The sixth and final post on Francis Fukuyama’s recent book Liberalism and its Discontents.
The Moderation of Liberalism
Francis Fukuyama includes a puzzling line near the beginning of Liberalism and its Discontents. The title suggests an uncompromising defense of liberalism against its critics. However, Fykuyama writes, “The answer to these discontents is not to abandon liberalism as such, but to moderate it.” In other words, Fukuyama makes clear early in the book his intention to compromise. Essentially, he admits liberalism has gone too far or rather has “stretched to the point of breaking.” At the same time, the moderation of liberalism cannot become the adoption of illiberalism. So, the question we must answer is quite difficult. How do we moderate liberalism?
In some ways, democracy already exists to provide a counterweight to liberalism. Democracy is both a manifestation of liberalism and a counterweight to it. While liberalism looks to universal ideals, democracy solves specific or particular problems. Moreover, it functions over a distinct space or people. Fukuyama writes, “Democracy means that the people are sovereign, but if there is no way of delimiting who the people are, they cannot exercise democratic choice.” So, democracy demands a sense of community or nation. It requires an ingredient that liberalism fails to provide.
Liberalism requires conservatism to make democracy work. In a democratic culture, they complement each other like two sides of the same coin. They point in opposite directions, but it’s not possible to tear one apart from the other. Conservatism moderates liberalism just enough so democracy can flourish. As Fukuyama explains near the end of his book, “Recovering a sense of moderation, both individual and communal, is therefore the key to the revival—indeed, to the survival—of liberalism itself.” Perhaps moderation is too strong a word. Maybe we should think of democracy as the successful marriage between conservatism and liberalism. It works best when they both thrive.