Western liberal democracy now faces a competitor Frances Fukuyama did not anticipate when he wrote “The End of History?,” says Harvard’s Michael Ignatieff: states that are capitalist in economics, authoritarian in politics, and nationalist in ideology. These new authoritarians are conducting an epoch-making historical experiment as to whether regimes that allow private freedoms can endure when they deny their citizens public freedom.
Fukuyama, a board member of the National Endowment for Democracy, “has learned caution since ‘The End of History?,’” he writes for The Atlantic, in a review of Political Order and Political Decay: From the Industrial Revolution to the Globalization of Democracy:
If his analysis is true, however, then Presidents Xi and Putin should beware. Over the long term—and nobody knows how long that might be—authoritarian regimes that allow their citizens capitalist freedoms but deny them democratic rights will explode, in revolution, coups, civil war, or a combination of all three. Democratization, Fukuyama seems to be saying, will eventually turn out to be necessary to Russia’s and China’s very survival as unitary states.
He also takes a relatively optimistic view of political developments in the Arab world, Ignatieff notes…
…..arguing that a middle class is steadily growing there, education levels are rising, and economies are opening up, all of which mean that autocracy or military dictatorship cannot last forever. Islam, he insists, is not an enemy of democracy. Indeed, Islamic parties have best captured the demand for political voice and dignity. Fukuyama clings to the Tunisian example, where moderate Islamic parties and secular political groups have agreed on a compromise constitution that does not let Sharia trump the rule of law.
Fukuyama’s assumption that middle classes always want democracy would seem to break down in Egypt, where the middle class of Cairo teamed up with the army to restore a military dictatorship after the first wave of the Arab Spring. Elsewhere, Islamists have exploited demands for voice and dignity, and Syria and Iraq are crumbling as their regimes fight to hold on to power. Not even Fukuyama is up to the challenge of predicting how long this battle will last, or who will win.