【观察者按】2010年6月，在观察者网与文汇报联合举办的"福山对话张维为" 活动中，福山虽然坚称美国民主制仍然优越于中国的权威体制，不过显然也意识到了美国体制的严重危机，之后不断撰文批评当下美国。《历史的未来》一文显然全 面回应了那次对话带给福山的启示。福山不无洞见地指出美国技术进步带来的利益都落入掌握金融技术的少数人手里。面对美国的不堪现状，茶党的主张自然文不对 题，但是左翼也未能提出一个系统的解释和方案。
与其说这位著名策论家拥有 深刻的智慧，不如说他拥有精明的政治头脑和修辞能力。他既要反对金融资本对中产阶级的侵害，又要维护国家利益。既要批评美国制度，又要避免釜底抽薪，同时 不忘抨击中国，甚至运用邓小平三个"有利于"的修辞。在这种艰难的修辞舞蹈中，我们不难发现福山先生也不无矛盾。
当 今世界有些异样。2008年开始的全球金融危机和持续至今的欧元危机，两者都是近三十年来监管松懈的金融资本主义所产生的后果。然而，虽然民众对华尔街的 救市计划普遍不满，美国左翼民众运动却没有发起什么大的起色。当然，占领华尔街运动会吸引一些人的眼球，但近期搞得最有声势的民众运动是右翼的"茶党"。 茶党的主要目标是加强国家监管，保护普通民众不受金融投机分子的欺诈。欧洲也是同样情况，左翼萎靡不振，右翼民粹主义政党却在抬头。
左翼 缺 乏动员大众的能力，这是很多原因造成的。其中一个主要原因是思想领域的挫折。近几十年，经济事务的意识形态高地全被自由意志主义的右翼占领了。左翼拿不出 可靠 的政治议程，除了喊着要回归以前的社会民主制。缺乏针锋相对的施政计划，这对思想辩论和经济活动都很不利，因为有竞争才是好事。现在急需严肃的思想大辩 论，因为，当前的全球资本主义体制正在侵蚀中产阶级，而中产阶级乃是自由民主制的基础。
正 如马克思所说，社会力量和社会条件不只是"决定"意识形态，但是，只有当思想回应了大众的诉求以后才能发挥力量。自由民主制目前是世界上大部分地区的意识 形态基础，部分原因是，自由民主回应并接受了某种特定的社会经济结构的支持。那些社会结构的变化可能会改变意识形态，就像意识形态变化会反过来造成社会经 济层面上的后果一样。
三百年以前所有构造人类社会的强势思想在本质上都带有宗教色彩，除了一个重要的例外--中国的儒家思想。第一个长时 间产生世界性影响的世俗主义意识形态是自由主义，与这一"主义"一同兴起的先是十七世纪欧洲某些地区的商业中产阶级，然后是工业中产阶级。（我所说的"中 产阶级"指的是处于高收入和低收入之间社会阶层，至少接受过中等教育，拥有不动产、耐用品或自己经商。）
自 由主义的原则，正如洛克、孟德斯鸠和密尔等人所述，即一个国家政府的合法性来源于对公民权利的保护，并且国家权力要接受法律的限制。其中一项基本权利是私 有财产。英国的光荣革命（1688-89）对现代自由主义史至关重要，因为它第一次建立了这样的宪法原则，规定国家只能在征得公民同意的情况下征税。
原 先，自由主义不一定表示民主。支持1689年宪法条款的辉格党人大多是英格兰最富有的人；那个时期的议会只代表全国10%不到的人口。许多正统的自由主义 者，包括密尔在内，非常怀疑民主的价值；他们认为，有担当的政治参与者必须要接受过教育，并且是社会中的一份子--即必须拥有私人财产。整个十九世纪末， 欧洲绝对大多数地区的选举都有针对私有财产和教育条件的限制。1828年，安德鲁•杰克逊被选为美国总统，后来他废除了选举权所要求的私有财产条件--虽 然仅限白人男性--而成为更加健全的民主原则的一次初期胜利。
在欧洲，当时大多数人被排除在政治权力之外，以及工人阶级的兴起，这两个条 件 为马克思主义的发展铺平了道路。《共产党宣言》发表于1848年，同年，革命浪潮席卷除英国以外的整个欧洲。从那以后的一个世纪间，两股力量一直在争夺民 主运动的领导权，一方面是共产主义者，他们敢于抛弃程序民主（多党制选举）而更支持实质民主（财富再分配），另一方面是自由民主主义者，他们则认为，在扩 大政治参与度的同时，要维持法治秩序，保护各种个人权利，其中包括私有财产权。
关键是新兴工人阶级的走向。早期的马克思主义者们认为，他 们 光凭人数就足以获胜：十九世纪末，随着选举权扩大，英国工党和德国社会民主党等政党迅速发展，甚至威胁到保守党和传统的自由主义政党的统治地位。工人阶级 的崛起遭到严厉抵制，而那些抵制手段通常都不民主；共产主义者和许多社会主义者反过来抛弃了形式民主，转而寻求直接获得政治权力。
二十世 纪 前半段，进步左翼阵营中有一个广泛共识，即认为某种形式的社会主义--通过政府来控制经济波动，以确保财富公平分配--对于所有发达国家都是必经之路。甚 至保守主义经济学家，例如约瑟夫•熊彼特，也在他1942年的《资本主义、社会主义与民主》一书中写道，社会主义将赢得胜利，因为资本主义社会自身在文化 上将自我毁灭。社会主义被认为代表了现代社会绝大多数人的意志和利益。
不过，从政治和军事的层面看，二十世纪的意识形态对峙双方自己走入 了 死胡同。而在社会层面发生了关键性变化，破坏了马克思主义的格局。首先，工人阶级的实际生活水平在不断提高，高到以至于许多工人或他们的子女能够加入中产 阶级的行列。其次，工人阶级的规模达到一定比例以后停止增长，甚至有下降的趋势，尤其是二十世纪后半叶，服务业开始代替制造业，进入所谓的"后工业"经济 阶段。最后，一个比工人阶级更加贫困或孱弱的社会类别开始萌芽，其中包括各种人，少数族裔、新移民和被排斥的人群，后者例如女性、同性恋和残疾人。在大部 分的工业化社会中，由于这些社会变化，原有的工人阶级成为国内的另一个利益集团，并利用工会的政治力量来保卫自己以前辛辛苦苦争得的利益。
另 外，经济意义上的阶级已经无法在发达工业国家中获得政治动员力。1914年，"第二国际"震惊地发现，欧洲工人阶级没有去为阶级福利而斗争，而是听从民族 主义的口号，跟随各国的保守主义政治领导人相互厮杀；这一模式持续至今。许多马克思主义者想要去解释这一现象，根据学者恩斯特•盖尔纳的研究，他称之为 "地址误投理论"：
盖 尔纳进一步说，现在中东地区的民族主义也是一样：它之所以能有效地动员民众，是因为民族主义具有阶级意识所没有的精神和情感内容。欧洲民族主义的原动力来 自于十九世纪末欧洲人从乡村涌向城市的社会大转型，而伊斯兰教则是对当代中东社会城市化和社会流动的回应。马克思的信永远不会投到"阶级"信箱。
马 克思相信，中产阶级，或者至少他所说的"布尔乔亚"那部分人，将会一直是现代社会中的少数特权集团。而实际情况则是，小资产阶级和中产阶级基本上构成了大 多数发达国家的主要人口，这给社会主义提出了难题。从亚里士多德的时代开始，历代思想家都认为，稳定的民主建立在一个广泛的中产阶级基础之上，贫富差距悬 殊容易导致寡头统治或民粹主义式的革命。大部分发达国家成功建立中产阶级社会以后，马克思主义的魅力丧失殆尽。激进左翼存活下来的只有一些社会极度不平等 的地区，比如拉丁美洲部分地区、尼泊尔和贫困的印度东部。
政治理论家萨缪尔•亨廷顿所谓的全球民主化"第三次浪潮"，始于1970年代南 欧 地区，并于1989年东欧共产主义垮台而达到顶峰，选举制民主政体的数量从1970年的45个左右增加到1990年代末的120多个。在巴西、印度、印 尼、南非和土耳其等国，经济发展促进了新兴中产阶级的崛起。经济学家莫塞斯•奈姆（Moisés Naím ）所指出的，这些国家的中产阶级相对来说受过良好的教育、拥有私有财产并掌握与外界沟通的技术手段。他们能够和本国政府讨价还价，靠先进技术轻松地进行政 治动员。由此可以理解阿拉伯之春的主力为什么是受过高等教育的突尼斯人和埃及人，他们渴望找到好工作、渴望参与政治生活，却被独裁政权所遏制。
中 产阶级原则上不一定支持民主：就像任何一个人一样，他们自私，希望自己的财产和地位得到庇护。在中国和泰国等地，许多中产阶级感觉自己被穷人的均富呼声所 威胁，因而支持威权政府保护本阶级的利益。民主也不一定能满足中产阶级的要求，如果真的无法满足，中产阶级也会出来闹事。
如 今，全世界关于政治合法性有一个统一的共识，至少是原则上的共识，即自由民 主。用经济学家阿玛蒂亚•森的话来说："民主制度还不能普遍适用，也不能被普遍接受，但民主治理已经被世界舆论广泛认同。"其中最认同民主价值的，是那些 已经获得物质繁荣的国家，这些国家的主要人口已经能够自认为是中产阶级。所以，高度发展与稳定民主之间存在关联。
有些社会，比如伊朗和沙 特 阿拉伯，拒绝自由民主制，而支持某种形式的伊斯兰政教合一制度。然而，这些国家已经遇到发展瓶颈，之所以现在还能存活，是因为它们坐拥大量石油。原来，阿 拉伯地区是"第三次浪潮"的例外，但阿拉伯之春表明，那里的公众就像东欧和拉丁美洲人一样敢于对抗独裁政权。这不是说通往好民主之路会像突尼斯、埃及或利 比亚那样顺利或直截了当，但这至少表明，对政治自由和政治参与的渴求不是欧美人的文化特性。
现在对自由民主挑战最大的是中国，中国结合了 威 权政府和局部市场化经济。中国继承了两千多年的高效行政系统，历史悠久，令国人自豪。中国领导人进行了一次异常复杂的社会转型，从苏联式的中央集权计划经 济转为充满活力的开放经济，并且体现了惊人的政治能力--坦率地说，比最近美国领导人处理宏观经济的能力要高得多。许多人现在倾慕中国体制，不只是因为其 经济成就，还因为该国能够及时做出宏大而复杂的决策，这与近些年美国和欧洲令人气恼的决策无能现象形成鲜明对照。尤其是自从金融危机发生后，中国人自己开 始宣扬"中国模式"，将其视为自由民主的另一种替代性方案。
但是，这一模式不可能真正成为东亚以外世界其他地区的替代性方案。首先，这一 模 式具有文化独特性：中国政府基于历史悠久的德性统治、公务员考试（科举制）、重视教育和对技术官僚的推崇。鲜有发展中国家能奢望仿效；即使那些有条件仿效 的国家，例如新加坡和韩国（至少是在早期），也本来就已经属于中华文化圈。中国人自己也在怀疑他们的模式可否推广；所谓的北京共识是西方人的发明，而不是 中国人自己的。
最 后，中国还面临巨大的道德危机。中国政府没能要求官员尊重公民的基本尊严。每周都有新的抗议活动发生，反对征地、环境污染或官员腐败问题。国家在迅速发展 时，这些问题都还包得住。但不可能永远保持高增长，政府总有一天会因为这些被压抑的民愤而吃到苦头。政府不再拥有自己的主导理念；在一个极度不平等且差距 还在扩大的社会，共产党被外界期望去致力追求平等。
所以，不能忽视中国体制的稳定性问题。中国政府称，国民具有不同的文化，更喜欢仁慈 的、 有能力促进发展的威权政权，而不是那种威胁社会稳定的民主乱象。但是，中国的中产阶级不可能和其他地方的中产阶级迥然不同。其他国家的威权政府在仿效中国 的成功范例，但不可能五十年后大多数地区都走中国式的道路。
已 经有充分的迹象表明，这一动向已然抬头。按照实际购买力计算，美国的平均收入自从1970年代以来一直处于停滞阶段。平均收入停滞增长的后果被上一代美国 家庭夫妻双双工作的趋势所暂时弥补。另外，经济学家拉古拉姆•拉詹令人信服地说，由于美国人不愿意直接进行财富再分配，美国所采用的方式是给予低收入家庭 房屋贷款，这既有风险，又低效。这一趋势，加上资金从中国和其他国家不断流入美国，这使得许多普通美国人产生了错觉，以为他们的生活水平在逐年提高。从这 个角度看，2008-9年的房贷泡沫不过是财富平均分配的一种粗暴途径。美国人如今受益于便宜的手机、衣服和"脸谱"社交网站（Facebook），但他 们渐渐无法负担自己的房屋、医保或养老金。
风险投资家皮特•泰尔和经济学家泰勒•考恩发现了一个更令人不安的现象，最近一波技术创新所带 来 的经济效益都被极少数最有能力、最精英的人占有了。这一现象也导致美国过去一代人中间极大的不平等现象。1974年，美国1%的家庭拥有9%的 GDP；2007年，这一数字达到23.5%。
贸易和税收政策可能加速了这一趋势，但罪魁祸首是技术。在早期的工业化进程中--即纺织、煤 炭、钢铁和内燃机的时代--技术革新带来的好处总是在增加就业机会方面以各种方式流向社会大众。但这不是自然法则。如今我们生活在学者肖沙娜•朱伯夫所说 的"智能机械时代"，技术逐渐代替人手，且日益智能化。硅谷每一项技术进步都会减少低技术含量的工作岗位数量，这一趋势还将持续下去。
明 智的思想和政策能够遏制危害。德国成功地保护了本国的很大一部分制造业基础和工业劳动力，但德国公司仍然保持着全球竞争力。而美国和英国则欣然接受后工业 时代的服务业经济转型。自由贸易与其说是一种理论，不如说是意识形态：当美国国会议员想要报复中国压低人民币汇率时，他们被视为贸易保护主义者，仿佛贸易 场上的对手本来就是平等的。人们谈论过很多关于知识经济的畅想，还说制造业肮脏而危险的工作岗位将不可避免地被高素质的工人代替，从事创意产业或更有意思 的工作。这是在遮掩去工业化进程中的严酷事实。真实情况是，新秩序所带来的好处被金融业和高技术产业的极少数人所瓜分，他们的利益统治了媒体和广泛的政治 对话。
坦 率地说，过去两代人当中，主流左翼思想既没提出概念框架，也没拿出社会动员的强有力工具。马克思主义已经于多年前死去，少数老派马克思主义者只想着照顾家 务。学院左派代之以后现代主义、多元文化主义、女性主义、批判理论和其他零零碎碎的思想，这些思想取向更多的是在文化层面，而非聚焦经济问题。后现代主义 始于拒绝一切历史和社会的宏大叙事，而大众认为自己被精英阶层背叛了，后现代主义自己无法建立起权威。多元文化主义几乎承认每一个外在群体的价值。不可能 在这样一个破碎的联盟基础上开展大众进步运动：大多数受到制度性损害的工人阶级和中产阶级下层的公民，他们在文化上比较保守，不愿意自己和外人站在一起参 加活动。
不论左翼的政治议程背后是什么理论，它最大的问题是缺乏威信。过去几十年间，主流左翼依照的是社会民主主义施政纲领，强调国家监 管 诸种社会服务职能，例如退休金、医保和教育。这一模式已经破产：福利国家变得庞大、官僚而臃肿；鉴于发达国家几乎全面老龄化，这一模式在财政方面也不可持 续。因而，一旦社会民主党上台，他们不再想做几十年前那样的福利国家守护人；但没有人能拿出一套新的、激动人心的政治议程吸引民众。
它 至少要有两个组成部分，政治的和经济的。政治方面，新意识形态必须重申民主政治优先于经济。并且重新使得政府成为公众利益的表达者。但是其提出的保护中产 阶级生活的议程不能仅仅依靠现存的福利国家机制。新意识形态也许应该在某种程度上重新规划国有部门，把它们从相关既得利益者手中解放出来，并且使用新技术 手段来提供服务。人们将不得不坦率地讨论再分配机制并且找到一条终结利益集团主导政治的道路。
经济方面，新的意识形态不可以以否定资本主 义 开始，仿佛老式社会主义仍然是一种可行的替代性方案一样。更为紧要的是保持资本主义的多样性，以及政府帮助社会应对资本主义的能力。全球化不应该被看做一 种无情的生活现实，而应被看做一种要从政治上小心控制的挑战和机遇。新的意识形态不会把市场看做自身完美的事物，相反，而是高度重视全球贸易和投资，以促 进中产阶级的繁荣，而不仅仅是为了增加国家财富。
但是我们不太可能获得以上这一结论，除非我们先对当代新古典主义经济学展开系统批判，首 先 针对其基本假设--个人拥有完全自主权并自我负责，同时个人收入的汇总和就是衡量一个国家幸福程度的最精确尺度。批评者应该注意到个人收入并不能代表个人 对社会的贡献。还应该进一步深入，并认识到，即使劳动力市场是高效率的，个人的天赋分布本质上也不是公平的，个人不是自主的实体而是深受周围环境的影响。
这 些观点中，大部分都已经零零碎碎地为大众所知；作家得把它们串连成完整的故事。他或者她也要避免"地址误投"问题。对全球化的批评，将不得不考虑民族国 家，将其看做一种动员的策略以便用一种更平衡周到的方式来定义国家利益，而不是简单地美国各州的"买下美国"式的工会运动。这将是左派和右派综合的产物， 与目前社会进步运动中各种边缘团体的政治议程无关。这种意识形态将是民粹主义的；口号的一开始，将会批判那些牺牲大众利益的精英，批判那种偏袒富人的金钱 政治，尤其是华盛顿的金钱政治。
这样一种运动带来的危险显而易见：美国的倒退，尤其是宣布更加开放的全球系统会到处引起贸易保护主义。在 许 多方面，里根-撒切尔主义改革正像支持者期待的那样获得了成功--营造了一个更具竞争活力的，全球化的，无摩擦的世界。同时，它在所有发展中国家生产出巨 大的财富和不断上升的中产阶级，民主也因为他们的觉醒而得到传播。也许，发达国家正站在一系列技术进步的顶峰，技术进步不仅增加生产力，同时为广大中产阶 级提供有价值的工作。
但是，与其说这是关于过去30年现实经验的认识，不如说只是一种信仰而已，现实经验显示的完全相反。实际上，有很多 理 由要求我们思考不平等加剧的问题。当下发生在美国的财富集中已经变得可以自我强化--正如经济学家西蒙•约翰逊讨论的那样，金融部门正在运用他的游说能力 来摆脱更严格的规则监管。贵族学校前所未有地发达，而其他学校则越来越糟。每个社会的精英都在运用他们进入政治权力的便捷机会来保护自己的利益，我们正缺 少一个能抵消这种状况的民主动员机制来平衡形势。美国精英不应该自外于规则。
The Future of History
FRANCIS FUKUYAMA is a Senior Fellow at the Center on Democracy, Development, and the Rule of Law at Stanford University and the author, most recently, of The Origins of Political Order: From Prehuman Times to the French Revolution.
Something strange is going on in the world today. The global financial crisis that began in 2008 and the ongoing crisis of the euro are both products of the model of lightly regulated financial capitalism that emerged over the past three decades. Yet despite widespread anger at Wall Street bailouts, there has been no great upsurge of left-wing American populism in response. It is conceivable that the Occupy Wall Street movement will gain traction, but the most dynamic recent populist movement to date has been the right-wing Tea Party, whose main target is the regulatory state that seeks to protect ordinary people from financial speculators. Something similar is true in Europe as well, where the left is anemic and right-wing populist parties are on the move.
There are several reasons for this lack of left-wing mobilization, but chief among them is a failure in the realm of ideas. For the past generation, the ideological high ground on economic issues has been held by a libertarian right. The left has not been able to make a plausible case for an agenda other than a return to an unaffordable form of old-fashioned social democracy. This absence of a plausible progressive counternarrative is unhealthy, because competition is good for intellectual debate just as it is for economic activity. And serious intellectual debate is urgently needed, since the current form of globalized capitalism is eroding the middle-class social base on which liberal democracy rests.
THE DEMOCRATIC WAVE
Social forces and conditions do not simply “determine” ideologies, as Karl Marx once maintained, but ideas do not become powerful unless they speak to the concerns of large numbers of ordinary people. Liberal democracy is the default ideology around much of the world today in part because it responds to and is facilitated by certain socioeconomic structures. Changes in those structures may have ideological consequences, just as ideological changes may have socioeconomic consequences.
Almost all the powerful ideas that shaped human societies up until the past 300 years were religious in nature, with the important exception of Confucianism in China. The first major secular ideology to have a lasting worldwide effect was liberalism, a doctrine associated with the rise of first a commercial and then an industrial middle class in certain parts of Europe in the seventeenth century. (By “middle class,” I mean people who are neither at the top nor at the bottom of their societies in terms of income, who have received at least a secondary education, and who own either real property, durable goods, or their own businesses.)
As enunciated by classic thinkers such as Locke, Montesquieu, and Mill, liberalism holds that the legitimacy of state authority derives from the state’s ability to protect the individual rights of its citizens and that state power needs to be limited by the adherence to law. One of the fundamental rights to be protected is that of private property; England’s Glorious Revolution of 1688–89 was critical to the development of modern liberalism because it first established the constitutional principle that the state could not legitimately tax its citizens without their consent.
At first, liberalism did not necessarily imply democracy. The Whigs who supported the constitutional settlement of 1689 tended to be the wealthiest property owners in England; the parliament of that period represented less than ten percent of the whole population. Many classic liberals, including Mill, were highly skeptical of the virtues of democracy: they believed that responsible political participation required education and a stake in society -- that is, property ownership. Up through the end of the nineteenth century, the franchise was limited by property and educational requirements in virtually all parts of Europe. Andrew Jackson’s election as U.S. president in 1828 and his subsequent abolition of property requirements for voting, at least for white males, thus marked an important early victory for a more robust democratic principle.
In Europe, the exclusion of the vast majority of the population from political power and the rise of an industrial working class paved the way for Marxism. The Communist Manifesto was published in 1848, the same year that revolutions spread to all the major European countries save the United Kingdom. And so began a century of competition for the leadership of the democratic movement between communists, who were willing to jettison procedural democracy (multiparty elections) in favor of what they believed was substantive democracy (economic redistribution), and liberal democrats, who believed in expanding political participation while maintaining a rule of law protecting individual rights, including property rights.
At stake was the allegiance of the new industrial working class. Early Marxists believed they would win by sheer force of numbers: as the franchise was expanded in the late nineteenth century, parties such as the United Kingdom’s Labour and Germany’s Social Democrats grew by leaps and bounds and threatened the hegemony of both conservatives and traditional liberals. The rise of the working class was fiercely resisted, often by nondemocratic means; the communists and many socialists, in turn, abandoned formal democracy in favor of a direct seizure of power.
Throughout the first half of the twentieth century, there was a strong consensus on the progressive left that some form of socialism -- government control of the commanding heights of the economy in order to ensure an egalitarian distribution of wealth -- was unavoidable for all advanced countries. Even a conservative economist such as Joseph Schumpeter could write in his 1942 book, Capitalism, Socialism, and Democracy, that socialism would emerge victorious because capitalist society was culturally self-undermining. Socialism was believed to represent the will and interests of the vast majority of people in modern societies.
Yet even as the great ideological conflicts of the twentieth century played themselves out on a political and military level, critical changes were happening on a social level that undermined the Marxist scenario. First, the real living standards of the industrial working class kept rising, to the point where many workers or their children were able to join the middle class. Second, the relative size of the working class stopped growing and actually began to decline, particularly in the second half of the twentieth century, when services began to displace manufacturing in what were labeled “postindustrial” economies. Finally, a new group of poor or disadvantaged people emerged below the industrial working class -- a heterogeneous mixture of racial and ethnic minorities, recent immigrants, and socially excluded groups, such as women, gays, and the disabled. As a result of these changes, in most industrialized societies, the old working class has become just another domestic interest group, one using the political power of trade unions to protect the hard-won gains of an earlier era.
Economic class, moreover, turned out not to be a great banner under which to mobilize populations in advanced industrial countries for political action. The Second International got a rude wake-up call in 1914, when the working classes of Europe abandoned calls for class warfare and lined up behind conservative leaders preaching nationalist slogans, a pattern that persists to the present day. Many Marxists tried to explain this, according to the scholar Ernest Gellner, by what he dubbed the “wrong address theory”:
Just as extreme Shi’ite Muslims hold that Archangel Gabriel made a mistake, delivering the Message to Mohamed when it was intended for Ali, so Marxists basically like to think that the spirit of history or human consciousness made a terrible boob. The awakening message was intended for classes, but by some terrible postal error was delivered to nations.
Gellner went on to argue that religion serves a function similar to nationalism in the contemporary Middle East: it mobilizes people effectively because it has a spiritual and emotional content that class consciousness does not. Just as European nationalism was driven by the shift of Europeans from the countryside to cities in the late nineteenth century, so, too, Islamism is a reaction to the urbanization and displacement taking place in contemporary Middle Eastern societies. Marx’s letter will never be delivered to the address marked “class.”
Marx believed that the middle class, or at least the capital-owning slice of it that he called the bourgeoisie, would always remain a small and privileged minority in modern societies. What happened instead was that the bourgeoisie and the middle class more generally ended up constituting the vast majority of the populations of most advanced countries, posing problems for socialism. From the days of Aristotle, thinkers have believed that stable democracy rests on a broad middle class and that societies with extremes of wealth and poverty are susceptible either to oligarchic domination or populist revolution. When much of the developed world succeeded in creating middle-class societies, the appeal of Marxism vanished. The only places where leftist radicalism persists as a powerful force are in highly unequal areas of the world, such as parts of Latin America, Nepal, and the impoverished regions of eastern India.
What the political scientist Samuel Huntington labeled the “third wave” of global democratization, which began in southern Europe in the 1970s and culminated in the fall of communism in Eastern Europe in 1989, increased the number of electoral democracies around the world from around 45 in 1970 to more than 120 by the late 1990s. Economic growth has led to the emergence of new middle classes in countries such as Brazil, India, Indonesia, South Africa, and Turkey. As the economist Moisés Naím has pointed out, these middle classes are relatively well educated, own property, and are technologically connected to the outside world. They are demanding of their governments and mobilize easily as a result of their access to technology. It should not be surprising that the chief instigators of the Arab Spring uprisings were well-educated Tunisians and Egyptians whose expectations for jobs and political participation were stymied by the dictatorships under which they lived.
Middle-class people do not necessarily support democracy in principle: like everyone else, they are self-interested actors who want to protect their property and position. In countries such as China and Thailand, many middle-class people feel threatened by the redistributive demands of the poor and hence have lined up in support of authoritarian governments that protect their class interests. Nor is it the case that democracies necessarily meet the expectations of their own middle classes, and when they do not, the middle classes can become restive.
THE LEAST BAD ALTERNATIVE?
There is today a broad global consensus about the legitimacy, at least in principle, of liberal democracy. In the words of the economist Amartya Sen, “While democracy is not yet universally practiced, nor indeed uniformly accepted, in the general climate of world opinion, democratic governance has now achieved the status of being taken to be generally right.” It is most broadly accepted in countries that have reached a level of material prosperity sufficient to allow a majority of their citizens to think of themselves as middle class, which is why there tends to be a correlation between high levels of development and stable democracy.
Some societies, such as Iran and Saudi Arabia, reject liberal democracy in favor of a form of Islamic theocracy. Yet these regimes are developmental dead ends, kept alive only because they sit atop vast pools of oil. There was at one time a large Arab exception to the third wave, but the Arab Spring has shown that Arab publics can be mobilized against dictatorship just as readily as those in Eastern Europe and Latin America were. This does not of course mean that the path to a well-functioning democracy will be easy or straightforward in Tunisia, Egypt, or Libya, but it does suggest that the desire for political freedom and participation is not a cultural peculiarity of Europeans and Americans.
The single most serious challenge to liberal democracy in the world today comes from China, which has combined authoritarian government with a partially marketized economy. China is heir to a long and proud tradition of high-quality bureaucratic government, one that stretches back over two millennia. Its leaders have managed a hugely complex transition from a centralized, Soviet-style planned economy to a dynamic open one and have done so with remarkable competence -- more competence, frankly, than U.S. leaders have shown in the management of their own macroeconomic policy recently. Many people currently admire the Chinese system not just for its economic record but also because it can make large, complex decisions quickly, compared with the agonizing policy paralysis that has struck both the United States and Europe in the past few years. Especially since the recent financial crisis, the Chinese themselves have begun touting the “China model” as an alternative to liberal democracy.
This model is unlikely to ever become a serious alternative to liberal democracy in regions outside East Asia, however. In the first place, the model is culturally specific: the Chinese government is built around a long tradition of meritocratic recruitment, civil service examinations, a high emphasis on education, and deference to technocratic authority. Few developing countries can hope to emulate this model; those that have, such as Singapore and South Korea (at least in an earlier period), were already within the Chinese cultural zone. The Chinese themselves are skeptical about whether their model can be exported; the so-called Beijing consensus is a Western invention, not a Chinese one.
It is also unclear whether the model can be sustained. Neither export-driven growth nor the top-down approach to decision-making will continue to yield good results forever. The fact that the Chinese government would not permit open discussion of the disastrous high-speed rail accident last summer and could not bring the Railway Ministry responsible for it to heel suggests that there are other time bombs hidden behind the façade of efficient decision-making.
Finally, China faces a great moral vulnerability down the road. The Chinese government does not force its officials to respect the basic dignity of its citizens. Every week, there are new protests about land seizures, environmental violations, or gross corruption on the part of some official. While the country is growing rapidly, these abuses can be swept under the carpet. But rapid growth will not continue forever, and the government will have to pay a price in pent-up anger. The regime no longer has any guiding ideal around which it is organized; it is run by a Communist Party supposedly committed to equality that presides over a society marked by dramatic and growing inequality.
So the stability of the Chinese system can in no way be taken for granted. The Chinese government argues that its citizens are culturally different and will always prefer benevolent, growth-promoting dictatorship to a messy democracy that threatens social stability. But it is unlikely that a spreading middle class will behave all that differently in China from the way it has behaved in other parts of the world. Other authoritarian regimes may be trying to emulate China’s success, but there is little chance that much of the world will look like today’s China 50 years down the road.
There is a broad correlation among economic growth, social change, and the hegemony of liberal democratic ideology in the world today. And at the moment, no plausible rival ideology looms. But some very troubling economic and social trends, if they continue, will both threaten the stability of contemporary liberal democracies and dethrone democratic ideology as it is now understood.
The sociologist Barrington Moore once flatly asserted, “No bourgeois, no democracy.” The Marxists didn’t get their communist utopia because mature capitalism generated middle-class societies, not working-class ones. But what if the further development of technology and globalization undermines the middle class and makes it impossible for more than a minority of citizens in an advanced society to achieve middle-class status?
There are already abundant signs that such a phase of development has begun. Median incomes in the United States have been stagnating in real terms since the 1970s. The economic impact of this stagnation has been softened to some extent by the fact that most U.S. households have shifted to two income earners in the past generation. Moreover, as the economist Raghuram Rajan has persuasively argued, since Americans are reluctant to engage in straightforward redistribution, the United States has instead attempted a highly dangerous and inefficient form of redistribution over the past generation by subsidizing mortgages for low-income households. This trend, facilitated by a flood of liquidity pouring in from China and other countries, gave many ordinary Americans the illusion that their standards of living were rising steadily during the past decade. In this respect, the bursting of the housing bubble in 2008–9 was nothing more than a cruel reversion to the mean. Americans may today benefit from cheap cell phones, inexpensive clothing, and Facebook, but they increasingly cannot afford their own homes, or health insurance, or comfortable pensions when they retire.
A more troubling phenomenon, identified by the venture capitalist Peter Thiel and the economist Tyler Cowen, is that the benefits of the most recent waves of technological innovation have accrued disproportionately to the most talented and well-educated members of society. This phenomenon helped cause the massive growth of inequality in the United States over the past generation. In 1974, the top one percent of families took home nine percent of GDP; by 2007, that share had increased to 23.5 percent.
Trade and tax policies may have accelerated this trend, but the real villain here is technology. In earlier phases of industrialization -- the ages of textiles, coal, steel, and the internal combustion engine -- the benefits of technological changes almost always flowed down in significant ways to the rest of society in terms of employment. But this is not a law of nature. We are today living in what the scholar Shoshana Zuboff has labeled “the age of the smart machine,” in which technology is increasingly able to substitute for more and higher human functions. Every great advance for Silicon Valley likely means a loss of low-skill jobs elsewhere in the economy, a trend that is unlikely to end anytime soon.
Inequality has always existed, as a result of natural differences in talent and character. But today’s technological world vastly magnifies those differences. In a nineteenth-century agrarian society, people with strong math skills did not have that many opportunities to capitalize on their talent. Today, they can become financial wizards or software engineers and take home ever-larger proportions of the national wealth.
The other factor undermining middle-class incomes in developed countries is globalization. With the lowering of transportation and communications costs and the entry into the global work force of hundreds of millions of new workers in developing countries, the kind of work done by the old middle class in the developed world can now be performed much more cheaply elsewhere. Under an economic model that prioritizes the maximization of aggregate income, it is inevitable that jobs will be outsourced.
Smarter ideas and policies could have contained the damage. Germany has succeeded in protecting a significant part of its manufacturing base and industrial labor force even as its companies have remained globally competitive. The United States and the United Kingdom, on the other hand, happily embraced the transition to the postindustrial service economy. Free trade became less a theory than an ideology: when members of the U.S. Congress tried to retaliate with trade sanctions against China for keeping its currency undervalued, they were indignantly charged with protectionism, as if the playing field were already level. There was a lot of happy talk about the wonders of the knowledge economy, and how dirty, dangerous manufacturing jobs would inevitably be replaced by highly educated workers doing creative and interesting things. This was a gauzy veil placed over the hard facts of deindustrialization. It overlooked the fact that the benefits of the new order accrued disproportionately to a very small number of people in finance and high technology, interests that dominated the media and the general political conversation.
THE ABSENT LEFT
One of the most puzzling features of the world in the aftermath of the financial crisis is that so far, populism has taken primarily a right-wing form, not a left-wing one.
In the United States, for example, although the Tea Party is anti-elitist in its rhetoric, its members vote for conservative politicians who serve the interests of precisely those financiers and corporate elites they claim to despise. There are many explanations for this phenomenon. They include a deeply embedded belief in equality of opportunity rather than equality of outcome and the fact that cultural issues, such as abortion and gun rights, crosscut economic ones.
But the deeper reason a broad-based populist left has failed to materialize is an intellectual one. It has been several decades since anyone on the left has been able to articulate, first, a coherent analysis of what happens to the structure of advanced societies as they undergo economic change and, second, a realistic agenda that has any hope of protecting a middle-class society.
The main trends in left-wing thought in the last two generations have been, frankly, disastrous as either conceptual frameworks or tools for mobilization. Marxism died many years ago, and the few old believers still around are ready for nursing homes. The academic left replaced it with postmodernism, multiculturalism, feminism, critical theory, and a host of other fragmented intellectual trends that are more cultural than economic in focus. Postmodernism begins with a denial of the possibility of any master narrative of history or society, undercutting its own authority as a voice for the majority of citizens who feel betrayed by their elites. Multiculturalism validates the victimhood of virtually every out-group. It is impossible to generate a mass progressive movement on the basis of such a motley coalition: most of the working- and lower-middle-class citizens victimized by the system are culturally conservative and would be embarrassed to be seen in the presence of allies like this.
Whatever the theoretical justifications underlying the left’s agenda, its biggest problem is a lack of credibility. Over the past two generations, the mainstream left has followed a social democratic program that centers on the state provision of a variety of services, such as pensions, health care, and education. That model is now exhausted: welfare states have become big, bureaucratic, and inflexible; they are often captured by the very organizations that administer them, through public-sector unions; and, most important, they are fiscally unsustainable given the aging of populations virtually everywhere in the developed world. Thus, when existing social democratic parties come to power, they no longer aspire to be more than custodians of a welfare state that was created decades ago; none has a new, exciting agenda around which to rally the masses.
AN IDEOLOGY OF THE FUTURE
Imagine, for a moment, an obscure scribbler today in a garret somewhere trying to outline an ideology of the future that could provide a realistic path toward a world with healthy middle-class societies and robust democracies. What would that ideology look like?
It would have to have at least two components, political and economic. Politically, the new ideology would need to reassert the supremacy of democratic politics over economics and legitimate anew government as an expression of the public interest. But the agenda it put forward to protect middle-class life could not simply rely on the existing mechanisms of the welfare state. The ideology would need to somehow redesign the public sector, freeing it from its dependence on existing stakeholders and using new, technology-empowered approaches to delivering services. It would have to argue forthrightly for more redistribution and present a realistic route to ending interest groups’ domination of politics.
Economically, the ideology could not begin with a denunciation of capitalism as such, as if old-fashioned socialism were still a viable alternative. It is more the variety of capitalism that is at stake and the degree to which governments should help societies adjust to change. Globalization need be seen not as an inexorable fact of life but rather as a challenge and an opportunity that must be carefully controlled politically. The new ideology would not see markets as an end in themselves; instead, it would value global trade and investment to the extent that they contributed to a flourishing middle class, not just to greater aggregate national wealth.
It is not possible to get to that point, however, without providing a serious and sustained critique of much of the edifice of modern neoclassical economics, beginning with fundamental assumptions such as the sovereignty of individual preferences and that aggregate income is an accurate measure of national well-being. This critique would have to note that people’s incomes do not necessarily represent their true contributions to society. It would have to go further, however, and recognize that even if labor markets were efficient, the natural distribution of talents is not necessarily fair and that individuals are not sovereign entities but beings heavily shaped by their surrounding societies.
Most of these ideas have been around in bits and pieces for some time; the scribbler would have to put them into a coherent package. He or she would also have to avoid the “wrong address” problem. The critique of globalization, that is, would have to be tied to nationalism as a strategy for mobilization in a way that defined national interest in a more sophisticated way than, for example, the “Buy American” campaigns of unions in the United States. The product would be a synthesis of ideas from both the left and the right, detached from the agenda of the marginalized groups that constitute the existing progressive movement. The ideology would be populist; the message would begin with a critique of the elites that allowed the benefit of the many to be sacrificed to that of the few and a critique of the money politics, especially in Washington, that overwhelmingly benefits the wealthy.
The dangers inherent in such a movement are obvious: a pullback by the United States, in particular, from its advocacy of a more open global system could set off protectionist responses elsewhere. In many respects, the Reagan-Thatcher revolution succeeded just as its proponents hoped, bringing about an increasingly competitive, globalized, friction-free world. Along the way, it generated tremendous wealth and created rising middle classes all over the developing world, and the spread of democracy in their wake. It is possible that the developed world is on the cusp of a series of technological breakthroughs that will not only increase productivity but also provide meaningful employment to large numbers of middle-class people.
But that is more a matter of faith than a reflection of the empirical reality of the last 30 years, which points in the opposite direction. Indeed, there are a lot of reasons to think that inequality will continue to worsen. The current concentration of wealth in the United States has already become self-reinforcing: as the economist Simon Johnson has argued, the financial sector has used its lobbying clout to avoid more onerous forms of regulation. Schools for the well-off are better than ever; those for everyone else continue to deteriorate. Elites in all societies use their superior access to the political system to protect their interests, absent a countervailing democratic mobilization to rectify the situation. American elites are no exception to the rule.
That mobilization will not happen, however, as long as the middle classes of the developed world remain enthralled by the narrative of the past generation: that their interests will be best served by ever-freer markets and smaller states. The alternative narrative is out there, waiting to be born.
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