Review of *The Origins of Political Order*

I have a review essay on the new book by Francis Fukuyama, The Origins of Political Order, at the excellent Reviews in History.
Here is an excerpt:

A key theme of Origins is that a modern political order is not a unitary package: it consists of a bundle of three separate institutions with distinct histories. One is a modern state, with competent and honest officials, not prone to nepotism, corruption, and clientelism. Second is the rule of law, or binding constraints upon the rulers as well as the ruled. Third is accountability, usually via elections but also via a sense of responsibility towards the people, a sense of ruling for the common good. The bulk of The Origins of Political Order consists of successive sections looking in turn at the origins of the modern state, of the rule of law, and of accountability. The book is a thematic rather than a chronological history.

Here’s part of the conclusion:

A more practical lesson for policy is that it is hard to create a modern state in a society in which strong extended lineages exist. It is likely that Fukuyama has drawn this lesson not only from history but also from the colossal failures of American policy in Iraq and Afghanistan. Fukuyama was a neoconservative and a supporter of the Iraq invasion of 2003, but subsequently changed his mind and broke with neoconservatism. (In this book, Fukuyama is silent on Iraq, but mentions learning the lesson about clans from a trip to New Guinea.) This book is post-neoconservative in its underlying emphasis on long continuities and hence on the difficulties and obstacles faced by any project of forcefully spreading democracy around the world.
The problem of political development Fukuyama phrases as the question of how to get from Somalia to Denmark. At the beginning of the book, Fukuyama promises that he will be supplying an answer. But by the end of the book we are left wondering if the answer he implicitly supplies is: the best way to get to a Denmark is not to start in a Somalia.

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Filed under history, political evolution

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