By Chet Yarbrough
The Origins of Political Order: From Prehuman Times to the French Revolution
Written by: Francis Fukuyama
Narrated by: Jonathan Davis
Francis Fukuyama’s analysis of state and government formation is both insightful and politically actionable. In “The Origins of Political Order” and “Political Order and Political Decay” Fukuyama provides a basis for understanding politics and its contribution to society.
In previous book reviews, references have been made to Thomas Hobbes’ theory of the nature of man. Hobbes generally considered humankind to be both good and evil with a need for regulation of his/her evil instincts through government. He identifies government as “The Leviathan”. Hobbes suggests “The condition of man…is a condition of war of everyone against everyone”.
Fukuyama finds a singular and significant flaw in Hobbes’ observation. Though Fukuyama may agree with Hobbes’ view of individual humans, he tempers it by noting humans have always been social beings. From the beginning of time, humans associated with other humans to survive the brutish nature of life. He suggests humans are by nature violent with that violence becoming ingrained as a societal meme to cope with the exigencies of life. Fukuyama goes on to suggest violence and change are intertwined.
The significance of humans as societal creatures is that governments are formed by dominant tribes. Politics is the language of tribes negotiating with each other to preserve status. However, Fukuyama notes that cultural norms are dramatically different in governments that evolve over time. These cultural differences play out in the history of Russia, China, France, Great Britain, Italy, America, the countries of Africa, and the Middle East.
A counter-intuitive note by Fukuyama is that religion plays a significant role in civilizing, rationalizing, and establishing state governments. It is counter-intuitive because it seems in the present-day religion is tearing the world apart. However, in the context of history, the size of tribes within countries hugely increases with the spread of religion. Religion becomes a cultural phenomenon that ameliorates (but does not eliminate) violence among different tribes within wider territories that evolve into nation-states.
Fukuyama implies nation-state development is a living organism that evolves in the manner of natural selection identified by Darwin in the “Origin of Species”. Characteristics of effective governments perpetuate themselves through adaptation to respective societal norms. In other words, every society grows via its own cultural norms which suggests sovereignty should be inviolable.
Fukuyama is saying that American democracy, Chinese socialism, Russian federation, India democracy or any other system of government will be different because of their social history. In other words, India may be classified as the world’s largest democracy but not as an American democracy because of its different societal norms.
In one sense, the complexity of Fukuyama’s theory makes one less optimistic about the future of the world. What can take the place of religion to meld societies into a common tribe? Can the World Wide Web, the growth of science, and recognition of environmental interdependence overcome the nationalist stupidity of government leaders?
If Trump, Putin, al-Baghdadi, and Kim Jong-un represent the future, the answer is no. On the other hand, one may argue survival of humans is dependent on experimentation by governments, enhanced by nation-state societal differences.
Just as one species evolves into an improved human, one species of government may evolve into an improved government (presuming humans survive an interregnum).