1990s >> 1990 >> no-1036-december-1990

The End of Fukuyama

A wise and confident-looking face gazes at us from beneath an article in the Guardian (7 September). The face is that of Francis Fukuyama, a consultant to the US State Department and the Rand Corporation. The article is his defence of his own essay ‘The End of History’, published last December.

Fukuyama starts by complaining that he has been misunderstood. Critics have pointed to such events as the fall of the Berlin Wall and Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait as evidence that he is wrong and history is not over. He explains that what he thinks is over is not “history” but merely “the history of ideas” and that the fall of the Berlin Wall and the overthrow of “communism” in Eastern Europe only back up his main argument that “liberal democracy is the only legitimate ideology left in the world”.

This type of thinking is not new. During the 1930s fascist and communist parties were convinced that “decadent democracy” was finished and would be replaced by their own creed. Fukuyama is as wrong now as they were then, but at least Hitler only gave the Third Reich a thousand years while he sees liberal democracy lasting for ever.

Ideology and war

We are also informed that the triumph of liberal democracy has been accompanied by “the victory of market principles, of market organisation” and that these two factors will lead to the creation of more and more liberal democracies practising free-market and free-trade economies and all living in harmony. The proof is that

    “in the 200 or so years that modem liberal democracies have existed there is not one single instance of one liberal democracy lighting another.”

According to Fukuyama the conflict between nations during most of this century

    “was due to existence of serious ideological cleavages among the great powers, between liberalism on the one hand and fascism and communism on the other.”

If Fukuyama’s article in the Guardian had appeared on April 1st then it would have been taken for a joke, but he is serious. He actually believes that different political ideas are what produced World War Two, the Cold War, Korea, and so on. That these events were connected with the disputes between national ruling groups over such matters as control of markets, spheres of influence and vital raw materials has completely eluded him.

For example, would America and Japan have gone to war if Japan hadn’t threatened American interests in the Pacific? Of course not, their different political systems didn’t matter one bit. Liberal democracies and dictatorships can co-exist very well so long as their interests do not seriously clash. Look at how Britain could for decades happily describe fascist Portugal as “our oldest ally”.

But even if the liberal democracies haven’t fought one another this is only because they didn’t need to, having agreed to carve up the world among themselves. Britain, France and the USA industrialised early and needed markets and raw materials for their mighty industries. The first two between them grabbed most of Africa and large parts of Asia while Central and South America were left to the USA.

This carve-up, and not ideological squabbles, also explains why from 1939 to 1945 the big liberal democracies engaged in war with dictatorships, or to be more accurate, those which felt strong enough to muscle in on them. Italy and Japan were late to industrialise and thus to colonise, while Germany had lost its colonies and markets through defeat in World War One, so each of them had considerable ground to make up. The only way open to them, once diplomacy and threats had failed, was by military means.

Is liberal democracy secure?

What has also eluded Fukuyama is the glaring evidence that many nations cannot simply become, or even remain, liberal democracies just because they wish to. This depends on whether or not it is acceptable to the powerful liberal democracies, especially the USA. Remember the fate of Chile, Latin America’s oldest liberal democracy, in 1973 when it offended US capitalism. True the US Marines were not sent in to crush it but the local military were.

Nor are free-trade policies open to all, as Fukuyama supposes. These same powerful liberal democracies often ensure that the exports of under-developed countries are faced with the very trade barriers which they claim to oppose. Chile’s Minister of Finance has welcomed George Bush’s plan for a free-trade zone covering the entire Western Hemisphere but added

    “Unfortunately, many countries of the world—including the US—do not always reflect in their actions the free-trade gospel they preach. (The Wall Street Journal 14 September).”

So Fukuyama’s vision of the future is of liberal democracies, including the great powers, settling down to “peaceful” competition. Yes, they may well fight with undemocratic countries but will make only economic war on one another. Great power status will depend, he says, not on the ability to move armed forces around the world but on remaining competitive by growing and innovating. The main threat a united, liberal democratic Germany will pose

    “will take the form of precision machine tools and high-quality Mercedes rather than Panzers.”

Isn’t that reassuring! But wait, what will be the response of the USA or some other great power if, say, Germany and/or Japan become too competitive? Will they simply accept a disastrous loss of markets and power with a philosophic shrug? History shows that free-trade is something nations support only when it is to their advantage. And what will be the response of the populace in those great powers should mass unemployment and falling living standards come in the wake of economic defeat? Dictatorships can certainly become liberal democracies but the reverse can just as easily happen in a situation such as this.

Fukuyama’s view of the world is a naive and simplistic one as it ignores the Marxist view that capitalism, because of its never ending need for expansion and capital accumulation, is rooted in conflict. In the last resort the way for nations to settle their irreconcilable differences must be through armed force or at least the threat of it. This applies no matter what form of government or economics happens to be in vogue.

The history of ideas has not ended but is, and must be, a continuing process. Ideologies will persist and the old ideas which Fukuyama thinks are dead will probably come round again just as, incidentally, long-discarded free-market economics have done. Indeed only three days after his own article appeared there were two others in the Guardian arguing for more regulation in banking and more government spending!

In whatever way future events unfold we can be sure that Francis Fukuyama’s wise and confident expression will be replaced by one of pained bewilderment as his unsound theory is exposed. We are even surer that far from Marx’s socialist idea having been ended, its day has still to come.

Vic Vanni

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