Monday, June 09, 2014

Fukuyama: still wrong after all these years.

If in 1909, just five years before WWI, Norman Angell published his intellectually facepalming book, The Great Illusion.

In that book, he makes the argument that;
... advanced economies based on trade and contract law can only generate value in the absence of military upset. War destroys any wealth that conquerors may have wanted to obtain, making the whole enterprise pointless. A deep understanding of this would, then, end the need for war.
We all know how that turned out.

Let's see, 24 years after publication was what? There we go, 1934. What was happening in 1934? That's right, Hitler was effectively now dictator after the Night of the Long Knives, etc..etc.

So, it would seem rather silly for someone like Angell to state in the mid-30s that everyone should ignore the reality around him and still cling to his pre-Great War theories. Actually, by the mid-30s, Angell was aggressively warning all about returning German nationalism - so at least he learned from history, in a fashion.

That brings us to Francis Fukuyama. As we've covered here for years, I am not a fan of the work he has been living off of most of my adult life, his essay The End of History, and the book that followed three years later, The End of History and the Last Man.

Don't get me wrong, there is some solid academic work done in both, and some nice concepts ... but for the love of Pete - he is not a soothsayer or a Titan of history. You can drive trucks through all his work. He thinks he has built a brick wall of thought, but it is really just a tennis net.

Well, F2 is back, this time over at WSJ with an essay, At the 'End of History' Still Stands Democracy: Twenty-five years after Tiananmen Square and the Berlin Wall's fall, liberal democracy still has no real competitors.

Put on your goggles, and let's dive in to the whirlwind of myopia, shall we? I want to start with a "I told you so," F2 is showing some leg;
I argued that History (in the grand philosophical sense) was turning out very differently from what thinkers on the left had imagined. The process of economic and political modernization was leading not to communism, as the Marxists had asserted and the Soviet Union had avowed, but to some form of liberal democracy and a market economy. History, I wrote, appeared to culminate in liberty: elected governments, individual rights, an economic system in which capital and labor circulated with relatively modest state oversight.
Thank you for confirming what we all knew about the left during the Cold War - you weren't in it to win it - you were just standing by to join the Commissariat once they took power like the useful idiots you were/are.

It wasn't so much you didn't want to win, you just had no concept that the West could. The left still has that attitude, and I hold them still in contempt for it.
Looking back at that essay from the present moment, let's begin with an obvious point: The year 2014 feels very different from 1989.
Was the day F2 was born Year-Zero? This is the same mindset that thinks it is a crisis that the climate is changing. Good googly moogly, the climate has, is, and will always change - and jumps of 25-years will always show difference in the political state of the world.

Yes, this guy is paid for these observations. He is milking this dead goat for all it is worth.
As the foreign-policy analyst Walter Russell Mead recently wrote, old-fashioned geopolitics has returned big time, and global stability is being threatened at both ends of Eurasia.
It never left! When did it ever leave? F2 may have not been paying attention, but everyone from Poland to Bosnia has been.
So has my end-of-history hypothesis been proven wrong, or if not wrong, in need of serious revision? I believe that the underlying idea remains essentially correct, but I also now understand many things about the nature of political development that I saw less clearly during the heady days of 1989.
Yep, hindsight will do that to you - but again - the year F2 was born, 1952, was not Year-Zero.

He is like the military transformationalists. They don't see evolution and adoption - as they have never bothered to understand how both have been so successful in the past - no, they are fascinated by themselves and their own period where each new thing - new to them - is the item that will change everything in the blink of an eye. Like the teenager who think they discovered s3x.

History never ended, paused, or otherwise took a break at the end of the Cold War. It just took a turn, but those like F2 were too busy fussing with their hair in the mirror to look at where it was going. They still don't, but they seem to get a little glimpse of its shadow, but that is about it.
Huge changes have taken place in the political sphere as well. In 1974, according to the Stanford University democracy expert Larry Diamond, there were only about 35 electoral democracies, which represented something less than 30% of the world's countries. By 2013, that number had expanded to about 120, or more than 60% of the total. The year 1989 marked only a sudden acceleration of a broader trend that the late Harvard political scientist Samuel Huntington labeled the "third wave" of democratization, a wave that had begun with the transitions in southern Europe and Latin America some 15 years earlier and would later spread to sub-Saharan Africa and Asia.

The emergence of a market-based global economic order and the spread of democracy are clearly linked. Democracy has always rested on a broad middle class, and the ranks of prosperous, property-holding citizens have ballooned everywhere in the past generation.
This has been true since political and social trends were put down in the West as we crawled out of the Dark Ages ... and can be found in ancient Greek and Roman commentary as well.

Why has it "grown" as of late? Simple, the bayonet of the totalitarian leftist theory of Communism at the throat of the natural yearning for man to be free has been lifted. Where else was the needle going to go once that is lifted?
Many of the world's most stubborn bastions of authoritarianism are oil-rich states such as Russia, Venezuela or the regimes in the Persian Gulf, where the "resource curse," as it has been called, gives the government enormous revenues from a source other than the people themselves.
No. This shows F2's greatest weakness - his inability to address uncomfortable cultural truths.

The resource curse has not forced the Norwegians or Australians into authoritarianism. This has to do with the nature of the culture of the people who are blessed with resources.
Some radicals in the Middle East may dream of restoring an Islamist caliphate, but this isn't the choice of the vast majority of people living in Muslim countries. The only system out there that would appear to be at all competitive with liberal democracy is the so-called "China model," which mixes authoritarian government with a partially market-based economy and a high level of technocratic and technological competence.
When have those cultures ever enjoyed the freedom of the will of the people inside a democratic structure? At best, post-Colonialism they were given one man, one vote ... and then decided, "one time."

The "China Model" is quite attractive, but it is just a different flavor in the authoritarianism-totalitarianism spectrum of societies.

Wait ... do I find common ground?
Democracies survive and succeed only because people are willing to fight for the rule of law, human rights and political accountability. Such societies depend on leadership, organizational ability and sheer good luck.
Well, knock me down with a feather - I agree. Democracies also tend to commit suicide ... but that is a different topic for a different day, perhaps.
The biggest single problem in societies aspiring to be democratic has been their failure to provide the substance of what people want from government: personal security, shared economic growth and the basic public services (especially education, health care and infrastructure) that are needed to achieve individual opportunity. Proponents of democracy focus, for understandable reasons, on limiting the powers of tyrannical or predatory states. But they don't spend as much time thinking about how to govern effectively. They are, in Woodrow Wilson's phrase, more interested in "controlling than in energizing government."
Oh, so close. He dodges the cultural aspect of it. Government is best where it governs least as that mitigates the dark-couple side of human nature - corruption and power.

If you have a small to medium sized, relatively homogeneous people with a healthy civil society, you can have largish governments. Large heterogeneous nations? Never can make it work.

He also does not seem to want to accept that it takes a long time for a culture that has never lived under democratic systems to work on it long enough for it to grow roots. It rarely happens in the life of one man.
Had an effective democratic administration come to power, cleaning up corruption in Kiev and making the state's institutions more trustworthy, the government might have established its legitimacy across Ukraine, including the Russian-speaking east, long before Mr. Putin was strong enough to interfere. Instead, the democratic forces discredited themselves and paved the way for Mr. Yanukovych's return in 2010, thus setting the stage for the tense, bloody standoff of recent months.

India has been held back by a similar gap in performance when compared with authoritarian China. It is very impressive that India has held together as a democracy since its founding in 1947. But Indian democracy, like sausage-making, doesn't look very appealing on closer inspection. The system is rife with corruption and patronage; 34% of the winners of India's recent elections have criminal indictments pending against them, according to India's Association for Democratic Reforms, including serious charges like murder, kidnapping and sexual assault.
Perfect examples. They are working on it.

Our republic had its challenges as well - but we're getting there and we have a few centuries head start on these two ancient cultures, but young nations.

Here is where F2 really shows not just his ankles, but his leftist anti-American a55;
Americans, more than other people, often fail to understand the need for effective government, focusing instead on the constraint of authority. In 2003, the George W. Bush administration seemed to believe that democratic government and a market-oriented economy would spontaneously emerge in Iraq once the U.S. had eliminated Saddam Hussein's dictatorship. It didn't understand that these arise from the interaction of complex institutions—political parties, courts, property rights, shared national identity—that have evolved in developed democracies over many decades, even centuries.

The inability to govern effectively extends, unfortunately, to the U.S. itself. Our Madisonian Constitution, deliberately designed to prevent tyranny by multiplying checks and balances at all levels of government, has become a vetocracy. In the polarized—indeed poisonous—political atmosphere of today's Washington, the government has proved unable to move either forward or backward effectively.
He totally does not get that inefficiency is a feature, not a bug. Effective governments line obedient subjects along slit-trenches to get bullets in the head. Unconstrained authority imprison millions for thought crimes and commit genocide on personal whim.

There is a reason why we are a young nation, but a relatively old republic. It has to do with the constraints on power in the Constitution.
Though the U.S. economy remains a source of miraculous innovation, American government is hardly a source of inspiration around the world at the present moment.
That is because the international self-appointed elite are in love with their own pursuit of power and control, and the self-loathing of the balance of our own intelligentsia. Self-governing republics are an anathema to those who want the EU to just be an adjunct to the UN and SCOTUS to be a mid-point to the ICC. Talk to the young in Iran, and the US system doesn't seem too bad. Ask those in labor camps in the Chinese deserts.
A second problem that I did not address 25 years ago is that of political decay, which constitutes a down escalator. All institutions can decay over the long run. They are often rigid and conservative; rules responding to the needs of one historical period aren't necessarily the right ones when external conditions change.
Decay? Was the decay in post-WWII Britain caused by "rigid conservatives?" No, Socialism and labor unions (yes, I'm being redundant). Was the Weimar Republic crumbled by "rigid conservatives?" No, it was the Communists and National Socialists who did them in. As a matter of fact, the only effective opposition to the Nazi were the "rigid conservatives" of the old German nobility. The various French Republics fell by "rigid conservatives?" Do I really need to go on?

Again, back to F2's self-referential Year-Zero issue;
... the power of the democratic ideal remains immense. We see it in the mass protests that continue to erupt unexpectedly from Tunis to Kiev to Istanbul, where ordinary people demand governments that recognize their equal dignity as human beings. We also see it in the millions of poor people desperate to move each year from places like Guatemala City or Karachi to Los Angeles or London.
The first part has always been true throughout history. In the Anglosphere, just open your aperture a bit and you can see the same drive and trend from the English Civil War to the American Revolution.

As for the second part, again F2 dodges the cultural problem. He is an intelligent man, so I'll be courteous and say it must be for ideological blindness reasons that he won't address the problem.

Even though - is anything he uses as a benchmark date from before the year he was born?

Francis Fukuyama; still negative help to aspiring intellectuals everywhere; to good thought what these guys are to good music.

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