On the Record: Fukuyama On PRC's History Ending

♠ Posted by Emmanuel in at 5/28/2011 02:59:00 PM
Non revocare--I will not recant. Despite penning probably the biggest crock of them all--the end of history in which all political-economic forms were to converge on capitalist democracies--ex-neocon Francis Fukuyama remains one of the foremost commentators on the political economy scene. Which, of course, prompted me to think it doesn't matter that you're correct, but that you are first to pen a memorable idea. Although backtracking on this idea given the weight of evidence to the contrary since that bit of post-1989 triumphalism, you get the feeling that Fukuyama still clings to the end of history thesis as a normative position. In other words, while Fukuyama admits he may have been off in a predictive sense, in the end [ahem] we should aspire for history proceeding in the way he foresaw since it maximizes the liberties he presumes we all value.

As proof, I offer his latest ruminations while having his session of Lunch With the FT--or, more specifically, Martin "Why Globalization Works" Wolf. Apparently not chastened about tackling Big Topics, Fukuyama is midway in preparing two books on the history of political order. (The first one has been out for a couple of weeks.) Coming from roughly similar orientations, you will not be surprised that Wolf throws many softballs for Fukuyama to swing away at. In particular, we have this enduring, largely Anglo-Saxon idea that economic freedom and the aspirations it promotes will eventually lead people to clamour for political freedom:
China, however, is moving rapidly towards a modern economy and I ask Fukuyama how prosperity will affect its political order.

“I think that this is one of the big drivers of democracy that are missed by people that just look at the economic conditions,” he says. “If you are a poor peasant, all you’re worried about is getting food on the table for your family. But as you get more educated, you can worry about things like, ‘Does my government allow me to participate?’ Your world outlook then changes. There’s no reason why this shouldn’t happen in China...”

He ploughs on: “I think you’re right that when you got a whole country of 800m college educated middle class people, you can’t run this thing in a very paternalistic, top-down fashion. The big problem is these same people could be motivated by nationalism – there’s a lot of other ways of mobilising people.”
So at the extremes it's jingoism or the end of history, eh? Why Fukuyama--or Wolf for that matter who works for a widely-read publication reporting on current events--doesn't cite the recent Singaporean elections is certainly intriguing. Events in the city-state can be interpreted two ways. End of History-wise, the emergence of actual opposition parties despite concentrated state efforts to muzzle them certainly suggests an interrelationship between economic development and desire for political liberties. On the other hand, Singapore achieved a very high level of development sometime ago, indicating that this episode is not only delayed but also a reproach of the ruling party rather than outright displeasure being shown.

At least he's broken away from his erstwhile ideological bedfellows on the use of military means to make history end sooner. That's progress.