Fukuyama describes how democracy is unraveling

Ishaan Tharoor writes: Francis Fukuyama, an acclaimed American political philosopher, entered the global imagination at the end of the Cold War when he prophesied the “end of history” — a belief that, after the fall of communism, free-market liberal democracy had won out and would become the world’s “final form of human government.” Now, at a moment when liberal democracy seems to be in crisis across the West, Fukuyama, too, wonders about its future.

“Twenty five years ago, I didn’t have a sense or a theory about how democracies can go backward,” said Fukuyama in a phone interview. “And I think they clearly can.”

Fukuyama’s initial argument (which I’ve greatly over-simplified) framed the international zeitgeist for the past two decades. Globalization was the vehicle by which liberalism would spread across the globe. The rule of law and institutions would supplant power politics and tribal divisions. Supranational bodies like the European Union seemed to embody those ideals.

But if the havoc of the Great Recession and the growing clout of authoritarian states like China and Russia hadn’t already upset the story, Brexit and the election of President Trump last year certainly did.

Now the backlash of right-wing nationalism on both sides of the Atlantic is in full swing. This week, French far-right leader Marine Le Pen announced her candidacy for president with a scathing attack on the liberal status quo. “Our leaders chose globalization, which they wanted to be a happy thing. It turned out to be a horrible thing,” Le Pen thundered.

Fukuyama recognizes the crisis. “Globalization really does seem to produce these internal tensions within democracies that these institutions have some trouble reconciling,” he said. Combined with grievances over immigration and multiculturalism, it created room for the “demagogic populism” that catapulted Trump into the White House. That has Fukuyama deeply concerned. [Continue reading…]

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2 thoughts on “Fukuyama describes how democracy is unraveling

  1. hquain

    How much, I wonder, has been written about the disconnect between political ‘theorists’ and political reality? Up there in the theoretical stratosphere, it’s all about -isms and ideals and vast imagined intellectual tides. Down here in the dirt it’s all about knife-in-the-back power brokers trying to make a buck while swaying entire populations with outrageous falsehoods. How could democracy fail? ‘Democracy’ has barely been a factor in the lives of major sectors of this country since its start. If they can be robbed, so can you.

  2. Paul Woodward

    While the criticisms of American democracy are mostly well-founded, a realistic assessment of the political system here needs grounding by comparison with those elsewhere. As far as I can observe, a lot of the most vociferous critics of “the government,” “the establishment,” or simply “power,” are clueless about political cultures elsewhere — hence the ridiculous ease with which Russia recruits its American useful idiots.

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