by Francis Fukuyama
April 3, 2007 10:15 AM
Fifteen years ago in my book The End of History and the Last Man I argued that, if a society wanted to be modern, there was no alternative to a market economy and a democratic political system. Not everyone wanted to be modern, of course, and not everyone could put in place the institutions and policies necessary to make democracy and capitalism work, but no alternative system would yield better results.
While the End of History thus was essentially an argument about modernisation, some people have linked my thesis about the end of history to the foreign policy of President George Bush and American strategic hegemony. But anyone who thinks that my ideas constitute the intellectual foundation for the Bush administration’s policies has not been paying attention to what I have been saying since 1992 about democracy and development.
President Bush initially justified intervention in Iraq on the grounds of Saddam’s programs to develop weapons of mass destruction, the regime’s alleged links to al-Qaida, as well as Iraq’s violation of human rights and lack of democracy. As the first two justifications crumbled in the wake of the 2003 invasion, the administration increasingly emphasised the importance of democracy, both in Iraq and in the broader Middle East, as a rationale for what it was doing.
Bush argued that the desire for freedom and democracy were universal and not culture-bound, and that America would be dedicated to the support of democratic movements “with the ultimate goal of ending tyranny in our world.” Supporters of the war saw their views confirmed in the ink-stained fingers of Iraqi voters who queued up to vote in the various elections held between January and December 2005, in the Cedar Revolution in Lebanon, and in the Afghan presidential and parliamentary elections.
Inspiring and hopeful as these events were, the road to liberal democracy in the Middle East is likely to be extremely disappointing in the near to medium term, and the Bush administration’s efforts to build a regional policy around it are heading toward abject failure.
To be sure, the desire to live in a modern society and to be free of tyranny is universal, or nearly so. This is demonstrated by the efforts of millions of people each year to move from the developing to the developed world, where they hope to find the political stability, job opportunities, health care, and education that they lack at home.
But this is different from saying that there is a universal desire to live in a liberal society – that is, a political order characterised by a sphere of individual rights and the rule of law. The desire to live in a liberal democracy is, indeed, something acquired over time, often as a byproduct of successful modernisation.
Moreover, the desire to live in a modern liberal democracy does not translate necessarily into an ability to actually do so. The Bush administration seems to have assumed in its approach to post-Saddam Iraq that both democracy and a market economy were default conditions to which societies would revert once oppressive tyranny was removed, rather than a series of complex, interdependent institutions that had to be painstakingly built over time.
Long before you have a liberal democracy, you have to have a functioning state (something that never disappeared in Germany or Japan after they were defeated in the second world war). This is something that cannot be taken for granted in countries like Iraq.
The End of History was never linked to a specifically American model of social or political organisation. Following Alexandre Kojève, the Russian-French philosopher who inspired my original argument, I believe that the European Union more accurately reflects what the world will look like at the end of history than the contemporary United States. The EU’s attempt to transcend sovereignty and traditional power politics by establishing a transnational rule of law is much more in line with a “post-historical” world than the Americans’ continuing belief in God, national sovereignty, and their military.
Finally, I never linked the global emergence of democracy to American agency, and particularly not to the exercise of American military power. Democratic transitions need to be driven by societies that want democracy, and since the latter requires institutions, it is usually a fairly long and drawn out process.
Outside powers like the US can often help in this process by the example they set as politically and economically successful societies. They can also provide funding, advice, technical assistance, and yes, occasionally military force to help the process along. But coercive regime change was never the key to democratic transition.