A theory, however elegant and economical, must be rejected or revised if it is wrong; likewise, laws and institutions, however effective and well organized they may be, must be reformed or abolished if they are unjust. —John Rawls
FRANCIS FUKUYAMA is disenchanted and disillusioned. The triumph of history after the fall of the Soviet Union and communist states throughout Eastern Europe convinced Fukuyama that liberal democracy was the only legal form of government that would gradually spread across the world. It was indeed a naive proposition that a single system of belief or political practice would last forever and that ideological difference had finally come to an end, resulting in a deeply harmonious liberal world. The publication of his 1989 essay on “The End of History”, which glorifies the seductive idea of the triumph of liberalism, will soon become suspect with the appearance of majority and muscular democracies which go against the quintessence of liberalism.
A fervent neoconservative, Fukuyama had taken Marx out of history, the corollary of which was the notion of “endism”, or more precisely, the end of ideology, difference and debate. To achieve such a goal was to neglect the various ideological positions that are ubiquitous in the continuous course of history. Now presenting a pressing case for the defense of classical liberalism in his new book, “Liberalism and Its Discontents,” or what Deirdre McCloskey calls “human liberalism,” Fukuyama returns to his “end of history” thesis. , after realizing that Globally, liberalism is under threat from the dark forces of the rise of the hard right, leaving democracies across the world under siege.
The retreat of liberalism, evident in the rise of authoritarianism as in China and Russia, or the weakening of liberal institutions in countries such as India, Hungary and Turkey, has now persuaded Fukuyama to adopt this revisionist position. The fundamental values of equality, rights, freedom and non-interference by the state call for a serious defense. The Russian invasion of Ukraine and the current state of the world threatened by heightened nationalism, tribal animosity and religious and ethnic fanaticism (as evidenced by populists like Viktor Orbàn, Bolsonaro, Trump and Le Pen), is a source of concern. The optimism of the early 1990s is no more than a dream.
Whatever our reaction, the discovery that we were wrong about the Enlightenment dream of peace and progress in the world is the starting point for our reflections on the history of our time. The world is indeed in the grip of the “democratic recession”, where liberal democracy has gone astray since the introduction of Thatcherism and reaganomics which have enhanced neoliberalism, the main malaise which has blocked modern civilization, resulting in the poverty, hunger and inequality, etc. than anything else, the rise of omnipotent oligarchies.
The Thatcher administration privatized state industries, liberalized the financial sector and dismantled the welfare state, ushering in a new era of unfettered market policies. On the other side of the Atlantic, Reagan too blindly aped her policy. Fukuyama, taking a stance of opposition to neoliberalism, wants the state to impose stricter restrictions on free market practices as well as stricter control of big business houses which enjoy total impunity under the tutelage of the political leaders. It is rather heartening to see how Fukuyama has moved away from Reaganomics, of which he has been a strong proponent, to a classical liberalism firmly rooted in the fundamental principles of equality, freedom of speech and of the press, and the rule of law.
However, Fukuyama has no viable solution to offer. Naturally, the theoretical support for the idea of liberalism is insufficient to win followers who deliberately refuse to swallow the political machinations, lies and deceptions of the neoliberal variety or the propaganda of Goebbels. We must see the implementation of equality and justice through the recognition of the problems of identity politics. Fukuyama argues that this has gotten us nowhere, especially when widespread racist violence and the rise of ultra-nationalism leave minorities in a state of fear and deprivation. He would like a more nuanced understanding of the autonym of the individual who has apparently become entangled in identity politics leading to the formation of groups based on gender, race and class. This, he believes, has played a singularly negative role in sustaining civil society.
Shedding one’s religious party affiliations is difficult, but fighting for a common cause that rises beyond close partisan ties and begins to recognize the big issues at stake could be one way to come to terms with the issues we are facing. For Fukuyama, the role of the state is vital for the application of liberal principles as well as for introducing limited “welfarism” and the practice of structured markets in order to undo the grip of neoliberalism.
Following the middle path, he tried to fight against the excesses committed by the left and the right in their passion for liberalism. The left with its overemphasis on identity and the right on the idea of economic freedom have sparked an era of conflict that has left fractured societies and democracy in jeopardy. He therefore, very wisely, argued for a rejuvenated liberal practice that retains the very essence of classical liberalism.