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World: Voices Of The Millennium -- Fall Of Communism Marked The End Of History

  • Don Hill



This is the second part of a two-part article profiling historian Francis Fukuyama as part of the occasional new RFE/RL series: Voices of the Millennium.

Prague, 27 July 1999 RFE/RL) -- Ever since he proclaimed ten years ago that the fall of communism signaled "the end of history," Francis Fukuyama has been grappling with questions raised by the problems still troubling what he calls "liberal democracy." To Fukuyama, liberal democracy is government in which the people are sovereign and in which the state's power and control are limited.

If liberal democracy represents the summit of history's evolution of humankind's efforts to govern itself, why then is social order breaking down in the developed democracies? Why is rampant nationalism still rearing its dragon head in places like Yugoslavia? And why has democracy been so difficult to establish in the nations that are in transition from communism?

Last question first. Fukuyama says that democracy functions successfully only where there is the rule of law, and what he calls "social capital," including the ability of citizens to trust one another and their major institutions. Democracy requires a civil society, he says, one in which the people spontaneously associate in groups that mediate between them and the state, and help to limit the state's power to control them. Years of communist governance tended to destroy people's ability to establish civil societies, he says. Fukuyama says:

"I think one of the really big problems of many of the transitional societies of former communist nations is that civil society had been deliberately targeted for elimination by the communists. And therefore it is very difficult to regenerate civil society once the political order changes."

Fukuyama says Poland has been one of the most successful transition nations because the communist government there never destroyed the civil society. He observes that private agriculture survived, and the Catholic Church remained powerful. And even Solidarity itself, the political organization that eventually brought down communism in Poland, grew under the communist regime.

In the Czech Republic, where civil society withered and religion isn't a visible force, Fukuyama says, transition has run into greater difficulties. But even there, he says, the Czechs during communism still had vestiges of democratic cultural patterns. He refers to what German sociologist Max Weber has called the "ghosts of dead religious beliefs." He says:

"In Europe, and the Czech Republic in particular, you have the ghosts of religious belief that still motivate people even though society has become largely secular. So you have cultural patterns that were established in the period when people took religion seriously. My observation is that the success of the transition out of communism has been proportional to the degree to which some form of civil society survived under communism."

In nations like Russia and Ukraine, Fukuyama says, not only did communist regimes destroy civic society, but the people never had developed a culture of social capital. Thus, when the first transition governments established the political trappings of democracy, what developed was democracy without liberalism. In his words: "You got popular sovereignty without the recognition that the state has to be limited in its powers to control individuals."

The author remains optimistic about the eventual development of liberal democracy even in those countries, however. Human nature will insist upon it, he says. As he puts it:

"People have certain basic desires for bettering their conditions, for expanding their individual spheres of freedom. And, eventually, these forces will produce the kinds of institutions that are necessary to sustain a free society."

Human nature also is why the developed democracies will survive the current "Great Disruption" in their societies, Fukuyama says. The world is in the late stages of a turmoil as significant as mankind's transition from hunter-gatherer to farmer; and in the last century from farmer to industrial worker.

The new transition is into what is being called the "information society." Services displace production of goods as the main source of wealth. Increasingly, the typical worker labors not on a production line, but in a bank, computer firm or university. Commerce and production globalize as inexpensive information technology carries information across national borders.

Fukuyama says that each of the great transitions disrupted the foundations of society. And each time, social order reconstituted itself, not necessarily by reestablishing the former mores, but also by developing new ones.

Civilization rejected communism ten years ago, Fukuyama says, just as it repudiated fascism and expansionist nationalism in World War Two. Both nationalism and communism continue to twitch here and there like a dissected frog's leg, but -- Fukuyama contends -- both are at most dying ideologies. Fukuyama says:

"Increasingly you live in a globalized world where communications and information make it impossible to seal yourself off from currents elsewhere. And so people will be constantly comparing their systems with those of others."

A case in point well may be the growing demonstrations in Yugoslavia against the nationalistic regime of President Slobodan Milosevic.
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