Fukuyama, f*** yeah (crosspost from CT)

Following up on the end of the Arab exception, I agree, pretty much with commenter Hidari, who says

For better or for worse the immediate future, politically speaking, (by which I mean, the next 30 or 40 years) belongs to the parliamentary democracies.

. Supposing that Tunisia and Egypt manage a transition to some kind of democracy, it seems inevitable that quasi-constitutional monarchies like Jordan and Morocco will respond with further liberalisation and democratisation, for fear of sharing the fate of Ben Ali and Mubarak. Add in Algeria, Iran, Iraq and Lebanon, all of which have elections of some kind, and the dominant mode in the Middle East/North Africa will have been transformed from dictatorship to (admittedly highly imperfect) democracy. The remaining autocracies (Libya, Mauritania Sudan, Syria) and the feudal monarchies of the Arabian peninsula will be seen as the barbaric relics they are, with days that are clearly numbered. Even if things go wrong for one or both of the current revolutions, the idea that these autocratic/monarchical regimes have some kind of durable basis of support is gone for good.

So, how is Fukuyama’s view of the end of history looking?

As far as the dominance of representative democracy is concerned, pretty good. Given a decade or two to establish itself, representative democracy has proved to be a remarkably stable system, far more so (under modern conditions) than alternatives like hereditary monarchy, autocracy, military juntas or the one-party state.

There are, I think, two reasons for this. First, the representative system solves the succession/dismissal problem that has plagued nearly all other systems of government, as witness the “Wars of the X Succession” that ravaged Europe throughout the period of absolute monarchy [1]. Successful representatives retire and are replaced in an orderly fashion. Unsuccessful representatives[2] are dismissed without bloodshed, and their replacements are on notice that they can be similarly dismissed.

Second, democracy ensures that everyone has a say. Not, of course, an equal say, but, for everyone outside the ruling elite, more of a say than they would get under any alternative system. Once that fact is generally recognised, mass mobilisation against the system becomes an impossibility. The disastrous bloodbaths generated by revolutionary alternatives to democracy have by now provided sufficient warning that no such alternative can attract any genuine support.[3]

The real threat, as Hidari observes in a footnote, is that democracy can be subverted from within, by charismatic/authoritarian leaders like Berlusconi and Putin. In Queensland, we experienced the same thing on a small scale under Joh Bjelke-Petersen (look him up). In my view, the logic of representative democracy will ultimately prevail. If these guys hang around long enough, they will mess things up and be thrown out (as happened to Joh). If they last to retirement age, they will have no power to designate a successor.added sentence And, in addition to the risk of demagogues/autocrats, there’s the threat from the security state, most evident in the US. While it’s hard to see any positive developments in the US at present in this respect, quite a few other countries have stepped back from the extreme measures adopted in 2001, so we can hope that the US will eventually recover from its current state of permanent panic.

The second part of the “end of history” thesis is, in essence, the theory of democratic peace. If democracy becomes universal, and if democracies don’t fight each other, then history, understood as “kings and battles” is indeed at an end. I think this is broadly correct, but the thesis is undermined by the existence of nuclear weapons. Even if democratic peace is 99 per cent right, a low-probability nuclear war (between say, democratic Pakistan and democratic India) would be a cataclysm comparable to the worst of the 20th century or before.

I’ll turn now to the last part of Fukuyama’s thesis that the “end of history” entails the triumph of liberal capitalism. Here, I think, Fukuyama is engaged in a bait and switch that is almost universal among American commentators. On the one hand, the triumph of capitalism is proved by the fact that capitalism, in forms ranging from Hong Kong-style free markets to Scandinavian social democracy is universal). On the other hand, since the US is assumed to be the archetype of capitalism, this proof is taken to show that US-style liberal capitalism must prevail. This is a spurious argument by definition.[4]

added So, between the threats to democracy from within, and the contest between alternative models of capitalism and the mixed economy, the emergence of representative democracy as the global norm does not entail the End of History, even if it does mean the end of some kinds of history (and, with reference to my earlier post on US decline, the end of the associated models of international relations).

Overall, though, the startling events in North Africa have undercut the recently popular criticism of the Fukuyama thesis, based on the temporary successes of Putin and the Chinese oligarchs. There is no reason to think that the rule of Putin, or of the Communist Party of China, will outlast the next economic downturn, or even slowdown, any more than Ben Ali or Mubarak.

fn1. The papacy is one exception, but seems to be workable only because of the reverence/superstition surrounding it. When this is absent, reliance on a self-selected body of electors produces schisms, anti-popes and so on.

fn2. As Enoch Powell, who exemplified his own point, observed, all political careers, unless they are cut off in midstream at a happy juncture, end in failure.

fn3. The turn to terrorist methods by groups like the Red Brigades has served to discredit revolutionary approaches even more, and thereby further stabilise representative democracy.

fn4. A commenter suggests that Fukuyama is no longer a cheerleader for the US model, and I think that’s right, but The End of History was read that way by admirers and critics alike, so I think my description captures Fukuyama’s argument at the time.

20 thoughts on “Fukuyama, f*** yeah (crosspost from CT)

  1. Taken literally, any end of history thesis is nonsense except in the sense that human history will end when the species ends. On all other views, history will continue and continue to surprise us through the influence of unforeseen or unavoidable events endogenous and exogenous to human society.

    I agree that representative parliamentary democracy is about the best governing system humanly possible or at least the best devised so far. I disagree about the main dangers to democracy. The main dangers (and indeed they are presently operating very powerfully) are subversion of democracy by corporatism and oligarchic/plutocratic cliques.

    The question of whether the USA is a healthy or good example of democracy is scarcely even moot. The military-industrial-financial oligarchy is powerful indeed. The US can legitimately be viewed as having been on the cusp of oligarchic totalistarianism for at least 20 years now.

    The crypto-totalitarian nature of the Patriot Act and associated measures are clear. The level of corruption in the financial sector and the lack of will to reign in corporatism and its secrecy and corruption, along with high levels of violence and incarceration indicate it is a very sick democracy. The chances of US history taking a marked turn for the worse economically, socially and politcally are now higher than even odds. If that happens, a lot of new histories will be scribbled very rapidly.

  2. It seems to me that liberal democracy and US-style capitalism are increasingly coming into conflict; the steady increase in inequality and “tight money”, punish-the-poor economics, excacerbated by increasing speculative crises such as the present one, is driving a wedge between the populations of the countries that have gone furthest down the US road (US, UK, NZ, us, Canada?) and their elected unrepresentatives, which neither traditional left or right parties are doing anything about; leading to the rise of the greens on the left and neo-fascists on the right and an extremist turn on all sides.

  3. Such optimism should be tempered with caution. As I write, the counter revolution has struck in Cairo. For another perspective on the democratisation of North Africa and the Middle East, this effort by Mark Colvin “Too early to celebrate” on the ABC’s Drum is worth a look…. http://www.abc.net.au/news/stories/2011/02/03/3128329.htm

    As Mark points out “revolutionary turmoil frequently favours, not the best, but the most ruthless.”

  4. @JamesH
    well described James -“the steady increase in inequality and “tight money”, punish-the-poor economics”
    the economics of division?

  5. I would like to be optimistic too but view the democracies in places like Iran as dubious because a democracy is more than a vote. If people are prevented from standing for election and the rigging of votes is accompanied by press restrictions and manipulations, along with repressive police forces then there is no democracy.

  6. I don’t know that Representative Democracy offers more than the best of bad choices; it sometimes seems to offer little more than the opportunity to oust one lot of self serving power seekers and replace them with another lot that have marginally superior PR. But I suppose some credit is due for largely successfully balancing the various competing interests well enough that taking up arms isn’t the preferred form of political expression.

    A major flaw with representative democracy is lack of well informed voters; the most popular sources of information are under no obligation to be truthful or balanced. They often find it in their interest to promote particular issues or controversies or to bypass, downplay or even mislead on others. Pressing people’s outrage buttons is the way to short circuit intelligent decision making.

    On some critical issues there are coordinated efforts to misinform from groups with short term financial interests at stake and these can be both direct purchasers of advertising and represent the interests of such advertisers. And the ideologies of those owning and managing media seem to find much in common with the minimum-regulation, minimum-tax, no-responsibility-taken positions that are used to support inaction on important issues like climate change; those biases will inevitably leak through and representative democracy is seriously failing us as a consequence.

  7. @Jill Rush
    True Jill – how many rigged votes do we see, how many people terrorised for daring to go to a poll, how many people are prevented from standing for election because they cant (arent right enough) get the funding of the powerful and even more powerful behind them?

    Is the US really a democracy or a token democracy? Whats democratic about how candidates campaign? Whats democratic about how candidates are portrayed by the powerful media. Whats democratic about the way political representatives talk the talk of change, but just happen to agree with bankers that the status quo should continue?

    Whats democratic about the scions of the banks being so close behind the scenes in our governments ( e.g. why are Macquarie executives being called before the power sale inquiry in NSW – was it they who wrote the sale terms for Roozendahl? Did they by any chance assist with contract preparation?)

  8. A lot of the more interesting developments in creating democracy are coming from places without representative democracy. For example, those wayward “Chinese oligarchs” have created opportunities such as the Zeguo experiment.

    In my observation, there seems to be something about a representative democracy that creates its own stagnation.

  9. I think you have to take a longer view. The poles are not democracy vs autocracy but degree of participation or ownership of the political process. A consultative monarchy or an oligarchy with extensive patronage links can be as participatory as formally more open systems. On this scale many Western countries have been moving away from widespread ownership over the last couple of decades – and the movement shows no sign of reversing.

  10. I think Fukuyama meant by his “End of History” that history from then onward would be of the libertarian nirvana which he thought we had all reached. Someone must have eaten another apple, because we seem to have been expelled from that Eden (if I can mix my religious utopian metaphors).

  11. @Freelander
    There is nothing nirvanaesque about extreme libertarianism. There is only enslavement of the majority by the few able to be extremely free with their resources, which they have managed to harness by lack of the rule of law. Libertarianism is only darwinism by any other name…and there is nothiing pretty about it.

  12. @Ikonoclast
    I think the key here is ‘exogenous’ change. We are being naive if we think that all future history will be determined by human-human interaction. Eternal influence far beyond our species’ control will feasibly influence our future significantly. Our future history may be largely determined by how we choose to respond to these non-human challenges.

  13. [Posted but not yet published at CT.]

    Democracy, according to John Quiggin “ensures that everyone has a say. Not, of course, an equal say, but, for everyone outside the ruling elite, more of a say than they would get under any alternative system.”

    I disagree, at least if “democracy” means UNIVERSAL SUFFRAGE —that is, the system in which every enrolled elector can actually cast a vote at every election.

    If you are a candidate, universal suffrage maximizes the number of electors to whom you must present your message, and therefore maximizes the cost of a successful campaign. Your message obviously includes a component designed to make people vote for you rather than for someone else. If voting is optional, your message also includes a heavy “get out the vote” component, designed to make your presumed supporters vote rather than stay home. But both components cost money.

    Universal suffrage therefore maximizes the influence of those who have the resources needed to run campaigns. These, I presume, are Quiggin’s “ruling elite”. The problem, to which Quiggin offers no solution, is how to give a bigger say to those outside the elite.

    My solution, which I call CONVENED-SAMPLE SUFFRAGE, is as follows. For each election, in each electorate, invite a random sample of the enrolled voters to gather in one place (or one video conference). Pay them well for their time, so that they can afford to accept the invitation. Let them hear and cross-examine the candidates over a period of several days. Then let them vote as an electoral college—choosing the candidate(s) that the entire enrolled electorate would have chosen if it had heard the same arguments.

    In short, don’t take the message to the electors; bring a sample of electors to the message. In more technical language, choose an electoral college by sortition.

    Yes, this process introduces a random sampling error. But that’s better than the present systematic bias in favour of moneyed interests.

    Convened-sample suffrage is compatible with any VOTING SYSTEM (e.g. first-past-the-post, preferential, proportional). Whether the voting system should be changed is a separate issue. Paying the sample of electors would be cheaper than paying the army of officials needed for a universal-suffrage election—?to say nothing of the campaign costs.

    On balance, convened-sample suffrage would increase each citizen’s chances of affecting the outcome. The reduction in your chances of voting would be exactly compensated by the increase in your chances of being the marginal voter if you do vote; and the opportunity to speak and ask questions in the electoral college would be a further avenue of influence. Universal suffrage is beguiling because it offers the certainty of having a say. But the greater probability of having a say (100%) is more than offset by the reduced probability that your “say” will swing the outcome.

    Worse, under universal suffrage, your chances of affecting the outcome are so remote that it is not rational to spend time informing yourself about the issues for the purpose of voting (although it may be rational for other purposes). Thus universal suffrage leads to almost universal RATIONAL IGNORANCE, which in turn increases the susceptibility of voters to the propaganda of the ruling elite.

    But if you are selected as one of (say) 100 members of the convened sample in your electorate, your chances of affecting the result will suddenly become quite significant. So you’ll make the effort to get informed. Other members of the sample will also get informed, making it easier for you to exert rational influence on them.

    Government by the few tends to be corrupt. Government by the many tends to be ignorant. Representative democracy is supposed to be the solution; but under universal suffrage it merely allows the ignorant many to choose the corrupt few. Convened-sample suffrage induces a sample of the many to purge their ignorance before they choose the few. Hence, to the limited extent that the spread of democracy is hindered by fear of the ignorant many, convened-sample suffrage may overcome the resistance.

    Under convened-sample suffrage the informed electoral college, the opportunity to speak in the presence of the entire college, and the higher probably of being the “swing” voter in the college would more than compensate for the lower probability of “having a say”; and the superior ability of the ruling elite to address the ignorant masses would be short-circuited, giving the rest of us a stronger say than we have now.

  14. Hmm. A few points:
    a) The USA has a phenomenal cost incurred per running candidate for the two major parties when determining who will be their president hopeful. I think democracies that rely on such a process as the USA are particularly exposed to the problem of a powerful interest dominating the selection process.
    b) The easiest way to get people to vote is to make it enforcable and compulsory to turn up at the voting booths. If it is compulsory then the onus shifts to the government to provide adequate access to voting areas. The often touted alternative of non-compulsory voting is too easy to rig, unless the government is willing to make that special effort for its citizens.
    c) Dominocracies seem to form inordinately often – the appearance of vested interest groups that can bulldoze the opinions and rights of others, hence “dominocracy”; print media dominance in Australia for example.
    d) The biggy for this century: resource issues among countries. Wars could still begin because of resource conflicts between nations, and then other nations effectively having to choose the A Team or the “B Team”.
    e) Finally, how to deal with the long term where the democracy relies upon short term decision-making, often further confounded by a binary democracy?

    I think there is way to much stuff to get through before one can say that Fukiyama got it right.

  15. i rather like the convened suffrage proposal. I would force the candidates to front up to citizen jury before the election and at regular intervals thereafter. Abolishing universal suffrage at the election would be bad on principle and would also open itself to ferocious levels of manipulation. Given what the right has got away with in skewing election mechanics in the US, I shudder to think of what would happen once the Selectomatic Corporation gained control of packing, I mean picking, a jury of electors.

    Dokimasia forever!

  16. “a random sample of the enrolled voters”
    I think you have a problem. What are you going to do about making sure your sample represents, pro rata, the prevailing political views at large in the electorate? What if your random sample happens to throw up a predominance of communists or Hansonites? It’s actually a big problem as most random sample algorithms aren’t random. So does that mean you’ll have some sort of jury selection process where all the political parties on the ticket get to reject candidates for the electoral college they don’t like?

  17. [Comment #15 above has since appeared at CT.]

    Alan and Patrickb (#18 and #19) have not identified any problem with convened-sample suffrage that doesn’t have a counterpart under universal suffrage.

    Under universal suffrage, what if Diebold gets control of the voting and counting of votes? (Oh, yeah, it did.) Under convened-sample suffrage, there are fewer votes to cast and count, hence less need for automation and greater ease of scrutiny.

    Under universal suffrage, what if the procedures for enrolling voters, screening them at booths, and excluding informal votes are deliberately designed to exclude more poor voters than rich voters? (Oh, yeah, that happens all the time.) Again, having fewer voters makes any such abuses more obvious.

    Should there be a voir dire process? No, because that’s a departure from randomness. But there should be TV cameras and candidates’ scrutineers at all stages of the selection process. And even if there were a voir dire process under convened-sample suffrage, how would that differ in principle from the present system for deciding which candidates’ policies get coverage in the media?

    Of course random sampling involves a random error. But this must be weighed against the systematic bias of mass campaigns. And if anything less than “universal suffrage at the election” is “bad on principle”, one must ask how that “principle” (whatever it might be) is NOT violated by the said bias.

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