Dan Banik speaks with Francis Fukuyama on the dysfunction in U.S. politics, state building, democracy and development, and the rise of China.
Welcome to season 2 of the show!
Our first guest this season is Francis Fukuyama, one of the most influential political thinkers of our time and someone who has written extensively on international politics and issues of development. He is a senior fellow at Stanford University's Freeman Spogli Institute for International Studies(FSI) and the director of the institute’s Center on Democracy, Development, and the Rule of Law (CDDRL),.
This conversation was recorded in mid-December 2020 at the height of the controversies surrounding the US presidential election and President Trump’s refusal to acknowledge defeat. And while a new president will shortly be sworn in on the 20th of January, deep political divisions remain. It is therefore particularly useful and timely to revisit Fukuyama’s major two-volume work on the origins of political order and political decay. In these two fascinating books published in 2011 and 2014, he provides an account of how societies develop strong, impersonal, and accountable political institutions.
We also discussed his first book, The End of History and the Last Man (1992) and his latest, Identity: The Demand for Dignity and the Politics of Resentment (2018).
Transcript prepared by Ingrid Ågren Høegh
Fukuyama I think the biggest disappointment in many ways is actually what’s happened in the United States because I really didn’t think that, you know, the country would be capable of electing someone like Trump, and I didn’t think so many Americans would be capable of being so fanatically attached to him.
Theme music You are listening to In Pursuit of Development with Dan Banik.
Banik I’m delighted to welcome you to Season 2 of the show. And I’m particularly pleased that my first guest this season is Francis Fukuyama, one of the most influential political thinkers of our time, and someone who has written extensively on international politics and issues of development. He’s a Senior Fellow at Stanford University’s Freeman Spogli Institute of International Studies, and the Director of the Institute’s Center on Democracy, Development, and the Rule of Law. I spoke with Francis in mid-December 2020, at the height of the controversies surrounding the US Presidential election and President Trump’s refusal to acknowledge defeat. And while a new president will shortly be sworn in on the 20th of January, deep political divisions remain in the United States. It is therefore particularly useful and timely to revisit Frank Fukuyama’s major two-volume work on The Origins of Political Order and Political Decay. In these two fascinating books published in 2011 and 2014, he provides an account of how societies develop strong, impersonal, and accountable political institutions. We also discussed his first book, The End of History and the Last Man, published in 1992, and his latest published in 2018, titled Identity, the Demand for Dignity, and the Politics of Resentment. On a personal note, I’ve had the pleasure of knowing Frank for over a decade now. We were not only former colleagues at Stanford University but also lived on the same street. And every other day, Frank would run past our house in Palo Alto. He is also one of the most versatile people I know. When he’s not writing books and articles or giving a talk, you may find him woodworking in his garage in Palo Alto or in the picturesque town of Carmel in California. Check out his Instagram profile if you don’t believe me. He’s also a brilliant photographer who also happens to make a perfect grilled burger.
In this episode, we discuss issues related to political development and political decay, state building, the relationship between democracy and development, and the rise of China. I hope you enjoy our conversation.
Banik It’s always such a pleasure to speak with you Frank. Welcome to the show.
Fukuyama Thanks very much Dan, it’s a pleasure to be here.
Banik Well, we last met in Oslo in February of this year and since then, of course, the whole world has been ravaged by Covid-19, and your own country, the United States, has struggled to contain the pandemic. And you’ve also had an election; the results of which continue to be challenged by the incumbent. So, let me ask you, or begin by asking you, the following question, Frank: how can citizens get their populist leaders, like your president, to stop attacking liberal democracy?
Fukuyama I don’t think that there’s an easy answer to that question. Normally, if you are living in a democracy, the answer would be you vote, you mobilize people and get them to vote the populist leader out of power. That’s the most decisive check on their power. What we’re facing in the United States is something that really doesn’t have any precedent in any modern developed democracy, which is a leader that simply refuses to leave office and you know, invents facts and claims that he was the victim of massive fraud. And that is simply not true. And that’s why it’s a little bit difficult to figure out what to do about it because we really have not faced this kind of situation. Most democratic leaders stay within a normative framework where they accept the fact that if you lose an election, you bow out. But we have a demagogue right now that hasn’t done that. Now, that being said, Joe Biden is going to take office on January 20th and Donald Trump will no longer be president. But we’re still left with a situation in which, you know, maybe a third of the country believes that Biden was president only as a result of massive fraud and that’s obviously not a good thing going forward.
Banik Moving on to much of your work that, in many ways, has highlighted the difficulties of, say, creating and maintaining effective political institutions, and you know, you’ve highlighted the fact that it’s not just important to have governments that are just powerful and respect the rule of law, but are also accountable. And when I read your work, a common thread that comes out is that you’re interested in better understanding how we should be building an effective state. This theme is explored in these two really impressive and extremely well-written volumes on The Origins of Political Order and Political Order and Political Decay. And one of the many conclusions you arrive at in these two books is perhaps the fact that political development in the modern world took place under very different conditions than say those in the period up to the late 18th Century. The question here I have for you is: what would you say are the major differences in these two periods?
Fukuyama Oh, well, I think historically the way that the political orders developed, first of all, extended over much longer periods of time. You take an issue like sequencing, you know, you have a state, a democracy, rule of law, and also other dimensions of development, like economic growth, and one of the questions that comparative political scientists have been looking at is: what’s the best sequence in which to introduce these different types of institutions. And there was an argument that Samuel Huntington originally made, way back in the 1960s, for an authoritarian transition where you would begin with economic growth that would create the social basis for an eventual transition to democracy. And this is actually the pattern that a number of European countries followed. I mean, they didn’t start with democracy. Actually, I would say prior to economic growth, countries like Britain and the Netherlands had a workable rule of law that then permitted economic growth to happen. As economic growth happened, they developed demands, a middle class, and then demands for greater political participation and eventually democracy. I think one of the problems right now is that because we’re at the end of this process where we’ve seen successful development, it’s very hard to sequence. If you’re a country that, say, is coming out of communism, like Poland, or Hungary, or Ukraine, it was not possible at that moment of transition to say: we’re going to behave like Singapore, we’ll have an authoritarian government of the next generation, we’re going to get rich, and then after that we’re going to transition to democracy. You’ve unleashed popular demands for participation which are going to happen regardless of the level of development you’re at. And in any event, it’s not as if there’s an elite in these countries that’s controlling things such that you can say: okay, first we’re going to do this and then we’re going to do this and another generation. The demands for change on all fronts are very strong. And I don’t think that you can seriously sequence in the way that historically countries were able to do that. The other thing that I am acutely aware of is the fact that we live in a very different international environment where the connections between countries is very tight, information of people, ideas flow across borders much more readily than they did a few hundred years ago. This is good in many respects because you can learn things from the experience of other countries. You don’t have to constantly keep reinventing the wheel. But it’s also the case that you import things like rising expectations and disruptive trends in technology and other things much more rapidly than you did at another point. You do have an International Development Community which tries to promote the development of poor countries. This is something unprecedented until really the 1950s. It used to be that if rich countries paid attention to poor countries it was to exploit them and all of a sudden you’ve got this big international industry where rich countries try to transfer resources to poor countries and, as you well know, that sometimes works and sometimes doesn’t work. But that’s also a very different condition from what used to prevail. So, I would say that those are some of the big differences right now.
Banik I’m glad you mentioned both of these aspects because in the first volume, of course, you talk about, you know, sequencing and I’m not sure if it’s the first or the second volume where you also talk about the fact that maybe strong bureaucracies, or having them first well-established, then let’s say a quick transition to democracy – I don’t know if I’ve understood that correctly – but there is that sequencing, right, that countries that have had a tradition of strong bureaucracies have done better.
Fukuyama Well, I think that’s a general condition of development. I would say if you don’t have appropriate state capacity and if you don’t build state capacity, it’s actually very hard to accomplish anything. And you can see many democracies that really don’t have the capacity to deliver basic services at the level that people today expect them, that have consequently gotten into a lot of trouble. So, I think that’s correct. I would say however that the process of building a modern state is also something that happens incrementally and it’s not something that can be done quickly because it’s really a matter of human capital, and building human capital in your state structure is usually multi-generational work.
Banik Right, because that explains why you’ve been critical of attempts of implanting institutions without perhaps understanding how these institutions originate, and how there are all these accidental or contingent forces, as you call them, that come into being. Because it is difficult to create a modern and impersonal state. And maybe the international community is in a hurry and maybe they don’t quite understand how one should go about transforming countries like Somalia, Iraq, Afghanistan, into what you call this idea of “getting to Denmark.” That it’s about the problem of creating a modern political institution, or institutions, and Denmark here is not Denmark the country, but the mythical place where, for you, it’s all about stable, democratic, inclusive, peaceful, prosperous institutions, and very little corruption. So, my question here then is, based on this exhaustive review of all the historical cases and all the literature that you’ve looked into, what would you highlight as the key lessons about state building? In addition to the sequencing aspect, what should these various actors be focusing on? Is it better understanding the local conditions, the historical roots of these institutions?
Fukuyama Well, first of all, I don’t think state building is ultimately going to be brought about by anyone other than political actors within each country. They’re the ones that have to bring that about. Partly, it’s a matter of power. If you want to get rid of a corrupt elite, you have to get them out of power and replace them with a different kind of elite and that requires a lot of political struggle. The other issue that is very important is that there needs to be a parallel nation building process in addition to the state building process. You could define state building as building of visible formal institutions, like bureaucracies, and tax bases and police forces. The nation-building is an intangible project. It is a project that leads to an intangible outcome, which is a shared sense of destiny, a shared sense of narratives. People don’t have to agree on everything, but they have to believe that they live in under a common set of rules and share a certain minimal set of values for the society to cohere. And that is a matter of shaping narratives and it’s also a matter of education because people need to learn these narratives, you know, as they grow up and absorb them, and so forth. And this, even less than the state building project, is something that really has to be done by people who understand their own society, that are able to call upon historical memories, who understand cultural symbols and use those to build a sense of common citizenship.
Banik I was particularly fascinated, in Political Order and Political Decay, with the example you use of the US Forest Service, which was characterized by merit-based recruitment, it was autonomous, and this, to you, was a very good example of American state building. But this very same institution is now often considered to be dysfunctional. So why is it that political development is often reversed by political decay and how does this decay place?
Fukuyama I think that you could see an example of this going on in the United States, actually, unfortunately, multiple examples, like our Centre for Disease Control, Food and Drug Administration, where you had very high capacity agencies that were run by professionals, long-term civil servants that had a lot of expertise. But then you get a political master that actually wants to use those agencies for short-term political purposes. Now in democratic theory, obviously, if you have an election, it has consequences. The newly elected president and legislature get to set the agenda for bureaucrats, but they also need to respect the fact that the bureaucrats have expertise about certain issues and not override that advice with their own short-term political demands. And so, this, in our country, has led to this corruption of both of those agencies. Unfortunately, there are many other examples of this. What I said in my books was that it’s kind of inevitable that this happened because in a certain sense having a modern state is an unnatural situation. It’s unnatural to choose your public officials on the basis of merit and qualifications, as opposed to favouring friends and family or political supporters or people that you’ve come to know and trust. You see an example of this in the way that the Trump family has been used to staff this administration. But I think in general this kind of reversion to political patronage is something that tends to happen over time, but I wrote Political Order and Political Decay well before the rise of Trump. You know, what I saw there was the rise of very powerful organized interest groups in the United States, lobbyists, rent-seeking organizations, that in an extended period of peace and prosperity had managed to capture important parts of the government so that it was impossible for democratic rule to prevail over these kinds of entrenched interests. I think one of the reasons you have populism is that there is a broad sense that this has happened and a broad unhappiness with it. And that’s part of a longer-term political decay problem.
Banik You’ve also written about how institutions perhaps decay because they’re just not flexible enough perhaps to adapt to changing circumstances, right?
Fukuyama Well, that’s correct. I mean actually, sometimes if you have too much autonomy that contributes to the rigidity and sometimes you need to have the things shaken up from the outside. But the shaking up actually has to do something positive with like the way that you’ve been shaken up in the last four years. But in general, institutions are stable rules or patterns of behaviour that persist beyond the tenure of the officials that are actually running them at any given point. That’s part of why human societies have become successful because we can create stable rules and institutions that govern our behaviour. But external developments happen, you get external shocks, you get broad social changes and if those institutions don’t continually adapt themselves in these new conditions, then you’re going to get bad results because the system will be too rigid. You know in the US Constitution, we have quite a number of issues like this right now that lead to a failure of representation. The Electoral College privileges small states and certain swing states way over more populous states. Or the current way we do districting, which similarly privileges rural areas over big cities and it’s impossible to fix the system because that very distribution of power that privileges certain groups over others, means that they don’t want to see any change. And the rules in the American Constitution require supermajorities to bring about a change in the rules and that can be vetoed by the groups that would be hurt by those changes. And so that’s why you get locked into this kind of long-term rigidity where you see a problem existing, but you can’t really do anything about it.
Banik So this reminds me of what Huntington said were crucial aspects of the development of political institutions and certain characteristics, like it’s important that they’re complex, adaptable, autonomous, and coherent. But these very same features will perhaps sometimes lead to decay. And even democracy itself could lead to decay of institutions.
Fukuyama Well social change happens all the time. And I think what he was concerned about was the failure of political institutions to absorb demands for participation as societies changed. And this is something that’s been happening in the developing world for decades now: that as you get social and economic development, people move to cities, you get bigger urban populations, you get groups mobilized that haven’t been mobilized before. And the political system is still run by an elite that was appropriate for a smaller, rural and agrarian society where things were locally controlled by big landlords or urban elites or groups like that. And by failing to accommodate those rising forces, you get decay. A specific example of this was Argentina, where the country was one of the fastest growing economies in the world in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. And this brought about massive social change. Just like in Europe, you had the growth of big cities, you had the growth of the industrial workforces, the proletariat, you had the rise of labour unions. All of this represents massive social mobilization and social change. Society had been controlled by a very narrow elite of large landowners in the 19th century. And many of those elites saw this change happening with the rise of the radical party, new demands and so forth. They didn’t like it and they eventually saw no way out other than non-democratic means. So, in 1930, they backed a military coup that unseated the democratic government, and, I mean, we’re still not out of this period of vacillations between democratic choice and authoritarian dictatorship, highly unstable politics. If you contrast that to Britain, it’s an interesting contrast because in Britain, the conservative landed elite was in a way much more farsighted and adaptable. So, they passed three big reform bills in 1832, 1857 and then in the 1880s, that gradually extended the franchise. The second Reform Bill in the 1850s was actually fascinating because it was promoted by Benjamin Disraeli, this famous Conservative Prime Minister, and at that time he was criticized by members of the Tory party for betraying the interest of that party because he was going to allow all of the new rising middle-class and working-class people to start voting in British elections. But he understood that if you don’t adapt, you’re going to die. And it turned out that he was correct. With expanded franchise, the conservative party actually continued to win votes. And as a result, it remained a dominant party in British politics through the 20th century. So those are cases of the failure to adapt in Argentina’s case, which leads to political disaster and a system that has enough flexibility to shift the rules, which was Britain in the 19th century.
Banik My listeners would of course be surprised, perhaps even disappointed, if I did not ask you about your famous 1989 essay In the National Interest and the resulting book from 1992, The End of History and the Last Man. The original essay received then, and still continues to receive, a lot of attention. 31 years after you wrote it, and I remember you were going to Munich when we met in Oslo to talk about this, and what I find fascinating is that the idea perhaps, or your theory, is not perhaps as controversial or as outlandish as some have considered it to be. Because you were really offering a theory of modernization, that there were these two major challenges to liberalism of fascism and communism: they failed. And the real question was: where was the process of modernization going? And rather than communism, that the Marxists were saying would constitute the end of history, you were saying in 88/89 that we would stop at the stage before communism. And I know you are sick and tired of answering these questions, but some of the common misunderstandings as I understand is related to the phrase itself, “the end of history,” which you borrowed from Hegel. And “history” for you was about modernization and development, and “end” was not about termination, but it was about some sort of an objective. So, it was all about, as I understand it, that the endpoint of this process of modernization would be some version of a market-based economy and some version of liberal democracy. The question is, Frank: have you changed your thoughts and your ideas since then, and if so how? Because I’ve heard you say that you’ve refined the argument over the years, and you’ve also rewritten it in the two volumes we’ve just discussed, and do you still believe in that argument that there is no alternative model of human prosperity? That development requires a market economy tied to liberal democracy?
Fukuyama I think that there’s a couple of things that are obviously different. You know the world in 1989 or 1992 when the book was published, you know really was a different place in many ways because we were in the midst of this big expansion of the third wave of democratization that lasted up until the mid-2000s. And the momentum was on the side of people protesting authoritarian governments and then changing regimes to more democratic ones. And now we’re in a period of very serious backsliding and democratic recession including in well-established democracies, like the United States and other European countries. So, there is no question that the political fortunes of democracy have hit a big setback. In terms of the underlying argument whether the long-term perspective there is an alternative higher form of organization, social and political organization, to liberal democracy tied to a market economy, that I’m not so sure of. And this is something I’ve been saying for the last 30 years: the only alternative system that seems to have any plausible chance of actually turning out better is that of China. Because it is authoritarian and has succeeded in producing high levels of economic growth and now technological innovation. And if it proves to be stable in a way that democracies are not and continues to produce these levels of growth, then I think the thesis is wrong. But I don’t think we’re there yet. I don’t think it’s clear that the Chinese system can be sustainable politically over a longer time and continue to produce both the political and the economic outcomes. I think as a normative matter also, there are big problems with it because it doesn’t produce an attractive society in many ways. Very little Chinese soft power being exercised today. People love getting an infrastructure project and lots of Chinese investment, but very few societies want to emulate what they perceive as Chinese culture or Chinese social values. So, in that respect, I think the thesis is still there, but you know, it was always a question rather than an assertion.
Banik It’s interesting this thing about China, because you’re right that there isn’t much of that kind of soft power that China has in comparison to say India. There’s no Bollywood, or yoga or democracy. But I would argue that maybe China’s soft power could be understood as its record at reducing poverty and promoting well-being. You know this China-model of development and its emphasis on South-South cooperation. No political interference. All of this, I would argue, appears pretty attractive. The fact that it can build infrastructure that no other country can build on that scale. You know, that is what makes the Chinese model more attractive to some countries say in sub-Saharan Africa.
Fukuyama Like I said, I think it’s the economic model that is the selling point but I think to be a world-beating civilization you have to offer, you know, full service menu and economic growth by itself may not do it in the end. And you know, it still remains to be seen whether that economic model is sustainable. And one of the things that’s happening is that year by year or month by month, the Chinese Communist party is basically undermining the private sector in China to the point where you know, we’re just going to have to admit that this really isn’t a market-based economy at all. It’s a hybrid between state planning and state capitalism. And whether that actually can produce innovation and growth, as opposed to seizing up because of its own rigidity, that’s something that remains to be seen.
Banik What about the role of culture and Huntington’s Clash of Civilizations, that culture is the ultimate way in which societies define themselves, that there will be some seven or eight cultural groups that would dominate, that there’s no reason to think that one would develop similar types of political institutions?
Fukuyama Well, this is an issue I dealt with in my last book, Identity, where I argue that one of the threats to a liberal society is this quest for identity, where you have a communitarian desire to be bound to other people on the basis of, it could be religion, it could be nation, it could be skin colour, it could be gender. There are many other forms of community that provide a stronger sense of community than a liberal society which is based on a kind of universal understanding of human tights and values. And this could be civilizational. That’s what Huntington was arguing. But I think in the modern world it tends to be much narrower than that. That people are bonding in much smaller communities. So, there’s no such thing as an Asian civilization. There’s China, Japan, Korea, and even within these countries there are regions with very strong ties to one another. So, you have a lot of identity conflict, but I don’t think it’s really the same as a kind of civilizational conflict that Huntington was talking about. The only part of the world that fits that description a little bit better is the Muslim world, where there is a formal long-standing belief in the Muslim Ummah, but the reality of the Muslim world today has been the civil war between Sunnis and Shiites and between sects within each of these groups. And I don’t think that’s acting as a coherent civilizational block
Banik I re-read that 1989 essay recently and I noticed that you wrote that you were actually pretty worried about the end of history because it would be a very sad time, you said. And I quote, “the struggle for recognition, the willingness to risk one’s life for a purely abstract goal, the worldwide ideological struggle that calls for daring, courage, imagination and idealism would be replaced by economic calculation, the endless solving of technical problems etc.” And you’ve often in your talks highlighted Nietzsche’s idea of the last man, right? This kind of a man without anger or pride or aspiration because all of his needs are taken care of. But you basically make that argument that humans may not like that situation. There’s this inherent desire we have for a struggle to rebel, and in the Identity book, you highlight the Greek word for human demand for respect and recognition. And without such recognition, we get angry. And modern politics is therefore about the struggle for recognition. So, the question is: is it this lack of recognition that many groups around the world feel? Is it the fault of globalization, as a lot of people are saying it’s the elites that have benefited?
Fukuyama Well, I think that’s a very large part of it. I think this huge divide has opened up between urban, modern agglomerations with large numbers of relatively well-educated people that are open to globalization and the international world, versus more conservative rural areas. That’s really sociologically been the basis of power for populist politicians. I think it’s partly an economic divide because the urban areas are the ones that have been growing most rapidly, but I think the cultural divide is more important and that’s where the issue of respect comes in, where many people feel that many important decisions were taken without consulting them or without regard to their interest, not even disregarding their interests, you know, just not even being aware that there are people, you know, that may not like some of the choices they made like entering into these trade pacts or outsourcing jobs to other countries. And the same thing works on the other side. I think that a lot of the social justice movements are really movement about respect. You think about the “me too” movement, some of the greatest heroes of that movement were actually actresses or pretty well-off people that can’t really be regarded as economic victims. But nonetheless, as women, they are being disrespected by the people that harassed them. So that issue is really entirely a matter, I think, of respect. It has economic dimensions as well, in terms of pay equity, but I think what really underlies a lot of the anger is the disrespect that sexual harassment reveals towards women. So yes, I think that is a large part of our politics these days.
Banik Related to this is this problem of global governance. This lack of collective action and accountability and lack of democracy at the international level. Perhaps weak organizations. The UN can’t be expected to solve these very important issues. That one perhaps requires other international institutions. What are your thoughts on global governance as you see it? Your own country is pulling back and President Trump has undermined multilateralism. And you’ve often in the past argued that US dominance around the world, it’s been hegemonic and because of that there’s been a lot of anti-Americanism. Do you see that changing in the next few years in terms of how global governance will evolve?
Fukuyama Well, I think Biden is going to reverse a lot of the decisions that Trump made about NATO, about alliances, about the WHO, about the Paris Climate Accords, but I actually don’t see that we’re going to be making a lot of big advances in creating new multilateral institutions to handle some of these problems even though the demand for them is there. Because I do think that a lot of the populist backlash has been based on suspicion of delegating authority to these international bodies and there’s a certain justification for that because a lot of them are really not under any kind of democratic accountability. So I don’t really see a political basis for expansion. I think right now the best you can hope for is actually just to defend the ones that exist. And some of them will continue to weaken. I think most of the trade liberalization agreements are getting a hard second look by a lot of people, including some of the economists that were their biggest supporters 20 years ago.
Banik Let’s move on to democracy Frank. It’s just so fun talking to you, so I have tons of things I would like to talk to you about, so you’ve got to stop me at some point from asking you all these questions. But you’ve argued in your work that a successful modern liberal democracy must combine three sets of institutions, but in a stable balance. We’re talking about the state, talking about the rule of law, and finally accountable government. And that maintaining the stable balance constitutes what you termed the miracle of modern politics, as it is not always obvious that these three can be combined. But in the past couple of decades, we’ve been witnessing a democratic recession. And many countries that were a part of this third wave of democratization, as Huntington had put it, they’ve either gone back to authoritarianism, or their democratic institutions have been eroded or weakened. I’m wondering what explains this democratic recession. Is it the lack of performance in terms of delivering public services? Is it the lack of trust in the government? Is it weak state legitimacy? Is it the decay of democratic institutions and renewed interest in pursuing patrimonialism? Is it all of these and more? What explains this democratic recession?
Fukuyama I don’t think that you can generalize and I think that in fact what you need to do is not see this as one single phenomenon, but several different ones that lead to similar results, but really are driven by very different kinds of forces. In some cases, the backsliding is the result of the interplay between a weak state and accountability, where governments failed to deliver on really important issues that voters think are important. We’re seeing a lot of examples going on right now in Latin America, Peru and Bolivia, other countries in that region. I think the things going on in Europe and in North America are yet again different because you have a former working class that had been the beneficiaries of an extended period of economic growth that are no longer benefiting from that. And that is a different phenomenon from what’s happening in a developing country that really never had that privileged position of having a functioning industrialized economy. That’s a rather different political dynamic.
Banik Yeah, you know, I remember reading somewhere that you resemble the Indian democracy to sausage-making: that it may look less appealing the closer one gets to the process. Now, I could use a lot of time to discuss India. There’s one thing that strikes me and that is this fundamental disagreement in India on what the problem is, who defines the problem? And if it’s something that everybody agrees, if its visible, if there’s a common enemy, it’s all good. It’s some kind of disagreement on who gets to define, and then again going back to your identity politics, it is perhaps the lack of good and capable politicians, it may be the inability of the country to implement radical change. It is chaotic sometimes and I sometimes wonder that this chaos of India’s democracy sometimes makes the Chinese alternative much more appealing to some countries. I don’t know what your take on that is.
Fukuyama I’m sure it does. I think India is kind of the polar opposite from China. China has always had a very strong state and a relatively weak civil society. Chinese people do not organise and protest. They don’t have the density of social organizations that India does. And India has been in the kind of opposite situation where over the last twenty-five hundred years has had relatively weak central government, but very strong society that’s been organized down to the village level. And there’s a religious infrastructure that’s completely outside of the state. There’s labour unions and peasant cooperatives and so forth. And I think that one of the problems in Indian democracy is a little bit like what’s going on in the United States. I invented this term, rule by veto, where you have a democratic political system that allows a lot of groups to veto decisions. And I think that’s true both in the US and in India, where can you see this in something like infrastructure, where you really have a big project that hurts certain people and we’ve set up systems that allow the people that are hurt by it to veto the whole project and therefore the bridge doesn’t get built or the highway doesn’t get repaired. Whereas in China, because they’ve got the strong state, they can simply override those interests and push the things that they deem to be in the general interest, which opens the way to its own sets of abuses.
Banik In the famous 1989 essay, you are very hopeful that China would become a democracy at some point. You wrote things like, especially when thousands of students educated in the US or other parts of the Western world will return home then all these ideas will spread, but that hasn’t happened. So, what happened to the influence of liberal ideas in China? And what you often say is China’s default condition, perhaps is one that involves a strong centralized government. Maybe I’m paraphrasing too much.
Fukuyama A lot of things have happened. Right now, for a Chinese student in the United States, it’s not as if American democracy looks that great. I can see that in my own Chinese students, you know, they would have said that we want China to be like the United States 20 years ago. But today almost none of them will say that. And a lot of them tend to be kind of contemptuous of the United States. It’s become less welcoming socially and in many other ways. And then I think it’s also the success of the China model where they managed to deliver on stability and economic growth. So, all of these things, back in 1989 or 1992, I didn’t anticipate this happening. I think the biggest disappointment in many ways actually is what happened in the United States because I really didn’t think that the country would be capable of electing someone like Trump and I didn’t think so many Americans would be capable of being so fanatically attached to him.
Banik I’m sure a lot of people around the world are thinking the same kind of thoughts and the frustration and trying to understand how 73 million people could vote for somebody like Mr. Trump. The final sets of issues have to do with democracy and development and the dimensions of development that I know that you’re interested in thinking about. And we’ve talked a bit about political development, about the state, the rule of law, democratic accountability, but that’s only one aspect of socio-economic development and any change in political institutions, you’ve argued, must be understood in the context of economic growth, social mobilization, but also the power of ideas in relation to justice and legitimacy. So, we have six kinds of dimensions here: the state, rule of law, democracy, together with economic growth, social mobilization and the evolution in ideas in relation to legitimacy. Is it then a matter of how these six dimensions are linked and the sequencing of these that determine the kind of development that countries are able to achieve?
Fukuyama I think they really have to complement each other and if one of them is seriously out of sync with the others, for example, if you have reasonably good institutions, but just have no economic growth for an extended period of time, it’s not going to work. So I think that you have to have each of these mutually supporting one another and because they are both casually linked to one another, but they’re also to some degree autonomous, that’s why the development process itself is so often hard to predict and chaotic. Right now, with Covid-19, we’re seeing a number of things happening, particularly the importance of the institutional and political factors, like lacking state capacity. It’s very hard to deal with a pandemic. Lacking economic growth. It’s very hard to compensate people that have lost jobs or to keep them fed. Even with resources and strong institutions, if you don’t have social trust in the society, if you’re highly polarized, you’re not going to have a good response. And then finally, it’s not just about institutions, it’s also about political leadership, and if you don’t have the right leaders, you’re not going to have a good outcome. A number of examples of very poor leadership in the course of this epidemic. So there’s not a formula for how to get to any of these outcomes and, like we started out talking about, this kind of sequencing, I don’t think there is a single sequence by which you get all of these factors to work together. So, a lot of it is a matter of luck and your historical circumstances, the neighbourhood you live in and things like that.
Banik Frank, it was so fun to see you again, at least online, and to talk to you today. I hope we get to see each other pretty soon. Thank you so much for coming on my show.
Fukuyama Sure. Hopefully I’ll be able to get on an airplane again, and so will you, so thanks very much for having me.
Banik If you enjoyed this podcast, please spread the news among your friends and share it on social media. The Twitter handle for this podcast is @GlobalDevPod.
Thank you for listening to In Pursuit of Development with Professor Dan Banik from the University of Oslo’s Centre for Development and the Environment. Please email your questions, comments and suggestions to InPursuitOfDevelopment@gmail.com