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 . Successful representatives retire and are replaced in an orderly fashion. Unsuccessful representatives 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.
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.
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.