A Steamroller Called Democracy


By Francis Fukuyama

Free Press -- 418pp -- $24.95


By Graham E. Fuller

Dutton -- 285pp -- $20

There's an editor at this magazine whose wont, on seeing some news item flash on the wires, is to ask reflexively: "What does it all mean?"

These days, that's a question many people, not just journalists, are asking about world events. In the past three years or so, the Berlin Wall came down, Eastern Europe shrugged off communism, East and West Germany became one, and the Soviet Union and Yugoslavia became many. For a generation that grew up knowing only a bipolar world in which the U.S. and the Soviet Union were sworn enemies, this upheaval is both unsettling and exhilarating. Clearly, long-held notions must be discarded. But why did these events transpire? What's next? What does it all mean?

Amazingly, a few brave authors have already proffered answers. In The End of History and the Last Man, Francis Fukuyama expands on an article that created a remarkable stir when it ran in the quarterly The National Interest in 1989. Fukuyama contends that the world is progressing inexorably toward the adoption of democratic principles. Thus, by "the end of history" he means the end of all sorts of ideological conflict. In partial rejoinder, Graham E. Fuller has written The Democracy Trap.

Fukuyama, formerly with the State Dept.'s policy planning staff and now a consultant to RAND Corp., has written by far the more ambitious book. Exhaustively researched and carefully argued, The End of History tries to construct an all-encompassing framework for comprehending recent events. Evolution toward democracy is inevitable, Fukuyama argues, because that system, more than any other, satisfies individuals' material needs and desire for self-expression. But as more and more peoples are won over to democracy and the free-market system that usually accompanies it, he predicts, humanity's evolution might culminate in a "last man," self-satisfied and complacent because all his needs appear to have been met.

Yet Fukuyama goes on to observe that some people are driven by a motive more deep-seated than physical comfort. That motive he dubs thymos, Greek for spiritedness. For Fukuyama, thymos means the need for recognition, glory, and prestige, "the battle to death" by which men attempt to set themselves apart from and above others. Medieval jousts, duels, and holy wars come to mind. (Clearly, Fukuyama intends "man" to stand for humanity, but his vision seems essentially masculine.)

Fukuyama's argument is interesting but difficult to accept. The author draws heavily on such philosophers as Hegel and Nietzsche, as well as from the writings of a less well-known Russo-French scholar of the mid-20th century, Alexandre Koj eve, whom he sets up as a brilliant theorist of democracy. But Fukuyama buries in a footnote the following: "There are certain problems in seeing Koj eve himself as a liberal, insofar as he frequently professed an ardent admiration for Stalin and asserted that there was no essential difference between the United States, the Soviet Union, and China of the 1950s." Nonetheless, Fukuyama concludes that "the liberal Koj eve [is] more plausible than the Stalinist one."

This is but one example of Fukuyama's tendency to explain away facts or events that get in the way of his argument. Ethnic tensions in the Balkans? Kurdish nationalism? Islamic fundamentalism? No problem, he says: These are simply twists and turns along the path to the end of history. But even if readers buy into this linear view, they are left with the conundrum posed in the book's last section. Will some men, eager to assert themselves, become nostalgic for battle, as Fukuyama suggests? If so, wouldn't armed combat spell the end of the end of history?

For all its flaws, The End of History and the Last Man is provocative reading. The Democracy Trap, on the other hand, is a disappointment. Fuller, once a long-range forecaster at the CIA and currently a political analyst, also with RAND, starts with a good premise. There are perils inherent in democracy, he writes--conflicts between individual wants and community needs, for example--that should prevent us from cheering its "triumph" too loudly. But Fuller's book reads as though he spoke it into a tape recorder. It is littered with gratuitous asides and empty statements such as: "America is a phenomenon about which almost no one can be neutral." A moralistic tone marks his discussion of "the decline of the American family"--which he blames in part on the "growing freedoms and cultural laxities of the 1960s `cultural revolution."' Further, he attributes far too much importance to democracy's tolerance of such fringe concerns as radical environmentalism. The reader is left hungry for a more thoughtful and dispassionate discussion of democracy's flaws.

One problem is that the very word "democracy" has been used so carelessly in recent months that it has been robbed of meaning. Democratic elections have been held in countries from former Soviet Georgia to Algeria, but are democrats being elected? And what happens to the democratic process when the victors in such elections aren't permitted to lead? Day by day, the new world order is yielding more and more questions, and these books don't have the answers. My own modest conclusion: It's simply too soon to understand what it all means.

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