‘End of history’ obsession links to West’s problem with democracy
Published: Dec 30, 2020 09:58 PM

Degradation in the Western system Illustration: Liu Rui/GT

Despite a full-blown crisis in the US democratic system, which has been laid bare by the raging epidemic and post-election chaos, US political scientist Francis Fukuyama underscored the superiority of the Western democratic system in an interview with French newspaper Le Figaro on Saturday. He said that although the COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted the differences between China and Western countries, and has shifted the center of the global economy toward East Asia, China's advantages might not last. He urged Western countries not to lose confidence, as the West will not necessarily lose in a "long fight" with China and that a democratic system with accountability is better. 

Fukuyama is best known for his 1992 book The End of History and the Last Man, which argued that Western liberal democracy would become a global norm after the end of the Cold War and the disintegration of the Soviet Union. Nearly 30 years have passed. Although liberal democracy has not triumphed all over the world as Fukuyama predicted, Fukuyama's "end of history" theory has had a profound influence on Westerners' views on the so-called non-democratic countries. It is like a trap that keeps Westerners believing in the myth of the Western system, making them unable to evaluate non-Western democratic countries, particularly China, in a fair and objective way and face up to flaws within the Western system.

Since the outbreak of the pandemic, China's moves have formed a sharp contrast to the incompetent responses by many Western countries, especially the US. In the face of the health emergency, China has acted promptly and effectively, and it has mobilized the entire society to cooperate and keep solidarity in the epidemic fight. This demonstrates the institutional advantages of China and is the main reason why China was among the first countries to contain the epidemic and start its economic recovery. However, some Westerners represented by Fukuyama are reluctant to understand and admit the vitality, effectiveness and superiority of the social governance model under the Chinese system.

Fukuyama believes the Western democratic system with accountability will be better. Ironically, it is right under this system that a humanitarian tragedy has claimed over 330,000 lives in the US alone and is killing more. What we see are political and economic interests being put above people's lives, and there is still no clear and consistent anti-virus strategy in the US after some 10 months of confusion, chaos and deaths. Moreover, we have not seen any politicians, officials, or institutions being held accountable for this disaster.   

Many Westerners, including Fukuyama, regard Joe Biden's election to the presidency as the result of the US system's ability to correct mistakes and hold people for their incompetency. Fukuyama in the interview emphasized that the US will have a new president and government in January. But does this mean the US system is accountable? Incumbent Donald Trump still received over 70 million votes. Few believe that Biden, with the support of only half of Americans, will be able to fix the problems that have deep roots in the country's political system, such as political polarization, social division, ethnic conflicts and the botched response to the COVID-19 epidemic.  

"In a sense, Fukuyama is in a very awkward theoretical position. He has realized some internal problems within the Western system, but still stubbornly adheres to his 'end of history' theory. He is unwilling to deny the 'superiority' of the Western democratic system he conjectured. Nor can he face up to the essential problems that threaten the democratic system," Gao Jian, a scholar at Shanghai International Studies University, told the Global Times. "He is deeply stuck in a Cold War mentality and Western centrism," Gao noted.  

It is fair to say that when Fukuyama put forward the "end of history" theory, the West was in its heyday. But how can a theory that is out of touch with reality nowadays still guide the West's understanding of its own system and the non-Western system? The obsession with the "end of history" prevents Westerners from facing up to their system's problems. It is very likely the degradation in the Western system will worsen.