At the Liberty Law Blog, my friend John McGinnis has posted a very perceptive criticism of Francis Fukuyama’s recent essay on the 25th anniversary of his famous article, “The End of History.” That extremely influential article, which Fukuyama wrote in the heady days of 1989, argued that liberal democracy owned the future. After the fall of the Berlin Wall, many commentators believed this. All other forms of social ordering had failed and nations across the globe seemed to be falling in line. Cultural differences that once mattered no longer did. From Bangkok to Ankara to Moscow, everyone wanted to be a liberal democrat. And even if they didn’t, the logic of liberal democracy was inescapable and its appeal irresistible.
Not everyone at the time felt this way, of course. The late Samuel Huntington wrote a great book, “The Clash of Civilizations,” that responded to Fukuyama and argued that old cultural patterns would remain relevant. For example, Huntington wrote, profound cultural differences divide Western and Orthodox Christian civilizations, and divide those civilizations from Islamic and Hindu civilizations. For writing this, Huntington was disparaged as a know-nothing by leading academics and commentators–the People Who Knew Better.
Twenty-five years later, Huntington appears to have made the better bet. The world hasn’t turned out as Fukuyama predicted. To his credit, John writes, Fukuyama concedes this. But he still maintains that liberal democracy is the only plausible system for modern society. John responds–correctly, in my view–that Fukuyama is wrong. There is an inherent tension between the two components of liberal democracy: liberalism, which privileges the individual, and democracy, which privileges the community. Different societies resolve the tension differently, depending on historical, geopolitical, and cultural traditions, including religious traditions. Russia and India provide powerful recent examples.
From the belief that everyone in the world should share your values, it’s an easy leap to the conclusion that everyone in the world does. John’s essay is a helpful correction. History goes on.