In 1989, as communism was collapsing across Eastern Europe, Francis Fukuyama achieved intellectual celebrity—and notoriety—with a short essay, The End of History? “We may be witnessing,” he wrote, “the end point of mankind's ideological evolution and the universalization of Western liberal democracy as the final form of human government.” A quarter of a century later, he has not quite recanted. His latest work, Political Order and Political Decay: From the Industrial Revolution to the Globalisation of Democracy, elaborates a notion of “political development” that still presents liberal democracy as a culmination of human progress. But getting there requires “three sets of institutions in perfect balance: a competent state, strong rule of law and democratic accountability” . Developing these becomes “a universal requirement for all human societies over time” . But develop them out of sequence or balance and you can end up end up with militarism (Prussia, Japan); clientelism (Greece, Italy), or authoritarianism (China). And even if you get everything about right, the institutions may atrophy and decay—as in today´s U.S.A—because of state capture by powerful interest groups and a surfeit of checks and balances that make government action extremely difficult.
Fukuyama’s model of political development in fact turns out to be so demanding, and so contingently rooted in European history, that only relatively few states, mainly clustered in northern Europe and its former colonies, have so far achieved it to a satisfactory degree. For the rest of the world, the message appears to remain that there is no alternative, even though the model is very hard to replicate. So it is far from clear what kind of claim is being made here about the “Globalisation of Democracy.” Has it arrived already or is it still on the way? Is it destiny, or merely desirable? And what does it mean to talk about the development of liberal democratic institutions as a “universal requirement of all human societies?”