July 12, 2017

Back in 1989, American political economist and political scientist Francis Fukuyama declared “the end of history” in the book of the same title. Fukuyama boldly stated that the ideological battles between East and West were over, and that Western liberal democracy had won.

With the fall of the Berlin Wall and the breakup of the Soviet Union, it seemed that Fukuyama was right, so he soon became a star of political sciences.

A former student of Allan Bloom, a close collaborator of Leo Strauss, Fukuyama was part of two Republican governments in the U.S., working under Ronald Reagan and George Bush Sr.. After working as a researcher for the conservative thinktank Rand Corporation, he began teaching his economic concepts at Stanford University as a tenured professor. Fukuyama took a step aside from neoconservative thought after the Iraq War, as he thought it an absolute mistake of American foreign policy.

Fukuyama’s work is both lauded and criticized. John Gray once called him the “court philosopher of global capitalism.” On the left, both Alan Badiou and Seumas Milne have ironically dedicated the titles of their books (“The Rebirth of History” and “The Revenge of History”) to Fukuyama’s most seminal work, while critically deconstructing it.

I think the promise of the European Union and membership in the European Union is that precisely these economies will open themselves up and face genuine competition, where they really have to modernize and where they can’t depend on the state for continued support. People cannot depend on the state for employment. And if that happens, then I think that capitalism actually becomes a help to democracy and to a more open, liberal order.

But capitalism isn’t necessarily meritocracy.

Well, but capitalism… I mean, if you have a genuinely competitive system, it forces a kind of meritocracy. If you’re just giving business to your cronies, that’s fine as long as you’re living in a closed market with no efficient companies competing against you. But the moment you actually have to genuinely compete on a level playing field, then it turns out you have to hire competent managers, you can’t just use nepotism as a… as a resource.

Do you think that there is a country that’s representative of that kind of capitalism right now in 2017?

Well, that’s what the European Union represents. The whole idea is that these are countries that exist on a level playing field with common rules about economic commerce. In fact, the core of the EU is competitive. There are things they do that restrict that competition, but the principle is an open market.

Bosnia is a country that’s trying to enter the EU, as you might know. We’ve been on this path for the past 20 years or so. Slowly but surely we’re getting there, I’d say, together with the other countries that are not currently members. What interests me is, from your point of view, what kind of an EU are we entering? Is it the same European Union that it was 20-25 years ago? How would entering the EU affect us if we were to enter it in the upcoming years?

Well, obviously the EU has been going through a crisis that started with the Greek debt crisis, and then the migrant crisis, and Brexit. I think that that period is probably over. That the EU hit a kind of nadir and is beginning to recover through the elections in the Netherlands and in France this past year, where I think the populists were pretty decisively defeated and that threat was pushed back.

And even in Britain it appears that the voters are having second thoughts about whether they actually really want to leave the EU. It’s not clear that there’s a consensus that they want to get out of the European Union. So I think that with a certain amount of leadership from France and Germany the EU can return to being an ongoing project. They’ve got to fix some big problems, they’ve got to decide whether they want to go forward or actually to pull back, because right now they’re in this kind of uncomfortable middle position. But I do think that it’s going to remain a symbol of modern government in many ways. That government exists not to enrich the people running the government, but really to serve a broader public interest.

Many say that Croatia was actually at its best, and that it was going through its golden age, while it was going through the process of joining the EU.

True. That’s because of the positive goal and the incentive to fix policies. But,once you’re in, you can kind of relax and go back to your old bad habits.

It’s 2017, it’s been almost 20 years since you declared “the end of history,” so to speak. Has history really ended? Do we live in post-historical times, or has history come back to haunt us?

Well, first of all, the concept of “the end of history” was the Marxist idea that history was progressive and that there’s a succession of different types of society, from agrarian to feudal to industrial, and Marxists said that at the end of that process lay communism. My argument back in 1989 was that we weren’t going to get there. That the end of history looked more like what the Maxists call “bourgeois democracy.” And I think that’s still true. I think that’s still the highest form of social organization there is.

But, I think maintaining a modern liberal democracy is actually quite a difficult thing. And we’ve had backsliding over the past 10 years with authoritarian countries, and especially now with populist, nationalist regimes that had a part of the formula: They’re democratic, or they seek democratic legitimacy through elections, but they’re not liberal, they don’t maintain a rule of law. They don’t maintain checks and balances in the system. I think that’s the threat that we’re under right now.