THE FUTURE OF LIBERAL DEMOCRACY
Science and medicine were the twin drivers of progress
for the Enlightenment: science, due to its cumulative effect upon knowledge,
and medicine due to its promise to extend life. This optimistic vision was
cruelly destroyed by the Great War of 1914. The combatants thought their sides
would win an easy victory. In history's most egregious example of unintended
consequences, the war ended only with the fall of the
In 1992, the political economist Francis Fukuyama published a well-argued book called The End of History. Written within the Judeo-Christian tradition, which posits that history is directional, this controversial book contends that liberal democracy lay at the end of history, because there is now no plausible alternative to the ideal of a system based upon popular sovereignty and market economics.
persist, all political orders must be seen as legitimate by at least some. In
contrast to political orders legitimated by kinship or divine selection, Plato
chose as the model for a just and therefore legitimate government the human
soul, under the plausible assumption that "the elements and traits that
belong to a state must also exist in the individuals that compose it." He was
the first to base the foundation of the state upon the psychology of its
citizens. In The Republic, he posited a tripartite division of the soul
into reason, desire, and thymos (spiritedness, assertion, or
self-regard), with reason ascendant over the passions. For
will the process of history bring about liberal democracy? In a course at Stanford, we were assigned to
read the German philosopher G.W.F. Hegel (1770-1831). After plowing through a
few pages of muddy metaphysics, we turned towards some more pressing math
problems. In retrospect, this was perhaps too hasty. For Hegel proposed nothing
less than the End of History, as all of human history progressed along a determined
path ending in freedom. The impelling mechanism that Hegel proposed was his
famous dialectic where, in the clash of passions, systems of thought and
political systems collided and disintegrated from their own internal
contradictions-to be succeeded by systems containing fewer contradictions. This
winnowing process continued as human history progressed towards freedom and (as
writes, "...the historical process rests on the twin pillars of rational
(economic) desire and rational (personal) recognition ...modern liberal
democracy is the political system that best satisfies the two in some kind of
balance...." In his vision, opposites co-exist and are tied together in a
vital balance by the reasoning citizen. At the level of society, reason emerges
from laws enacted within the checks and balances provided by the constitutional
The development of civil societies and liberal democracies, however, is a slow process. Although liberalism, defined by the universal principle of "liberty under the law," is consistent at all scales from the person to the international system, progress is often very uneven within societies. The political systems of the 19th century failed to cope well with extreme nationalisms. Many societies have yet to resolve the conflict between political authoritarianism and free markets.
are the likely consequences of the political differences among societies?
"...mankind will come to seem like a long wagon train strung out along
a road. Some wagons will be pulling into town sharply and crisply,
while others will be bivouacked back in the desert...But the great
majority of wagons will be making the slow journey into town, and most
will eventually arrive there...The apparent differences in the situations
of the wagons will not be seen as reflecting permanent and necessary
differences between the people riding in the wagons, but simply a
product of their different positions along the road (to freedom). "
international political system is not yet liberal in all its aspects. The
What is the principal notion of the eighteenth century?
That society is founded upon recognition of reciprocal
interests by people who want to live together as happily
and as freely as possible.