Francis Fukuyama on the future of liberalism – culture

Francis Fukuyama wrote his essay on “The End of the story” Shortly before the fall of the Berlin Wall, the book of the same name was published soon afterwards. Fukuyama, born in 1952 as a child of Japanese immigrants, was then an adviser to the US State Department and rose to world fame overnight. Since then, his thesis of the victory of liberalism has been the subject of debate, ridicule and inspired American beer advertising.Today, Fukuyama is a professor of political science at Stanford and the author of numerous books on biotechnology or identity politics. In his most recent work, “Liberalism and its Enemies” (Hoffmann and Campe), he returns to his origins. His thesis is that liberalism is battered but can be saved. And because Fukuyama’s joy in bold forecasts is unbroken, the conversation in a Berlin hotel soon turns to the war in Ukraine.

SZ: You describe liberalism sometimes as an ideology, sometimes as a form of government. What is correct now?

Francis Fukuyama: In Germany, the term is commonly used for the centre-left parties and the Free Democrats who want less government regulation and more market. To me, liberalism means a range of ideas such as the idea of ​​equality and the dignity of all human beings. Laws protect citizens from the power of the state.

In your latest book you discover the “enemies” of liberalism politically on both the right and the left. Which side is more dangerous?

In the US in particular, the left does not want to accept ideological diversity, and the right does not want to accept religious or ethnic or gender diversity. The danger from the right in the USA is of course much greater. We don’t even know if we will see free and fair elections in 2024. donald trump has persuaded Republicans to contest the next election. If that happens, other countries will follow. For five or six years we have been observing the global rise of populist nationalism, Victor Orban in Hungary, Narendra Modi in India. Javier Bolsonaro in Brazil is already saying if he lost the election, it was fake.

You write in your book: “The USA has long been the leading liberal world power and a beacon of freedom for people around the world”. Isn’t that more of a romantic self-description?

This formulation is no longer correct. Fifteen or twenty years ago, for example, most of my Chinese students wished that China would follow America’s example. Nobody says that anymore. They are proud of their own system. They view US politics with contempt. If I were a Chinese student, I wouldn’t want such polarization or such stupid politics as in Washington either. I fear that many people around the world who used to look up to the US no longer do.

Has liberalism lost its attractiveness just as much?

Attractiveness comes and goes. It is greatest when people are just emerging from a civil war or dictatorship. Liberalism emerged after the European wars of religion in the mid-17th century, when people realized that it was better to endure religious differences than to kill one another. Europe fought two world wars over national identities, but after 1945 people were keen to live in liberal societies.

Is it really that simple? In Afghanistan, in the mid-1990s, people cheered after the civil war Taliban that promised stability, but certainly not liberalism.

But then they had to live under the Taliban and that wasn’t so nice. They were very happy when the Americans expelled the Taliban.

Interview with Francis Fukuyama: Book cover: Francis Fukuyama - "Liberalism and its enemies"Publisher: Hoffmann and Campe

Book cover: Francis Fukuyama – “Liberalism and its enemies”, publisher: Hoffmann and Campe

(Photo: Hoffmann and Campe)

Back to liberalism as a universal idea…

I have to correct that. Liberalism is certainly not universal.

Oh, you used to see that differently, didn’t you? The thesis of the “end of history” was so catchy because it described liberalism as the last universal idea – after the failure of nationalism and communism.

I have always said that liberalism is potentially universal because it can solve fundamental societal problems. But obviously it hasn’t been accepted all over the world. In my book, I explain that religion and nationalism will remain in competition for a long time.

They describe how unbridled neoliberalism and contempt for the state have eroded liberalism and call for “moderation” while maintaining the core of liberalism intact. This is reminiscent of those socialists who claimed the Gulag was an ugly blunder but the socialist idea is still correct.

This argument does not apply to communism, but it applies to liberalism. The excesses of neoliberalism had to do with pushing the state out where it should provide social protection. Leninism, on the other hand, rejected the idea that individuals have rights and that state power must be limited. In the name of social justice, the state could kill millions of people.

You once remarked that the notion of an “end of history” led to a certain complacency. Many people took democracy, freedom, peace for granted. Is this a reason for the shock at the Russian aggression against the Ukraine?

What Russia As far as Germany is concerned, complacency is not the only factor. The German economy was happy about the cheap Russian gas. In addition, there was an understandable feeling of guilt, especially among older Germans, for the crimes committed in World War II. Of the Ostpolitik underlying was a feeling of atonement.

Wasn’t there also a simply pragmatic attempt by Germany to integrate Russia economically?

There was, and it worked for a while. As long as Russia was weak, it made compromises. However, only until the war in Georgia in 2008. After the annexation of Crimea in 2014, it was clear that this policy had failed. Up until February 2022, I myself suspected that the wisest course for Putin would be to cash in on parts of the Donbass and choke off Ukraine’s economy. Putins took a crazy risk trying to absorb all of Ukraine. But it should have been known that in the previous years Russia was never really unwilling to accept the European order after 1989.

Interview with Francis Fukuyama: "After the annexation of Crimea, it was clear that this policy had failed": Fukuyama is critical of Angela Merkel's attempt to integrate Vladimir Putin's Russia economically

“After the annexation of Crimea, it was clear that this policy had failed”: Fukuyama is critical of Angela Merkel’s attempt to integrate Vladimir Putin’s Russia economically


You have often been to Ukraine. For research purposes?

My “Center on Democracy” in Stanford has been conducting leadership programs in Ukraine since 2014. After the annexation of Crimea and the war in Donbass, we saw here the front line between authoritarianism and democracy. We wanted to help Ukraine become a modern European state. Corruption was a big issue. But I was optimistic about the Ukrainians we dealt with, people in their 30s and 40s in the middle of their careers. This generation wanted to break with corrupt politics.

Have you been to Russia too?

I wrote my dissertation on Soviet foreign policy and I went there frequently in the 1980s and 1990s, the last time being in 2014. In 2006 I had a long conversation with Vladislav Surkov in the Kremlin…

…then Kremlin ideologue, later architect of Russia’s Ukraine policy – unavailable to journalists.

The encounter was not very productive. Putin was looking for an ideology to legitimize his policies, and Surkov tried to explain the principle of “sovereign democracy” to me. But it didn’t make any sense. I also met Alexander Dugin once…

…the anti-Western hate preacher whose daughter was killed in an attack in August, according to recent US reports by the Ukrainian government.

He visited me at my office in Washington. I appeared with him on a Canadian TV show. It was a pretty stupid discussion.

In March you drafted in your blog the following scenario for the Ukraine war: “The collapse of the Russian position could be sudden and catastrophic rather than gradual through a war of attrition.” The summer, however, brought just that: a war of attrition.

But now the front at Cherson is collapsing.

You also wrote that Putin does not have “any comprehensive resources that he could send to war”. Russia is currently mobilizing hundreds of thousands of soldiers.

That doesn’t mean anything. These people have no training, no equipment, not even winter uniforms. Rather, they will weaken the Russian army.

And: “The invasion has already done great damage to the populists of the world.” Now Javier Bolsonaro did better than expected in the elections in Brazil, in Italy the nationalist has Giorgia Meloni won.

All right, ok, but wait until Putin loses power. All of these populists, including Trump, admire Putin because he comes across as a strong man. If he loses power, Putinism will lose all appeal. It’s just taking a little longer than I was hoping for in March.

Interview with Francis Fukuyama: A birth of freedom also in Iran?  Fukuyama thinks that's possible - but Ayatollah Ali Chamenei is still parading in Tehran.

A birth of freedom also in Iran? Fukuyama thinks that’s possible – but Ayatollah Ali Chamenei is still parading in Tehran.

(Photo: AP/AP)

Their prognosis culminated in the supposition that the Russian defeat would lead to a “birth of freedom” that would give new impetus to democracy: “The spirit of 1989 lives on.” Do you still think that’s going to happen?


Isn’t “hopefully” a bit weak by this benchmark?

Let’s say the following things happen in the next few months: Trump is pushed back, Bolsonaro is likely to lose the election in Brazil, Putin suffers a defeat in Ukraine, the women topple the regime in Iran.

Is this all going to happen?

I don’t know, but it’s possible. Everything points in this direction. In any case, I do not believe that democracy is in inexorable decline. It’s also not good to believe that, otherwise you stop fighting.

A few days ago you reiterated your thesis that Russia was about to collapse. purposeful optimism?

If the front does not move by August 2023, there is a risk that the war will turn into a frozen conflict. Then it would be much more difficult to keep the coalition against Russia together. But Ukraine is gaining ground. We’re over the hill for the winter. I assume that the war will be over in the spring.

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