As we are contemplating a non-insignificant probability of nuclear war, the end of history (that is, the end of social discontent and major wars) envisioned by Francis Fukuyama in his book The End of History and the Last Man (Simon and Schuster, 1992) seems very, very far away. Moreover, his triumphant liberal democracy was conceived as very democratic but still far from liberal in the sense of classical liberalism. In the Fall issue of Regulation, I review Fukuyama’s widely debated book as well as the author’s most recent Liberalism and Its Discontents (Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, 2022). I show how, between the two books, Fukuyama’s thought has moved closer to classical liberalism, although many weaknesses remain. (See “Fukuyama: Interesting Books, With Some Baggage,” Regulation 45:3 [Fall 2022], pp. 48-53; also in html version.)

Fukuyama now clearly admits the need for constraining democracy, but his practical proposals are often incoherent with the theoretical principle. One example I give in my review:

There is no reason, [Fukuyama] explains, “why economic efficiency needs to trump all other social values,” a moot point when one understands that economic efficiency is simply a way in which voluntary exchange reconciles, without coercion, the preferences and values of all individuals.

As an example of desirable democratic choice, Fukuyama proposes the primacy of work over consumer welfare. The question is whether “human beings” are “consuming animals” or “producing animals.” “This is a choice that has not been offered to voters under the hegemony of neoliberal ideas.” The absurdity of putting such a choice before voters is easily shown by imagining a referendum that would ask “the people”: “What animal do you (or we) want to be, a consuming animal or a producing animal?” Ask yourself what would be the meaning of X% (< 100%) deciding one way or another. “We are all producing animals and now get back to work!” More realistically perhaps, we may imagine complex baskets of practical policy measures and electoral promises related to such a choice and proposed to the rationally ignorant voters, who would understand the consequences of the measures even less than their proponents. The only liberal solution, of course, is to let each individual decide for himself what sort of animal he wants to be, given the impersonal constraints generated by the equally free choices of all other individuals.

EconLog readers may find other interesting points in my critique, as well as in Fukuyama’s books themselves. This reflection helps pull together many threads in the critique of illiberalism.