Francis Fukuyama, the Future of History: Can Liberal Democracy Survive the Decline of the Middle Class?

By Svitych, Alexander | Journal of Australian Political Economy, Summer 2015 | Go to article overview

Francis Fukuyama, the Future of History: Can Liberal Democracy Survive the Decline of the Middle Class?


Svitych, Alexander, Journal of Australian Political Economy


Francis Fukuyama, The Future of History: Can Liberal Democracy Survive the Decline of the Middle Class? Foreign Affairs, January/February 2012.

Francis Fukuyama is probably best known for his article and a subsequent book The End of History? published more than twenty years ago. In that work the author argued that history ended with the collapse of the Soviet Union and the reign of liberal democracy and capitalism all over the world. Fukuyama's position thus contradicted the idea of Karl Marx that communism would eventually replace capitalism. The author coined the term 'end of history' not to describe a series of events, but rather as the notion that democracy would become more established since the 'ideological evolution' had ended (1).

However, in his more recent piece, The Future of History, Fukuyama takes a different stance. Now he says that, in view of the ongoing economic crisis and troubling social trends, a new political and economic ideology needs to be born that 'could provide a realistic path toward a world with healthy middle-class societies and robust democracies.' (2) Most importantly, this ideology must be created by the middle class and incorporate the concepts of capitalism, democracy and freedom. It is not all plain sailing, of course, as Fukuyama acknowledges. For example, China is posing a serious challenge to liberal democracy, favoring a more authoritarian 'China model' to increase social stability, especially since the recent financial crisis. However, Fukuyama contends that this model is still unlikely to become a viable alternative to liberal democracy outside the Asia Pacific due to a number of internal constraints. Nor is the growing middle class in China likely to behave differently compared to the rest of the world.

While the author's standpoint is clear, he ends up in the sort of ideological dead-end typical of the Western liberal school of thought. This dead-end is caused by the shared assumption that liberalism and democracy must ultimately win. This is why Fukuyama cannot soberly evaluate the problems of the post-crisis society.

Fukuyama claims that we have hit an ideological wall. Capitalism is dying in front of our eyes, and we therefore need a new ideology. We cannot build it on the existing intellectual premises as there are too many restrictions on us. Indeed, these restrictions appeared due to the struggle with the USSR and with spread of communism in general. Since the communist project is no longer relevant, all the barriers can be removed now. Yet Fukuyama emphasizes four political economic features that must be retained under all circumstances--private property, freedom, democracy, and the middle class. It is clear why the middle class appears in this list. This is the class that requires private property, freedom and democracy. The poor do not need these values, as they do not help them to become better off. At the other extreme, the rich may not need freedom and democracy, as they can protect their property themselves. In this regard, the middle class becomes an essential link.

The view that capitalism is endless by default is supported by liberal political thought and neoclassical economics. This is the reason why the new philosophy, as proposed by Fukuyama, will be nothing but a nonstructural refurbishment of capitalism. In the aftermath of the global financial crisis that emerged in 2008, the world's leading economists made a call through their political elites, global institutions and transnational corporations for a more ethical form of capitalism, rather than revision of the model itself.

Is such renewal possible? To answer this, it is first necessary to understand how the idea of the collapse of capitalism got into the communist ideology. It was articulated by Karl Marx and follows from the Marxist theory of the change of socioeconomic formations (3). But why did Marx decide to elaborate this theory? As a scientist--not as an ideologist or agitator--he was critically engaging with political economic ideas that appeared at the end of the 18th century, developed by Adam Smith and David Ricardo. …

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