“Putinism”, radical Islam is not an alternative to liberal democracy

Russian President Vladimir Putin and the extremist Islamic State group are sworn enemies who may seem to have little in common.

But both are engaged in statebuilding efforts which, according to US political scientist Francis Fukuyama, share two qualities: each seeks to create a political alternative to a modern liberal democracy, and each is doomed to failure.

Speaking in a broad interview with RFE / RL during his visit to Tbilisi this month, Fukuyama said history shows that the process of modernization leads societies to form liberal democracies with market systems. Yet some leaders insist on trying to create alternative models, even if those models are unstable and backward.

Putin’s authoritarian effort to create a managed democracy in Russia provides a good example.

Fukuyama, professor of international studies at Stanford University, recalls that after the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, many people expected Russia to make a rapid transition from communism to democracy. It was shortly after Fukuyama himself published a widely read essay titled The end of the story ?, in which he asserted that the ideological battles between East and West were over and that Western liberal democracy had triumphed.

However, what followed in Russia was a period of experimentation with relatively greater liberalism under President Boris Yeltsin which did not lead to democracy, but to the rise of Putin and an unofficially authoritarian system. called “poutinism”. The system has the attributes of a democracy but is in fact a top-down order that maintains power and wealth in the hands of the president and his cronies.

“I think the idea people had after 1991 that there would be a rapid transition is clearly wrong,” said Fukuyama, assessing what happened in Russia under Putin.

But he says Putin’s authoritarian system doesn’t mean he’s built a successful alternative to liberal democracy. Instead, the system owes its existence in part to the slow development of a middle class in Russia that would normally demand a share of power. This slow development, in turn, is largely due to the state’s monopolization of the country’s most lucrative business activities: the export of energy and other natural resources.

“It has a lot to do with the relationship with economic growth because I think in very high growth countries with a large middle class, with a lot of educated people, there is a tendency to demand more political participation.” , notes Fukuyama. “I think what you are seeing with the rise of Putinism in Russia and parts of Eastern Europe is sort of the failure of this type of modernization to produce a really large middle class society.”

The “hollow” of Putinism

But if Putinism currently has a tight grip on Russia, the historian calls it an empty system.

“His model is based on a narrow economic model dependent on energy which is in the process of collapsing,” notes the political scientist. “I think what’s going on in Russia right now as global commodity prices have fallen is the exposure of the emptiness of that and we’ll see after another decade of economic failure if the Russians think really that it is such a good alternative to the kind of both freedom and prosperity that we see in Western Europe. “

Fukuyama notes that it took Western Europe a period of 150 years to develop its system of liberal democracy and that the two decades of recent history are “not necessarily a sign that there will never be this genre.” of political development ”in Russia as well.

Likewise, the political scientist sees little future for radical Islam as an alternative to liberal democracy.

“ISIS is not a state and I predict with enough confidence that it will not establish a viable one and it is certainly not an attractive state,” he said. “This is not a state in which millions of people are dying to live in a place that regularly beheads people and forces women to take on these very constrained roles.”

WATCH: Fukuyama predicts IS will fail to establish viable state

He attributes the success of the Islamic State and other radical Islamic groups to the failure of authoritarian governments in the Arab world to create regimes with popular legitimacy and meeting the economic needs of their citizens.

“It is true that liberalism does not work well in this part of the world,” he observes. “But I don’t think radical Islam represents a long-term civilizational alternative to the kind of (democratic) regimes that exist in Europe, North America and Asia.”

Fukuyama says that “there is a historical process of modernization that comes from within societies” which over time causes them to develop into liberal democracies with market systems. As best examples, he cites the democratic systems that exist today in Western Europe. There, citizens share power and have the opportunity to enrich themselves, while the state ensures that economic inequalities do not worsen too much.

“It is true that if you just have market capitalism that is not integrated into a true democratic system, then you will get growing inequalities,” he notes. “And that is why every modern capitalist system has a welfare state and in Europe these welfare states consume 50 percent of the GDP, redistribute it more equitably.”

“I have always thought that the European Union represented a truer embodiment of what I would consider something to be the end of history,” he says. “The US model is a little more liberal and so we do less redistribution than, say, Holland or Sweden, but all modern states do.”

WATCH: Fukuyama says capital markets need more regulation

Written by Charles Recknagel, based on an interview conducted by the Georgian service correspondent of RFE / RL, Salome Asatiani

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