Episode 36: Francis Fukuyama on the Formation and Decay of the Modern State

Good afternoon, podcast listeners! What a treat we have for you this Columbus Day, as noted political scientist, Stanford University senior fellow, and TAI Chairman Francis Fukuyama returns to the show this week to discuss his new book, Political Order and Political Decay: From the Industrial Revolution to the Globalization of Democracy.

Frank expounds on one of the central questions of his book: how do you get to the modern state? That is, how do you get from a state run for the benefit of the insiders to one that is impersonal, that seeks to treat its citizens impartially and therefore equally?

You’ll learn why Greece and Italy may have democratized too early, and how that legacy was borne out in the recent euro crisis. You’ll also hear about how plausible—and how sustainable—China’s model of governance is in relation to the modern liberal democracies of North America and Europe. Finally, Frank will describe the signs of decay he sees in contemporary America.

Be sure to subscribe to the podcast on iTunes, and follow our host Richard Aldous @RJAldous and Francis Fukuyama @FukuyamaFrancis on Twitter.

Published on: October 13, 2014
show comments
  • Anthony

    Francis Fukuyama Episode 36: balance is important (State, Accountability, Democracy) and Political Decay = State Capture (governmental). Above all, Richard Aldous conducts informative interview.

  • Corlyss

    Nevertheless, despite what the Gee-Whiz Experts like Fukuyama keep telling us, there has not been a single viable vector for organizing residents and delivering services more effective than the dirty ol’ maligned nation-state. Wake me when the Gee-Whiz Kids come up with one that actually works.

  • Nathaniel Greene

    More nonsense from someone who doesn’t have a clue and has never been right about anything.

  • I want to address the issue of Strong-state and it’s relation with what China is doing. And hence, in that sense, let me say the following:

    First of all, the contention that says that of Chinese economic and political model, is a threat to democracy is bogus one, and the reason is, that firstly that the Chinese strong state model is not something that the CCP is inventing it. But, it’s an extension of the old traditional strong state of the Chinese history. Also it’s in a way not a threat of the way some perceived it; such it being an anti-democratic model where others are concern.

    No, what its threat to it’s the western’s recent tradition of having a weakening state polity, so that the national destiny will be beholden to the private interest (i.e., what Fukuyama would call an interest-group-captured-state), as opposed to having a national consensus of determining what is good for the greatest many of the nation, and then, acting on it. This is the threat the Chinese model is in the western eye, if unvarnished truth were to be allowed to rear its head.

    This mean, if China gets develop, socially and economically, under the tutelage of a strong state, which in turn could make us sees a strong states privileging the larger public interest more than paying attention to the concern of the private interest (which is what western’s state model under the neoliberalism seems to be nowadays), then the “ideological fight” that the west thought they had won in the end of the Cold-War, which was that collective public interest is bad and private individualized interest is good, is up for a revision in so far as the rest of the world outside the West is concern.

    And, this outcome, in turn will mean that every other country that is contemplating how to “reform” her national realm, and how much weight to accord to the public interest (or whether to have any ownership of a public-held-enterprises) and how much legal, social, and political benefit should be given to a private-financial-interest, will have a complete thesis to look into from the Chinese model; and then compare it how things are done in the western’s world.

    This is the fight the West knows they will lose, because nothing sells like success (as an economically bankrupt former soviets citizens could remember it, when they recall, ruefully, how they have dismantled their state system in favor of a western’s fiction of telling them they will be like them, rich in prosperity, if they destroy their soviet state). Hence, the fight (if you will), will be how to stop China in her tracks, so that other nations who are seeing through finally how the western’s promise of abundant wealth for anyone who tries the western’s political-economic model is a fiction that only delivers for the oligarchs, could be persuaded to stick with the western’s model as opposed to Chinese model of having a strong and prosperous state, which is in turn could be further open to a democratic template down the road (like Singapore or Taiwan), if that nation in question has a tradition of pluralistic realm.

    Subsequently, since, no one has yet to figure out how to stop the Chinese, then, the idea of saying the Chinese state model is anti-democratic terrain is only plausible argument they have. And, if they could get that word out from a Chinese mouth, such as Gordon Chang and others of Chinese ethnic background (as opposed to blond-hair Anglo-Saxon’s sort of a fellow) then, the “believable scale” of that assertion, could be a bit higher than what it would have been otherwise.

    However, the question is, is the Chinese model inherently anti-pluralistic monster it had been portrayed by some people? Well the answer is that there is nothing stopping China in the fullness of time to marry her “strong state tradition” which gives a largest role to the public interest more than it does to private interest, with pluralistic expression of thought and individual liberty within the Law.

    And by that I mean, China, once her economic development reach a certain level (in the next 20 or so years) could then take her economic prosperity of the time as well as her strong state model together, and say we are going to have a multi-party system that plays under edifice of strong state, which will mean, all aspiring thieving oligarchs in future China, will know that the state will not disarm itself, as it has been the case in the West (and most lamentably in modern Russia). This will be strong democratic state Polity with a Chinese Characteristics.

    Hence, from that perspective, other nations can be shown how to have a strong state with multi-party platform. And this in turn will mean, that under that scenario the political vocation of the nation will be firstly a “collective disposition” to attend to the common wheel (of the greatest many), and then after that it will be to allow a private sphere to the individual. Meaning, in any nation, can still have a strong state that take care of the well-being of the “larger collective” in a utilitarian basis, and, then, when that is done, that state can also allow the liberty of the individual and its private interest a degree of autonomous sphere protected by the law.

    This is the “Politico-and-Economic-Model” China, is groping towards it, however, unevenly or fitfully. And that will be the case, if the West with her teeming intellectual agitators or malicious “subverting-actors” are defeated in their attempt to disrupt that “Chinese model” to emerge into a full-view and fully formed, so that other developing nations around the world can have a “compare-and-contrast-models” to which to base what sort of a politico-economic edifice they will like their destiny to cleave to.

    All in all, it’s intellectual disservice to say the ideological fight between the west and China is about democracy. When in fact it’s about how much a nation-state (any nation) should be made beholden to “all-conquering-private-interests”, so that society will have a strong state that can take care of nation’s concern. And in fact, the Western’s State thesis is that of saying that the very arteries of the state should be made so enfeebled, in-order a private financial interest of the individual can be made safe to let rip at the cost of the collective’s interest.

    This means, if state is strong in vigor (as China will likely be), then it can be the “arbitrator” of the nation’s competing interest-group, without relentlessly favoring the interest of the private finance as the case is for most of the Western’s states.

    Hence, to give you an example, even democracies like India, will see that to reform their economies, it doesn’t necessarily mean that they need to enfeeble, politically, their state, which is the prevailing assumption in the “Neoliberal Fantasia” of the West. And in fact, India can easily see as to why China with its strong state and with its own State-Owned-Enterprises (SOEs) has developed bounds and leaps in recent years. While on the other hand, India in turn with her democratic public square hasn’t delivered it for her citizens. And, therefore, she can easily conclude, that it’s not the “fault” of a strong state that India is suffering under it, but that of enfeebled one.

    Consequently, once India is told by western’s intellectual agitators to reform her economy, and they insist for good measure, that she should start with dismantling of her own minuscule SOEs, she can have a ready-made retort to say to them. And that will be to say, well, that these SOEs haven’t done much of a tragedy to China. And, therefore, she sees no reasons as to why strong state of India (if it could be recreated afresh) isn’t compatible with a democratic India of the 21st century.

    Consequently, as all people can easily see, all these sharpening of the “intellectual Knives” against China is not that she is a threat to anybody. But the fact is, by her economic strength, particularly, one that was guided by a strong state, can be a real advertisement of what China, in her fullness of national rejuvenation, can be to others in the wider world, particularly as a “contrast” to the failing “Neoliberalism state model” in which most Western’s states cleave to.

    And to see that others have failed, so comprehensively, to ascertain the depth of the “ideological struggle” of this century, and to boot, are so satisfied to skip-and-hop on the surface of the issue at hand is real pity as well as an indication of something deeper, particularly in the sense of how others are not interesting in question in close manner the health of the western’s state system.

    And it also says something troubling. And that is how intellectually feeble the level of counter-arguments in which China is likely to get from most Western’s mouth-pieces is going to be. Particularly, as this century progress further down the road and the “ideological tussle” of what sort of “political state” the rest of the world who watching this fascinating battle with keen interest of their own should cleave to, gets ever more concretely ascertainable.

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