By Chet Yarbrough
Political Order and Political Decay: From the Industrial Revolution to the Globalization of Democracy
Written by: Francis Fukuyama
Narrated by: Johnathan Davis
Francis Fukuyama offers a benediction and warning about democracy in “Political Order and Political Decay”. His book is difficult to absorb because of its wide view of politics and a listener’s sense that political theory is being justified as much as proven. However, Fukuyama impressively argues that democracy is the best form of government in the world and may evolve into a form of government that is best for all modern societies.
Fukuyama writes this with an examination of the current state (actually pre-Trump) of American democracy. He addresses other forms of democracy developed, or developing, in other countries.
Fukuyama explains there are three pillars of democracy. First, a state must be formed to protect its citizens and its territory.
Second, rule of law must be established to constrain power held by the few over the many.
And three, accountability must be established for policies that serve the interest of all the people; not only factions or special interests. When any of these supports are weakened, democracy decays.
Many examples of good and bad democracies are given by Fukuyama. To narrow the territory, this review will focus on the United States but the author offers many more examples that reinforce his theory.
In the U. S., the founding fathers address forming a nation-state with rule of law and a balance of power formula intended to serve the interest of all of its citizens. For over two hundred years, America has adhered, in principle, to these three pillars of democracy. However, America has failed, at different times, in different degrees, in ways that have shaken each of democracy’s pillars.
The nation-state is nearly destroyed in the American civil war. The iniquity of slavery is played out. The right of national governance of all states of the union is clarified and mandated by the victory of Union forces. Through the blood and treasure lost in the war, the nation became one.
There have been numerous attacks on the rule of law when addressing equality of opportunity, the right to vote, and freedom of expression. Victories and losses are referred to in Fukuyama’s book with a trend toward betterment in America but still as a work in progress. Fukuyama notes that many nations are not ready for democracy because they have not adopted rule of law that requires human rights for all citizens.
Accountability has been distorted by political gerrymandering, special interest influences, patronage, and what Fukuyama calls “clientism” (selling one’s vote for reward). Concern is expressed over the role of special interest money in its distortion of the political will of the many by the few. Fukuyama decries the growing extremism in America because of political parties that rely on local political caucuses controlled by minorities, or special interests. These special interests nominate candidates who are not qualified to be leaders but are beholding to small interest groups. If elected, they become clients of special interests rather than representatives of their districts.
Fukuyama spends a good deal of time giving examples of Presidents like Jackson (a President which some compare to Trump) who strongly endorsed patronage appointments based on relationship rather than merit. Fukuyama notes that patronage is significantly changed when a disgruntled acquaintance is denied a foreign post by President Garfield. The denied acquaintance assassinates the President.
The Pendleton Act is passed and a merit system of appointment is established for government positions. Fukuyama notes that the Pendleton Act did not eliminate patronage but it reduced its use; the Civil Service came into being.
Fukuyama makes the point that institutionalization of the ideals of the three pillars of democracy ensures government stability and longevity. The Civil Service is an example of another step taken by America to preserve democratic government. Vilification of civil service employees by the current President undermines democratic stability.
The main points of “Political Order and Political Decay” revolve around the pillars of democracy. Fukuyama shows that there are many democracies in the world but those that violate any of the three pillars are likely to decay over time. Fukuyama argues–when institutions fail to maintain the state as sovereign, defensible, and dependent on the good will of many, willing to guarantee individual rights by rule of law, and accountable for political leader’s actions, democracy decays.
Fukuyama infers countries that choose not to be democratic, based on the three pillars he describes, will not rival the success of modern nation-states that have achieved economic and political stability.
Fukuyama suggests the United States will not necessarily remain the super power it has become. Fukuyama argues that warning signals are flashing in America because of changes occurring in its political system. Recognition of corporations as individuals by the Supreme Court opens the door wider for special interest influence on public policy. Corporations are able to contribute as much money as they want to super-pacs as clients for political representatives who will be primarily influenced by corporate interests rather than public good. History has made it clear that what is good for General Motors is not necessarily good for the country.
Another warning bell in America is the blurring lines for separation of powers. The Supreme Court is entering the realm of legislature. Veto power has disrupted compromise between the Legislature and Presidency. Rules in Congress are being used to block negotiation that results in “do-nothing” legislation.
Confidence in the American Federal Government is diminishing. Belief in the legislative process is at an all-time low. The public grows to believe government serves special interests more than the common good.
If Fukuyama’s theory is correct, it offers a road map for how America can recover and retain a leadership role in the world. The road map starts with America righting its own ship of state by being a good example of democracy. America should support outside countries efforts to become independent democracies.
Fukuyama suggests every developing sovereign country should be treated with respect based on their road to nationhood. Governments will form based on acquiring their own state identity. America’s role should be support of nations trying to establish rule of law that serves the interests of their citizens. Finally, America’s role is to demonstrate, encourage, and supplement other nations’ efforts to create institutional organizations that promote the pillars of democracy.
President Trump’s vilification of traditional democratic allies bodes ill for Fukyama’s theory of “Political Order and Political Decay”. Trump diminishes America’s example as a good democracy.