Skip to main content

Francis Fukuyama is right: Socialism is the only alternative to liberalism

In Liberalism and Its Discontents, Francis Fukuyama diagnoses the political and psychological malaise caused by capitalism. His analysis makes one thing clear: liberalism is incapable of addressing the social, economic, and ecological crises it faces.
by Samuel McIlhagga 

Part 5 - But What Is Classical Liberalism?
Fukuyama admits that what he calls classical liberalism has historically specific connotations, yet still decides to use it to attempt to describe an ideal liberalism untainted by recent transformations. This is an odd position for a Hegelian to take. The German philosopher famously insisted that the specific form that society took should not be understood as an aberration or deviation from an ideal; ideals that could not be actualized were instead untimely. As Hegel states in his Elements of the Philosophy of Right (1820), “What is rational is actual; and what is actual is rational.

Absent in the theories of contemporary defenders of liberalism is Hegel’s cold but clear-eyed realism. Defenders of classical liberalism often attempt to anachronistically draw a lineage between their ideas and the supposedly timeless views of a handful of European thinkers like Thomas Hobbes, John Locke, and Jean-Jacques Rousseau. These theorists did not understand themselves as liberals, being far more concerned with classical political forms and the constitutional squabbles of their day. When we refer to classical liberalism in the present day, we rarely actually mention those who would have recognized the term — mostly individuals who offered a specific set of short-lived free-trade policies connected to a critique of aristocratic landed interests and mercantilism in early nineteenth-century Europe.

Throughout much of the book, Fukuyama jumps between two notions, liberal democracy and liberalism. The former denotes a specific configuration that took shape across much of the Western world after the end of World War II and the latter describes a transhistorical ideal stretching back to the English Civil War and the American Revolution. These two concepts serve to paper over each other’s limitations. Liberalism as an ideal can be marshaled as a critique of the deficits of actually existing liberalism, and actually existing liberalism can be drawn on to reject socialism and other political projects that have not succeeded in becoming hegemonic.

In reality, liberalism, much like conservatism, is simply a set of political moves and cultural associations determined by historical, sociological, and political positioning among factions in particular systems. Witness the relativity generated by comparing the huge differences between Australian, European, and Japanese liberals and their American counterparts. Fukuyama could have headed these criticisms off by clearly defining a narrow set of values for his definition of classical liberalism. Alternatively, he might have coined a new term to describe the actual and more capacious set of values he cares about. What Fukuyama advocates instead is not classical liberalism but a form of humanistic social democracy.

Indeed, what is odd about Liberalism and Its Discontents is that, when Fukuyama sets out to describe the values he cares about without using the term classical liberalism, he often sounds like a socialist or Marxist of the secular, humanist, universalistic, and democratic mold.

In a recent interview with Novara Media’s Aaron Bastani, Fukuyama surprisingly agreed with a large amount of the current populist social democratic program recently proposed by Bernie Sanders and Jeremy Corbyn. For instance, in Liberalism and Its Discontents, he argues that economic class, rather than social identities, should be the basis for the subjectivity of political actors: “Social policies should seek to equalize outcomes across the whole society, but they should be directed at fluid categories like class rather than fixed ones like race or ethnicity.

He goes on to argue that collective conceptions of the common good have been replaced by an overemphasis on personal autonomy, self-actualization, and choice: “Over time in liberal societies, there has been a growing reluctance to posit substantive human ends that have priority over other ends; rather, it is the act of choice itself that has the highest priority.

Ironically, the “liberal” values Fukuyama cares most about — freedom of speech, institutions of accountability, human rights, mechanisms of personal autonomy, and a conception of the common good beyond identity politics — are eroded by the capitalist dynamics built into the liberal framework. Within a democratic system, liberal freedoms actually exist in spite of capitalism, not because of it. Outside of America, which has a historically underdeveloped left, liberal traditions were won by social democrats and socialists, for whom rights to organize and speak were essential.

Indeed, the dividing lines between Fukuyama’s “populism” and “progressivism” do not map consistently onto other political systems. The discontents generated by liberal democracy have varied from nation to nation. For instance, a particular republican left liberalism in France has rejected what they have understood as American notions about personal autonomy with regard to lifestyle choices and values, and instead insists on a common-good civic nationalism emphasizing universal French values such as strict laïcité, which has, in practice, served to marginalize Muslims and other minorities.

In Peru, the socialist Pedro Castillo, influenced by Catholic liberation theology, won his election by attacking both economic inequality, neoliberalism, and, to an extent, social liberalism. Consequently, the dynamic map of discontent Fukuyama proposes is specifically an American one — the constellation of attitudes and policy positions that make up American populism and progressivism are not universally fungible.

Fukuyama’s admirable desire for universalistic and humanistic politics frustratingly leads him back to an exhausted nineteenth-century ideology. Instead, we should look at the actual state of modernity in its specificity. China has demonstrated that capitalism can succeed without an accompanying democratic appendage. Its mirror image, an effectively democratic noncapitalist state, has yet to explicitly emerge. In a world defined by political crises and climate breakdown, perhaps the best way to defend the values Fukuyama cares about would be through an imaginative political order. This political order would recognize how capitalism causes destabilizing social consequences such as inequality, and drives the economic causes of nationalism and war — all of which are bad for democracy.

The aim of this political project would be to replace the unconstrained authority of the market with democratic accountability, held together by the lynchpin of organized labor. This has always been the project of myriad socialist traditions — and especially the democratic one. Their institutions were wounded at the end of the last century. This defeat was, however, not total. In almost every country across the developed world, there exist left-wing and socialist forces, some of which have grown their bases. They can fulfil the liberal democratic promise that capitalism is incapable of realizing, but they can only do this if they replace democratic capitalism with democratic socialism. What Fukuyama has made blindingly clear is that, left to its own devices, liberalism will do nothing to alleviate the crises it has caused.



Popular posts from this blog

UN says Israel is committing crimes against humanity & 'extermination' in Gaza

Geopolitical Economy Report   The United Nations Human Rights Council published a report that concluded that Israel has committed war crimes and "the crimes against humanity of extermination" in Gaza. Ben Norton analyzes the statements by UN legal experts.

Day 1900: Julian Assange still in prison and under slow-motion execution by the Anglo-American imperialist criminals

failed evolution   On 11 April 2019, the Ecuadorian government of traitor Lenin Moreno, invited the Metropolitan Police into the Ecuadorian embassy in London, and they arrested Julian Assange . Since then, Assange is kept in Belmarsh high security prison in London, without actual charges.   The real reason world's number one political prisoner is still kept in this high security prison, is because he exposed horrendous war crimes carried out by the US imperialists and their allies.   The ruthless Western imperialist regime wants to punish the No1 real journalist in the world and make him an example for any Whistleblower or real journalist who will attempt to expose its big crimes in the future.   And the Anglo-American axis has now become officially a fascist coalition , framed by the rest of its Western pets. UK's Home Secretary Priti Patel, one of the most ruthless ever, decided to extradite Julian Assange to US. No surprise of course. The only question we had in mind is

Exposed: How Biden & Ukraine’s Fascists Worked Together to Block Peace with Russia

BreakThrough News   Newly released treaty negotiation documents show that Ukraine and Russia were very close to ending the war—more than two years ago, in April 2022. But U.S. imperialists and NATO have worked with and strengthened the right-wing in Ukraine to achieve their long-term goals in the region, including endless war, no matter how many people die. Brian Becker is joined by Eugene Puryear, co-host of The Freedom Side , to discuss the newly revealed documents showing how the Ukraine war nearly ended two years ago but were sabotaged by the intervention of the White House and the Ukrainian far-right. They discuss how Ukraine’s economy has been totally mortgaged to U.S. and European interests. 

BlackRock & Wall Street banks are profiting from Israel's crimes in Gaza, UN says

Geopolitical Economy Report  Top UN human rights experts called on Western weapons corporations to stop sending arms to Israel, saying they could be complicit in war crimes. Asset managers like BlackRock and Wall Street banks are also profiting. Ben Norton looks at the evidence.

Socialism or Barbarism: What’s at Stake in this Election & Beyond

Double Down News   Roger Waters meets Fiona Lali. Fiona Lali is the independent candidate for Stratford & Bow. 

Israeli documents show expansive government effort to shape US discourse around Gaza war

As the Gaza war rages, Israeli funds target US college campuses and push to redefine antisemitism in US law   by Lee Fang and Jack Poulson   Part 3 - Substantial Israeli government involvement in American politics   Haaretz and the New York Times recently revealed that Chikli’s ministry had tapped a public relations firm to secretly pressure American lawmakers. The firm used hundreds of fake accounts posting pro-Israel or anti-Muslim content on X (formerly Twitter), Facebook and Instagram. (The diaspora affairs ministry denied involvement in the campaign, which reportedly provided about $2m to an Israeli firm for the social media posts.) But that effort is only one of many such campaigns coordinated by the ministry, which has received limited news coverage. The ministry of diaspora affairs and its partners compile weekly reports based on tips from pro-Israel US student groups, some of which receive funding from Israeli government sources . For example, Hillel International, a co-foun

A historical turning point has just occurred ... and it is not the Trump assassination attempt

globinfo freexchange   The biggest crime of our century, that is, the genocide of Palestinians by the Zionists has been almost forgotten. And while everyone is distracted by the war in Ukraine and the assassination attempt against Donald Trump, a development of historic proportions took place. The development either escaped from the corporate media radars in the West, or, deliberately ignored.   The integration of Russia's and India's payment systems marks the definite rejection of the Western SWIFT system, dominated by the US dollar, and the complete detachment of BRICS from this system.   As Kitco News reported recently:   The trend of de-dollarization continues to gain traction despite many analysts saying the threat is overblown as India and Russia have announced a new partnership that will see their respective payment systems – India’s RuPay and Russia’s MIR – integrated to allow for seamless cross-border transactions without the need for U.S. dollars.  The partner

Israeli documents show expansive government effort to shape US discourse around Gaza war

As the Gaza war rages, Israeli funds target US college campuses and push to redefine antisemitism in US law   by Lee Fang and Jack Poulson   Part 1 - Redefining antisemitism   Last November, just weeks into the war in Gaza, Amichai Chikli, a brash, 42-year-old Likud minister in the Israeli government, was called into the Knesset, Israel’s parliament, to brief lawmakers on what could be done about rising anti-war protests from young people across the United States, especially at elite universities. “ I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again now, that I think we should, especially in the United States, be on the offensive,” argued Chikli. Chikli has since led a targeted push to counter critics of Israel. The Guardian has uncovered evidence showing how Israel has relaunched a controversial entity as part of a broader public relations campaign to target US college campuses and redefine antisemitism in US law. Seconds after a smoke alarm subsided during the hearing, Chikli assured the l

Συνασπισμός προοδευτικών δυνάμεων με ηγέτη τον Γιάνη Βαρουφάκη

... για να γλιτώσει η χώρα μια και καλή από τη Μητσοτακική λαίλαπα   failed evolution   Η διάσπαση του κεντροαριστερού χώρου καλά κρατεί, όπως ακριβώς ήθελε η ντόπια ολιγαρχία.   Ο στόχος όμως της στρατηγικής ήττας ΣΥΡΙΖΑ και η επαναφορά ΠΑΣΟΚ στη θέση της αξιωματικής αντιπολίτευσης, απέτυχε και πάλι.  Απέτυχε και η απομάκρυνση Μητσοτάκη από την ηγεσία της ΝΔ και ύστερα από αυτό το Βατερλό στις ευρωεκλογές, οι ολιγάρχες θα πρέπει να είναι στα κάγκελα και να κάθονται σε αναμμένα κάρβουνα. Οπότε χρειάζονται νέα εναλλακτική. Επιχειρήθηκε άλλο σχέδιο, την τελευταία στιγμή και στο πόδι, με βάση το οποίο οι αποστάτες της ΝΕΑΡ θα πήγαιναν στο ΠΑΣΟΚ, έτσι ώστε το ΠΑΣΟΚ με τις έδρες τους, να έκλεβε και τη θέση της αξιωματικής αντιπολίτευσης από τον ΣΥΡΙΖΑ. Απλά, γρήγορα και εύκολα. Το σενάριο διαδόθηκε από καθεστωτικά φερέφωνα που προσπάθησαν να δημιουργήσουν το κατάλληλο κλίμα. Φαίνεται ότι, τουλάχιστον προς το παρόν, κάηκε γρήγορα. Επιχειρείται τώρα νέο σχέδιο με σύνθεση ΣΥΡΙΖΑ-ΠΑΣΟΚ και ε

De-dollarization is growing: Even the US Federal Reserve (reluctantly) admits it

Geopolitical Economy Report Countries around the world are seeking alternatives to the US dollar. IMF economists say de-dollarization is "broad-based". The Federal Reserve reluctantly admits that it is happening. Ben Norton analyzes the latest research.