NON-FICTION: Predicting the end

Reviewed by Umair Khan | 

Francis Fukuyama will always be best known, and mostly misunderstood, for his prophetic work The End of History and The Last Man celebrating the prevalence of democratic values and institutions over communism. This writing was influenced by the conservative Chicago philosopher, Allan Bloom who has despised the intellectual relativism growing in the American politics since then. Fukuyama feared, quite rightfully, that after the collapse of the Soviet Union, American politics will only be focused on the mundane issues of administration rather than following larger-than-life ideological battles.

Fukuyama worked with Rand Corporation, the military focused think tank, during the 1980s. His assignment was to devise a strategy to counter the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. It started Fukuyama’s brief interlude with the ISI that culminated in devising the policy for fighting Soviet army in Afghanistan with American dollars and Pakistani strategic help to Afghan Mujahideen. He has also had political associations with the neoconservative movement. He signed a letter after the September 11 attacks urging President Bush to overthrow Saddam Hussein. But by 2006, he accepted his miscalculation and has been criticising the neoconservatives and invasion of Iraq since then. “All of the Kissinger-era realists have gone away. Today, the party is just a wasteland”, he says about present day Republicans.

The Origins of Political Order: From Prehuman Times to the French Revolution is a dedication to Samuel Huntington, the man best known for his Clash of Civilizations thesis. Fukuyama states in the preface that his new book is inspired from Huntington’s Political Order in Changing Societies and that he seeks to find how the political order originated in the first place, factors contributing to it and why some societies still have not been able to achieve it.

Those who have some interest in political theory dealing with the questions of the origin and development of political institutions might think that so much has been contemplated and put to writing by classical and modern political philosophers on the subject that there is really no need to ramble on these speculative questions anymore. We find varying and sometimes contradictory stances in the views of Hobbes, Locke, Rousseau, and so many others. However Fukuyama, living in the 21st century, has one advantage over these classical theorists and that is the vast knowledge base produced by anthropology, archeology, etcetera, to which he has access.

This book is based on certain assumptions; there is a universal human nature exhibiting certain behaviours like favouring relatives, reciprocal altruism, establishing rules, and competing for self-interest. These behaviours, according to Fukuyama, have given rise to certain political practices that can be seen throughout history. During nomadic times of hunter-gatherer societies, people formed kinship groups and their lives were tightly knit along kinship lines. This was the first kind of social, political and economic association. In Fukuyama’s words, kinship association generated “tyranny of cousins”. The only way out of it was the next step along political evolution, the creation of states. But, even the formation of state could not completely solve the problem of kinship and the kind of favouritism it breeds. It only shifted it up the chain. Now there were powerful rulers extending favors to their relatives. This phenomenon is present in today’s world, more visibly in the Middle East monarchies.

To address this intrinsic problem of human nature, the concepts of accountability and rule of law were introduced. Fukuyama is of the opinion that history of political developments juggles between power grabbing centralising forces and rights disseminating decentralising forces. Every society needs a balance between these two forces to establish political order otherwise anarchy and chaos prevails.

A strong centralised state was established in ancient China which prevailed over tribalism by the Qin Dynasty by developing an official class loyal to the state rather than to family. But this society lacked accountability and became too centrally strong which proved to be fatal for its further development.

Walking forward through the millennia Fukuyama investigates the political evolution of the Islamic caliphate: “There is no clearer illustration of the importance of ideas to politics than the emergence of an Arab state under the Prophet Muhammad”.
Muslim emperors devised the institutions of slave-armies which had no family ties; their sole purpose was to serve the state.

Then Fukuyama gives an example of 13th century Hungary arriving at its own Magna Carta (“the golden bull”) and transferring powers to nobles from the monarch. But Hungary could not evolve a stable constitutional government like Britain because the king was extremely weakened and there was no force to unify the rebellious nobles exploiting their peasants. Nobles were also too powerful in France which resulted in disenchantment of masses with the existing political structure and their discontent was expressed through the French Revolution.

Fukuyama also analyses why the poorer societies cannot easily develop effective states. Just as institutions are too complicated to be changed easily, so too they are hard to develop, he professes. “Poor countries are poor not because they lack resources,” he writes, “but because they lack effective political institutions.” Where there is no rule of law, there cannot be effective political and economic development. This line of thought, however, puts Fukuyama at odds with the Marxist theorists who base all social and political development on economic resources.

Fukuyama is mainly interested in civilizations and how societies achieve political order. As opposed to Jared Diamond’s Guns, Germs, and Steel, which focuses largely on material and geographical causes, Fukuyama analyses behavioural and cultural values in order to answer the question of political evolution. The Origins of Political Order is volume one of a two-volume work, and Fukuyama intends to take the discussion up to the contemporary times (this one ends with the French revolution) with the second volume. Notably, in recent talks, Fukuyama stays loyal to his earlier thesis and stresses that the modern liberal state is still in his view the end of history.

The Origins of Political Order: From Prehuman Times to the French Revolution
(politics/history)
By Francis Fukuyama

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