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Mainstream, VOL LIII, No 11, March 7, 2015

Fukuyama’s Journey since the Fall of the Berlin Wall

Monday 9 March 2015


by Nirupam Hazra

Political Order and Political Decay: From the Industrial Revolution to the Globalisation of Democracy by Francis Fukuyama; Publisher: Profile Books, New Delhi; 2014; price: Rs 699; pages: 658

It is difficult to put Francis Fukuyama in a single category—a philosopher or a historian or a political thinker. In his first book, The End of History and the Last Man (an expanded version of his 1989 essay published in The National Interest), Fukuyama argued that liberal democracy was the final stage of historical evolution of humanity as it was free of all internal contra-dictions that defeated rival ideologies like hereditary monarchy, fascism and communism. In 2011, Fukuyama came out with The Origins of Political Order, an astonishingly ambitious work that traces the history of ‘political order’ from pre-human times to the French Revolution wading through multiple disciplines like biology, anthropology, history and economics. It was his magnum opus or rather the first part of it. His latest work, Political Order and Political Decay: From the Industrial Revolution to the Globalisation of Democracy, completes his thesis on ‘political order’, built on the ideas of his mentor, Samuel Huntington.

In this book Fukuyama argues that the establishment of liberal democracy in its best functional form (for him it is Denmark), requires a political order or a fine balance between various institutions that are often taken for granted. The Origins of Political Order showed how these institutions came into existence by examining their evolutionary process. In Political Order and Political Decay, Fukuyama argues that the future of liberal democracy is determined by a fine balance of three distinct factors—political accountability; a strong and effective state; and the rule of law. Development or decay of liberal democracy across the world resulted from the presence (or absence) of these three factors in their various degrees and combi-nations. In India, there is rule of law, elections are held regularly, the media is free to criticise the shortcomings of the government, but what it lacks is the strong state, the government that is competent enough to do what it is expected to do—providing security, protecting rights and ensuring services like education and health care. On the other hand, China has a strong and well-developed state but is weak on the rule of law and there is no democratic accountability. For America the crisis takes a different form. In America, according to Fukuyama, democracy is reduced to ‘vetocracy’, with the rise of a multitude of special interest groups that become an impediment to necessary collective action and leads to gridlock.

Fukuyama finds his ideal political order in Denmark and suggests that the ultimate aim is “getting to Denmark”. Fukuyama uses ‘Denmark’ both as a utopia and a reality, where all three sets of political institutions are in perfect balance: a competent state, strong rule of law, and democratic accountability. And as a result, the society is prosperous, democratic, secure, well-governed and experiences low levels of corruption. Fukuyama examines the nature of the state of various nations across the globe and analyses the circumstances that led to their development.

As Fukuyama argues that political order arises through the triumvirate of the state, rule of law and accountability, he also shows the importance of their proper sequencing. Democratic accountability requires the other two pillars to be in place before its inception, in order to succeed. Countries which set up democracies before they have functioning states, governed by the rule of law and administered through autonomous, merito-cratic bureaucracies, frequently find that the institutions of the state are hijacked by politicians. This practice, which Fukuyama terms as ‘clientelism’, is evident in sub-Saharan Africa, Greece and large swathes of South America. Similarly, the phenomenon of the capturing of impersonal institutions by the powerful elites of established democracy and developed countries, which was defined by Fukuyama as ‘repatri-monialisation’, becomes another form of political decay.

Today the major threat to democracy is not that authoritarian powers are on the move but many existing democracies aren’t doing well either. Therefore, Fukuyama clearly warns that no one living in an established liberal democracy should be complacent about the inevitability of its survival. There is no automatic historical mechanism that makes progress inevitable or that prevents the decay and backsliding. But Fukuyama finds hope in the people who are willing to fight for their dignity, for their rights. He believes that emergence of the bourgeoisie or a strong middle-class with an aspiration to be part of the political process led to the rise and consolidation of liberal democracy across the world. As their incomes rise, he insists, they demand the rule of law to protect their property and then demand political participation to safeguard their social standing. So he predicts that the rise of the middle class will pose a challenge to the political systems of countries like Russia and China, which are economically prosperous yet authoritarian in nature.

The journey of Fukuyama from End of History to the Decay of Political Order has been marked by a noticeable change. The triumphant optimism that foresaw, in the aftermath of the fall of Berlin Wall, the emergence of “universal and homogenous state” in the form of liberal democracy in most parts of the world, has now been replaced by a cautious, if not pessimistic, observation on the decay of political order in established demo-cracies and the rise of prosperous authoritarian states. The conviction and confidence, which characterised the first book of this avowed apostle of liberal democracy, are missing. Here, Fukuyama is more nuanced, more critical rather than being complacent and self-congratulatory. He still believes that history ends with the realisation of liberal democracy across the world or globalisation of democracy, but he also accepts that democratic institutions may decay over the time. Like its first part, this book is also a work of an overarching scholarly ambition, which, in some cases, ends up simplifying things beyond their intricacies, but in this turbulent period, the book is a timely warning for all of us, especially for those who take democracy for granted.

The reviever is a Research Scholar at Visva-Bharati University, Santiniketan (West Bengal). He can be reached at hazra.nirupam@gmail.com

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