Fukuyama vs. Huntington

Huntington’s Legacy

They are both right in some respect. It’s not like they have to be mutually exclusive. Islamic fundamentalism is the dominant threat, yet the mixed-economy system does seem to be the prevailing one in the 21st century , displacing communism and socialism in many parts of the world.

Big authoritarian powers like Russia and China have grown self-confident and aggressive. Meanwhile, existing liberal democracies have lost much of their appeal after the financial crises in America and the Eurozone during the 2000s, and are suffering from populist uprisings that threaten the liberal pillar of their political systems.

But these countries have always been that way, long before the 2000’s. China and Russia, although they are not democracies, are far from resembling their autocratic regimes of more than half a century ago.

Second, despite the media hype, there is hardly any right-wing uprising in Europe. The media keeps pushing this false narrative that there is a surge in far-right nationalism in Europe. According to Bloomberg, just two countries in Europe could be considered right-wing: Poland and Hungary. However, Orban came into power in 2010, about 5 years before the beginning of the so-called uprising, so he doesn’t count. Erdogan, if we lump Turkey with Europe, again, came into power a decade before the uprising, so he does not count either. One of only a couple right-wing leaders to accede power is the President of Poland, Andrzej Duda, who was elected in 2015. And then there is Taressa May, who botched Brexit and is so ineffectual that she barely counts. The appointment of Pedro Sanchez [of the left-wing Spain Socialist Workers’ Party (PSOE)], who replaced Mariano Rajoy (another left-winger), goes against the narrative of such a populist uprising. Macron in 2017 beat his right-wing rival LePen in a landslide. In 2017, center-left Frank-Walter Steinmeier was elected president of Germany.

But the interesting thing is, despite being more socially liberal than the United States, Europe actually has a stronger and more influential right-wing presence. France, Poland, Italy, Spain, etc. have always had far-right parties. This is due to parliamentary government systems, which gives seats to fringe parties that are able to secure enough votes, in contrast to the the winner-take-all system of the Untied States. Right-wing political activists get much more millage for their efforts in Europe than in America.

In place of the Left-Right ideological split defined largely by issues revolving around the relative economic power of capital and labor in an industrialized setting that characterized 20th-century politics, we now have a political spectrum organized increasingly around identity issues, many of which are defined more by culture than by economics narrowly construed. This shift is not good for the health of liberal democracy, and the number one exemplar of this dysfunction is the United States, where the rise of Donald Trump has posed a serious threat to America’s check-and-balance institutions. The phenomenon of rising populist nationalism is one that I have explored previously in this journal,[2] and at much greater length in my most recent book Identity: The Demand for Dignity and the Politics of Resentment.

He’s forgetting about the 90’s, which were dominated by ‘identity’ and cultural issues; for example, ‘don’t ask don’t tell’, gays in the boy scouts, etc.. In the 60’s, it was about race, civil rights, and if Kennedy’s Catholicism compromised his allegiance to the United Unites [there was a widespread belief at the time by Protestants that Catholics were subservient to Rome]. It’s not like identity politics is a new development.

Neither the China model nor the emerging populist-nationalist one represented by Russia, Turkey, or Hungary will likely be sustainable economically or politically over an extended period. On the other hand, democracies have mechanisms in place for correcting mistakes, and a big test of American democracy will occur in November when Americans get to vote on whether they approve of the presidency of Donald Trump. Moreover, the rural, less-educated parts of the population that are the core of populist support are, in countries experiencing economic growth, in long-term decline. At this point, however, such assertions amount to no more than speculation.

Yeah, except Turkey, Hungary, China, Russia and other nationalist governments have proven sustainable (although that is not the same as thriving). It’s not democracy that is the correcting mechanism–but rather it’s high IQ, low tolerance for corruption, and a strong private sector–which is why China and Singapore are so economically successful but Turkey and Brazil are not (both have low national IQs). Despite Brazil being a democracy, murders are at record highs, inflation is high, and there’s the constant backdrop of incompetence and corruption in government; those are problems that in large part are attributable to lows IQs and a culture that lends cover to corruption. By Fukuyama’s thesis, Brazil should be more successful than Singapore and Thailand, which by every quantifiable economic and social metric it is not.

The failure of Trump to accomplish much legislatively, is a ‘win’ for democracy, and much of Trump’s efforts to do anything have been stymied by courts or his own party. America’s system of ‘checks and balances’ was tested by Trump, and won.

The long-term unanswered questions posed by Huntington then are: Will deeply rooted cultural values be so durable as to prevent certain societies from ever modernizing; and if they modernize, will they fail to converge in terms of political institutions? The jury is still out on these issues. For many decades, people in the West thought that modernization could only occur on the basis of Western values, but the rise of East Asia has disproved that point of view. We need to be cautious in thinking that certain parts of the world will always remain poor. And if Saudi Arabia, Iran, and China become rich, high-tech societies with large middle classes and highly educated populations, will they still be content to be ruled by poorly educated clerics or Communist party apparatchiks? The possibility that they will not, and that they will demand greater political participation, is the grounds on which one might believe that convergence in regime types remains a possibility.

The evidence shows that culture does not threaten the stability of economic and political institutions. The jury is not out. Look at Japan, which modernized. Or Singapore, China, Turkey,..the list goes on and on. Saudi Arabia and China are already rich, high-tech societies, and China has a large middle class. The solution, again, is the private sector, which allows businesses to bypass and circumvent to varying degrees of success the ineptness of governments. Despite modernity, the people themselves don’t repudiate their culture and heritage. Mao is still revered in China. For Turkey, it’s Mehmed VI (the last Sultan of the Ottoman Empire before its collapse). For Russia, the Lenin mausoleum is still operational. Same for Vietnam and the reverence for Ho Chi Minh despite the country otherwise embracing capitalism.

Regarding internecine conflict, strong economies and ‘personal values’ (as opposed to broader cultural ones) can mitigate civil unrest. That’s why in spite of the political and cultural division in the U.S. over Trump, there is very little civil unrest. A personal value, for example, is self-sufficiency, which is why people go to work in order to provide for themselves and their families. When people have their own concrete personal obligations to attend to, more abstract cultural ones become less relevant and are pushed to the periphery.

Fukuyama is right about the ‘end of history’, but it’s not liberal democracy. Rather it’s a mixed-economic system characterized by rule of law, property rights, and private enterprise, but also social welfare programs. But this does not imply liberal democracy.