Viet Nam–Japanese University
Viet Nam National University
Governance and Development
Read Francis Fukuyama’s “The Future of History”, and
discuss how would, or would not, middle class
contribute to democratization in Vietnam, taking into
consideration the experiences of Thailand/Indonesia and
: Prof. Yasutami SHIMOMURA
: Vu Hoang Dung
Program : Master of Public Policy
Hanoi, December 2017
Under the influence of innovation, market economy development and
international integration, the middle class in Vietnam is growing and
developing in a diversified way. They change role in the positive trend,
very clear in all aspects, areas of the country's economic, political,
cultural, educational, medical, scientific and technical life. In
democratization, the study of the contribution of this class,
recommendations solutions to promote the active role of this class is very
According to Francis Fukuyama, “And the serious intellectual debate is
urgently needed, since the current form of globalized capitalism is eroding
the middle-class social base on which liberal democracy rests1.”
Historically, the rise of the middle class has led to the democratization of
society. This class has been developing for almost thirty years in Vietnam,
and they also involved in moving towards a democratic society.
This paper will clarify the contribution of the middle class for
democratization and point out certain limitations in the current situation in
Vietnam. At the same time, it also takes into consideration the
experiences of Thailand and China.
This paper will be divided into three main parts.
- Middle class and democratization in Vietnam
- The contributions of the middle class of Vietnam to democratization
- The experiences of Thailand and China
1 Francis Fukuyama, “The Future of History”, 2012, p2.
2. Middle Class and democratization in Vietnam
2.1. Middle class in Vietnam
In the world, the precursors of the middle class are craftsmen, traders
(Medieval Era). After the Industrial Revolution, a bourgeois force was
formed and together with the factory workers created a middle-class
According to Fukuyama (2013), “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”.
The Vietnam Communist Party's decision to reform the market-oriented
economy since 1986 has increased the average income of Vietnamese
people for nearly three decades. According to various statistical sources,
in 2016, Vietnam has a median income per capita of US $ 2,000 or more a
year2. At the same time, a middle class is formed. They are private
enterprises, technicians or managers in foreign-invested companies,
freelancers, etc. One common feature is that they are more educated than
the majority of people in society.
The middle class in Vietnam shows a consequence of the development of
the market economy in Vietnam. Market mechanisms have enabled
people to free themselves of material and non-material assets, of the
individual or of the family, to escape poverty and become members of the
middle class. It is the market mechanism that liberates and increases the
efficiency of the use of these resources, creating economic growth and
social progress. It is the market economy which has made a part of the
population richer and more socially responsible. The existence of the
middle class is the evidence of the correctness of developing a marketoriented economy.
2.2. Democratization in Vietnam
According to Article 4 of the 1992 Constitution, the Communist Party of
Vietnam is the leading force in all activities of the society. The people of
Vietnam elect the National Assembly as the people's representatives to
elect the president and the government. However, there are some ideas
2 Report of the General Statistics Office of Vietnam 2016
that in Vietnam there is no democracy. According to the 2012 Democracy
Index conducted by the Economist Magazine, Vietnam ranks 144 out of
167 countries. For many years, the US State Department has classified
Vietnam as a "democracy, freedom of the press, religion". According to a
survey conducted by the PEW Research Center based in the United States,
79% of Vietnamese respondents said that they "favor moderate
democracy" and 29% of Vietnamese consider the military regime to be
"very good ", 41% considered" good "and only 3% considered "very bad".
Governance of today's democracy has reached a general state that is
considered right. It is widely acknowledged in countries that have
achieved sufficient levels of material wealth to allow a majority of citizens
to think they belong to the middle class, which is why there is a tendency
for correlation between the level of development and democratic stability3.
Democracy is always based on a middle class, while the citizenry that
owns property increased everywhere. People are getting richer and better
educated, they often demand that governments do more for them, and
because they have to pay taxes, they feel they have the authority to force
officials to be accountable4. The legitimacy of state government derives
from the ability of the state to protect the individual rights of its citizens,
and that state power should be restricted by the rule of law, the
fundamental right to be protected is the right to private property - which is
extremely important to the middle class.
3. The contributions
3.1. Spreading the idea of democracy
Middle-based households are more likely to live in urban areas, where
infrastructure is more developed, population is concentrated, and
economic and employment opportunities are better. In terms of location,
the proportion of middle-class households is always higher than in rural
areas, although the lower middle-class has no significant difference5.
The middle class is characterized by the elite of society: the intelligentsia,
thus playing an important role in spreading the idea of democracy. Up to
3 Francis Fukuyama, “The Future of History”, 2012
4 The middle-class revolution, Francis Fukuyama, 2013
5 The role of middle-class Vietnam today, Nguyen Dinh Tan, Journal of Social Sciences Vietnam, No.
9 (70), 2013
now, the middle class in many ways has always been a pioneer in
spreading the idea of democracy in society, thus having a positive impact
on other classes such as farmers, workers and students. Typical middleclass forces play an important role in the dissemination of the ideas of
democracy as journalists, thinkers, academics and university lecturers.
They understand technology and use social media such as Facebook and
Twitter to spread information and organize demonstrations6. Even if they
live in countries that regularly hold democratic elections, they feel
alienated from the political elite. However, the fact that they express their
views and make arguments will help people around the world know about
the current issues, and the government and the state to make timely
3.2. Joining civil society organizations
Vietnam has a wealthy middle class, a diverse civil society, a welleducated and progressive education. All of these factors tend to increase
the desire to engage in political activities.
As in civil societies in other countries around the world, in Vietnam,
middle-class forces play an important role in civil society organizations.
From the colonial period, the middle class played a major role in
establishing and leading some civil society organizations. After 1986,
middle-class forces have directly set up their own organizations (writers'
associations, journalists, business associations ...), orienting for the
establishment and operation of many religious organizations, peasants,
trade unions, youth, women, etc. However, the activity of forming middleclass societies is sometimes restricted by government policy to control the
organizations of thought. At present, the middle class plays the role of
establishing leadership and participation in many social organizations;
plays a central role in establishing, operating and participating in civil
society organizations. Their activities in these organizations have had a
major impact on the promotion of democratization in Vietnam.
3.3. Democracy activism
At present, a new middle class is emerging in Vietnam. A modern middleclass emerge wherever they are, causing political turmoil, but very rarely
they are able, by themselves, to make a lasting political change.
6 Francis Fukuyama, “The Future of History”, 2012
Studying Western societies, we also easily see the trend. I think that the
current Western countries help underdeveloped countries create a middle
class strong enough to find themselves democratic and civilized values.
Because in this era, no country can bring troops to intervene in another
country openly. They can only use subtle soft power through economics
and knowledge. And people hope the middle class, the intellectuals of the
country, the people responsible for scouting will lead the masses.
Compared to other social strata such as workers, farmers, urban poor and
students, the Vietnam middle class is less likely to engage in rallies that
put pressure on the mainstream to change policy. At times, the Vietnam
middle class, characterized by dependence on the state, rarely expresses
public opposition to the government, even though many of them still
support the regime and the struggle for democracy of other social forces.
In the current information explosion, however, it marked the transition of
the middle class when many of them began publicly demonstrating the
spirit of democratic struggle by supporting the struggle for democracy, the
struggle of students and the poor, as well as direct participation in
activities, giving comments to state agencies, demonstrating opposition to
government policy. Their participation is of great significance in
encouraging the struggle of other classes in society.
3.4. Limitations of the middle class Viet Nam
Despite its importance in the process of democratization, the Viet Nam
middle class still carries the typical limitations of this class as well as the
particular limitations of the middle class in Viet Nam. First of all, it is the
divisiveness of the middle class Viet Nam, which originated from the
ethnic conflict that existed during the formation of this class. Although the
trend of unity is growing in the middle class of Viet Nam, divisions still
exist, limiting the effectiveness of their democratic struggle.
Another limitation of the middle class is the lack of dignity in democratic
movements against other social strata such as peasants, workers and the
urban poor. This is also a common feature of the global middle class. This
makes the middle class always associated with other social strata to
encourage them to promote democratic struggles.
4. The experiences of Thailand and China
The growth of the middle class and civil society plays a pivotal role in the
promotion of democracy. They closely monitor a government’s
performance and its commitment to good governance. The middle class
also demands access to political resources, while underscoring the
importance of participatory democracy. But in Thailand, the orthodox
concept of the middle class as an agent of democratic change seems to be
Middle-class people do not necessarily advocate democracy in principle:
Like other people, they are self-interested activists who only want to
protect their assets and their status. In countries like Thailand, many
middle-class people feel threatened by the redistribution of income and
thus they unite in favor of dictatorial governments. Neither do democracies
necessarily meet the expectations of their middle classes and when they
do not, the middle class can become stiff8.
The Chinese government is built around a long tradition of talent
recruitment, civil service contests, high-level emphasis on education, and
the advent of technocratic authority. China combines dictatorial
government with a partially marketed economy. Many people admire China
for their economic record, which can make large, complex decisions
quickly. It is unclear whether the model can be maintained forever. Both
export growth as a driving force and a decisive view from the top does not
continue to reap good results forever. Many problems hide behind the
China will face a major moral hazard. It does not oblige itself to respect the
basic dignity of its citizens. Fast growth does not last forever, and the
government pays for the repressed resentment. The regime does not have
any ideals to centralize it, it is driven by a communist party that is
supposed to strive for equality but is in charge of a society that expresses
harsh inequality and growing.
China argues that its citizens prefer a benevolent dictatorship and
encourage growth rather than a chaotic democracy that threatens the
stability of society9.
7 Why isn’t Thailand’s middle class fond of democracy? | East Asia Forum
8 Francis Fukuyama, “The Future of History”, 2012
9 Francis Fukuyama, “The Future of History”, 2012
The middle class in Vietnam now plays an increasingly important role,
although in comparison with Western Europe or other developed
countries, the middle class in Vietnam has not played a role dicrectly.
However, in the next few years, they will play an important role. Not only
as social commentators, they also are the ones who will contribute to the
socioeconomic development, then we will see that the middle class very
important. They are now just taking care of family matters or just doing
business to make their family grow. It is these things that make the face of
Vietnamese society in the future change significantly.
In periods of the middle class, while not actively participating in the
democracy movement as a social class, an elitist component in this class
plays the role of oriented forces, leading the society along the path of
democratization. Up to now, the middle class has been transforming itself
into a more democratic ideology and engaging more actively in the
consolidation of democracy, becoming an essential pillar of the
democratization process. Although the middle classes are still limited,
they are increasingly playing an important and pioneering role in
Francis Fukuyama, The future of history, 2012
Francis Fukuyama, The middle-class Revolution, 2013.
Francis Fukuyama, At the "End of History" Still Stands Democracy,
Francis Fukuyama, “Democracy and the Quality of the State”,
Journal of Democracy 24
PhD. Le Kim Sa, MSc. Vu Hoang Dat, Identify the middle class in
Vietnam through a multi-dimensional approach, Political Issues and
Politics No. 10 (222) 2014.
Neil A. Englehart, Democracy and the Thai Middle Class:
Globalization, Modernization, and Constitutional, Asian Survey, Vol.
43, No. 2 (March/April 2003), pp. 253-279
Nguyen Dinh Tan, The role of middle-class Vietnam today, Journal of
Social Sciences Vietnam, No. 9 (70), 2013.
Z. Abuza (2001), “The debates over - Democratization and
Legalization”, Renovating Politics in Contemporary
Vietnam (London: Lynne Rienner Publisher), pp. 75-130.
“The Economist Intelligence Unit’s Democracy Index 2016 Revenge
of the deplorables”- A report by The Economist Intelligence Unit