An intellectual debate is taking place about the sustainability of liberal democracy in the wake of the end of the first decade of the twenty-first century. The prediction made by no other than political scientist and policymaker Francis Fukuyama concerning the triumph of liberal democracy has been subjected to vibrant criticism. Since 1989 when Francis Fukuyama’s oft quoted thoughtful original essay “The End of History and the Last Man” appeared in “The National Interest”, opinions have differed among thinkers and theorists regarding the vision of the world that is emerging.
One of the most comprehensive analyses about such visions as articulated by three distinguished opinion makers such as Francis Fukuyama, Samuel P. Huntington and John J. Mearsheimer has been produced by Richard K. Betts, whose commentary “Conflict or Cooperation” has been carried by Foreign Affairs in its issue of November/December 2010. In the words of Richard K. Betts, John J. Mearsheimer’s book “The Tragedy of Great Power Politics” presents a complete different picture of world that is evolving compared to Huntington’s “A Clash of Civilizations and Remaking of the World Order”.
Samuel P. Huntington has emphasized that the west model based on liberal democracy would continue dominating the world for some time only. His contends that this model embraced in the west is experiencing gradual erosion. This decline in his opinion is relative to the Asian civilization. Huntington believes that the future world politics will predominantly be determined by the split in western civilization and those of the rest.
Some supporters of above theory have triumphantly cited the tragic events of 9/11 as vindication of Huntington’s vision on world politics, when a few radical Islamist youth used the passenger planes flying over U.S. as weapons of mass destruction striking against the Twin Towers in New York and the Pentagon killing about 3000 innocent civilians supposedly to avenge American intervention in the Muslim world. Whether their gruesome action in September, 2001 was prompted by their resentment against America can be debated but Richard K. Betts articulates in “The New Threat of Mass Destruction” that American activism to guarantee international stability is, paradoxically, the prime source of American vulnerability.
Some commentators have even labeled Professor Huntington’s famous book “A Clash of Civilizations and Remaking of the World Order” as a xenophobic call to arms for the west against the rest. However, such misinterpretation of the notion advanced by Huntington is hardly acceptable. To the contrary, the above book’s real aim was to prevent the growing clash of civilizations from becoming a war of civilizations according to Richard K. Betts.
Huntington opined that the world was unifying economically and technologically. It was rather lacking in social cohesion. He believed that “the forces of integration in the world are real and precisely what are governing counter forces of cultural assertion”. To him the impact of globalization is recognizable but it has generated conflict rather than consensus. Viewed from his prism, Joseph E. Stilgtz’s contention that globalization has not been beneficial to all becomes credible. Huntington’s main point as pointed by Richard K. Betts was that modernization is not the same as westernization.
Francis Fukuyama has commented that liberal democracy may not survive with the decline of middle class. Certain preconditions are needed for a stable liberal democracy. Liberal democracy has been identified with a system that is built on entire tradition of individual rights, separation of powers, the rule of law, protection of property, speech, and expression in the words of political thinker Fareed Zakaria. He has characterized democracy bereft of above features as illiberal democracy.
Since the global recession of 2007-08 has significantly eroded the social base of the middle class, question has been raised whether it will adversely impact on the future of liberal democracy. It has been said that financial crises are the products of the model of lightly regulated financial capitalism. Against this background the Chinese themselves have begun touting the “China Model” as an alternative to liberal democracy. Liberal democracy relies on the current form of globalized capitalism.
China has combined authoritarian government with a politically marketed economy and its spectacular economic success has earned the envy of adherents of modern capitalist economy. Indeed the recent global financial crisis has once again shattered the faith of people in the ability of capitalism to provide a sustainable flow of broad-based economic benefits to the public at large.
Regarding the creation of middle class i.e. those who have private property and a reasonable standard of living with ability to look after the education of their children, Joseph Schumpter’s 1942 book “Capitalism, Socialism, and Democracy” sheds useful light on the subject. As opined by him from the days of Aristotle, thinkers have believed that stable democracy rests on a broad middle class and that societies with extremes of wealth and poverty are susceptible either to oligarchic domination or populist revolution.
In this vein Joseph Schumpter seems to relate the relevance of populist revolution fueled by leftist radicalism in impoverished regions of Eastern India and a poor least developed country such as Nepal, where new born republic is in painful transition. Here in lies the importance of the observation on future of democracy made by Nobel laureate Amartya Sen. He has said “democracy is broadly accepted in countries that have reached a level of material prosperity to allow a majority of their citizens to think of themselves as middle class, which is why there tends to be a correlation between high levels of development and stable democracy”.
The remarks made by Professor Huntington in course of a panel discussion “Democracy: Is it for Every One?” are relevant to understand the merits of democracy. He has stated that “democracy is no guarantee that other good things will happen, although they may”.
While we are passing through a protracted process of constitution writing, it makes a lot of sense for us to peruse the comments of Carl Gershman, who argues that a stable liberal democracy requires high level of economic development, rule of law and a culture of tolerance. Whether our political leaders have patience to heed to this advice is an open question.