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“China is a one-dimensional power”

Francis Fukuyama proclaimed “The End of History” and is one of the most prominent political theorists of our time. He sat down with Florian Guckelsberger to discuss why state power is the root of all evil, how the Occupy-movement failed to meet its goals and why the Internet is largely overrated.

The European: Mr. Fukuyama, let’s assume – like Realists do – for a moment that the struggle for power is a zero-sum game. Over the last two decades: who has lost and who has benefitted the most in terms of power?
Fukuyama: I think it is clear that American hegemony has come to an end. If you look at the period stretching from the fall of the Berlin Wall to the Financial Crisis of 2008 and 2009, it is obvious that this unprecedented period of American unilateral power was a very unusual era. During most of the other periods in history, power was way more evenly distributed.

The European: Who is the biggest winner?
Fukuyama: Over the last decade we witnessed the rise of China and other emerging markets that started growing much faster then either Europe or the US. To have economies go from maybe 35 percent of global output to 50 in such a relatively short period of time is a very substantial shift in power – perhaps the most important one of the last decades.

The European: So the power shifted from “the West to the Rest”?
Fukuyama: I don‘t think it shifted; it is just more equally distributed now. The Western democracies make up only half of the world economy.

The European: Does that trouble you?
Fukuyama: No, why should it? I think what we want is development for everybody. A Western monopoly on power is not necessarily a good thing. The practice of democracy and the promotion of liberal values throughout the world are far more important. It‘s troubling to the extent that authoritarian countries like China and Russia are influential now. Nevertheless, it remains to be seen what their impact will be.

The European: Where do these „newcomers“ draw their power from – is it their economic strength or their political weight?
Fukuyama: China is primarily attractive because of its economic model. But although it‘s a very big and fast-growing country with an autocratic leadership, it holds only little cultural power. That is to say that people don‘t admire Chinese films, art or lifestyle as much as they did admire the American way of life for so many years. In that respect, China is a one-dimensional power.

The European: But the authoritarian Chinese model seems to be more attractive to emerging powers than the old-fashioned model of Western democracy.
Fukuyama: The Chinese have a big advantage because, unlike a lot of Western democracies, they don‘t tell other developing countries how to run their countries because they too don‘t want other countries interfering in their own affairs. So I think that a lot of authoritarian countries in Africa prefer dealing with China to dealing with Europe or the US, simply because there are fewer conditions attached to that relationship.

Only states can provide stability

The European: So far we talked about shifts of power or the distribution of power among sovereign states. But the nation states seem to be struggling in a networked world in which International Law and International Organizations set new boundaries and regulations.
Fukuyama: The more international rules we have, the better. It makes life more predictable when countries have a common basis for interaction. And one of the big questions when it comes to the rise of China is: Where do these rules come from? During the period of American hegemony, the US acted in its own interest but also created some sort of global trading order that enabled China and India to get rich in the first place. This order provided security not only for the US, but also for every other country. The big question in a multipolar world – in which China occupies an increasingly large role – will be: Will China assume any sense of responsibility for protecting this global order, or is it simply going to act selfishly?

The European: You argued that „states are terrible“ but that we nevertheless need them. Why?
Fukuyama: Only states can perform certain social functions like enforcing laws. They are also the only legitimate source of coercion. This is most obvious in places like Somalia or the Democratic Republic of Congo where the state fails to meet these standards. Such countries are ruled by militias that don‘t follow any rules. Only states can provide the needed stability. But states can also become a tremendous source of abuse and it is therefore essential that their power is balanced by certain constraints that spring from the rule of law and democratic accountability.

The European: International Organizations are increasingly coordinating national efforts but they lack that kind of fundamental democratic accountability. Many people fear that they could soon be ruled by unelected leaders in New York, Geneva or Brussels.
Fukuyama: I think that‘s already the case. Democracy doesn‘t scale very well – especially not upwards. Democracy works well in small places with a shared culture, where people know each other and have stable expectations. Take for example a large country like the US. We have many problems here because there are so many differences between, for example, rural Alabama and urban cities like San Francisco or New York. On the international level such regional differences are even more striking. That’s, in a nutshell, the basic problem of the Eurozone. There might be a German consensus that the government should care for the less well-off, but other countries hold different views on this.

The European: Do you believe that there’s an underlying dilemma between efficiency – provided by international coordination – and legitimacy?
Fukuyama: Yes, in general things that are done to increase efficiency decrease legitimacy and vice versa. The UN Security Council is a good example. The Council with its five veto-bearing members can‘t agree on anything. The Syrian crisis has once again proven this point. Reforming the Security Council would increase the number of members but it would surely lead to an inability to forge a consensus.

The Germans remained Germans

The European: Institutions – on a national or international level – that are failing to include people provoke protest. Citizen movements like Occupy Wall Street have emerged and demand „power to the people“. How would you appraise their impact?
Fukuyama: I think they‘ve been good at calling attention to the existing discontent but they failed to achieve representation in the political system and thus the real change they called for. This is the essential problem of today’s protest movements: They can’t connect to the political system in order to change specific policies.

The European: But one could also question the political system for not including such demands in the first place and thereby fostering protest movements.
Fukuyama: You‘re right. You don‘t want a system that is so regent and unresponsive that anti-systemic groups start to flower.

The European: Do you think that the rise of euroskeptic parties across Europe could be seen in that light?
Fukuyama: Yes, and I think it is a real challenge for EU to deal with these demands and still guarantee the integrity of the system as a whole.

The European: Legitimacy is one source of power; identification with a common cause quite another. Do you think that the narration of Europe as a peace project meets this requirement?
Fukuyama: One of the inherent flaws of the EU is its disregard for the creation of a common European identity that could supersede all national identities. After the horrors of the Second World War, the idea was to move beyond national identity. But this was primarily perceived to be a necessary outcome of economic integration. The Germans remained Germans and Spaniards remained Spaniards. A true European identity never developed.

The European: A lot of people in the EU regard themselves as Europeans and still refuse further integration. For them, Brussels is not a symbol of peace but of bureaucracy and decreasing self-determination.
Fukuyama: I don’t regard the EU as a centralized bureaucracy but as a source of identity for the people. But true solidarity must move beyond borders. This clearly hasn‘t happened yet and it remains a huge problem.

The Internet is a limited tool

The European: The Internet and the resulting interconnection across borders could provide a remedy for this. After all, the Internet has bestowed enormous power upon ordinary citizens and gives them the capacity to topple regimes, as the Arab Uprisings have shown.
Fukuyama: Information is power and so the information revolution has been a blessing for democracy. It allows people to participate and to engage with issues and other citizens. But there are also countervailing forces at work.

The European: Such as?
Fukuyama: In places like China, regimes have managed to control their citizens with this new technological power. On the other hand, I guess that the Internet is in a certain way also a limited tool.

The European: How so?
Fukuyama: You can mobilize people for short-term goals like bringing down a dictatorship or protesting against particular things, but it’s inefficient when it comes to constructive work like creating institutions, political parties or changes in public policy. These are things that are less easy to accomplish with Facebook, Twitter and the like.

The European: Are you skeptical about the emancipatory or power-shifting potential of the Web?
Fukuyama: In the US, we see that the multiplication of channels actually means that there is less common knowledge and discussion within society. Conservatives have their own channels and so do Progressives. Even the information that is circulating these channels – the facts – is very different. In the US, many Conservatives think that global warming is a big conspiracy by certain leftwing groups and believe that there is no scientific validation for such predictions. They simply listen to their own media sources and won‘t get any contradicting evidence.

The European: Social groups have always had their preferred media outlets that supported and propagated their views.
Fukuyama: True, but not to the same extent. Today, you have access to hundreds of TV channels and there’s an almost indefinite number of discussion groups on the Web. You can choose for yourself what you want to hear.

Did you like the conversation? Read one with William Deresiewicz: “Restore free, high-quality, public higher education”

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