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.
(Page 3 of 3)
Fukuyama: Well, I am not sure that this is a particular change. Politics and money have always been related. In a lot of less developed societies you have this phenomenon of patronage, which is a universal phenomenon in politics. In certain ways, politics is less corrupt in a lot of European and North American societies than it was a hundred years ago. On the other hand, interest-group politics has replaced the earliest forms of patronage in ways that can be quite damaging to the legitimacy of the democratic system. I do think that in that respect there is a big problem with democracy today.Skip to next paragraph
Subscribe Today to the Monitor
Why I met with Libya's Qaddafi
Skafidas: Is it true that you actually spent some time advising the leader of Libya, Muammar Qaddafi on behalf of the consulting firm Monitor Group in 2007-2008?
Fukuyama: No, I didn’t advise him. He wanted to see me because he read my books, and we had some conversations. This was the period when everyone, I think, was hoping there would be some liberalization of the society, so I thought some form of engagement with him might be able to teach him some things, but I figured out fairly quickly that he was pretty unteachable. He is not open to any new ideas.
Skafidas: Is it feasible to hope that an autocrat can be reversed into a democrat?
Fukuyama: That has happened in cases where authoritarian rulers have given up power voluntarily, or they presided over openings that have surprised people. You have South Africa, Turkey, and in the earlier period you have a number of places – Eastern Europe itself and the former Soviet Union – where nobody expected liberalization.
You are not going to know when this is going to happen ahead of time unless you try to engage people and gauge whether there is some interest in changing course. In the mid-2000s, Qaddafi had given up his nuclear weapons program. He was taken off the terrorism list by the US because he really hadn’t engaged in that sort of activity for quite a while. So I think it was worth it to just see what the limits of reform in those kinds of cases are.
Are we headed for a Frankenstein scenario?
Skafidas: In “Our Posthuman Future,” you speculated that “there can be no end of history without an end of modern natural science and technology.” Do you fear some kind of Frankenstein scenario?
Fukuyama: The Frankenstein story is little bit sensational. What is going to happen is the slow accumulation of knowledge about biomedicine is going to enable us to manipulate human behavior in all sorts of new ways. That is really the challenge. A lot of biomedicine, of course, is going to be used for therapeutic purposes, and everybody approves that.
What needs to be injected into public policy are certain considerations about the use of this technology for inappropriate purposes through engineering, the abuse of cloning or the like. I’m not necessarily an optimist when it comes to technology. I think that it needs to be regulated, and right now in the US, in particular, we don’t regulate this form of medicine, and I think we need to.
Democracy is still the endgame of historical progress
Skafidas: The impact of “The End of History” – whose optimistic premise after the fall of the Berlin Wall was that all the world’s conflicts will resolve into the model of liberal democracy – elevated you to a rock-star status. Some of your ideas from that book have been used and abused, but they still resonate. Did you ever predict this powerful impact when you were writing it? And do you remain optimistic more than 20 years later?
Fukuyama: No, definitely not! I really didn’t think very many people would read the book. As for the question on optimism, it depends on the timeframe. The basic question was, “Is there a process of modernization that leads to democracy, which makes people better off as a result? Are people better off as a result of that?”
For me, the answer to that question still remains yes. In the short run, meaning the next five to ten years, things can look bad. Obviously after 9/11 we had a lot of problems with religious extremism and setbacks to democracy. But now the Arab Spring may be partially reversing that – but that itself may get reversed. The question is, “In the long run is there such a thing as historical progress?” On that score I still remain optimistic.