Letters to the Editor

A Response to Fukuyama’s “Liberty Marches On”

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Here’s a letter to the editors of the Wall Street Journal in response to this week’s “Saturday Essay” by Professor Francis Fukuyama.  (The essay appeared in the Weekend print edition under the title “Liberty Marches On,” though the online title is “At the ‘End of History’ Still Stands Democracy.”)  My response:

Francis Fukuyama notes that even authoritarian regimes “pay homage to democratic ideals,” and he takes this as evidence that, ideologically, “liberal democracy still doesn’t have any real competitors.”  But the other explanation is that authoritarians abroad have come to see that democratic forms and structures can easily be rendered broadly compatible with restrictive control over large populations.  Unfortunately, they may have learned this from watching us.

In the phrase “liberal democracy,” both words are important, and the former is if anything more important than the latter.  Our political traditions have been democratic for the last 250 years, but they have been liberal–in the classical sense of celebrating personal liberty–for 400 or even 800. Perhaps the reason why “American government is hardly a source of inspiration around the world at the present moment” is because we’ve neglected the liberty toward which democracy is only a means.
Mark Grannis
Chevy Chase, Maryland