Francis Fukuyama is one of the most famous American philosophers and political thinkers of the century. In one of his recent essays, Fukuyama tries to summarise what has happened in world politics over the last thirty years. According to him, there is something ironic about the fact that those countries that believed in liberal democracy at the time of the regime change have turned away from it the most, reports hvg.
Francis Fukuyama’s most famous work to date is The End of History and the Last Man, published in 1992, in which he claimed, after the collapse of Communist regimes, that historical progress as a struggle between ideologies and the era of the Cold War with the dismantling of the Berlin Wall have ended and that it will be followed by the era of liberal democracy in the world, with the inevitable victory of political and economic liberalism.
Just over a quarter of a century after the publishing of his book, illiberalism reigns unbroken from the United States to Russia, Turkey to Poland, Hungary to Italy. Meaning that liberal democracy did not inherit the role of authority. When asked what he thought of his 1992 book now, he said what he wrote at The End of History was something along the lines of the election and presidency of Donald Trump. Thirty years ago, he mentioned two risks, nationalism and religious confrontation, and now, remembering his admonition at the time, he is most surprised by the position of America and the United Kingdom and the act of Brexit. But the events of Poland and Hungary surprise him to no extent.
Depression after recession
Fukuyama now wrote in the Journal of Democracy – founded thirty years ago – about what had happened in global politics over the past thirty years. Most of the articles published here focus on democracy, democratic regimes, and movements of democratic transformation. The entire article of Fukuyama can be accessed here.
The political thinker begins his thesis with “30 Years of World Politics: What Has Changed?”, followed by “we are now living in a political climate very different from the one that existed in 1990”. Since then, a lot has changed – no Soviet Union, no Berlin Wall, no Communist regimes in Central Europe. These are what Fukuyama calls the most significant democratic achievements of the last three decades, but today, – he borrows the words of American sociologist Larry Diamond – we are living in an era of ‘democratic recession’ “with reason to worry that it could turn into a full-scale depression”.
Authoritarian powers such as Russia and China are openly challenging the Western liberal-democratic system, while populists and nationalists are attacking it from within the block, Fukuyama writes.
Identity politics has also become an important political topic over the last three decades, which is a central idea of populist movements as well. About the Hungarian and Polish populist voters, Fukuyama says “they felt their national identity was threatened by immigration and liberal social values”. He added that populist voters are driven by their honour, and this could be observed within pro-Brexit and Trump voters as well.
Not only the structure of states has changed worldwide, but also the left and right political wings. The left has begun to act as the ‘champion of all kinds of minorities’ (Fukuyama lists women, immigrants, members of sexual minorities, and people with disabilities), and the right became a community where party leaders worry that their country will be invaded by immigrants and foreign competitors.
“Hence Prime Minister Viktor Orbán speaks explicitly about Hungarian national identity being based on Hungarian ethnicity, and endorses an ‘illiberal democracy’ in which democratic majorities do not necessarily feel themselves bound to respect universal human rights,” Fukuyama writes.
Fukuyama quotes a joint book by Ivan Krastev and Stephen Holmes (Krastev-Holmes: The Light that Failed – A Reckoning), in which the authors write that the export of liberal democracy has failed today, and it has been impossible to create a Western social structure and mental map for thirty years in Eastern Europe, and systems referred to as ‘illiberal democracies’ came to existence in Poland and Hungary. Fukuyama thinks that it is ironic that these two countries that were considered to be the model for the transition from state communism to liberal democracy are the main centres of illiberalism today.
You can read some of our other articles about Viktor Orbán here: if you are interested in how the latest Conservative Conference in Rome went, click the link. If you want to know more about Orbán’s view on moderate Islamic parties, it is only a simple click away, and if you would like to see how he commemorated the 75th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz, we also have an article on that.
Oligarchs and social media
In his study, Fukuyama also mentions the explosion of industrial and technological advancements over the past thirty years. The so-called ‘Colour revolutions’ and the ‘Arab Spring’ were possible, and their success is largely due to the new types of communication technology.
But unfortunately, technological advances have not stopped here, and Google and Facebook have almost monopolised the Internet, Fukuyama says. The authoritarian powers (especially China and Russia) have soon learned how to transform the Internet to achieve their own goals. According to Fukuyama, today, we have a closed internet – the one that we can see in China – and an open one, which is run by a few American companies.
He notes, however, that it would be inappropriate to describe only the Internet and community platforms as a threat to democracy when traditional media has also undergone a major transformation over the past thirty years. “Their increasing ownership by oligarchs has supported the rise of populist nationalism.” Fukuyama mentions Ukraine, Italy, and Hungary, where the majority of traditional media products – newspaper and television – are controlled by wealthy businessmen tied to populist parties.
He concludes his article by saying that the recent rise of populism has led to the questioning of the democratic consensus that had been built over generations.
Fukuyama agrees with Steven Levitsky – one of the authors of How Democracies Die – who says that today, the threat for democracies is not a military coup but the gradual destruction of norms and institutions. “This process has been visible in Hungary since 2010, and many people say it is emerging in the United States as well.”