自由民主的支持者绝不能屈服于宿命论，这种宿命论心照不宣地接受俄中路线，即此类民主国家不可避免地会衰落。现代制度的长期进步既不是线性的，也不是自动的。多年来，随着 1930年代法西斯主义和共产主义的兴起，或者 1960年代和70 年代的种种军事政变和石油危机，我们看到自由和民主制度的进步遭受了巨大的挫折。然而，自由民主已经承受并一再王者归来，因为种种替代方案太糟糕了。不同文化背景的人不喜欢生活在独裁统治下，他们重视个人自由。从长远来看，没有一个专制政府比自由民主更有吸引力，因此可以被视为历史进步的目标或终点。数以百万计的人用脚投票——离开贫穷、腐败或暴力的国家们寻求不是在俄罗斯、中国或伊朗，而是在自由民主的西方生活——充分证明了这一点。
哲学家黑格尔创造了“历史的终结”这一短语，将自由主义国家从法国大革命中崛起作为历史进步的目标或方向。在那之后的几十年里，马克思主义者会从黑格尔那里借用并断言历史的真正终结将是共产主义乌托邦。当我在 1989 年写了一篇文章和 1992 年写了一本标题中有这个短语的书时，我注意到马克思主义的版本显然是错误的，而且似乎没有比自由民主更好的选择。在过去的 15 年里，我们看到了自由民主进步的可怕逆转，但挫折并不意味着潜在的叙述是错误的。所提供的替代方案看起来都没有更好。
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9 月 21 日，当他宣布“部分”动员时，俄罗斯年轻男子涌向边境，这表明他的政权支持十分肤浅。大约 70 万俄罗斯人已前往格鲁吉亚、哈萨克斯坦、芬兰和任何其他愿意接受的国家。他们比实际动员的人数要多得多。那些被征兵逮住的人在没有足够训练或装备的情况下被直接投入战斗，并且已经以战俘或伤亡者的身份出现在前线。普京的合法性建立在一种社会契约的基础上，该契约承诺公民稳定和少量繁荣以换取政治被动性，但该政权破坏了这一协议并正在承受后果。
中国也发生了类似的事情，如果不是那么戏剧化的话。从 1978 年邓小平改革到 2013 年习近平上台，中国威权主义的标志之一是制度化程度。制度意味着统治者必须遵守规则，不能为所欲为。中国共产党对自己制定了许多规定：对党的干部实行强制退休年龄、严格的选拔和晋升标准，以及最重要的是对党内最高领导层的任期限制为10 年。邓小平建立集体领导体制正是为了避免像毛泽东这样一个执着的领导人的主导统治。
这种在一个人身上权力的集中反过来导致决策失误。该党干预经济，通过追拿阿里巴巴和腾讯等明星，阻碍了科技行业；强迫中国农民种植亏本的主食以实现农业自给自足；并坚持实施零新冠病毒战略，使中国的重要地区处于持续封锁状态，这已经削减了该国经济增长的分数。中国无法轻易扭转新冠清零疫情，因为它未能购买有效的疫苗，并且发现很大一部分老年人口易感染这种疾病。两年前看似在控制 COVID 方面取得的成功，现在却变成了一场旷日持久的失败。
这些威权主义的失败不仅限于中国。 Mahsa Amini 死于道德警察之手后，数周的抗议活动震惊了伊朗。伊朗的情况很糟糕：它面临银行危机，水资源枯竭，农业大幅下滑，并且正在努力应对严重的国际制裁和孤立。尽管处于低阶地位，但它拥有受过良好教育的人口，其中女性占大学毕业生的大多数。然而，这个政权是由一小群老人领导的，他们的社会态度已经过时了几代人。难怪该政权现在正面临其合法性的最大考验。唯一一个管理更差的国家是另一个独裁国家委内瑞拉，该国在过去十年中产生了世界上最大的难民外流。
不幸的是，最大的问号仍然是美国。大约 30% 到 35% 的选民继续相信 2020 年总统大选被盗的错误说法，共和党已被唐纳德·特朗普的 MAGA 追随者接管，他们正在尽最大努力让选举否认者担任国家范围内的权力职位。这个群体不代表该国的大多数，但很可能在今年 11 月至少重新控制众议院，并可能在 2024 年重新获得总统职位。该党的假定领导人特朗普已经越来越深地陷入阴谋论所引发的疯狂，他认为他可以立即恢复总统职位，国家应该刑事起诉他的前任总统们，包括已经死去的一个人。
More Proof That This Really Is the End of History
Over the past year, it has become evident that there are key weaknesses at the core of seemingly strong authoritarian states.
By Francis Fukuyama
OCTOBER 17, 2022
Over the past decade, global politics has been heavily shaped by apparently strong states whose leaders are not constrained by law or constitutional checks and balances. Russia and China both have argued that liberal democracy is in long-term decline, and that their brand of muscular authoritarian government is able to act decisively and get things done while their democratic rivals debate, dither, and fail to deliver on their promises. These two countries were the vanguard of a broader authoritarian wave that turned back democratic gains across the globe, from Myanmar to Tunisia to Hungary to El Salvador. Over the past year, though, it has become evident that there are key weaknesses at the core of these strong states.
The weaknesses are of two sorts. First, the concentration of power in the hands of a single leader at the top all but guarantees low-quality decision making, and over time will produce truly catastrophic consequences. Second, the absence of public discussion and debate in “strong” states, and of any mechanism of accountability, means that the leader’s support is shallow, and can erode at a moment’s notice.
Supporters of liberal democracy must not give in to a fatalism that tacitly accepts the Russian-Chinese line that such democracies are in inevitable decline. The long-term progress of modern institutions is neither linear nor automatic. Over the years, we have seen huge setbacks to the progress of liberal and democratic institutions, with the rise of fascism and communism in the 1930s, or the military coups and oil crises of the 1960s and ’70s. And yet, liberal democracy has endured and come back repeatedly, because the alternatives are so bad. People across varied cultures do not like living under dictatorship, and they value their individual freedom. No authoritarian government presents a society that is, in the long term, more attractive than liberal democracy, and could therefore be considered the goal or endpoint of historical progress. The millions of people voting with their feet—leaving poor, corrupt, or violent countries for life not in Russia, China, or Iran but in the liberal, democratic West—amply demonstrate this.
The philosopher Hegel coined the phrase the end of history to refer to the liberal state’s rise out of the French Revolution as the goal or direction toward which historical progress was trending. For many decades after that, Marxists would borrow from Hegel and assert that the true end of history would be a communist utopia. When I wrote an article in 1989 and a book in 1992 with this phrase in the title, I noted that the Marxist version was clearly wrong and that there didn’t seem to be a higher alternative to liberal democracy. We’ve seen frightening reversals to the progress of liberal democracy over the past 15 years, but setbacks do not mean that the underlying narrative is wrong. None of the proffered alternatives look like they’re doing any better.
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The weaknesses of strong states have been on glaring display in Russia. President Vladimir Putin is the sole decision maker; even the former Soviet Union had a politburo where the party secretary had to vet policy ideas. We saw images of Putin sitting at the end of a long table with his defense and foreign ministers because of his fear of COVID; he was so isolated that he had no idea how strong Ukrainian national identity had become in recent years or how fierce a resistance his invasion would provoke. He similarly got no word of how deeply corruption and incompetence had taken root within his own military, how abysmally the modern weapons he had developed were working, or how poorly trained his own officer corps was.
The shallowness of his regime’s support was made evident by the rush to the borders of young Russian men when he announced his “partial” mobilization on September 21. Some 700,000 Russians have left for Georgia, Kazakhstan, Finland, and any other country that would take them, a far greater number than has actually been mobilized. Those who have been caught up by the conscription are being thrown directly into battle without adequate training or equipment, and are already showing up on the front as POWs or casualties. Putin’s legitimacy was based on a social contract that promised citizens stability and a modicum of prosperity in return for political passivity, but the regime has broken that deal and is feeling the consequences.
Putin’s bad decision making and shallow support have produced one of the biggest strategic blunders in living memory. Far from demonstrating its greatness and recovering its empire, Russia has become a global object of ridicule, and will endure further humiliations at the hands of Ukraine in the coming weeks. The entire Russian military position in the south of Ukraine is likely to collapse, and the Ukrainians have a real chance of liberating the Crimean Peninsula for the first time since 2014. These reversals have triggered a huge amount of finger-pointing in Moscow; the Kremlin is cracking down even harder on dissent. Whether Putin himself will be able to survive a Russian military defeat is an open question.
Something similar, if a bit less dramatic, has been going on in China. One of the hallmarks of Chinese authoritarianism in the period between Deng Xiaoping’s reforms in 1978 and Xi Jinping’s accession to power in 2013 was the degree to which it was institutionalized. Institutions mean that rulers have to follow rules and cannot do whatever they please. The Chinese Communist Party imposed many rules on itself: mandatory retirement ages for party cadres, strict meritocratic standards for recruitment and promotion, and above all a 10-year term limit for the party’s most-senior leadership. Deng Xiaoping established a system of collective leadership precisely to avoid the dominance of a single obsessive leader like Mao Zedong.
Much of this has been dismantled under Xi Jinping, who will receive the blessing of his party to remain on as paramount leader for a third five-year term at the 20th Party Congress. In place of collective leadership, China has moved to a personalistic system in which no other senior official can come close to challenging Xi.
This concentration of authority in one man has in turn led to poor decision making. The party has intervened in the economy, hobbling the tech sector by going after stars such as Alibaba and Tencent; forced Chinese farmers to plant money-losing staples in pursuit of agricultural self-sufficiency; and insisted on a zero-COVID strategy that keeps important parts of China under continuing lockdowns that have shaved points off of the country’s economic growth. China cannot easily reverse zero-COVID, because it has failed to buy effective vaccines and finds a large part of its elderly population vulnerable to the disease. What looked two years ago like a triumphant success in controlling COVID has turned into a prolonged debacle.
All of this comes on top of the failure of China’s underlying growth model, which relied on heavy state investment in real estate to keep the economy humming. Basic economics suggests this would lead to massive misallocation of resources, as has in fact happened. Go online and search for Chinese buildings being blown up, and you will see many videos of massive housing complexes being dynamited because there is no one to buy apartments in them.
These authoritarian failures are not limited to China. Iran has been rocked by weeks of protests following the death of Mahsa Amini at the hands of the morality police. Iran is in terrible shape: It faces a banking crisis, is running out of water, has seen big declines in agriculture, and is grappling with crippling international sanctions and isolation. Despite its pariah status, it has a well-educated population, in which women constitute a majority of university graduates. And yet the regime is led by a small group of old men with social attitudes several generations out of date. It is no wonder that the regime is now facing its greatest test of legitimacy. The only country that qualifies as even more poorly managed is one with another dictatorship, Venezuela, which has produced the world’s largest outflux of refugees over the past decade.
Celebrations of the rise of strong states and the decline of liberal democracy are thus very premature. Liberal democracy, precisely because it distributes power and relies on consent of the governed, is in much better shape globally than many people think. Despite recent gains by populist parties in Sweden and Italy, most countries in Europe still enjoy a strong degree of social consensus.
The big question mark remains, unfortunately, the United States. Some 30 to 35 percent of its voters continue to believe the false narrative that the 2020 presidential election was stolen, and the Republican Party has been taken over by Donald Trump’s MAGA followers, who are doing their best to put election deniers in positions of power around the country. This group does not represent a majority of the country but is likely to regain control of at least the House of Representatives this November, and possibly the presidency in 2024. The party’s putative leader, Trump, has fallen deeper and deeper into a conspiracy-fueled madness in which he believes that he could be immediately reinstated as president and that the country should criminally indict his presidential predecessors, including one who is already dead.
There is an intimate connection between the success of strong states abroad and populist politics at home. Politicians such as Marine Le Pen and Éric Zemmour in France, Viktor Orbán in Hungary, Matteo Salvini in Italy, and of course Trump in the U.S. have all expressed sympathy for Putin. They see in him a model for the kind of strongman rule they would like to exercise in their own country. He, in turn, is hoping that their rise will weaken Western support for Ukraine and save his flailing “special military operation.”
Liberal democracy will not make a comeback unless people are willing to struggle on its behalf. The problem is that many who grow up living in peaceful, prosperous liberal democracies begin to take their form of government for granted. Because they have never experienced an actual tyranny, they imagine that the democratically elected governments under which they live are themselves evil dictatorships conniving to take away their rights, whether that is the European Union or the administration in Washington. But reality has intervened. The Russian invasion of Ukraine constitutes a real dictatorship trying to crush a genuinely free society with rockets and tanks, and may serve to remind the current generation of what is at stake. By resisting Russian imperialism, the Ukrainians are demonstrating the grievous weaknesses that exist at the core of an apparently strong state. They understand the true value of freedom, and are fighting a larger battle on our behalf, a battle that all of us need to join.
Francis Fukuyama is the Olivier Nomellini Senior Fellow at Stanford University's Freeman Spogli Institute for International Studies.