Sunday, August 24, 2008

We are all Fukuyamans - except W. and McCain

Because "The End of History" has been so widely mischaracterized by critics, I was pleased to see Fukuyama assess the new authoritarianism in today's Washington Post.

In the common caricature, Fukuyama essentially proclaimed "game over" when the Berlin Wall fell in 1989. That's true in a sense - but only in an ideological sense. Fukuyama never suggested that the path to worldwide liberal democracy would be smooth or swift. His point was that with the collapse of communism, the world had no viable ideological alternative to liberal democracy that could attract widespread lasting support. Today he asserts that that remains true:
Today's autocrats can also prove surprisingly weak when it comes to ideas and ideologies. Nazi Germany, the Soviet Union and Mao's China were particularly dangerous because they were built on powerful ideas with potentially universal appeal, which is why we found Soviet arms and advisers showing up in places such as Nicaragua and Angola. But this sort of ideological tyrant no longer bestrides the world stage. Despite recent authoritarian advances, liberal democracy remains the strongest, most broadly appealing idea out there. Most autocrats, including Putin and Chávez, still feel that they have to conform to the outward rituals of democracy even as they gut its substance. Even China's Hu Jintao felt compelled to talk about democracy in the run-up to Beijing's Olympic Games. And Musharraf proved enough of a democrat to let himself be driven from office by the threat of impeachment.

If today's autocrats are willing to bow to democracy, they are eager to grovel to capitalism. It's hard to see how we can be entering a new cold war when China and Russia have both happily accepted the capitalist half of the partnership between capitalism and democracy. (Mao and Stalin, by contrast, pursued self-defeating, autarkic economic policies.) The Chinese Communist Party's leadership recognizes that its legitimacy depends on continued breakneck growth. In Russia, the economic motivation for embracing capitalism is much more personal: Putin and much of the Russian elite have benefited enormously from their control of natural resources and other assets.

Democracy's only real competitor in the realm of ideas today is radical Islamism. Indeed, one of the world's most dangerous nation-states today is Iran, run by extremist Shiite mullahs. But as Peter Bergen pointed out in these pages last week, Sunni radicalism has been remarkably ineffective in actually taking control of a nation-state, due to its propensity to devour its own potential supporters. Some disenfranchised Muslims thrill to the rantings of Osama bin Laden or Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, but the appeal of this kind of medieval Islamism is strictly limited.
Obama is essentially a Fukuyaman, as any American president should be. According to Fukuyama, sheer competitive pressure pushes countries first toward a market economy and then toward democracy, as a rising middle class demands an accountable government that can't take away property or personal autonomy by fiat. In Obama's telling, a government promoting human rights, free markets and democracy is swimming with the tide; it can lead primarily by example and by positive reinforcement of liberalizing trends and groups within authoritarian states. Here's how he put it in an interview last week with Time's Karen Tumulty:
When you think about our greatest victories — reintegrating Japan, Western Europe after World War II into the free world — there were enormous sacrifices, a lot of resources, but what was really powerful was how we could hold up ourselves and say, "Individuals are able to live a better life under this system." And I don't think that we should be ashamed of asserting that rule of law is better than no rule of law, that democracy is better than authoritarianism, that a free press is better than a closed press. Yet how we achieve or how we approach this, I think, has to take into account that not everybody is going to be at the same place right away, and that if we think we can simply impose our institutions through military means, that we'll probably fall short, because the world may be smaller, but it's not that small.
There's nothing startling about this approach. Every president from Roosevelt through Clinton subscribed to it in theory if not always in practice. A Fukuyaman faith underpinned the doctrine of containment, which held that if the U.S. could contain Soviet expansion while avoiding all-out military confrontation, the Soviet Union would eventually collapse because communism could not compete with democratic capitalism economically. Again, it's the pressure to keep up or catch up, to capture a share of the world's wealth, that pushes governments toward capitalism.

Whether authoritarian capitalist or quasi-capitalist states will eventually be subject to and yield to internal pressure for democracy and human rights is now widely regarded as an open question. Perhaps the rage of Chinese parents whose children's poorly-built schools collapsed in the recent earthquake, or escalating unrest from Chinese uprooted and barely compensated by government-driven development or disinherited by rampant pollution, point toward an answer.

Bush and Cheney abrogated the postwar U.S. foreign policy consensus - through their doctrine and practice of pre-emption, their messianic determination to spread democracy by fire and sword, their sustained violation of the Geneva conventions and implementation of a torture regime. McCain would extend the Bush-Cheney abrogation -- by seeking quixoticaly to cut the emerging Asian powers out of world governance with his phantasmagoric League of Democracies; by advocating sutained military action everywhere American interests or security may be threatened, e.g., Iraq, Iran, Georgia, North Korea; and by preserving the CIA's freedom to torture terror suspects or anyone else deemed a threat to American security.

Related Post:
Breaking the Commander-in-Chief Chokehold: Obama Maps a Strategy

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