A Conversation With Francis Fukuyama

A Conversation With Francis Fukuyama

Courtesy: Kaveh Sardari

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Politics and Government

from Hurford Lecture and The John B. Hurford Memorial Lecture

Francis Fukuyama, Olivier Nomellini senior fellow at the Freeman Spogli Institute for International Studies, joins Michael Mandelbaum, professor at the Paul H. Nitze School of Advanced International Studies at Johns Hopkins University, to discuss political development. Fukuyama discusses monopolies of power, rule of law, and democratic accountabilty, and how they apply around the globe, including in the United States, China, and the Middle East.

The John B. Hurford Memorial Lecture was inaugurated in 2002 in memory of Council member John B. Hurford and features individuals who represent critical new thinking in international affairs and foreign policy.

MANDELBAUM: Good afternoon, and welcome to the Council and to the John B. Hurford Memorial Lecture with Francis Fukuyama, to my right. This lecture was inaugurated in 2002 in memory of Council member John B. Hurford, and it features individuals who represent critical new thinking in foreign policy and international affairs.

I would like to recognize members of the Hurford family and the Hurford Foundation who are joining us today. Welcome to Hilge Hurford and Robert Miller. Please stand momentarily so we can appreciate you. (Applause.) Thank you for your generosity.

Today we are privileged to have a conversation with Frank Fukuyama. Frank is the Olivier Nomellini Senior Fellow at the Freeman Spogli Institute for International Studies, which means he has a crowded business card—(laughter)—and formerly a valued colleague at the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies. Frank is the author of a number of important books, most recently two landmark works on political development, which is the subject we will be discussing today. Let me say, for those of you who have not yet had the chance to read those books, they are formidable, but don’t be intimidated. They are good reads.

I will pose a few questions to Frank for about half an hour, and then the floor will be open to all of you for questions or comments. This meeting, I believe, is on the record, and I think it’s being livestreamed so we’re all on the 21st-century equivalent of television.

So let’s begin. Frank, let’s begin with the basics: What is political development? And what are the two or three most important things that all of us should know about it?

FUKUYAMA: OK. Well, thanks, Mike. Before I answer that question I’d like to say I’m grateful to the Council, and it’s nice to be back in Washington and with an old colleague. So thank you.

So I have a simple framework for understanding political development. I believe that a modern political system rests on three separate institutional pillars.

So the first pillar is the state. The state is a monopoly of power. It’s all about generating power, and being able to use it to do things like protect the community from domestic and foreign enemies, to enforce laws, to deliver basic services—education, health, infrastructure, and the like.

The second institution is the rule of law. There’s a number of competing definitions, but politically I think the definition that is the most critical is that the rule of law is a set of transparent rules that have to apply to the most powerful political actors in the system. So if the president or the king or the prime minister can change the rules as they go along, it’s not the rule of law; so that the rule of law is fundamentally a constraint on power.

And then the final set of institutions is democratic accountability. We define that in procedural terms these days in terms of free and fair multiparty elections, but the point of the procedures is to guarantee the substance of a political system that reflects the views and the interest and wishes of the whole community and not just the elite that happens to be running the country.

So if you think about these three, they’re actually intension with one another because the state is all about creating and using power, whereas the rule of law and democracy—democratic accountability—are about limiting or constraining power. And you have to have a balance. You can’t have some of one and none of the other. So if you’ve only got a state, then you’re basically China with very limited rule of law and no democracy. You’ve got a tyranny. On the other hand, if you only have institutions of constraint and no state, at one extreme you could be Iraq or Syria right now, where the government can’t even—is not even sovereign over its own territory; but more likely you’ve got something like Nigeria, where you have democratic elections, some degree of law, but a very weak state that can’t enforce things, is highly corrupt, and so forth.

So the final important element—and I think this is critical to the way I think about political order—is the difference between what is called a patrimonial state and a modern state.

So a patrimonial state treats the state as patrimony, meaning it’s the property of the people that are running it. The reason they’re in politics is to make money, extract rents for themselves and their families. And basically, all politics was like this up until fairly recently in human history. So a king could give away a province to a daughter as a wedding present because he literally owned the province. And so today we’re too embarrassed to say that we own Russia or Nigeria or whatever outright, so we have this phenomenon known as neo-patrimonialism, where you have the outward appearance of modern institutions but the reality is the extraction of rents by political elites.

On the other hand, a modern state is a state that is impartial and impersonal in the sense that it treats citizens on the basis of their status as citizens and not because you’re a cousin or the wife or a nephew of the—of the ruler. And that transition, from the patrimonial state owned by the elites and run for their own purposes—the transition from that kind of state to a modern state I think is the most difficult and probably the least-well-understood transition of all.

So I actually think that democracy, which we Americans care very deeply about, is a relatively easy aspect of political development to foster. We kind of know how to run free and fair elections. So both Iraq and Afghanistan, under American tutelage, have held what you would call elections or election-like events that were—(laughter)—you know, good enough to produce rulers with some degree of democratic legitimacy. But what we have failed utterly to do in either of those places is to actually produce a modern state; that is to say, a state that’s got a monopoly of force, that can provide security, basic public goods, with low levels of corruption.

So this is the problem I have labeled “getting to Denmark,” where Denmark is not the actual country Denmark, it’s just this mythical nice place that has prosperity, democracy, stability, and vanishingly low levels of corruption. So obviously, you know, Afghanistan, Iraq, Somalia, Haiti, all of these places where either the United States or the international community have intervened over the years, some of them are actually democracies, but none of them is a modern state. And that’s really the central problem that has been plaguing American foreign policy and, you know, what Brzezinski used to call the arc of crisis.

MANDELBAUM: The term “political development” calls to mind the cognate term “economic development” or “economic growth.” And economic growth is a highly and widely desired phenomenon. There’s an industry in this town and elsewhere devoted to promoting it, or trying to promote it where it doesn’t exist. So with that as a reference, let me ask you two questions.

First, how much political development do you need for economic development?

And second, assuming that full-scale political development—modernity, getting to Denmark—is a good thing, although maybe it’s not necessary for economic growth at least at some stages—but assuming that that’s where every country would like to get and ought to get, do we know anything about helping countries get there? That is, does the United States or could the United States have a policy for political development?

So how much is necessary for political growth? And what, if anything, can be done from the outside to promote it?

FUKUYAMA: Well, the question about the origins of political development are really complicated. The only theory that political scientists have developed over time is the relation—you know, and I’m talking here primarily about state development—is Charles Tilly’s famous phrase, you know, “the state makes war and war makes the state,” because if you look historically—and if you read the first volume of my book, you’ll see this laid out at great length—China, Prussia, Sweden, even in the United States, a lot of the impulse towards creating a modern state is driven by national security imperatives. It’s not driven by economic development. You can be a very developed, rich country like Italy and not have a modern state. It’s really the imperative of national survival that I think has been at the core of a lot of state development. So it’s a kind of depressing conclusion because you obviously don’t want to let countries simply fight each other for 500 years, the way the Europeans did or the way the Chinese did in the spring and autumn and warring states period of their history, just so that they get to a modern bureaucracy.

The question—the other question about how much is enough is important in policy terms because, you know, we face constantly this question, if you want to trigger economic growth, of these three institutions, you know, which ones have to be in place? Now, typically the state, you know, I think is primary. If you’re Somalia or the Democratic Republic of Congo, there’s not going to be any economic growth if people are simply killing each other, you know, in militias. And so having that basic monopoly of force and a reasonable degree of stability is critical.

The economists have been telling us for years that property rights and contract enforcement—that is to say, you know, a couple of key constituents of rule of law—are necessary. I would say that the experience of China puts a little bit of a wrinkle on that because they do not have rule of law in that classic Western sense of formal, independent judicial institutions, and yet they’ve grown like gangbusters over the last 30 years because they’ve got something like the functional equivalent of property rights in terms of gwanji (ph) and, you know, the assurance that if you put down a big investment the political system will actually—will actually protect it. And so something that—you know, that, promotes property rights—not necessarily a fully modern rule of law, but something like that—I think is pretty important.

The question of democracy is the one that we face all the time, and what the relationship of that set of institutions is to growth the empirical literature tells you it’s very confusing—that you have very rich democracies and you have democracies that don’t do very well. Obviously, you’ve got authoritarian states that have grown, you know, especially in East Asia, very rapidly. And I think that that story is—you know, it’s a complicated one—that actually democracy sometimes hurts at low levels of development, but at higher levels of development it is probably something that helps.

In terms of what we know, that’s very depressing because actually what we seem to know is that the fundamental, big drivers of political change are incentives to elites—you know, the loss of their entire regime and lives that then force them to modernize the state. And outsiders, generally speaking, do not have the policy instruments or the cultural knowledge to actually make countries modernize in that sense. The World Bank, USAID, a lot of development agencies internationally have been trying to foster Denmark-like institutions all over the developing world over the—you know, really since the early 1990s, and there is very little to show for this because ultimately the international community doesn’t have the instruments.

And also, you know, in Europe and in Asia, these institutions were sequenced. They didn’t all come about at the same time. They took a long time to develop. And you know, the international community does not typically have the patience to actually see that process unfold. So it is a somewhat discouraging observation that I think has big consequences for American foreign policy because, as I said, that’s really what American foreign policy in this part of the world has been all about since September 11th, is trying to—you know, foreigners trying to encourage modern institutions in very troubled developing countries.

MANDELBAUM: I want to come back to China in a moment, but let me ask you about patrimonialism. One of the—one of the major points of the first volume is that patrimonialism is really what is natural, it’s the default mode. We’re the ones that are odd, freakish. And you have a nice phrase in volume one about the basis for the rule of law. You call it “escape from kinship.” And patrimonialism is a kind of secular form of kinship relations whereby decisions are made and resources allocated not according to the rule of law—that is, not on an impersonal basis—but on a personal basis. You help your friends and family. That’s what you do. And if you have an office—if you have a governmental office that controls resources, well, that’s of course what do you.

Now, that is clearly antithetical to the rule of law. So my question is, what if anything do we know about the escape from kinship? How do we get a transition out of patrimonialism into the rule of law?

FUKUYAMA: So there are several different historical paths that have been taken, almost none of which can be replicated by a modern country today. The most inventive one was the one that was done by the Arabs and Ottomans. So, you know, both the Arabs and Turks lived in highly tribal societies, and the question was, how do you get an impersonal state when everybody’s a cousin of everybody else? And the solution they came up with is you go to another land, you capture a bunch of young boys, you bring them back to your capital, you train them, you take them away from your families, you forbid them to marry, and you train them as slave soldiers, and then they become grand viziers and sipahis and Janissaries. And the whole reason that institution existed is precisely because you couldn’t trust, you know, your tribal cousin to run the army because, you know, the first moment, you know, his cousin complained about something, they’d go off and leave you in the lurch. So that’s a rather extreme form.

The way it happened in Europe—(chuckles)—was actually the Catholic Church cutting off—you know, with the conversion to Christianity, the Catholic Church, in its own self-interest, changed the rules of inheritance for these extended kinship groups to make it impossible for these tribal—these Germanic tribal units to keep family—property within the family. And instead they—you know, by killing off concubinage, divorce, remarriage, all these strategies of heirship, a lot of property in Europe ended up in the hands of widows and spinsters. And who do you think profited from that when they didn’t have any offspring to give the money to? The church. And so you have this funny thing in Europe. People don’t understand this, but extended kinship was killed by the Catholic Church in the late—beginning in the late Roman Empire, and that’s why tribalism—except for parts of Eastern Europe—has never been a big factor.

The Chinese are the only people that came up with a modern solution to this, something called the civil service examination, which really begins, you know, in the Han Dynasty. And it takes quite a few centuries for the thing to develop, but they said, OK, you’re going to train people and you’re going to make them take an exam in order to get into the mandarinate. And I would say that, culturally, this is one of the reasons why, you know, all these tiger mothers all over the United States have kids that are going to Ivy League schools, because, you know, you’ve got this long cultural tradition that started out as a form of upward social mobility because passing that exam was the way you got into the bureaucracy, and then you have it made for life afterwards. So these days in modern America we take the SATs and go to Harvard, and, you know—but it’s basically the same process.

MANDELBAUM: Well, so far we’ve learned that the key to political development is war, celibacy, and exams. (Laughter.) As an academic, I can at least approve of the third. (Laughter.)

But I want to go back to China because China is—would seem to be an anomaly because it only has one of the aspects of political development, and yet in economic terms China has compiled the most impressive record in the history of the world. Now, you’ve said a little bit about why the Chinese were able to do this with an ersatz form of property, so let me ask you two other questions.

First, is there a China model? Is this something that can be replicated? After all, most countries want to grow fast. China’s grown faster for longer than anybody else. Is there a lesson here?

And second, can China continue this way? What’s the future of China?

FUKUYAMA: I think that there is definitely a China model, but it is extremely hard to replicate outside of East Asia. So, you know, the basis of the model is basically a tradition of centralized, impersonal bureaucracy that goes back 2,300 years, basically, to the founding of the Chin Empire. And it really depends on having a high-quality state in place that is actually a substitute for law and a lot of other things, but is a very unbalanced system.

And I think one of the truths about dictatorship is that it can lead to extremely good results or extremely bad results precisely because you don’t have constraints. So one version of that was Maoism, where you had unbridled dictatorship that actually tried to undermine all of the existing institutions in China at the time of the Cultural Revolution. One of the things that the post-1978 leadership has done is to try to actually restore real institutions, and they’ve done that in a very impressive way. They’ve taken the party out of the running of the economy to a large extent. They’ve recreated a government.

And they have some degree of rules, so that—one of the biggest advantages of that form of authoritarian government are term limits. You know, there’s now been three turnovers after 10 years of the entire top leadership in the Communist Party. If Museveni or Meles Zenawi or any of these African, you know, long-serving presidents had left office and groomed a successor after 10 years, I think they would be much—you know, their countries would be better off and they themselves would have been much more positively remembered. And so China is a form of absolutism that still operates through a bureaucracy and through some degree not of the rule of law, but of a certain degree of rule-based behavior.

I think the big liability is what the Chinese call the bad emperor problem. So if you got a good emperor—Deng Xiaoping or Lee Kuan Yew—you can act much, much faster than a democratic politician because you don’t have lobbyists, you don’t have unions, you don’t have a pesky media that’s always second-guessing you, you don’t have opposition politicians criticizing you, and so forth. And so if you think about what Deng Xiaoping did in terms of liberalizing China, no democratic politician could have made that degree of fundamental structural change in their society in as rapid a period as he did. And he did it because he was a dictator, but that’s exactly the liability of China.

So there’s no constraints. Even the 10-year rule is not embedded in the constitution. That could be changed. If you get a new, charismatic leader that rises in China, they could say, well, actually, I’m pretty necessary, I—you know, 10 years isn’t enough to do what I need to accomplish. And I think that was the threat that was posed by Bo Xilai, one of the reasons the collective leadership got rid of him. I think the danger right now is that Xi Jinping is accumulating so much unconstrained power. He’s certainly the most powerful Chinese leader since Deng Xiaoping, and he may be the most powerful one since Mao. And that’s really the Achilles’ heel of that system, is that everything then depends on what are his intentions. Is he a good emperor or a bad emperor? There are some people that are very hopeful that he’s going to defeat all of his enemies, consolidate power, turn around, and be the great liberalizer of both the economy and of the political system. But he could just be a tyrant, and we just don’t know enough at this point, you know, which of these alternatives would happen.

Which is why I prefer to live in a constitutional democracy, because despite the fact that we don’t seem to have very good leaders right now, at least our check-and-balance institutions put a certain floor under how bad, you know, the governance can—well, maybe I shouldn’t—(laughter)—the hope is—the hope is that they put a floor under how bad things could ultimately get. (Laughter.)

MANDELBAUM: Well, before we open the floor to questions, let’s turn to the aforementioned constitutional democracy. The first volume doesn’t deal with the United States at all—not surprising since it ends, I believe, in 1750—but the second volume does have a lot to say about the United States, especially at the end. And it has a lot to say about something you associate with the United States, a term that I guess Sam Huntington invented and you have refined, namely “political decay.”

So what is “political decay”? In what sense does it apply to the contemporary United States? What are the costs of political decay in this country, as you see it? And what, if anything, can be done about it?

FUKUYAMA: My definition of “political decay” is based on two related things.

So one is simply institutional rigidity. You create a set of institutions that meet certain conditions, and then the conditions changes and you don’t modify them, right? So that’s pretty straightforward.

But the other one has to do with this question of favoring friends and family—that modern institutions are vulnerable because it’s not a natural way for us to act. And in every single political system that tried to be modern, over time elites try to recapture the system and use it for their own purposes. This happened with the Ottomans. It happened in the old regime in France. And I believe that we are facing some form of that in the United States with the rise of pretty unconstrained and pretty powerful interest groups, which under democratic theory should all—you know, the Madisonian “Federalist 10” idea of factions, that they should all be balancing each other out and preventing tyranny. But, in fact, collectively they’ve led to a situation where the U.S. Congress is basically unrepresentative of the really broader interest of the American people because of the role of money in politics.

Now, the problem is a complicated one. Part of it is that rise of interest groups. Part of it is polarization. I mean, I don’t need to say much about that, but, you know, political scientists can actually measure this stuff and, you know, the parties, which for most of the 20th century had substantially overlapped, are now—completely occupy different ideological spaces. So when you combine polarization, extremely well-funded and well-organized interest groups with the American check-and-balance presidential system, you end up with a real crisis of governance. The American system, the Founding Fathers were above all worried about strong centralized power, and so compared to other forms of democratic polity—particularly parliamentary systems—we diffuse power through a lot of institutions in a way that’s very anti-majoritarian. So we have two very powerful—equally powerful houses of Congress, a separately elected presidency, a judiciary that can overturn legislation, and then, you know, devolution to state and federal levels. And you know, we’ve expanded the number of checks in the system as we’ve gone along over time. And when you combine this check-and-balance system that I label a vetocracy, what you get is the ability of well-organized groups to veto things that they don’t like, but very little ability to come to common agreement about things that are good for the whole community.

So Congress has not passed a budget, really, by its own rules in, you know, the better part of the last decade. And we’ve faced, you know, numerous government shutdowns because they can’t agree even on a kind of minimal, you know, degree of agreement on budgets. You get horrendous legislation that’s the result of, you know, innumerable lobbyists writing the legislation in a way, you know, which is the only what that you’re going to get things through Congress, when you can get things through Congress at all. And I think that in some sense, you know, the anti—you know, people are perceiving that there’s something deeply wrong with that system. Unfortunately—(chuckles)—a lot of people don’t have the right diagnosis, you know, so you get people like Donald Trump saying, well, it’s just that politicians are stupid, whereas it’s actually deeply embedded in the—you know, in the institutional arrangements of our constitutional system when they combine with these other changes—that is to say, polarization and well-organized interest group—in the society.

How do we get out of it? I don’t know. (Laughs, laughter.) I mean, at least I don’t—you know, I know in the past what has happened is you get a big external shock—a war, the Great Depression, you know, some other set of external events that kick the system off of its equilibrium. But barring one of those exogenous shocks, I don’t actually see anything on the horizon that is going to give the current configuration of deeply entrenched interest groups an incentive to actually fix the things that are wrong with the system. So on that score, I’m actually rather pessimistic.

MANDELBAUM: Well, that seems to mark an opportunistic and opportune moment—not opportunistic—to open the floor to questions and comments. Please signal your interest in speaking by raising your hand. Please wait for the microphone and speak directly into it. Please stand, state your name and affiliation. And last by not least, keep questions and comments concise to allow as many members as possible to speak—in other words, questions, not station identification.

The gentleman here.

Q: Thank you, Dr. Fukuyama, for an excellent presentation. You mentioned the word—

MANDELBAUM: Would you identify yourself?

Q: Oh, I’m Herman Cohen, a State Department retiree.

You mentioned—you used the word “culture” a couple of times. And you know, Huntington had a volume called “Culture Matters,” and then David Landes had a book called culture is everything. And back in 1989, when Bush 41 came in, Gorbachev said, look, there’s a terrible civil war going on in Ethiopia. It’s been going on for 23 years. We’re supporting the government at the rate of a billion dollars a year. We’d like to get out of it. Can you help us? So we collaborated with the Soviets, and after two years the war was ended and the rebels who had been fighting the government took power. And we talked to them and said, well, this—you had a nasty regime, very undemocratic, they were executing people. You’re going to be different, right? And they said, yeah, we’re going to be democratic. So they took power, and within two years it became exactly the same as the previous one. So I was over there, and I talked to a college—university professor there. I said, how do you explain this? And he said, Ethiopia cannot be governed in any other way. So is there a cultural element that’s important?

FUKUYAMA: I think that culture is obviously important because different groups of people around the world have different values and different histories and different shared memories that makes them react to the same set of events in very, very different ways. But I am extremely leery of most theories that then become deterministic—you know, that people X will never democratize because of some cultural thing. I mean, this was said, you know, of Japan, of the Germans, of, you know, many other people who changed their institutions—oftentimes under extraordinary pressure, but they changed their institutions, and as a result of different kinds of historical experiences, you know, behaved in a—in a different way.

And I think if you look at the history, OK, so the big case of this that people point to is, is Islam compatible with democracy? After the Arab Spring, there was a lot of hope that the Arabs were going to break through and it would be another—you know, like the—like the—like Eastern Europe in 1989. Obviously, that didn’t happen. Does that mean that there is something in Islam that is permanently hostile to democracy? Well, I don’t have the answer to that, but I would just say look at the history of Christianity. Up until Vatican II, the Catholic Church for the most part had a record of supporting authoritarian government against democracy. You know, that’s largely what happened in the Spanish Civil War and in a lot of struggles in, you know, very conservative kind of institutional Catholicism in Latin America and other places. But over time, that changed. And in fact, Huntington himself recognized that one of the reasons you had this third wave of democracy appearing beginning in the 1970s was, you know, the Catholic attitude in Latin America and Hungary and Poland and a lot of other places had become much friendlier to democracy.

So that’s why, yeah, of course, culture is important. But, you know, culture changes over long periods of time in ways that we often don’t perceive. And therefore, I just would be extremely careful of any broad assertion that culture X can’t do Y because, you know, they’re just stuck in this permanent rut.

MANDELBAUM: Rob Litwak.

Q: Thank you. Robert Litwak from the Wilson Center.

Frank, you said that your analysis has big implications for U.S. foreign policy. I’d like you to sort of, you know, tease them out. Your analysis is essentially a broad critique of U.S. nation-building efforts, and in Iraq and Afghanistan we have essentially been attempting to do what you described as being inherently difficult—

FUKUYAMA: Yes.

Q: —especially by an external actor: shift from patrimonial to modern state. If we are where we are on those, and yet these states are fracturing and now having consequences that spill beyond their region that affect us, what are our options? Do we either double down on what is kind of a structurally failed option that you described or essentially kind of a containment strategy? Or do you see—how do you see that playing out?

FUKUYAMA: I think that you’ve got a fundamental constraint. So, in my view, you can—there’s several—there’s sort of three approaches that you could take towards the question of disorder, state breakdown in a place like the Arab Middle East right now.

So one is what I call the all-in approach, where you send 150,000 troops and, you know, hundreds of billions of dollars of assistance, and stay there for a very long time. That, I think, just doesn’t work very well. It doesn’t play—I mean, the American taxpayer is not willing to support it. People don’t want that level of casualties, at least not for the stakes that, you know, exist in that region.

You can do some version of indirect rule, which is what the British did in colonial Africa, where you try to manipulate the local actors but you basically—you know, this would have involved, like, a deal among the warlords in Afghanistan rather than trying to change the regime wholesale, or putting a different Baathist general in charge of Iraq, you know, after the invasion. That has got a lot of problems, too, because we don’t know how to manipulate people very well. (Laughter.) And in any event, when we are seen as manipulating them, it usually has very complex and not-so-nice blowback effects.

So this, then, leads me to my preferred strategy. And I must say I came to this over time. I didn’t start out with this position. I was much more interventionist, you know, 15 years ago. But it does seem to me that, given how difficult it is to actually use the instruments that we have available to us to procure a certain kind of political outcome, that we’re better off with some version of containment or offshore balancing in which we—so, you know, this is what I—my preferred option in the Middle East right now. There’s a Sunni-Shiite civil war going on. We don’t have a terribly big stake in, you know, who come out on top. We do have a stake in not seeing any given side of that war—either Iran, Saudi Arabia, Sunnis, Shiites—dominate the whole region and do terrible things to their enemies. And so what we ought to do is try to maintain a certain kind of balance of power, you know, but standing off from any kind of direct, heavy military commitment. And that, I think, is a sustainable—is a sustainable policy. But it’s a pretty cynical one, and it’s something that, in a way, runs counter to a lot of American instincts because Americans just love deciding that this particular group—(chuckles)—are the good guys; you know, that these people really share our values, they’re really interested and democracy and markets and all this stuff. We believe it, and then, you know, betting on them and then finding out that they’re actually a bunch of crooks, you know, down the road.

So that’s not going to solve the problem in the Middle East, but I think that’s—and by the way, so just to double-underline what the implications of this are, I think it was a huge mistake for the Obama administration to say Assad must go, or we are going to defeat, degrade, and destroy ISIS. First of all, I don’t think you can actually—(chuckles)—destroy any of these actors, and I actually think that if Assad were to fall from power tomorrow it would lead to a horrible genocide and, you know, the takeover of that country by a lot of extremely nasty people, terrible as Assad is right now. And so that’s why I just think that, you know, at the moment the offshore balancing option is about as good as you can do.

MANDELBAUM: The lady here.

Q: Thank you. My name is Courtney Radsch. I’m with the Committee to Protect Journalists.

And to what extent do you think that the state is still the primary or main important actor in international relations, given the rise of, you know, pan-nationalistic movements, subnational movements, terrorist groups, ISIS, the human rights movement, and the ability of individuals to connect using social media and technology?

FUKUYAMA: So academics have been arguing that there’s been this shift away from sovereign states for as long as I can remember. You know, so you may not know this, but Mike Mandelbaum was my professor at Harvard when I was a graduate student. (Laughter.) He actually administered my comprehensive exams to me. And I remember back—

MANDELBAUM: He did very well. (Laughter.)

FUKUYAMA: And, you know, they were arguing that this shift was taking place, and there’s no question that power’s diffused, you know, and technology has helped that tremendously. You know, borders don’t make as much difference, and so forth. But the problem is that there’s a certain core set of functions that only a state can provide, and that largely lies in the legitimate coercion department, you know, that an NGO cannot enforce rules that people are resisting. They cannot defeat terrorist groups, or they cannot, you know, protect people from nacrotraffickers and, you know, people with the means of violence. And so it is still that ability to establish at least a semblance of a monopoly of legitimate force that states have to perform.

Beyond that, yes, public services in many domains, including in the United States and Europe and many other places, now are delivered not by government organizations but by private companies, by NGOs, by international organizations. I suspect that’s a trend that’s going to continue. But I get a little bit disturbed at the people that are cheerleaders for the endless dissolution of state authority into this cloud of non-state actors because I actually think that we don’t know how to make a lot of those actors truly democratically accountable. We do know in theory how to make a state accountable, but we don’t know how to make, you know, transnational organizations and NGOs and so forth, you know, really, truly accountable to the people that they serve.

MANDELBAUM: Let me interject for a moment. One of the people who wrote earliest and most penetratingly about this particular issue was Stanley Hoffmann, a teacher of mine—I think a teacher of yours—who passed away two days ago. He wrote an essay about precisely this issue, and it was—it was probably four decades ago—about the state called “Obstinate or Obsolete?” So he was—he was onto this issue a long time ago. He was a very important academic, an important person in the lives of some of us in this room, and a very important member of the Council. And it’s worth pausing to remember him now.

Did you have a question, this gentleman here? I think you had raised your hand some—

Q: Well, I did. It was so similar to the question that Mr. Litwak—

MANDELBAUM: OK.

The lady far in the back.

Q: Thank you. Su Yang (sp) from the Voice of America.

Mr. Fukuyama, could you please talk about your meeting with China’s Wang Qishan in April and what impressed you most? What is his biggest concern?

And China just finished its dialogue with world—with world experts like yourself. So are they really seeking advices from you guys? Thank you. (Laughter.)

FUKUYAMA: Well, yeah, so I met with Wang Qishan, who’s running the anticorruption drive in China, in April. I have not spoken at all publicly about it because I regard this as a kind of private conversation.

I guess the one thing that I can probably report is that I actually managed to ask him only one question, which was whether he could—so the rubric for this was a series of meetings on rule of law in China. And so I asked him, do you think that you could ever envision a time when courts in China could be independent? And his answer was, absolutely not. It’ll never happen. The Communist Party must remain in control. (Laughter.) Well, that’s about as much as I can say. So he was not—he was not ambiguous on that point. (Laughter.)

Q: David Aaron. Francis—(comes on mic)—David Aaron.

Francis, with the decline of the populations in Western Europe, and the continued turmoil in the Middle East, and now we see this massive influx of immigrants and refugees and so forth, is this the kind of external shock that could actually affect political development in Western Europe?

FUKUYAMA: Yeah. No, I think absolutely, but it’s very hard to know how that’s going to play out. And you could imagine some very good scenarios and you can imagine some very bad ones. So the sheer numbers involved are just mind-boggling. And it’s not going to be like settling the Vietnamese boat people in the United States. You know, the scale of this thing—and then I think, furthermore, you know, the open door that Germany’s left open is actually going to stimulate, you know, even larger numbers to come. And so I suspect that gate is going to shut, you know, fairly quickly.

Good scenario is that, yeah, Europe has been facing extremely low birthrates. They’re going to have low growth. They’re on a slightly slower track to that than East Asia is. But they need workers. And a lot of the people that are coming out are middle class, they got, you know, a reasonably good degree of education. And so then the big question is, culturally and politically, can they be accommodated? And that is a big question, because the Europeans have just not been terribly good at this for the most part over the last couple of generations.

And you’ve already got backlash political movements that, you know, resent the Muslims, in particular, that are there already. And so you can imagine a very nasty scenario where, you know, these populations come, they don’t get terribly well assimilated, they don’t have jobs, and then politically, you know, you get the rise of a lot of populist parties. So I don’t know what the answer to this is. I do think, however, that you can’t—so there are international obligations, you know, to accept refugees and various kinds of human rights concerns. But I do think that that’s not the only lens through which you need to look at this crisis. You really need to think, you know, about the future absorptive capacity and what that does to democratic institutions in these different places.

MANDELBAUM: Yeah, Mitzi.

Q: Francis, this is terrific. I recommend to all of you if you don’t read the books, listen to them. They are so dense every time you listen to it you’ll learn something new. I want you to—

MANDELBAUM: Please identify yourself.

Q: Oh, I’m sorry. I’m Mitzi Wertheim with the Naval Postgraduate School.

What did you mean when you—with the fall of the Soviet Union it was the end of history? Because I think most people, even if they read your book didn’t know what your intent was and misunderstood it, and as a consequence haven’t written—haven’t read these two fabulous books you’ve now written.

FUKUYAMA: Well, since you’ve served up the softball I can now kind of take the swing. (Laughter.) You know, the easiest way to understand “The End of History” is actually through a Marxist lens, because Marx believed in an end of history. He basically said the end of history is communism, meaning that there is this broad process of development or modernization. You know, he didn’t use those words back in the 19th century, but that’s basically what he was talking about. And the question is, you know, you go through hunter-gatherer, agrarian, feudal, you know, modern societies. And what lies at the end of that process? And he said it was going to be some form of communist utopia in which private property is abolished and the proletariat takes over and so forth.

And I would say that what I meant by “The End of History,” when I wrote the article originally in the winter of 1988, ’89, was given what was going on in the Soviet Union at that point, it didn’t look like that was going to happen. It didn’t look like we were going to get to that final stage of history where everybody became—you know, where private property was abolished, but in fact the dominant form of political organization was some form of market economy and some form of liberal democracy. And so by and large that, I think, still remains the case.

We’ve gone from approximately—my colleague Larry Diamond can talk about this much more precisely. But if you look at, you know, Freedom House or Polity IV measures of democracy, we’ve gone from around 35, 40 electoral democracies in the year 1970 to about 110 or 115 today. A lot of them are very low quality. They’ve got all sorts of problems, high levels of corruption, so on and so forth. But for the majority of the world’s people, it still is the dominant form of political organization.

What I think is troubling to Larry and myself and a lot of other people is that the Freedom House, you know, aggregate rankings for the world have fallen now for nine years in a row. And it’s not just that those numbers have fallen on some abstract scale, the way that people are talking about democracy out there in the world is different. In this period right after the fall of the Berlin Wall, there was very little discussion. You know, people said, oh yeah, that is really the only system that’s out there. And I think there’s much more authoritarian self-confidence.

So Vladimir Putin has how been pushing, I think, a kind of silly, nostalgic, you know, view of, you know, the Russian national idea. The Chinese obviously believe that they’re—you know, kind of represent a kind of separate civilization. But even countries that are democracies, like Brazil and India, don’t have the same principle belief in the institutions of democracy, as democracy, as opposed to simply pursuing, you know, what they perceive to be their national interest or acting on historical memories of, you know, colonialism and other things of that sort.

And then, you know, you’ve got these characters like Viktor Orban in Hungary, which I think is hugely significant because if you remember in 1989 Hungary was the best pupil of the end of history, in a certain sense. I mean, they made the transition early on and it looked like they were, you know, the first of these Eastern European countries to arrive at some form of democracy and markets. And, you know, Orban gives this speech last year in Romania where he says, actually, that’s not our goal. Our goal is to be an illiberal democracy. And that’s really certainly the first time that any member of the EU has actually gotten up and had the—you know, the gumption to say that, you know, they don’t actually want liberal democracy in principle.

So there’s a lot of very disturbing trends on the wind. And the question, you know, I think is whether—and obviously this rests on a lot of foundations. So one of the foundations I think is the twin economic crises that overcame the United States and Europe in the last decade. I think unfortunately—and this is something I really didn’t foresee back in 1989—I think the United States has made a lot of mistakes, a lot of policy mistakes in the last 15 years. You know, democracy became very deeply associated with the invasion of Iraq, the democracy promotion I think that delegitimated talk about democracy, even in countries that were democracies themselves.

And the cumulative affect has been this sweeping—it’s not even an authoritarian comeback, but you know a huge number of countries around the world have passed laws banning civil society organizations and funding from outside from foreigners. So it’s not just Russia and Venezuela and Iran—authoritarian countries like that—or China, but, you know, it’s also India and, you know, all these Gulf monarchies and, you know, countries that in foreign policy terms are relatively friendly to the United States.

And so the whole valance of civil society, which I think everybody in this country 20 years ago thought was an unalloyed good, has now become a dirty word in many parts of the world, you know, that people will openly say, yeah, we don’t want civil society organizations. You know, they’re just causing trouble. They’re agents of American influence. Why can’t we regulate them, because they have no legitimate business in our societies?

And so that’s the respect in which I think there’s a lot of troubling things going on in the world. It is different from the Cold War because it’s not a coherent, alternative ideology. China is not exporting the China model anywhere. There may be countries that claim they’re adopting it, but they’re really not. So that’s not the problem. The problem is I think just the kind of weakening consensus around a certain set of democratic ideas that have been really quite strong in the years after 1989.

MANDELBAUM: Gentleman here.

Q: Thank you. David Apgar, IRC. Thank you, Francis. A great discussion.

Let me just explore the—this question of external shocks a little bit farther in two places—maybe Sub-Saharan Africa and here. Are there any borders you can imagine between countries that are really badly abused by their governments where perhaps we should relax our respect for the Westphalian order and let external threats create some incentives for better governance? And here, despite the checks and balances that you’ve described so richly, can you imagine a—maybe a soon-to-be elected president doing something so bone-headed that it would provoke such a crisis from within? (Laughter.)

FUKUYAMA: You’re thinking about President Trump, I presume? (Laughter.) Yeah, well, on the first question about Sub-Saharan Africa, Edward Luttwak, you know, 25, 30 years ago wrote this article called, “Give War a Chance.” And he basically made this argument that since war had motivated strong state formation in Europe and it hadn’t really happened with all the irrational colonial borders in Africa, that maybe what we needed to do was let them duke it out for a while and come to more, you know, rational borders.

I think that that’s a terrible idea. It’s just a terrible idea because, you know, basically ethnicity and, you know, groups that people identify with in that part of the world are so fragmented and so small that that process, you know, could go on for 500 years and still not produce, you know, strong states. I have a couple of chapters on nation building in my new book where I point out that actually the appropriate way to do this in the modern world is to actually create—you know, deliberately create a sense of national identity that’s not tied to ethnicity, religion or, you know, any of these inherited factors that you can’t do anything about, and that that’s been successfully done in a number of countries. Like both Indonesia and Tanzania in different ways, you know, created a sense of—you know, of identity in a way that, let’s say, Nigeria, you know, or Kenya did not.

I think that’s really the only way forward. And, you know, it’s possible. I mean, India—you know, you can’t imagine a more diverse country than India in terms of ethnicity, religion caste, you know, all of these other things. And yet, you know, the post-independence Indian government has actually created a viable, you know, political entity, that doesn’t look very pretty when you look at it in detail, but it’s a—you know, it’s a real democracy and it has a real sense of identity.

Now, could you get a boneheaded president that will really shake things up? Well, see, that’s kind of the problem with our system. And this is what really strikes me about American voters that they think—they don’t understand their own political system. They seem to think that if you vote a president into office that that person becomes like a corporate CEO or a dictator in an authoritarian country where, you know, the next day he can simply order a wall to be built, you know, along the Mexican border and that’s that. And you know, it speaks to a fundamental lack of awareness of what our check and balance system is actually like because I think, actually, the problem with most presidents, including the current one, is that they’ve just been unbelievably weak.

You know, there are certain occasions like your party has both houses of Congress and you come in with a pretty strong mandate, and for about six months you can actually do something. But our pattern for the last, you know, couple of generations has been divided government. And under those circumstances, the problem is the inability to actually make, you know, decisions on big issues that, you know, get a fair amount of consensus. And so I think that the danger is more a president that comes in with big plans and then in nine months is reduced to just flailing around and realizing that they’re going to have to live out the rest of their, you know, term being extremely ineffective.

Now, whether it occurs to anybody at that point that that’s a problem and that, you know, we need to change the system a little bit to, you know, get to a more decisive kind of system, I don’t think is probably going to happen because we’re pretty—you know, we’re pretty committed to the set of checks that we’ve got now. So I do think that there are certain things you could do—like getting rid of the filibuster and getting rid of senatorial holds and, you know, various other sort of procedural matters to make the system a little bit more decisive, but fundamentally I don’t think it’s going to be up to an individual president, you know, for good or ill to really be the stimulus for change.

MANDELBAUM: We have time for one more question. The lady here.

Q: Well, I can talk loudly. (Laughs.) OK. I’m Audrey Kurth Cronin and I’m from School of Public Policy, and greetings from your former colleagues at George Mason.

I was wondering about the relationship between private and public sectors. Balance is always a good thing, but what happens when the state is eclipsed to some degree in some of the traditional forms of power—economic, political, perhaps even use of force, sources of innovation—by a very robust private sector? And or example, you have students who don’t really want to go into serving or building the institutions of the state. Where does that fall in the stages of development?

FUKUYAMA: Well, this is a great final question. It’s right up my alley, because this has been a sore point, you know, with me for a long time. I don’t think you can have a modern political system without a reasonably competent and effective government. And I think that for the last 30 years, you know, really since Ronald Reagan’s first inaugural where he said government is not the solution, government is the problem we have been, both on the left and the right, outsourcing as much of government as possible to either on the one—so the right’s favorite approach is to privatize everything, let the private sector do it, but the left has a version of this as well, which is government by NGO or—you know.

And there’s a really nice book by John Dilulio at Penn called “Bring Back the Bureaucrats,” where he actually points out that there’s been a hard cap on the number of federal employees ever since the 1960s, and that we have fewer bureaucrats today than we did in 1960. And yet, the amount of money that’s being cycled through the U.S. government is five times as large. Quite apart from that disparity, you also have morale. You know, my students, the last thing they think about is going into the government. They want to go into an NGO, into the private sector, they want to make a gazillion dollars on Wall Street. But do they want to go into the federal government? No. And that is a really big problem.

And we’ve done this to ourselves. You know, you look at the disclosure requirements and all the—you know—I mean, the thing that’s really been bugging me lately are just the transparency rules under which the federal government operates. You know, you’re really hamstrung from deliberating, from consulting, you know, all the sorts of things that governments ought to be doing. And so I think that without a concerted effort to raise the dignity of public service, to reestablish the idea that it’s an honorable occupation, that young people ought to want to go into it because they actually can serve public as opposed to private interests, we’re not going to get out of this situation.

MANDELBAUM: That brings us to the end of our time. Thanks to the Hurford family for making this possible. Thanks to Frank. And thank you all for coming. The meeting is adjourned. (Applause.)

(END) 

This is an uncorrected transcript.

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