the world is a state that delivers services only to people who are supporters of a particular political leader. In other words, the state is not impersonal; it’s full of patronage, and corruption sometimes reaches grotesque levels. Sometimes it’s captured by military gangs, by families, or by other people, and the state simply ceases functioning. The state is becoming personal instead of being impersonal. I think the impersonality part is really difficult to achieve. A modern state does not treat individuals differently depending on whether you’re a friend of the ruler or a relative or something of that sort. Impersonality is something that many countries fail to achieve. This is the argument I tried to make in my two books about political order: that it’s hard to achieve because it’s not very natural. Your natural instinct is to favor your friends and family, so it’s not surprising that corruption keeps coming back. That’s why I think that the modern state is fragile. It is a miracle, and it is fragile.
Why is it a miracle?
I think that a modern democracy is a balancing act. On the one hand, you have to have a state. A state is all about power. It’s an institution that aggregates and concentrates power and allows the state to enforce laws to defend the community against outsiders to police behavior on the inside. But once you create this powerful state, you need to constrain it, and we do that through the rule of law and also through democracy, which makes the state obedient to the wishes of at least a good proportion of the population. Having that balance is something that’s very hard to achieve. Some societies suffer from having no state or a weak state, and others suffer from having an excessively strong state. To get that balance I do think is a bit of a political miracle because we are usually preferring to be friends with our friends, and then not so good friends with people further away from us.
If we keep it on this philosophical level, John Stuart Mill argued that there is an inherent controversy in liberalism between freedom and equality. When freedom increases in society, equality diminishes. You have written the following: “The major arguments concern not the principles of liberal society, but the precise point at which the proper trade-off between liberty and equality should come.”2 Is this true, or does freedom also enhance equality?
I think it is a trade-off, which a lot of people don’t want to accept. If you have more liberty, the fact that people have different resources and that they are born with different talents and social endowments means they’re not going to end up equal in terms of outcomes. Some people are going to be rich, and some people are not going to succeed, and I think that in order to correct that and equalize outcomes, you need to restrict people’s liberty. We’ve been bouncing back and forth for the last several decades between free markets and attempts to deregulate the market and the imposition of redistributive policies to make outcomes more equal. But more redistributive policies create a need for a strong state, which in turn restricts people’s liberties, and then we react against that restriction. And so we go back to liberalizing everything to increase individual freedom again.
It’s kind of a pendulum?
Yes, we don’t ever seem to be able to get to a point of stability where we have the right trade-off. Right now I think that we’re paying for the excesses of liberty from the 1980s and ’90s. This period began with US president Ronald Reagan and British prime minister Margaret Thatcher in the 1980s when they said the state has gotten too big, and it’s in the way of economic growth. We liberalized things, including all these banks, which then led to the financial crisis and to greater inequality. It’s hard to know when to stop. Now, with the COVID-19 crisis, we’re moving rapidly in the other direction, toward stronger executive authority and more restrictions on individual freedom. It’s hard not to overshoot on these pendulum swings because once the political pressure builds to move in the opposite direction, politicians seek to outbid one another in how far and fast to move.
A basic question I want to ask is about your important and somewhat new contributions to political theory, especially to democratic theory. You seem to criticize the old liberal contract theories and replace them with your own sociobiological-anchored argument based on a theory of human nature. Is the social human being the basis for your understanding of democracies?
Well, I think that it’s not such a new approach. A lot of liberal theory is based on an economic view of human beings where you have isolated individuals who have their own preferences and their reason. Essentially, society is just an aggregation of all these individuals. In Europe this theory never caught on to the extent that it did in the Anglo-Saxon world, but it certainly dominated a lot of American social science thinking about how politics works. I think that’s not a correct view of human nature. I believe that there is an innate social side of human behavior that’s reflected in, for example, the importance people attach to social recognition. They want other people to recognize a kind of inner worth that they have, and they get very angry if that doesn’t happen. This desire for recognition explains a lot of modern politics. In that sense, yes, I ground my view of political behavior in a different view of human nature.

The Number of Democracies Has Declined

Freedom House annually reports the number of democracies in the world. This number increased substantially since World War II up until 2005. Since then the numbers have slightly decreased. The 2019 Freedom House index shows eighty-seven countries classified as free, and the Freedom of the World Report stated that 2019 was “the 13th consecutive year of decline in global freedom.”3 When Fukuyama published The End of History and the Last Man just after the end of the Cold War, optimism and the number of democracies were peaking. The key to freedom was democracy. We are talking about liberal democracies, a term that consists of two words, “liberal” and “democracy.”
How would you best describe a modern understanding of democracy?
There are a couple of ways of approaching that question. A lot of political scientists just give it a procedural definition. They say that democracy has to be free and to have fair, periodic multiparty elections. That’s one way of thinking about it. But you can also think about democracy in substantive terms, not just these procedures, but whether the outcomes actually reflect the will of the people. That’s where a lot of modern democracies run into trouble because even though you have formally correct procedures, you still don’t get to outcomes that people like very much. Why that’s the case varies from country to country, but that’s one of the problems right now. Then people are blaming democracy for not being what they thought it was, and, well, sometimes they’re right. Sometimes elites can game the system in such a way that they really make the system not responsive to the people’s true wishes, and that’s the problem with lobbying and big interest groups and this sort of thing.
Are you worried?
In terms of global democracy, things obviously look much more pessimistic today than they did thirty years ago in November 1989. We were in the middle of what Samuel Huntington, the great political scientist, labeled the third wave of democratization.4 The number of democracies increased around the world from about 35 in the year 1972 to over 110, or 115, by the early 2000s. And 1989 was right in the middle of that process. I wrote my essay “The End of History?” shortly before the fall of the Berlin Wall. It came out in the summer of 1989. Obviously that event marked a big jump in the number of democracies as former communist states of Eastern Europe democratized and the former Soviet Union collapsed.
Since the mid-2000s we are in what my colleague Larry Diamond calls a democratic recession.5 There’s been a decline in the number of democracies. Russia and China are now consolidated authoritarian states that are projecting their influence around the world, and you’ve had the rise of populist movements within established democracies. Populism is perhaps the biggest surprise in this period and has harmed the quality of democracy even in the most established democratic countries, including the United States and Britain.
Is what we are witnessing “temporary counterwaves,” to quote Samuel Huntington, or are they fundamental reversals that belie the optimism before the millennium?
I don’t think you can answer that at this point. My hope and my suspicion are that they’re not permanent, that this doesn’t represent the permanent undermining of democracy. But how far it’s going to go before it exhausts itself is very hard to say.
I have recently read a very gloomy book that said that what happened after 1989 was not the end of history but “the light that failed.”6 The authors show why liberal democracy in Poland, Hungary, and Russia took a different path after 1989. What are your thoughts about this?
I think that Ivan Krastev and Steve Holmes have a very interesting thesis, which could well be correct. Liberalism as opposed to democracy never really took root in Eastern Europe. In Poland you had an initial elite that was very oriented toward Europe and toward the West. This elite dominated the politics of the first decade after the fall of the Berlin Wall, but there were populist forces that never really accepted the liberal part of liberal democracy. They wanted democratic elections and majority rule, but they didn’t accept the idea that a modern society needed to tolerate diversity and that it needed to respect the rule of law. What you’re seeing now after thirty years is the erosion of those institutions. Krastev and Holmes also speak about the ongoing demographic crisis in Eastern Europe, which I think has not been adequately recognized. Essentially, a large part of Eastern Europe has emptied out into Western Europe as people seek better opportunities, jobs, and so forth, and that’s led to this sense of crisis, both for Hungary and Poland, and other countries in that region.
The authors also mention Russia, saying that it took a different path. Putin’s game is to mock liberal democracy. He is holding up a mirror and saying, “What I’m doing to you is just what you are doing to us.” The authors claim that the Russians never believed in liberal democracy, they were just forging and faking it, pretending for a while. Russia’s ultimate goal is not conversion or assimilation, but revenge and vindication. Is this a valid assumption?
Russia has been trying to find a role for itself, not as part of the West but as an alternative. I don’t think that Putin has fully elaborated what that position is. He’s tried a lot of different ideas over the years. He’s had this idea of “sovereign democracy” in the 1990s, and that evolved into a spo...

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APA 6 Citation
Fukuyama, F. (2021). After the End of History ([edition unavailable]). Georgetown University Press. Retrieved from (Original work published 2021)
Chicago Citation
Fukuyama, Francis. (2021) 2021. After the End of History. [Edition unavailable]. Georgetown University Press.
Harvard Citation
Fukuyama, F. (2021) After the End of History. [edition unavailable]. Georgetown University Press. Available at: (Accessed: 15 October 2022).
MLA 7 Citation
Fukuyama, Francis. After the End of History. [edition unavailable]. Georgetown University Press, 2021. Web. 15 Oct. 2022.