On the sustainability of the ‘Western democratic hegemony’

From Freddie deBoer: No, Francis Fukuyama is Wrong, Not Just Not Even Wrong.

He writes:

or myself, I’m here to tell you that Fukuyama is wrong, wrong wrong: to the extent that The End of History expresses a firm argument, it’s that human civilization has a teleological purpose and that liberal democracy represents a transcendent culmination of that purpose, one that we have not reached fully and may never reach fully but one that will prove more attractive to most people than any alternative in perpetuity. And that’s wrong because the sweep of human possibility is vastly larger than any person can ever understand from their own limited and contingent perspective within one tiny expression of that possibility, like our current moment. Will human beings still value democratic control of government and the liberal ideal when sentient androids perform everything we now think of as labor, thus fundamentally reorienting what government even is or does and what rights really are? I don’t know. Resnikoff doesn’t know. Fukuyama doesn’t know.

I think he’s overreading into a literal interpretation of the title and looking at it through a normative lens. The ‘end of history’ has so far proved correct in a positive sense, that is, the inevitably and sustainability of the ‘Western democratic hegemony’ (WDH), that since the end of WW2 has remained largely intact. It has survived everything thrown at it–the rise and fall of the USSR, ‘Islamism’, increased political unrest and division, the 2008 financial crisis and its aftermath, the 2010-2012 European sovereign debt crisis, Brexit, Covid, etc. This does not mean or prove that the WDH is necessarily a force for good (as the Iraq War has shown) or has some teleological purpose, but it’s not going away either, at least not for the foreseeable future.

Could the WDH falter? Yes, anything is possible, but we live in the world as it is today, not some hypothetical robot-overlord future. And so far Fukuyama is right, and I don’t see any reason for this to suddenly change given what the WDH has survived so far. A bigger, more interconnected global economy means that there are greater incentives and forces at play to keep the WDH going. The usual narrative by the likes of Taleb, Turchin, Minsky, etc. is that big, interconnected systems are prone to collapse, but they fail to consider that the bigger and more important a system becomes, the more resources may be summoned to forestall its collapse, too. In 2008 it seemed like capitalism was on the brink of collapse, and then lo and behold world leaders came together to coordinate massive bailout packages to keep it going.

Obviously, the USSR was a big system which failed, so there are no assurances here either. But again, there are key differences, that being the USSR had already lost, it’s 1992 unraveling being the culmination of two decades of decay and loss of ground that had precipitated by the late 80s. But there are no obvious challengers to the WDH, except perhaps China, but as discussed earlier, China would rather trade with or appropriate the ‘consumer capitalistic culture’ (CCC) of the WHD than necessarily supplant or overtake it.

Russia is another challenger, but is too weak to do much. Whereas the USSR was a federation that spanned an entire continent, since 2014 Putin has struggled to even secure a piece of Ukraine, left alone recreate the USSR. China cannot even secure Taiwan, and I don’t even think it wants to. There is Iran, but it hasn’t done much either. Most conflict within the Middle East is regional or sectarian, such as the Iraqi invasion of Iran 40 years ago. The competitors to the WHD, to put it bluntly, are weak, nor seem to have much inclination to do much.

Going back to the above essay, he writes:

What the attacks and their aftermath demonstrated was that the abstraction that is “liberal democracy” operates at such an immense altitude above daily human life that talking about the end of history – however cute you want to get about what you mean by “end” – becomes irrelevant. In response to 9/11, the United States invaded Iraq, directly causing the deaths of hundreds of thousands of Iraqis and resulting in the total demolition of the country’s civil society.

His argument is more of an indictment of expansionist policy, not the inferiority or superiority of one system over another. The WHD possibly necessitates occasional interventionism against entities that threaten it, which I think is a valid point in Freddie’s favor. The unlikely but possible breakup of the EU does not threaten the status quo too much, although if the US fails, sure as hell no other country is going to take up the mantle of the world police. The US conceived Iraq War, and then Tony Blair and others went along, but at a much more limited capacity. The US sent 466,985 troops, the UK 45,000, and Australia just 2,000 troops.

Now why the WDH has proven so successful is another matter. It possibly represents some optimum of many variables, such as sustainability, decentralization vs centralization, redundancy of leadership, separation of powers, market incentive structures, rule of law, etc. Also, the end of the Second World War saw huge vacuums of power and leadership that were filled by democratic forms of government, imposed by the winners. The collapse of the USSR saw similar voids open up. Sure, liberal democracy is far from perfect, but it has to only be better than the competitors to succeed.

1 comment

  1. If the USA collapsed then China would try to start regional alliances with the Arab world and India which would take a century, and encourage Russia to counterbalance the European alliance. There would also be south American and south east Asian regional hegemonies. All would try to prevent the others from becoming powerful.

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