Professor Francis Fukuyama is an American political scientist, political economist, and writer.

Is this the end?

Interview with professor Francis Fukuyama for Helsingin Sanomat, the leading daily in Finland: ”Trump is the first US president in my experience who does not care about democracy or human rights – – I just think that NATO and a lot of other international institutions aren’t going to survive another four years of this.”


21.3.2020 11:12

Haastattelu julkaistiin suomeksi torstaina 19.3: Maailmankuulu älykkö Francis Fukuyama kertoo, miksi olemme historian vaarallisessa saranakohdassa.

Professor Fukuyama, the Coronavirus is changing the world right now. Will it lead to even more dangers for liberal democracies?

”The COVID-19 pandemic has obviously provided opportunities for populist politicians to inflame public opinion against foreigners and to close borders to immigrants. We have already seen President Trump refer to the ’Chinese virus’ and to gleefully restrict entry into the country. ”

”However, the crisis also underlines the need for international cooperation and learning as virtually every country in the world tries to deal with the problem.”

”There is also a serious debate that needs to happen once the peak of the crisis is past as to whether we need to reduce the level of interdependence that has been created by the latest round of globalization – e.g., whether extended and fragile supply chains that maximize efficiency are robust enough to withstand the kinds of shocks we can anticipate in the future.”

Your book Identity: The Demand for Dignity and the Politics of Resentment (2018) has just been published in Finnish. In your book you describe how the Republican Party moved further to the right and how after that the Democratic Party further to the left. Right now, however, Joe Biden is more popular than Bernie Sanders.

”The Democratic Party avoided a big trap which was to be taken over by a fringe candidate that was Bernie Sanders. First it looked like Sanders would repeat in the Democratic Party what Trump had done (to Republicans). He was an extremist candidate, and all of the more centrist candidates were divided.”

”But after the South Carolina primary I think what we saw was that the Democrats were so eager to beat Donald Trump that once they had a leading moderate candidate they all quickly coalesced in order to stop Sanders from becoming their nominee. And the primaries that were held on March 10th simply confirmed that.”

”I’m now much more optimistic that Biden could beat Trump because if you look at all of the turnout statistics it really sounds like the Democratic voters are very motivated. The turnout in these primaries was much higher than for Hillary Clinton four years ago. And that is a good sign.”

U.S. President Donald Trump speaks at a campaign rally in Charlotte, North Carolina, U.S. March 2, 2020.

 ”The stakes are very high right now. I really do think that if Trump is re-elected, it’s going to be very bad both to United States but also for the world as a whole.”

”Trump is the first US president in my experience who does not care about democracy or human rights or any of the values the United States used to stand for. He really likes all of these strongmen, dictators like Putin, Xi, Kim Jong-un and doesn’t seem to like America’s alliances and other democratic leaders unless they are populists like Viktor Orbán.”

”If Trump is re-elected he is going to see that he has a mandate to continue in a more extreme way everything he has been doing over the last four years. I just think that NATO and a lot of other international institutions aren’t going to survive another four years of this.”

Democratic U.S. presidential candidate and former Vice President Joe Biden speaks about the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic at an event in Wilmington, Delaware, U.S., March 12, 2020.

 ”I’m going to vote for Biden, there is no question about it. It would have been a harder choice if Sanders had been a candidate.”

Bernie Sanders seems to be a big fan of the Scandinavian and Finnish welfare state. You describe him as a fringe candidate, but you have also written positively about different countries trying to ”get to Denmark”.

”When I use ’getting to Denmark’ I am not actually thinking about the welfare state aspect of Scandinavia. I think that is important and I think the American welfare state needs to be expanded and strengthened. But when I used the phrase ’getting to Denmark’ it really had to do with issues like the quality of government and low corruption.”

 ”In so many developing countries, or countries that try to become democracies, it’s really state corruption that is the single biggest obstacle to development.”

”That’s something that Denmark does very well. So ’getting to Denmark’ for me is really figuring out how to deal with systemic corruption. I spent a lot of time in Ukraine over the last few years and they could do extremely well if they could cure their corruption problem. That aspect of Denmark, and Scandinavia more broadly, interests me.”

Even in Denmark and here in Finland we now have strong populist, anti-immigrant political parties.

”One of the reasons that Nordic Countries were as successful as they have been is that they are small and until now they have been ethnically very homogenous so it’s much easier to sustain the large welfare state where everybody believes that they are part of the large family. But that has been changing with immigrants and refugees especially over the last decade.”

”That’s really what has caused this populist backlash in virtually every Nordic country.”

”I think that making the adjustment of living in a genuinely multicultural society where not everybody is of the same ethnicity and the same religion is going to be a really big challenge. Different countries are handling it a little bit differently, but it should not be surprising that there is this kind of populist backlash.”

In your book you mention that national identities in the EU are in turmoil and power should be shifted from the European Commission more to the European Parliament.

”There are two separate issues. One is the question of national identity in every member state in EU. You got a big problem because many European countries continue to define the national identity in ethnic terms. They operate under ius sanguinis citizenship rule which basically means that you are citizen if your parents are citizens, which tends to make it hard to naturalize and so forth.”

”Separate set of issues has to do with European identity. The founders of EU had this long-term hope that all of the member state identities would eventually be superseded by European identities. People would not think of themselves as Finnish or German or French in the first instance but as Europeans. That really has not happened.”

”I think emotional bonds of communities still link people to their nations except a very narrow group of elites and cosmopolitans who travel and take advantage of all the things the Europe has to offer.”

 ”I think that one of the reasons that it is hard to develop this emotional attachment to Europe is that it is fundamentally not that democratic.”

”The most powerful institution within EU and the one that affects people’s lives the most is really the Commission which has broad authorities to make rules and regulate the economy and so forth. It is the least democratic part of the European Union whereas the Parliament which is the most democratic part has been gaining some power over the last few years but fundamentally it still does not have the rules to set fiscal policy, foreign policy, a lot of things that really matter.”

”When Europeans vote in European parliament elections they often vote for fringe parties because they know that their vote is not that important and it is easy to vote a protest vote when you know that it really does not affect things whereas when they vote in their own national elections they realize that would really make a difference and that’s why there are really different voting patterns in national versus European elections.”

”That’s why I think it would help in the long run if the parliament’s powers were strengthened. Voters would then have greater stake in voting in European elections.”

You write a lot about the importance of assimilation.

”You can have a stable country in a fully multicultural setting and there are some examples like Switzerland that are reasonably successful. But we got a lot of examples of multicultural societies that are perpetually divided and unsuccessful because there is no assimilation to a broader national identity. This is a big problem in many parts of the Eastern Europe and especially in the Balkans Bosnia fell into a huge civil war over this issue.”

 ”It’s a big problem in the Middle East. I think that Syria, Iraq, Libya and this whole series of Middle Eastern countries failed because the colonial boundaries that had been set at the time of their independence did not correspond to any kind of sense of nation.”

”Therefore you can have this horrible Syrian civil war that has killed more than half a million people and created this huge refugee problem. That’s kind of the most extreme example of what happens if people don’t believe that they are living in the same nation and that their primary loyalty is basically to their cultural group.”

”Many European countries have shown that they can assimilate immigrants from, let’s say, Muslim Countries, they rise in the system through their professions and play very useful economic roles, but I think what you want to avoid is a situation in which you have a kind of permanent minority that lives in the same areas and their children and grandchildren don’t enter into the broader economy, they keep their own cultural practices and they really don’t feel they are part of the larger community.”

”That’s the danger a lot of European countries have been struggling with.”

At the same time you quote Samuel P. Huntington who has noted that the most politically destabilizing group tends not to be the desperate poor, but rather the middle classes who feel they are losing their status. What should be done about these worries?

”These worries are critical. They have been under a lot of stress because of the globalization. It’s not just their incomes have been flat or even declining. They have lost a lot of social status relative to the elites and relative to people who are coming up underneath them.”

”That is really the reason why you are seeing this populist upsurge everywhere.”

”You need to protect the interests of those people in cultural and economic and social ways.”

In Europe, social democracy has traditionally been quite strong but now it has lost some of its appeal. Could these ideals rise again?

”In a sense social democratic consensus in Europe is still there. Nobody wants to dismantle the welfare state in any European country including all these right wing nationalists. In fact a lot of their arguments against the immigration are on the basis that immigrants are going to weaken the welfare state.”

 ”The fundamental achievement of social democracy is not in danger.”

”The bigger danger is the sustainability of those old welfare states given the aging of populations and the changes that have happened in global economics. What has collapsed is the electoral support for the traditional Centre-left parties like the German Social Democrats and the French Socialist Party.”

”It is really due to more cultural than to economic reasons that also have to do with migration crisis. These parties could revive themselves, but they have to have a different agenda in that cultural realm.”

How about the green parties?

”They should continue to rise because they reflect this interest that younger people have. It is kind of a tactical question in each country whether there is a separate green party that profits from this or whether the old social democratic party manages to take over part of that agenda.”

”In the United States the Democratic Party is following the latter strategy and you can see this happening already.”

The supporters of Bernie Sanders say that the Democratic Party is not doing enough for the environment.

”He is aiming in zero carbon in ten years which is just crazy. There are no possibilities for that. People are already seeing through him. He can shout but he cannot form coalitions or make compromises.”

How about the right wing populism? Will it get stronger?

”It is hard to predict. In democracy it is very important to actually vote, to be politically alert and active and those who support liberal order should really do that much more in order to win elections.”

The internet is such a weapon for both good and bad forces in our world. What should be done next?

”It’s true that there is a big danger that social media can accelerate this fragmentation of society into small groups that talk to themselves and don’t talk to other people. A lot of extremist groups on the far right have developed in Europe and North America. They really depend on the internet to organize and to find each other.”

”There is also a broader problem. There is a huge concentration of power in the hands of a very small number of companies, all which are American at this point: basically Google, Facebook, Amazon and Apple.”

 ”They have tremendous amount of economic power because they control a huge database of people.”

”They can use that in order to enter new markets and to dominate parts of the economy that they have now experience in. Economists call this kind of data a new form of gold or oil.”

”That power in the hands of a government can be very dangerous and this is going on in China with their social credit system where the government has access to all of this personal data and use it to control citizens.”

”In private hands it can also be dangerous. At the moment the evident harms are not so obvious. People say they just use it for making money and they are not going to enter politics and Mark Zuckerberg is not going to try to sway the American presidential election. But that power is there potentially and it could be used in the future and it’s already been used to exhilarate the flow of bad information and fake news.”

”That’s one of the major issues right now: whether these companies are to step up to responsibility of acting like the real traditional media company and say well, this information is bad and we’re not going to publish it. They don’t want to do that for fairly obvious reasons but that may be necessary.”

 ”That brings you to the next problem which is that they are so big that if they start making these sorts of decisions of what is acceptable content and what is not, they have almost government-like powers to affect what people see and hear.”

”Europe is way ahead of United States in this regard because it is really trying to tackle this issues scale. European enforcement of competition law has been much more vigorous than Americas, but even there it is not clear to me that it is going to be enough. So if you fine Google with billion dollars it sounds like a lot of money but actually compared to its revenue it’s not at all that much. I don’t think we have come up with really adequate way of dealing with this issue yet.”

Google signage is seen at Google headquarters in the Manhattan borough of New York City, New York, U.S., December 17, 2018.

It seems that disinformation could even determine who is the president of the United States.

”Potentially yes. There are a lot of different dangers. It was clear that the Russians interfered the 2016 elections and it is clear that they try to interfere in this election. They try to support both Trump and Bernie Sanders.”

”At the moment there is no way of knowing how effective any of this was. Trump actually won the election by extremely narrow margin in the electoral college and it’s possible that this Russian intervention was actually responsible for putting him over the top, but we don’t that. There is no empirical way to measure how much impact they had. It is certainly something that could happen.”

”It’s also the case that Facebook, for example, refused to take down some of Trump’s advertising that was just blatantly untrue.”

”That can also have negative effects on the election. The possibility is there and unfortunately we are not doing what we could to counter this because president Trump himself doesn’t think this is a problem. He thinks that this is a big hoax and fake news and it’s being pushed by his political adversaries and even though the Democrats and Congress keep pushing legislation for example to help to protect the integrity of American elections, the Republicans don’t want to pass this legislation because it’s going to hurt president Trump’s feelings.”

We also have other problems like climate change and the 6th mass extinction. Can liberal democracy survive in such conditions?

”It’s going to be really difficult. Although we are getting more efficient in terms of carbon emitted per unit in GDP, if we anticipate that after the current situation there is going to be more global economical growth particularly in the developing countries and particularly like China and India, then there just going to be more carbon and for all of the efforts that could be taken in existing rich countries in Europe and in North America, a lot of that effort would be overwhelmed by carbon emissions coming from another parts of the world.”

”It is not the case that you could tell China and India that you have to stop growing and therefore you can never reach our level of wealth because there is a global climate crisis.”

”Politically this is a very tough problem to solve.”

So the global warming will continue and the predicted catastrophes will follow?

”That’s a difficult question. It seems to me that human societies are also pretty adaptable. A lot of very painful changes will take place as people adjust. But societies have adjusted to things before.”

 ”Authoritarian government is not an answer to the climate crisis.”

”Some of them like Singapore do very well and others do very badly. If you want to know where future carbon emissions are going to come from it’s going to be China. They are still building coal-fired power plants. In their Belt and Road Initiative about 90 percent of the energy part of it is all in new Fossil fuel projects.”

”It’s not clear to me that they are going to be necessarily better than democratic government and certainly many authoritarian governments are going to be a lot worse.”

Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg takes part in a Youth Strike 4 Climate protest march on March 6, 2020 in Brussels.

What would you say to Greta Thunberg, who was just interviewed by Helsingin Sanomat, and to her generation? Can the grown-ups handle the climate crisis?

”She is doing a very useful thing in mobilizing younger voters. They need to vote in elections because young people generally tend not to. They do have a very strong interest in what is going to happen in 20, 30 and 40 years. That’s a good thing.”

”That energy needs to be directed in sensible directions, since some of the solutions which she and others have proposed are just not going to fix the problem and are not terribly realistic.”

”If Europeans fly less and eat less beef, the amount of carbon that’s going to be saved compared to the amount of carbon that’s going to be admitted in other places like China or India is completely inadequate.”

”There are other solutions like switching to natural gas that the purists don’t like because it’s still a fossil fuel, but realistically there is no other choice in the short run.”

”The real problem is that you need to be realistic about actually pushing for policies that are politically feasible and yet will have some long-term impact on climate.”

What about technology and democracy? Can liberal democracy be damaged by potential technological singularity and the age of, in the words of Yuval Harari, Homo deus?

”This is a real possibility. I wrote a book in 2001 called Our Posthuman Future (Consequences of the Biotechnology Revolution).”

”I argued that technological changes in biomedicine are likely to be more consequential than those created by information technology for precisely this sort of reason. You could have a sharpening of class divisions where elites are not just richer and have more social status but they are also biologically different from people that are not elite.”

”That’s something technologies like CRISPR are paving the way towards. These technologies really need to be regulated on an international level.”

Identity was first published in September 2018. Do you feel the need to modify anything in the light of more recent changes?

”We are witnessing a big backlash against globalization which was basically created by a kind of liberal ideology that said that there ought to be free movement of goods and trade and people and ideas crossing the national borders. That did bring some very positive changes, it really brought a lot of people out of poverty, and made a lot of people rich, but it also created a lot of inequalities that are ultimately the basis of the kind of backlash we are seeing.

 ”I don’t think you can walk away from globalization, but you can certainly try to mitigate some of the extreme effects of it.”

”That requires stronger state action. One of the things this liberal revolution brought about was a kind of disparagement of states and the national governments trying to intervene in ecomomies, and that is something that needs to be reversed. There has to be a realization that despite of what I just said, the liberal solution is really the only possible answer to some of the current discontents.”

 ”We are living in increasingly diverse societies and basically liberalism is just a political method for managing diversity.”

”In a liberal society everybody has rights and if the state protects these rights you don’t get one ethnic group using its power to dominate another ethnic group. In the societies where you in fact have these kind of divisions, I don’t see how you can run the society in any other way.”

”If you look at what’s going on in India right now, it’s very dangerous, because you had the regime that was based on liberal principles for the last 50 years, and right now prime minister Modi is trying to shift the basis of Indian national identity to one based on Hinduism. There are 200 million Muslims living in India and all of a sudden they are disenfranchised and exist outside of that narrower identity. That’s a formula for endless conflict.”

So could liberal democracy still be ’the end of history’ in the specific meaning you have used: as the best option there is and could be to run the society?

”Well these things have ups and downs, but the question is over the longer period of time which kind of system will survive the best. I think there are a lot of reasons to think that the Chinese system is not going to last. It’s an open question still. People forget that my original article The End of History? (1989) had question mark at the end. It wasn’t dissertation, it was a question.”

Why did you take that question mark away in your famous book (The End of History and the Last Man, 1992)?

”I didn’t. If you read the book I think the question mark is still there in the last third of the book with the part about Nietzsche’s Last Man and in the question of whether the democratic world order will be stable. I proposed a lot of reasons why it may not be.”

In your book Identity you quote Christopher Lasch who has written that emphasis on self-esteem led to the age of narcissism. Is there any return to a more moderate approach? Could it still be that the meek shall inherit the world?

”That’s hard to predict at the moment. The individualistic premise behind the liberalism has always been tempered by various communal structures and many of them have weakened over the last several decades.”

”On the other hand it’s in human nature to want to live in communal structures because we are fundamentally very social animals. There has always been this tension where people actually don’t like the high degree of individualistic platonomy that is promised and they actually want to be parts of families or neighborhoods or countries or other kinds of groups.”

”Where that tension leads in the next few years I would hesitate to make a prediction.”

In your book you show very clearly the path from a strong church and strong state to the age of expressive individualism that actually led many people to feel alienated, insecure and ready to seek security in old-fashioned nationalism. Are we, in a way, back from where we started?

”The solution to that is for leaders to actually create identities that are compatible with democracy. People need a sense of community and belonging. They are not satisfied by this endless fragmentation and individualism, but the community can’t be based on these fixed characteristics like race or ethnicity or religion. It has to be based by political principles and I think it is possible to do that:

 ”You need a sense of civic identity that is not exclusive and doesn’t prejudice certain groups or degrade the status of certain groups at the expense of others.”

You write that the evidence coming from the natural sciences suggests that desire for status – megalothymia – is rooted in human biology. Is there something in human biology that works against democratic ideals and still defines our identities?

”Identity is not biological. That’s probably one of the most important conclusions in this book. Identities are socially constructed. They are created by human societies. They can be narrow and they can be broad.”

”The tendency in recent years is to define identity in narrower and narrower ways. You don’t have to do it that way. You can make broader identities as well. That’s what we need more of.”

Francis Fukuyama, author and political scientist, at the Cheltenham Literature Festival on October 13, 2018 in Cheltenham, England.

What are your current projects and when can we expect your next book?

”I don’t have a book project under way at the moment. I’m basically looking at two issues in terms of my own research. One has to do with this issue of the scale of modern technology companies.”

”Another has to do with Belt and Road Initiative and the impacts that it is going to have on world order. The Chinese are spending trillion dollars building infrastructure around the world. It is their largest foreign policy initiative.”

 ”The biggest change in global order is going to be the rise of China.”

”Even in Europe I don’t think EU can criticize China on human rights anymore as the Chinese have projects in Greece and Hungary and Serbia and a lot of other countries. If they are members of EU, like Hungary, they are going to object to any criticism of China because they don’t want to offend the Chinese. This is something we have to deal with.”

After all the optimism of the early 1990’s, are you pessimistic about the future?

”At the global level there is a lot of things going on that are very troublesome. The rise of China and Russia and what is going on in India and other big democracies. I have focused on what’s going on in my own country United States, because I do think that the US has been very important for sustaining the broader liberal democratic world order.”

 ”Under Trump we really walked away from that responsibility and have been doing things to undermine it.”

”That’s the reason I think that our election this year is going to be very consequential for the rest of the world and not just United States. I’m more optimistic than I was few weeks ago but it’s still several months until this election happens.”

[Editor’s note: Professor Fukuyama answered the question about Coronavirus on March 17th via e-mail. Other parts of the interview were made during phone interview on March 13th]

Concise version in Finnish can be read via this link.

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