Francis Fukuyama – The Origins Of Political Order

Fukuyama’s two volume work is largely based upon Huntington’s Political Order in Changing Societies. It’s a very high bar to achieve. Political Order in Changing Societies is an absolute masterpiece. It is so thorough and so well researched. Huntington bridges the divide between the behaviorists and the traditionalists before him, so he simply has a background in European political development which is rare among political scientists today. Sheri Berman recently published a work called Democracy and Dictatorship in Europe. It gives readers a great background in the history of democratization in Europe. But it exists because, so few scholars have a strong understanding of the long process of democratization in the West. For scholars like Huntington or Lipset it was a fundamental part of their training.

But it is a disservice to describe Fukuyama’s masterpiece as a poor imitation of Huntington. Indeed, Fukuyama has a larger canvas than Huntington. His historical examples range from the Qin Dynasty to the Ottoman Empire. Huntington was familiar with political movements around the world but there was a lack of historical depth in areas beyond Europe. Fukuyama takes advantage of the wider historical interest of today to integrate moments throughout history. Yet it is impossible to give a thorough account of political history, so his account does feel a bit like he has cherry-picked his examples. Where Huntington gives a sense of thoroughness, Fukuyama leaves the reader with a sense of historical abbreviation.

In his first volume Fukyama breaks down the fundamental components of political order into three parts. He begins sees modern political systems based on a strong state, the rule of law and a form of accountability which has been realized through democracy. Building on his ideas in the End of History and the Last Man, he implies liberal democracy is the only political system capable of integrating all three components effectively. China becomes a strong state with a rule by law rather than a governance of rule of law. Nonetheless, the influence of Huntington is not disguised. His emphasis on effective state governance as the critical first step toward effective modernization is reminiscent of Political Order in Changing Societies.

But the work is also his attempt to provide a political history. Fukuyama believes in a Hegelian view of history. Narrative is less important than its explanatory power. He explains political order as a linear progression which culminates in liberal democracy through the development of the state, rule of law and accountable governance. He has made an attempt to provide the historical account he alludes toward within End of History. But his vision seems incomplete. Berman’s recent work is closer to Fukuyama’s dream of a political history. She provides an account of democratization through Europe where democracy is challenged by dictatorship over hundreds of years but seems to have emerged as the inevitable outcome all along. Unfortunately, her account is limited to Europe, so it falls short of Fukuyama’s grander aspirations.

I criticize Fukuyama for his examples because they feel abbreviated not because they are too short but because they jump across large historical periods and geographic expanse. They are weaved together to explain his ideas, but they make obvious omissions which undermine his argument. The work tries to begin before history, but there is little work done to understand humanity’s prehistoric origins. It is unfortunate because there is extensive scholarship today helping to explain humanity that offers breadcrumbs about the origins of early societies.

Fukuyama believes in a largely Hobbesian state of nature. There is some truth here. But there is also evidence for the origins of democracy within primitive peoples and the prehistoric record unearthed. The origins of democracy may not represent an achievement of the west. Rather they represent a rediscovery of a part of humanity. It resonates within every culture because it is instinctive. The history of democracy may not represent a progression toward a monumental invention, but an instinctive element which continues to reemerge throughout human existence. It declines because it has never been fully reconciled with other ideas which have similar foundations deep within the human psyche.

Anyway, I have gotten ahead of myself. There is tremendous value in Fukuyama’s work. And this represents a grand attempt toward a political account of history. It helps to have read End of History, but it can help illuminate Political Order in Changing Societies. I recommend reading this work before Huntington if possible. It will help establish context. Moreover, Fukuyama provides an easier read than the early Huntington who is so informative the work can become dry. Fortunately, the subject matter is riveting and insightful over fifty years after its publication. Fukuyama’s work provides an updated view of a similar subject matter. But it is Fukuyama’s work. He marks his own direction and his goals do not necessarily mirror Huntington.

jmk, carmel, indiana,

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