As we envision a non-negligible probability of nuclear war, the end of history (i.e. the end of social discontent and great wars) envisioned by Francis Fukuyama in his book The end of the story and the last man (Simon and Schuster, 1992) seems very, very far away. Moreover, its triumphant liberal democracy was conceived as very democratic but still far from being liberal in the sense of classical liberalism. In the Fall issue of RegulationI review this widely debated book by Fukuyama as well as the author’s most recent Liberalism and its discontent (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2022). I show how, between the two books, Fukuyama’s thought has moved closer to classical liberalism, even if many weaknesses remain. (See “Fukuyama: interesting books, with some baggage“, Regulation 45:3 [Fall 2022], pages 48-53; also in html version.)
Fukuyama now clearly admits the need for binding democracy, but his practical proposals are often inconsistent with the theoretical principle. An example I give in my review:
There is no reason, [Fukuyama] explains “why economic efficiency must trump all other social values”, a moot point when one understands that economic efficiency is simply a way in which voluntary exchange reconciles, without constraint, preferences and values of all individuals.
As an example of a desirable democratic choice, Fukuyama proposes the primacy of labor over consumer welfare. The question is whether “human beings” “consume animals” or “produce animals”. “It is a choice that has not been offered to voters under the hegemony of neoliberal ideas.” The absurdity of submitting such a choice to the voters is easily demonstrated by imagining a referendum which would ask “the people”: “Which animal do you (or do we) want to be, a consumer animal or a producer animal? Ask yourself what would be the meaning of X% (< 100%) deciding one way or another. "We all produce animals and now we're back to work!" More realistically perhaps, we can imagine complex baskets of practical political measures and campaign promises tied to such a choice and offered to rationally ignorant voters, who would understand the consequences of the measures even less than their supporters. The only liberal solution, of course, is to let each individual decide for himself what kind of animal he wants to be, given the impersonal constraints generated by the equally free choices of all other individuals.
EconLog readers may find other points of interest in my review, as well as in Fukuyama’s books themselves. This reflection brings together many threads in the critique of illiberalism.