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?
Because 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: