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Wisdom of Crowds

Aug 26, 2022

Just as it has a past, liberalism has a future. The only question is whether this future will be compelling enough for those who have lost faith. We have our doubts. Which is why we wanted to talk to Francis Fukuyama, author of The End of History and the Last Man and perhaps the foremost thinker on the development of modern political order. In his new book, Liberalism and Its Discontents, Fukuyama mounts a comprehensive and stirring defense of the liberal idea. But is it enough?

We started by discussing Donald Trump—and other possible threats from the GOP to liberalism. Liberalism hasn't necessarily failed, but it has weakened. How and why did this happen? Is liberalism too "thin" to serve as the bedrock of American identity? Fukuyama argues that modern liberalism has become deformed and is no longer liberal. What would it mean to return to "classical liberalism" and is it even possible?

In Part 2 of the conversation (available here for subscribers), Shadi questioned Fukuyama on whether ostensibly liberal states do in fact promote their own particular conception of the Good. For example, can state-enforced secularism, like France's, be reasonably considered liberal? Damir raises the point that the universalist assumptions behind liberalism may simply not be workable in a large, diverse, societies.

Finally, we talk about the specific ways in which rising illiberalism could be beaten back. Fukuyama believes that the only way to defeat right-wing illiberalism is to defeat it decisively at the polls, through the Democratic Party moving towards the center and ditching its "woke" wing. In the long term, however, Fukuyama is optimistic about liberalism's prospects, and the chances for "partisans of human freedom" to succeed.

Required Reading:

  • “Paths to Depolarization,” by Francis Fukuyama (Persuasion).
  • Liberalism and Its Discontents, by Francis Fukuyama (Amazon).
  • The End of History and the Last Man, by Francis Fukuyama (Amazon).
  • Political Order and Political Decay: From the Industrial Revolution to the Globalization of Democracy, by Francis Fukuyama (Amazon).
  • The Transformation of Title IX: Regulating Gender Equality in Education, by R. Shep Melnick (Amazon).
  • The Inheritors: An Intimate Portrait of South Africa’s Racial Reckoning, by Eve Fairbanks (Amazon).