By Namo Abdulla -- for Rudaw
In the January/February edition of Foreign Affairs magazine, Francis Fukuyama published an article entitled The Future of History. The subtitle is Can Liberal Democracy Survive the Decline of the Middle Class? In this piece, there’s a clear admission by the famed American author that his previous ideas, which brought him to prominence, are simply not so true anymore.
We all know Fukuyama for his famous 1989 article, which described the “end of history.” The article, which was published as a book later, argued liberal democracy may constitute the “end point of mankind’s ideological evolution” and the “final form of human government.”
But as we see widespread popular discontent with the economic mismanagement by Western democracies, Fukuyama finds it difficult to convince himself that history has ended. Therefore, he is now writing about “the future of history.”
In the new article, Fukuyama still believes that liberal democracy is the world’s hegemonic ideology. “No plausible rival ideology looms,” he says. However, he admits that liberal democracy is in danger due to changes in the socio-economic system. “Some very troubling economic and social trends, if they continue, will both threaten the stability of contemporary liberal democracies and dethrone democratic ideology as it is now understood.”
Those trends are troubling because they mean the decline of the middle class, a group seen as the backbone of liberal democracy. “What if the further development of technology and globalization undermines the middle class and makes it impossible for more than a minority of citizens in an advanced society to achieve middle-class status?” he says.
Despite agreeing with the notion that the decline of the middle class, as an infrastructure, means the decline of liberal democracy, as an ideology, Fukuyama, a former neoconservative, makes sure he is not viewed as a Marxist, of course. He draws a vague distinction between his argument and that of Karl Marx. “Social forces and conditions do not simply ‘determine’ ideologies, as Karl Marx once maintained,” he writes, “but ideas do not become powerful unless they speak to the concerns of large numbers of ordinary people.”
Now, one could ask a key question: what can be done to prevent the decline of the middle class? More importantly, who can do it? There’s no easy answer to these questions, which Fukuyama fails to address in his article.
But there are at least two answers available. Those on the right of the political spectrum stick to their old argument. Don’t intervene in the market. Provide everybody with equality of opportunity to compete. This keeps the market dynamic. This is liberal democracy.
The left are for a bigger government. (Fukuyama seems to be on this side too, as he sees the “Chinese Model” as “the single most serious challenge to liberal democracy,” which provides a more “dynamic” economy than that of the U.S. because of a combination of authoritarianism and partially marketized economy.) Democrats want to increase taxes for the rich and lower them for the poor, meaning that they are concerned not only with equality opportunity, but equality of outcome, too. From this perspective, preventing the decline of the middle class requires government intervention.
Though Fukuyama believes the left has failed to offer a meaningful alternative, we might be heading in the direction of bigger governments. Greece is already imposing highly unpopular austerity measures, including big cuts in wages and pensions.
The idea of a completely free market, that can regulate itself, has never made full sense for one simple reason. The interests of the government and corporations are interwoven. To put it simply, corporations need employees, whose concerns government cares about. Why did U.S. government give a $52.4 billion bailout to General Motors in 2008 and 2009? The answer is partially because General Motors employs more than 200,000 people.
But we should also be aware that any government-led attempt to prevent the decline of the middle class might itself mean the demise of liberal democracy.