Fukuyama on democracy

Francis Fukuyama, in a brief essay posted at the Guardian, argues against connecting his “end of history” thesis with the Bush administration’s foreign policy. (Hat tip: Andrew Sullivan)

I can think of few contemporary ideas that have been more misunderstood than Fukuyama’s argument in his original essay “The End of History?” in The National Interest and his subsequent book, The End of History and the Last Man. His argument was not a triumphalist paean to liberal democracy at the end of the cold war. Rather, as the appending of “the Last Man” to the title of the book suggests, Fukuyama sought to spell out the full implications of an increasingly liberal democratic world, and by using Nietzsche as a starting point, clearly presented a more nuanced view than those who often refer to “the end of history” realize.

In any case, I especially liked the conclusion to Fukuyama’s essay:

I never linked the global emergence of democracy to American agency, and particularly not to the exercise of American military power. Democratic transitions need to be driven by societies that want democracy, and since the latter requires institutions, it is usually a fairly long and drawn out process.

Outside powers like the US can often help in this process by the example they set as politically and economically successful societies. They can also provide funding, advice, technical assistance, and yes, occasionally military force to help the process along. But coercive regime change was never the key to democratic transition.

Democratization cannot be primarily a military project, nor, ultimately, can it be primarily a foreign project. Democracy can only emerge when a nation desires it, and is willing to work towards a democratic governance, at which it is fitting and proper for the developed democracies to give their support.

Fukuyama’s point about the US and other developed countries serving as examples for aspiring democracies is interesting in light of something I heard the other day at a campaign rally in Zushi. With the first wave of unified local elections scheduled for this Sunday, 8 April, Japan is in the throes of an intense bout of campaigning, with candidates presenting themselves before the public at railway stations throughout Japan. On Tuesday I observed Kanagawa Governor Matsuzawa Shigefumi, who is up for reelection, outlining his goals for political reform in Kanagawa. Interestingly, in talking about the need for term limits, he pointed respectfully to the American political system, saying that although President Clinton was extremely popular, he was still constitutionally required to retire. The point is that while it has become popular to speak about how little foreign countries respect and admire the US, I think this is exaggerated: at its best, the American political system still is a model for democracies everywhere, something all Americans — but especially American elected officials — would do well to remember. The rest of the world is watching closely.

Finally, a more profound and older expression of the ideas found in Fukuyama’s essay was penned by British political philosopher Michael Oakeshott, who wrote the following in his essay “Political Education”:

When a matter of attending to arrangements is to be transplanted from the society in which it has grown up into another society (always a questionable enterprise), the simplification of an ideology may appear as an asset. If, for example, the English manner of politics is to be planted elsewhere in the world, it is perhaps appropriate that it should first be abridged into something called ‘democracy’ before it is packed up and shipped abroad. There is, of course, an alternative method: the method by which what is exported is the detail and not the abridgment of the tradition and the workmen travel with the tools — the method which made the British Empire. But it is a slow and costly method. And, particularly with men in a hurry, l’homme á programme with his abridgment wins every time; his slogans enchant, while the resident magistrate is seen only as a sign of servility. But whatever the apparent appropriateness on occasion of the ideological style of politics, the defect of the explanation of political activity connected with it becomes apparent when we consider the sort of knowledge and the kind of education it encourages us to believe is sufficient for understanding the activity of attending to the arrangements of society. For it suggests that a knowledge of the chosen political ideology can take the place of understanding a tradition of political behavior. The wand and the book come to be regarded as themselves potent, and not merely the symbols of potency. The arrangements of society are made to appear, not as manners of behavior, but as pieces of machinery to be transported about the world indiscriminately.

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