Reading Fukuyama In Beijing

In a profile of Francis Fukuyama, the political scientist reveals that his latest book, Political Order and Political Decay, is being translated by the Communist Party in China for circulation among its senior members. His take on why they turned to the text:

“They understand that their system needs fundamental political reform,” Fukuyama says of the Chinese. “But they don’t know how far they can go. They won’t do what Gorbachev did, which was take the lid off and see what happens. But whether it will be possible to spread a rule of law to constrain state power at a pace that will satisfy the growing demands of the rising middle class is also unclear. There are 300 to 400 million Chinese in the middle class; that number will rise to 600 million in a decade. I had a debate a few years ago with an apologist for the regime.

I pointed out that in many regions of the world when you develop a sufficiently large middle class, the pressure for increased political participation becomes irresistible. And the big question for China is whether there will be a point at which its people will push for greater participation, and he said: ‘No, we’re just culturally different.’”

It was, in effect, a rehash of the old “Asian values” argument concerning the hierarchical and deferential social ethic that goes by the name of Confucianism in east Asia – allegedly the reason that Asians lacked the impulse to individual self-assertion that resulted in the demand for self-government in other parts of the world. The democratic transitions in South Korea and Indonesia put an end to that argument decades ago, Fukuyama says, just as the Arab spring debunked a parallel claim regarding Arabs. This is the part of Fukuyama’s argument about the end of history that he still stands behind without reservation or qualification – the Hegelian philosophical anthropology that saw history as the working out of the struggle between masters and slaves for recognition. “I really believe that the desire for recognition of one’s dignity and worth is a human characteristic. You can see manifestations of this in all aspects of human behaviour cross-culturally and through time.”

Previous Dish on Fukuyama’s work here.