This extended conversation between Fasting and the famed political scientist Francis Fukuyama takes readers on an engaging intellectual journey in which Fukuyama reflects on the global crises and transformations that have unfolded in the three decades since his famous essay on “the end of history.” What has surprised Fukuyama most about liberal democracy since the triumphal days after the end of the Cold War is the system’s fragility. He has concluded that scholars were wrong to believe that democracy in advanced industrial societies could consolidate and resist backsliding. In fact, they can fall victim to what he calls “decay”: the slow erosion of liberal institutions by populist and authoritarian leaders who wrap themselves in the legitimacy of democracy but chip away at the rule of law, minority rights, and independent media. The information revolution was initially greeted as a friend of democracy, but its more ominous implications are now apparent, as China uses it for surveillance and political control and Russia uses it as a tool to destabilize Western institutions.
As more states modernize, will they begin to look more like China? Fukuyama thinks not. There is nothing inevitable about either the success or the failure of liberal democracy. But well-functioning democracies remain unique—and unsurpassed—in giving people dignity and opportunities.