These days, the commentariat is talking a lot about China and what China’s rising confidence means for the world—and for the democratic world in particular. In almost all these conversations, at some point someone will mention Francis Fukuyama and his 1992 book, The End of History. Published in the aftermath of the fall of the Berlin Wall, the disintegration of the Soviet Union, the end of apartheid in South Africa and waves of democratization across Latin America, it was a triumphant cry of victory. Democracy had won. Democracy had answered, definitively, the ages-old question that had driven human history for millennia, namely: What ideas should govern society? That's the topic of this podcast conversation!
We're pretty sure that nobody’s got it all figured out. And if we can accept that the search for the best ideas to live by is unfinished, then maybe we should see the different models that govern China and America today, not only as a contest, but also as experiments—each of which generates important insights for the future. The China model demonstrates the power (and price) of unity; the liberal democratic model shows the power (and price) of diversity. The China model demonstrates the possibility of rapid, revolutionary change. The liberal democratic model shows that good policy is often slow policy. These are all good lessons.
Stepping back from both models, the most important lesson of the past twenty-five years is that we should keep up the search for good lessons, rather than engage in the conceit of claiming premature victory.