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Francis Fukuyama

Fukuyama’s history of the state, book 2: Political Order and Political Decay

Duncan Green's picture

Last week, I reviewed Volume 1 (from pre-history up to the French Revolution), but before reviewing Political Order and Political Decay, the second volume of Francis Fukuyama’s monumental history of the state, it’s probably worth asking, why bother?

Political Order and Political DecayBecause whether providing/denying services, freedoms or functioning markets, the state is the most important institution underpinning development, and yet people in the foreign policy and development world operate with hazy and simplistic understandings of where states came from and how they evolve. Another example of historical amnesia, alas.

That blindness was epitomised by the 2003 invasion of Iraq, where the US government "seemed to think that democracy and a market economy were default conditions to which the country would automatically revert once Saddam Hussein’s dictatorship was removed." Oops.

According to Fukuyama, that is a particular problem because "If there is a single theme that underlies many of the chapters of this book, it is that there is a political deficit around the world, not of states, but of modern states that are capable, impersonal, well organized and autonomous."

The second volume picks up from the late 18th Century (French and American Revolutions) and brings us up to the present day. It feels both dryer in style and more fragmented than Volume One, hopping between discussions of the spread of democracy, geographical determinism, political Islam, the role of the Middle Classes and the experiences of various continents and countries in the developing world, before returning to Fukuyama’s two overriding interests – will China’s rise continue, and will anything arrest the US’ ‘political decay’? So instead of trying to identify a single thread, here are some highlights/insights:
 

The Origins of Political Order: Review of Francis Fukuyama’s impressive history of the state

Duncan Green's picture

Origins of Political Order by Francis FukuyamaRicardo Fuentes has been raving about this book for months, so I packed it in my holiday luggage. Actually it’s two books – The Origins of Political Order takes us from pre-history up to the French Revolution/American Revolution, and the subsequent Political Order and Political Decay brings us up to the present day. They each weigh in at around 500 pages, so hope you won’t mind me taking two posts to review them.

Fukuyama is notorious for his ‘End of History?’ post-Cold War triumphalism, but he’s older, wiser and considerably more nuanced these days. The ambition of the two books is astonishing – nothing less than a history of the birth, evolution and current condition of the state worldwide, with fascinating potted histories of the states both obvious (China, England, Germany, US) and less so (Hungary, Poland, Nigeria).

The starting point is that ‘Poor countries are poor not because they lack resources, but because they lack effective political institutions. It asks (and tries to answer) wonderfully big hairy questions like:

  • why are some countries (eg Melanesia, parts of Middle East) still tribally organized?
  • why is China historically centralized, while India isn’t?
  • why is East Asia so special in its path of authoritarian modernization?
  • what explains the contrasting fortunes of the US and Latin America?

Fukuyama’s big idea is that political order is based on three pillars: effective centralized states, the rule of law, and accountability mechanisms such as democracy and parliaments. ‘The miracle of modern politics’ is achieving a balance between them, which is difficult both to achieve and then to maintain, with many states having one disproportionately stronger than the others, while others achieve it, and then lose it. Its achievement is often accidental, rather than deliberate. Analysing each state’s unique combination of the three pillars helps us understand the strengths, weaknesses and historical trajectories of different countries and empires.
 

Weekly Wire: the Global Forum

Kalliope Kokolis's picture

These are some of the views and reports relevant to our readers that caught our attention this week.

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