democracies have come a long way over the last two centuries. From early
struggles to their widespread presence around the world today, this type of
government has emerged as the most effective political ideology and political
system. Competitive elections, the separation of powers, the rule of law and
the protection of human rights are now seen as essential to a healthy and
modernized society. As a result, scholars like Frank Fukuyama argue that the
spread of the western democratic tradition represents the final form of
government. After a period of rapid social change and experimentation with
different forms of state power, the combination of capitalism and liberalism
appears to work the best. Therefore, Fukuyama’s notion about the end of history
implies the end of ideological conflict about the precise nature of governance.
Yet, if economic problems continue to exist, there are still lingering issues
challenging to the idea that society has established the prototypical state.
Instead, there is room for improvement and the ideal government is a work in
progress rather than a finished product.
From a historical perspective, Fukuyama is
correct in his analysis about the evolution and progression of governance.
Starting from the early 19th century, the world has seen waves of
democratization, which in some cases were followed by dictatorships or the use
of alternative models to capitalism. This is because every society is forced to
deal with local power struggles and the interplay between opposing interests
when it comes to their political developments (Berg-Schlosser, 2009, p. 41-42).
Therefore, it is not a linear process but more akin to experimentation, including
periods of conflict and conjunction, which have combined to refine the purpose
of government. Gradually, most societies have moved towards capitalist liberal
democracies (CLD), including those who have encountered transformative
nationalist movements or decolonization. According to Fukuyama, this
inclination towards CLD’s reflects the universalization of this particular type
of governance over others and hence a more stable world. It also represents a fundamental
shift in history as ideological divisions of the past are replaced by the
supremacy of economic and political liberalism. It took two centuries but the
western democracy has outlived other styles of governance and clearly stood the
test of time (Fukuyama, 1989, p. 1-2).
The ever-evolving nature of the
state is related to theories of social change. Whether it is Marxist notions of
the conflict between the bourgeoisie and the proletariat or Hegel’s position
that the culmination of a rationale society is a perfect government,
civilization is always looking for the right balance. Economic freedom is very
important but it needs to be accompanied by a system of law that protects the rights
of citizens. For Fukuyama, his idea about the end of history stems from the fact
that conflict between opposing governing styles has been replaced by capitalist
liberal democracies because of their ability to promote the consent of the
governed and economic growth at the same time (Fukuyama, 1989, p. 3-4). In
other words, CLD’s represent the pinnacle of political change over the last two
centuries until this homogenous model emerged that was considered the most efficient.
Not every nation state is stable as some will collapse while all of them are faced
the modern challenges associated with globalization (Berg-Schlosser, 2009, p.
51-53). Therefore, despite the success of CLD’s, many questions still remain,
including its ability to address social inequality and social cohesion. They
might have emerged as the most ideal form of government, but can we really argue
that CLD’s are the final product or is the modern nation state still evolving?
A key to the success of liberal
democracies is the belief that this style of governance represents a transition
away from autocratic and authoritarian rule. These styles are now considered
out-dated because the concentration of power not bound by law creates stagnant
and oppressive societies. When the interest of a few outweighs the rest, the
public is disempowered, rendered voiceless and often lives in fear (Dickerson,
Flanagan & O’Neil, 2010, p. 218-219). CLD’s are designed to protect
citizens but do they promote the interest of the public or the economic agenda
of an elite class? This is one of the main critiques of the democratic
tradition in that it might create a welfare state but the competitive nature of
capitalism creates social inequality. As long the economy is driven by the
market their will be winners and losers, including those whose jobs and entire
livelihood is wiped out. Furthermore, globalization has seen the movement of
capital around the world, which in turn has driven down wages and created a
mobile pool of cheap labourers (Fukuyama & Risk, 2001, p. 201). As a
result, the inability of CLD’s to promote economic equality or curb the
influence of special interest groups on the political process remains a
challenge and an area that needs improvement. This implies that we have not
reached the final stage of developing the ideal government, as things still
need to change. CLD’s help put the right institutions in place for a stable
society but there is still the ongoing unequal distribution of power and wealth
that plagues the modern nation state.
Another critique of CLD’s is that
the promotion of individualism tends to undermine social cohesion. The push for
individual rights and freedoms is a positive agenda but often comes at the
expense of a collective identity. Therefore, in the process of trying to treat
everyone equal, there is room for mediocrity or the devaluation of artistic
endeavours (Fukuyama & Risk, 2001, p. 202). At issue is the economic nature
of CLD’s, which promotes commercialism and materialism as the only key to
success. Therefore, it is possible to argue that western style democracies are
the best governing model we have right now but there is room for improvement.
We have not reached the pinnacle yet because of ongoing flaws and the need to
keep developing alternatives. Somehow, the inequalities produced by the market
place, the dominance of materialism and supremacy of the individual need to
balance out. There needs to be more equal distribution of wealth, more emphasis
on creativity and a broader sense of community.
From this perspective, it is
understandable why Fukuyama would declare the end of history as a result of the
spread of capitalist liberal democracies. He is correct in his argument that
old divisions and ideological oppositions have disappeared in exchange for a
more homogenous governing model. It might have taken two centuries to reach
this point, but through trial and error, successes and failure and a wide range
of experimentation, society as a whole has reached a point where it is having
accepted CLD’s as the ideal nation state. At the same time, it is possible to
argue that CLD’s are not perfect and the presence of ongoing social and
economic problems is an indication that improvements are needed. We tend to see
democracies and dictatorships as opposites but there is room for the
concentration of power and groups looking out for their interest in CLD’s. This
creates problems for other members of society, therefore, until some of the
weaknesses associated with the western democracies improve, we have not yet
overcome these contradictions. Perhaps in the near future we will reach this
point but for now, the quest for the ideal form of governance continues having
not reached its final destination.