His article (PDF) for the National Interest, published about the time of the Tiananmen Square protests in China and just a few months before the fall of the Berlin Wall, attracted huge acclaim and huge derision for its diagnosis of “the end point of mankind’s ideological evolution” in the form of “the universalisation of Western liberal democracy as the final form of human government”.
Fukuyama’s journal work, later expanded in book form, made him famous, and infamous, a neoconservative messiah. In the words of British philosopher John Gray, he became the “court philosopher of global capitalism”.
In an essay for the Guardian earlier this year, Elaine Glaser emphasised that “Fukuyama was talking about ideas rather than events. He believed that western liberal democracy, with its elegant balance of liberty and equality, could not be bettered; that its attainment would lead to a general calming in world affairs; and that in the long run it would be the only credible game in town.”
How have the intervening years supported or contradicted him? Glaser writes:
For a long time his argument proved oddly resilient to challenges from the left. Neoliberalism has been pretty hegemonic. Over the last three years, however, in a belated reaction to the 2008 bank bailouts, cracks have started to appear. Global Occupy protests and demonstrations against austerity have led many commentators on the left – including the French philosopher Alain Badiou in The Rebirth of History and Seumas Milne in his collection of essays The Revenge of History – to wonder whether history is on the march once again. “What is going on?” asks Badiou. “The continuation, at all costs, of a weary world? A salutary crisis of that world, racked by its victorious expansion? The end of that world? The advent of a different world?”
He tentatively regards the uprisings of 2011 as game-changing, with the potential to usher in a new political order. For Milne, likewise, developments such as the failure of the US to “democratise” Iraq and Afghanistan, the financial crash and the flowering of socialism in Latin America demonstrate the “passing of the unipolar moment”.
Fukuyama himself, in an essay for the Wall Street Journal to mark the 25-year anniversary of the original, acknowledges his seminal work may have overlooked some elements of “the nature of political development” in “the heady of days of 1989”.
But, he writes, “the underlying idea remains correct”.
While authoritarianism is on the rise in some parts of the world, with what some call a “democratic recession” under way in places such as Turkey, Sri Lanka, Thailand and Russia, the broad trend remains towards a democratic model, he insists.
“In the realm of ideas, moreover, liberal democracy still doesn’t have any real competitors.”
The evidence, he says, is to be found in pro-democratic protests around the world, combined with the appetite for migration. “No one living in an established democracy should be complacent about its survival. But despite the short-term ebb and flow of world politics, the power of the democratic ideal remains immense.”