American Decline

The Year of Fukuyama: American Triumphalism and “Normie Theories of Democracy”

Bashing Fukuyama is the pastime of midwits. In the Twitter version of events, he’s understood to be the guy who said nothing will ever happen again, and then things in the news happen, and so he’s always being proved wrong. People who actually read and understood The End of History and the Last Man know that the argument wasn’t that there would be no more wars or genocides, but that there would be no serious alternative to liberal democracy. Thus, while the “war on terror” might’ve killed a few people and gotten us to indefinitely take our shoes off before flying, there was never a realistic possibility that Muslim fundamentalism could either seriously threaten the most advanced societies of the world or provide an alternative to their governing model in any but some of the most backward areas of the globe.

The rise of China was always something completely different. Here is a country of 1.4 billion people that appeared to be in the process of surpassing the US economically, and doing it without anything resembling democratic institutions or a free press. It’s done this while becoming a world leader in science and technology, and with extremely low rates of crime, drug use, and illegitimacy. The Taliban or ISIS was never going to tempt other nations to follow its lead. But in recent years, smart analysts have made a serious case for the “China Model,” which emphasizes technocratic skill and political meritocracy over voting and a mobilized citizenry. Those who take human capital seriously, like Garett Jones, might point out that China still has the poorest Chinese people in the world, so we can’t really give that much credit to the CCP. Nonetheless, most people don’t take human capital seriously, and so Chinese success could always be seen as resulting from unusually wise policy choices.

Unlike with China, no one ever thought Russia was going to surpass the US and become the world’s dominant economy. Nonetheless, before 2022, it wasn’t crazy to believe that it could experience decent economic growth, and become a mid-tier European power, maybe comparable in economic might and cultural influence to Germany or France. Russian fertility and life expectancy had already substantially recovered from the worst days of the late 1990s and early 2000s, and one couldn’t rule out the possibility that things would continue to get better. This argument could have a particular appeal to conservatives, who believe that nationalism, religion, and traditional morality make for more successful societies. Again, contemporary Russia was nobody’s ideal civilization, but there had been a sense that it could perhaps do well enough to give those who’ve been driven crazy by LGBTQ something to hold on to as an alternative. I’ve argued that liberal hostility to Russia reflects our domestic culture war, but a more mild Russophilia on the other side clearly has similar roots.

Although we have three months left, I think that regardless of what else happens 2022 will be notable for being the year that both of these threats to liberal democracy collapsed. And the fact that they collapsed in such different ways indicates that there is something extremely robust in Western societies that will allow them to dominate the world for the foreseeable future.

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