Conversations with the noted scholar of political theory.
Fukuyama became well known in 1989, a time when the communist world was collapsing and the Berlin Wall was coming down, for arguing that liberal democracy had won out over totalitarianism by its own self-evident virtues. He is less certain today, as these conversations with Norwegian think-tank administrator Fasting reveal. He began to take note of some of the inherent “weaknesses in Western political development” even as his “end-of-history” thesis was making the rounds, especially among the Cold War triumphalists in the Reagan and Bush administrations. One outcome of the financial crisis of 2008 was the acceleration of a body of left-behinds who were susceptible to populist and authoritarian leaders. Those left-behinds were not lacking in reasons to mistrust those in power, who, Fukuyama notes, “can game the system in such a way that they really make the system not responsive to the people’s true wishes,” working against the spirit of democracy itself. Things are worse elsewhere, of course, such as Russia, where Vladimir Putin has traded in a kind of “sovereign democracy” brand of populism that has found a large following in White nationalist circles—some in the U.S. Still, America has not proven immune to leaders who would diminish democratic values and profess a kind of populism that “basically uses democratic legitimacy to undermine liberal institutions.” Can democracy endure? Fukuyama suggests at various points that inequality must be addressed and corporate power diminished, the latter by enforcing long-abandoned antitrust laws. He also observes that the voters who made Donald Trump’s term possible “are a declining group within the country as a whole,” not likely to have the same clout in the future, even as new opponents—China, social media, predatory capitalism—do their best to diminish the rule of the people.
Students of geopolitics and world history will find Fukuyama’s thoughts both provocative and inspiring.