Assessment of the liberalism of Francis Fukuyama and his dissatisfactions: crisis of liberal democracy

Francis Fukuyama attempts to understand the criticisms facing liberalism and identifies solutions

Francis Fukuyama attempts to understand the criticisms facing liberalism and identifies solutions

There is no society,” Margaret Thatcher, the late British Prime Minister, once said, emphasizing what she thought of the responsibility of the individual. Thatcher’s idea of ​​a maximum individual and a minimum state was the centerpiece of his economic philosophy. His administration privatized state industries, deregulated the financial sector, and dismantled the welfare state, ushering in a new era of free-market policies. On the other side of the Atlantic, US President Ronald Reagan did the same. What was then called Reaganomics and Thatcherism, known as “neoliberalism”, has spread around the world as the main economic philosophy of the ruling classes in liberal and authoritarian states. But neoliberal economic policies also increased inequality, which created social tensions that ultimately led to the rise of far-right leaders and parties on one side and radical identity groups on the other, which now threatens liberalism itself. This is the context of Francis Fukuyama’s latest book, Liberalism and its discontents.

Fukuyama is a Western political philosopher who needs no introduction to a global audience. He rose to fame with his 1989 essay, “The End of History”, written a few months before the fall of the Berlin Wall, in which he argued that the end (goal or target) of humanity was liberalism . But his recent books, Identify (2008) and Liberalismare an acknowledgment that the political situation today is manifestly different from that of 1992, when he updated the essay in the book, The end of the story and the last man. While he still believes that liberalism is the end of the story, the liberal theory he espouses is no longer triumphant and the road is long and bumpy. Hence the title: Liberalism and its discontents.

Taken to the extreme

This is a serious attempt by a hardline liberal to understand the criticisms the theory faces and to identify solutions. For Fukuyama, the fundamental principles of liberalism – personal autonomy, individual rights, equality and property – are sacrosanct. The problem facing contemporary liberalism is that it has been pushed to extremes by right and left alike in the context of the “grotesque inequalities” triggered by neoliberal experiments. In the book, Fukuyama appears as a liberal democrat who believes in the role of the state (without the state, liberal principles cannot be implemented), regulated markets, and limited welfarism (individuals must be protected “from unfavorable circumstances beyond their control”).

It also challenges some of the historical critique of liberal theory. Fukuyama argues that Abraham Lincoln based his fight for the abolition of slavery on the Declaration of Independence which says “All men are created equal”. He challenges the argument that colonialism made the West rich, citing examples of the modernization of East and Southeast Asian economies in the last quarter of the 20th century. century. For him, communist China had its best economic performance when it flirted with liberalism.

But the problem with Fukuyama’s account is that he treats classical liberalism as a primitive theory that is divorced from the violence committed by its practitioners. This allows Fukuyama, who maintains that there is no alternative, to continue to believe without qualms in the moral superiority of liberalism, like the “bland fanatics of Western civilization”, like wrote Reinhold Niebuhr in 1957. When the Declaration of Independence, one of the founding documents of liberalism, was announced, the United States was a slave country and it continued for decades. Even after the “Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen” of 1789, France continued its racist policy at home and abroad for decades. European colonialism today is widely seen as a racist and violent project, started by the same liberals who believed in individual autonomy, equality and consumer rights.

liberal excesses

Colonialism did not end because colonial masters once decided to uphold liberal principles – it was ended by decades of anti-colonial nationalist movements that often drew violent reactions from their overlords. This violent project did not end with the collapse of colonialism. Liberal internationalists from the West, commanding the most dangerous armies in the world, began to invade the countries of the East to export democracy and liberal values, thus breaking up societies and dismantling states, engendering anarchy and violence. The list is endless, from the Irish Famine of 1845 to the Iraq War of 2003.

For Fukuyama, neoliberalism is an aberration that could be corrected by state intervention. But the minimum state and the autonomy of large industries were also part of classical liberalism. Before the birth of the regulatory state, as Fukuyama writes, financial and industrial giants had enormous influence over state policies. Neoliberalism is in fact a return to this original principle based on the individual maximum. Fukuyama gives the example of post-war European welfarism to argue that liberal democracies could build a model of development based on equity. But he overlooked two underlying factors – the tragedy of the Great Depression which reinforced the call for a stronger state and the threat of communism and working class revolutions. When writing about the economic development of Southeast Asian countries, Fukuyama conveniently avoids the fact that these countries have historically exercised stronger state control over societies and economies, which has manifested itself in their response to the COVID-19 crisis, unlike that of the West. . Even in the case of China, the real question is whether China flirted with liberalism or whether liberalism flirted with China?

Liberalism as a political theory, model of governance (liberal democracy) and economic philosophy (private property) has played an essential role in human progress. But it is not an ideological hegemon and like other theories it also has a very violent history. Many liberal theorists, driven by what Pankaj Mishra calls a “fanatical belief in moral superiority,” fail to see this historical background and problematic practice of liberalism. Fukuyama is no exception.

Liberalism and its discontents; Francis Fukuyama, Profile Books, ₹499.

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