Home > General Politics > Francis Fukuyama: A return to the future

Francis Fukuyama: A return to the future

Francis Fukuyama in his new Foreign Affairs piece (no longer available for free) has held off positing for sure what the end of history will be (like he did back in 1989), instead plumping for situating a series of challenges that may knock off existing liberal democracy as it exists today.

In the piece he notes that the left, particularly in the US and Europe, have failed to hone in on where capitalism has seemingly failed us. Further, in the marketplace of ideas, where historically liberal democracy has come up trumps, business-as-usual is threatened, and that something new is needed because the sharp elbowed elites are knocking aside the middle classes worldwide.

For Fukuyama, the left have only really been able to make a case for an “unaffordable form of old-fashioned social democracy”. (Has the American academic not read In the Black Labour?). What he spends too little time doing, in this article at least, is understanding those movements that have not only challenged the staus quo by way of occupy movements, but also acknowledge how good the powers that be are at flogging what is essentially a dead horse, i.e. lightly regulated financial systems.

Further on this point, though he does at least tip his hat at mentioning those social conservatives who are also feeling the pinch, but would sooner cut their noses off than stand on the streets handing out leftist leaflets, he doesn’t make any effort to understand  or acknowledge the capacity of conservative anti-capitalism – something very small at the moment, but which will play a part in the oncoming shift in the marketplace of ideas (at odds with the prevailing tea party movement).

On global challenges to western capitalism, Fukuyama mentions the two hot potatoes: China and Iran/ Saudi Arabia. With the latter, their rejection of liberal democracy is in turn a promotion of Islamic theocracy, but Fukuyama writes that off as a “dead end” model (neglecting to mention its global reach). China, for him, is the threat. Combining a partially marketised economy with an authoritarian government, the Chinese may have started touting their model as an alternative model to the American one, but it is a sub-model of capitalism. If anything the Chinese model is the one that sits at a dead end. As Fukuyama says himself, later on in the essay after some time to forget an obvious contradiction, “it is unlikely that a spreading middle class will behave all that differently in China from the way it has behaved in other parts of the world [and further] there is little chance that much of the world will look like today’s China 50 years down the road.”

The proof of the supremacy of western liberal democracy is not in the pudding, but in the eating. The pudding, here, is the Middle class, and for Fukuyama the bit that really provides the proof is that they are getting better off. Nobody can stop the middle class now. Fukuyama says:

Marx believed that the middle class, or at least the capital-owning slice of it that he called the bourgeoisie, would always remain a small and privileged minority in modern societies. What happened instead was that the bourgeoisie and the middle class more generally ended up constituting the vast majority of the populations of most advanced countries, posing problems for socialism.

This seems only to have posed a problem for socialism, if one’s socialist politics are predicated on the race to the bottom. Looking beyond the fact that Fukuyama seems to confuse the bourgeoisie and the petit-bourgeoisie in the same paragraph (carelessly writing “middle class more generally”), there is more to the left wing challenge than simply saying we want to see a growth in how many people can call themselves middle class.

The gap between the rich and the poor in the US, where Fukuyama is, is growing rapidly. Recently the Congressional Budget Office said that the richest one per cent of the U.S. population saw its income jump 275% over the past three decades, while the poorest one-fifth gained just 18 per cent.

Furthermore, the “Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development show[ed that] the wealthiest one-tenth of U.S. society has an income 14 times the size of that of the poorest one-tenth.”

Closer to home in the UK, the Office for National Statistics (ONS) revealed that “workers in the worst paid jobs – such as dinner ladies, hairdressers and waiters – have seen their pay fall sharply in real terms” and the “bottom tenth of earners saw their pay creep up just 0.1% between 2010 and 2011 while the top tenth saw their pay grow 18 times faster.”

Added to that, on a global scale, tax evasion accounts for more than $3 trillion, or about five per cent of, world gross domestic product, and the UK is losing £69.9bn a year to tax evaders.

Real incomes of the middle classes will stagnate, too.

As is typical of Fukuyama, his latest piece is bluster. Of course, he is correct to say the left haven’t acted on this global crisis, but before posing his ultimate question – what is there in the wings that can save us today? – he denounces socialism, as he always does. I say, there is nowhere else to turn but socialism.

  1. Jon
    December 29, 2011 at 9:57 pm

    Quite depressing the Fukuyama would draw so heavily on Marx and apparently not have read him in any detail.

    There’s a perfectly workable definition of the bourgeoisie in Marx, and it is those who own the productive capital and employ wage labour. These are people like factory owners.

    The Petit-bourgeoisie – what we’d traditionally call the “middle class” are those who own productive capital but do not have to employ wage labour and instead work it themselves. These are people like independent shop owners, artisans, etc.

    Marx’s thesis with regards to class change in capitalism was “proletarianisation” – that the petit-bourgeoisie would be converted into wage labourers working for others as capital monopolised itself.

    This is exactly what has happened – the middle social class these days are rarely owners of their own productive capital. Shop owners have been replaced with wage labourers working in chain stores, artisans’ functions are often done more effectively by wage labourers. The ‘middle’ social class in terms of income these days consists economically of a highly renumerated strand of wage labourer, but they are still wage labourers.

    How on earth does Fukuyama get so much attention for mixing up definitions that would probably cause him to fail an undergrad exam?

    • December 30, 2011 at 10:04 am

      Precisely, and aptly explained. Fukuyama displayed deep ignorance of Marxism throughout his piece, and it really gets me when academics like him – who should know better – write Marxism off as a mechanical determinism. History, for Marx, is formed of the relationship between the material forces and social relations, he never did say that certain societies will come about, come what may, otherwise there would be no point trying – utopia would simply be round the corner. I think Fukuyama gets away with it because people appreciate his skill for historical brevity and his love of grand narratives (a rarity at all today since the academicc hegemony of the postmodern left, but especially rare on the right) but he makes some schoolboy errors that one can only guess are to do with ideology, not naivety.

  2. Chris
    December 30, 2011 at 12:08 am

    “What happened instead was that the bourgeoisie and the middle class more generally ended up constituting the vast majority of the populations of most advanced countries, posing problems for socialism.”

    How can people believe this crap? The term “middle class” needs to be expunged from the political lexicon because it just does not mean anything. The majority of people in Britain and other advanced economies are as working class as they ever were and if the left forgets that it might as well not exist.

    • December 30, 2011 at 10:06 am

      The term has been perverted I must admit, no more than with Fukuyama – but there is a perfectly good definition of the middle class, used by Jon above, that needn’t be rearranged too much.

  3. Jacob Richter
    December 30, 2011 at 4:20 am

    Don’t forget his ignorance of Latin American social movements and of Die Linke.

    • December 30, 2011 at 10:07 am

      What specifically with Die Linke?

      • Jacob Richter
        December 30, 2011 at 4:44 pm

        Popular support.

      • December 30, 2011 at 5:35 pm

        ah, I see – desn’t surprise me

  4. Edgar
    December 30, 2011 at 1:43 pm

    You are forgetting another part of the middle class that Marx called lackeys, and that is Lawyers etc. Those sycophants whose employment relies on the system. Also Doctors who are always paid in the top bracket. These are not proletarians and should never be confused as such. From this point of view Fukuyama has a point when speaking about advanced nations. There is a sizeable chunk of the population doing very nicely thank you very much, even in the midst of this crisis. But advanced capitalism is not capitalism, world capitalism is. To ignore most of the people who produce the things that people consume is clearly wrong headed.

    The question is how can any progressive movement unite workers in the advanced world and the developing world? This is the problem socialists face.

    • December 30, 2011 at 3:10 pm

      You are forgetting another part of the middle class that Marx called lackeys, and that is Lawyers etc.

      Ha, does that mean Lenin was a lackey in more ways than one?

      On the question posed, you are quite right, but it is one for socialists. Fukuyama’s problem is not that he asks the wrong questions off socialism, but that he has already wrongly answered that question.

  5. Edgar
    December 30, 2011 at 4:17 pm

    I was speaking generally, which is the only way class can be discussed!

    On the question posed, I would also suggest anti imperialism should be a cornerstone of socialist belief. So this site does little to help the answer the question posed!

    • December 30, 2011 at 4:35 pm

      Au contraire. I don’t support US imperialism in the Middle East any more than I support East Timor dependence on Indonesia – something supported by imperialists such as bin Laden. I am, however, pro-interventionist, when the time needs it.

  6. Edgar
    December 30, 2011 at 4:46 pm

    Interventionism is merely a more palatable name for imperialism and conquest. Someone switch the bleedin light on!

    • December 30, 2011 at 4:55 pm

      That’s not actually true is it, imperialism carries a debt from a hegemon, interventionist is the acceptance that we all, big or small, have responsibilities beyond our own borders

  7. Edgar
    December 30, 2011 at 4:59 pm

    “interventionist is the acceptance that we all, big or small, have responsibilities beyond our own borders”

    In the pretend world you must live in yes.

    • December 30, 2011 at 5:05 pm

      Anyone who deviates from this is worthy of any other title but interventionist, to the word I am an interventionist. When Blair said he was interventionist, he lied.

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