In his nonfiction book The Origins of Political Order: From Prehuman Times to the French Revolution
(2011), American political scientist and economist Francis Fukuyama explores the components of what it takes for a state to maintain its political stability. Fukuyama's findings better illuminate why so many of the United States' modern state building efforts, from Iraq to Somalia, have largely failed by examining the historical context for these failures. In 2014, Fukuyama released a sequel entitled Political Order and Political Decay: From the Industrial Revolution to the Present Day
In the preface, Fukuyama explains his twofold motivation for writing the book. First, he wanted to update the information in Samuel P. Huntington's 1968 political science classic, Political Order in Changing Societies
, a book Fukuyama regards as quintessential reading for anyone seeking a roadmap to political development in the western world. Second, he sought to understand why so many of America's attempts to spread democracy to other parts of the world have not achieved their intended goals, especially those efforts undertaken since 9/11. However, Fukuyama also makes clear that the conditions necessary for political development prior to the Industrial Revolution were much different than the needed conditions after. So, instead of offering insights into the modern failures of state building, this volume lays the groundwork of thought and ideas that came to inform later approaches to politics and the building of institutions in other nations.
Fukuyama then discusses the burgeoning of democracies in countries around the world throughout the 20th century. Nevertheless, this phenomenon of forming some sort of political or social organization is not unique to the times. He suggests that human beings did not purposefully build their first social order or political system. Instead, these are ideas biologically hardwired into our biology. Fukuyama cites biological evidence in chimpanzees that points to the fact that human beings are, by nature, social creatures, who have, from the earliest pre-human days, constructed communities and systems of interaction and governance, millennia prior to the creation of political structures. They did so not out of preference but out of pure, natural biological impulse.
The author then lays out three defining features of a functioning political order: strong state building, a rule of law, and a government that is answerable and accountable to the people. He goes to the roots of each of these elements, delving into Ancient Asian, European, and Middle Eastern cultures to show how they contributed to the meaning of democracy that still reverberates today.
Ancient China was the first civilization to evolve from a tribal system of governance into one of statehood, but it has long struggled with a realistic rule of law and an accountable government. This, Fukuyama says, is due to a lack of a powerful and predominant authority—the same problem Ancient India suffered from. India did, however, have a sturdy rule of law, mostly leftover moral tenets bequeathed by Brahmin priests, though the state fractured into various social hierarchies that damaged and prevented any cohesiveness among the public. In the Ottoman Empire, the primary authority and rule of law were both seen as religiously ordained, but so enmeshed were these aspects in religion that they hindered any progressive political evolution. Each of these, then, lacked at least one of Fukuyama's three essential components for a successful state.
In England, these components gelled for the first time, resulting in a truly modern democracy that placed values on the right things. Their social structure was strong, their government instituted more or less clear rules separate from religious interference, and the people had a voice in who governed them. The latter came to pass when Parliament deposed the Catholic King James II in 1688, replacing him with the Protestant William of Orange in what has become known as The Glorious Revolution, perhaps gaining such an idyllic name for a reason. Denmark was another early example of a nation that incorporated the three critical elements. Fukuyama holds Denmark up as the perfect example of how to do statehood the right way, devoting a lengthy discussion to how nations can, metaphorically, "get to Denmark."
Religion doesn't always play a damaging role in political stability, Fukuyama argues. In fact, the Catholic Church, as a governing body, provided a template for early state builders. It also instituted laws—and, more importantly, respect
for those laws—in ways that inspired politics for centuries, long after politics separated from overtly religious influences.
Fukuyama's three elements must achieve a degree of balance in order to produce a healthy and stable political order. Understanding history is the first step. All of the background information provided here sets the stage for the Industrial Revolution, the defining era that forever altered the political and economic landscape of western societies and governments.The Origins of Political Order
is fully indexed, with notes on the text and an extensive bibliography.