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

  • Don Hill



The following is a two-part article which is the first in RFE/RLs new series: Voices of the Millennium. The occasional series of interviews presents recognized thinkers considering the major trends in international political, artistic, and technological development as we approach the year 2000.



American social scientist and philosopher Francis Fukuyama claims that the fall of communism marked "the end of history." Fukuyama argued this thesis ten years ago -- first in a magazine article and then in a remarkable book. He set off an international intellectual furor that hasn't subsided yet. Now, in a new book, he tells how and why he believes that liberal democracy will triumph -- not only over fascism and communism -- but also over its own internal weaknesses. This is the first of two articles examining Fukuyama's controversial and persuasive views.

Prague, 27 July 1999 (RFE/RL) -- When Francis Fukuyama declared the end of history, he wasn't using the word "history" in its common sense as "the chronicle of human events." He was using the term with the meaning that 19th Century German philosopher Georg Hegel gave it. To Hegel, history was a process by which mankind was evolving its political principles and ultimate form of government and economic organization.

Karl Marx came along half a century later and adopted the Hegelian view of directional, progressive, evolutionary history. But Marx took the idea a step further. He determined that the ultimate destination of history was communism. All other forms of human economic and political organization, he said, were but necessary stages on the way to communism.

Now comes Francis Fukuyama, who says that the fall of communism ten years ago eliminated the last competitor for what he calls "liberal democracy" as the true ultimate destination of evolutionary history.

Fukuyama said in a telephone interview with RFE/RL that he isn't claiming that democracy has been perfected nor that it is anywhere near universal. Only that it now appears most likely to emerge as the final and best form of political and economic governance. Fukuyama says:

"Modern societies have certain kinds of economic systems that therefore require certain institutions. They require property rights. They require rule of law. They require certain kinds of constitutionalism, and then that breeds a desire for democratic participation."

After publishing his book "The End of History and the Last Man," Fukuyama went on to write in 1995 "Trust: the Social Virtues and the Creation of Prosperity." In "Trust," he examined the critical need in a democracy for the ability of one citizen to trust others: to obey the law, to meet commitments, to follow written rules -- laws -- and unwritten ones -- customs -- and to cooperate. This is the essential element in what he calls "social capital."

Social capital is as necessary to successful liberal democracy and free market economies as is financial capital and all societies have some stock of social capital, Fukuyama says. He adds that what distinguishes societies now is what he calls "radius of trust," the measure of how extensive are the social groups within which one person can trust the others.

Some societies limit trust to family or tribe. That's a severe limitation.

In others, trust extends over many and large social groups -- business associates, religious congregations, associations, political parties, civic groups, educational institutions and more. Fukuyama argues that such large radii of trust enable development of civic society, the foundation of liberal democracy.

Now Fukuyama has published his latest work, "The Great Disruption." The title invokes memories of the Great Depression 60-plus years ago. Then the U.S. economy -- and those of the world's other great industrial economies -- appeared to have descended into fatal collapse.

The Great Disruption is Fukuyama's term for the seeming collapse since the late 1950s of the American social fabric. Murder and other crime rates, family breakdown, rampant drug use, and disastrous losses in public trust of basic institutions illustrate the collapse. In fact, he says, these phenomena occur in nearly all industrially developed nations.

He says people have been prophesying the death of democracy since the 18th Century philosophical movement called The Enlightenment, which glorified individualism and reason and belittled traditional institutions and beliefs:

"The argument ever since the beginning of The Enlightenment has been that such societies would morally undermine themselves because of rampant individualism and the inability of people to obey moral rules. And so, the final book is really an investigation of whether that is true. And what the basis of moral behavior in a post-industrial society is."

After the fall of communism in Poland and Russia and other nations, Western diplomats and economists poured into Eastern and Central Europe like messiahs, carrying the divine word of democracy and free markets.

The majority, Fukuyama said, were propelled by a simplistic view of what democracy really entailed. They failed to consider also that -- to succeed -- market economics depends on a variety of social institutions that go far beyond purely economic and political considerations. Fukuyama says:

"I think there was a certain naivete among many Westerners about what the requirements of democracy were -- that they weren't simply elections and a framework of a constitutional system. But it really did require a lot of habits of compromise and democratic discussion and debate. And it also required a rule of law that guaranteed individual rights."

The Great Disruption, despite its name, turns out to be a book of significant optimism. The developed democracies already have begun to reconstitute social order, Fukuyama says. And in Eastern and Central Europe, some nations already have established functioning democracies and promising economies. He says that human nature and the march of history make it likely that the others will succeed in doing so also.

( In the second part of this series, Fukuyama discusses why he thinks human beings East and West ultimately will opt for stable societies and prosperity.)
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