Francis Fukuyama: Democracy still rules. But will US catch up in a changing world?
Political scientist Francis Fukuyama discusses the crumbling European Union, what the West should learn from China, and the power of – and problems with – democracy.
Francis Fukuyama has just published a new book, “The Origins of Political Order,” which looks at the development of political institutions from ancient China to the French Revolution. He spoke with Global Viewpoint Network contributing editor Michael Skafidas in New York.Skip to next paragraph
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Michael Skafidas: It is surprising that your book is not Eurocentric. You bring China to the foreground as the first society to develop state institutions. As you claim, “Many of the elements of what we now understand to be a modern state appeared far earlier in history than did the Industrial Revolution and the modern capitalist economy; these elements were already in place in China in the Third Century BC.” At the end, as you suggest, “China’s pioneering experience is seldom referred to in Western accounts of political development.” Why do you think that is the case?
Francis Fukuyama: Part of the problem is that China’s history is long and so complex that is very hard for people to grasp the totality of it. Most people in the West are unfamiliar with pre-20th century Chinese history. They only know the Qing Dynasty, which was the last dynasty that decayed and was finally displaced by the nationalist revolution in the early 20th century. When Westerners think of historical China, their knowledge doesn’t go back more than two or three hundred years
This is a big problem because that dynasty at that point in China’s history was actually quite decayed and ossified. It was really not representative of what China was like in earlier periods. Of course, China also experienced political decay not just in the Qing Dynasty but also periodically in its 2,500-year history. So, it depends on what period of China you examine before you can make assertions about how strong its institutions were.
What the West can learn from China
Skafidas: Your mentor, the late Samuel Huntington, once told me that “the West has a lot of things to learn from other civilizations, and it’s a fact that the leaders of nations such as China and Japan always try to transfuse some of their own elements to the West. The West can only benefit from such an exchange.”
Yet the West has always resisted this exchange until now, when China and India are becoming economic giants. Now there is no other alternative but to accept this exchange.
Fukuyama: In general, Huntington was right that even if these countries were not economically successful, there would still be important things to learn from them. For example, the Chinese were always very good at high-quality bureaucratic government in a way that Western societies haven’t been.
Learning from that experience is a much more urgent matter when these countries have become quite powerful and there is a strong need to understand their particular strengths and weaknesses. One of the problems with the United States over the last generation is that Americans haven’t felt there was much to learn from the rest of the world because America was so dominant and English a more or less universal language. The world has changed, but Americans haven’t yet caught up.
The failures of neoconservatism
Skafidas: Once you were a fervent supporter of the neoconservative movement. Then you became disillusioned and you abandoned it. What disillusioned you the most of the ills of neoconservatism? Its overly hegemonic aspirations; the war in Iraq, which you initially supported and later condemned; the distrust of the welfare system; or the rejection of the government regulation of the economy, which led to the disastrous downfall of 2008?
Fukuyama: Well, first of all, there isn’t a neoconservative movement as such in the way that there was a communist movement, for example. It was not that organized. It was just a group of intellectuals with a worldview. But there was no neoconservative view on the economy. In fact, Irving Kristol, who was the father of neoconservatism, once wrote a book called “Two Cheers for Capitalism” in which he argued that capitalism had some good points but that it was also morally questionable.
So we shouldn’t confuse neoconservatism with libertarianism or Reaganism because they were not necessarily the same thing. The movement really emerged in the 1930s, when there was a split between communists and their sympathizers and those in the existence of universal democratic values.
That’s something I continue to believe. My main argument with the way neoconservatism evolved in the 2000s was that it was too much dependent and associated with American military power, which I thought was a limited instrument and was not being applied properly in Iraq or in the war on terror. But the belief that democracy is a universal value, that American power can be used positively if done prudently – that I still believe.
Osama bin Laden's death means most to US
Skafidas: Aside from its emotional impact, do you see any further value in the killing of Osama bin Laden for America?