The second volume of the bestselling landmark work on the history of the modern state
Writing in The Wall Street Journal, David Gress called Francis Fukuyama's Origins of Political Order "magisterial in its learning and admirably immodest in its ambition." In The New York Times Book Review, Michael Lind described the book as "a major achievement by one of the leading public intellectuals of our time." And in The Washington Post, Gerard DeGrott exclaimed "this is a book that will be remembered. Bring on volume two."
Volume two is finally here, completing the most important work of political thought in at least a generation. Taking up the essential question of how societies develop strong, impersonal, and accountable political institutions, Fukuyama follows the story from the French Revolution to the so-called Arab Spring and the deep dysfunctions of contemporary American politics. He examines the effects of corruption on governance, and why some societies have been successful at rooting it out. He explores the different legacies of colonialism in Latin America, Africa, and Asia, and offers a clear-eyed account of why some regions have thrived and developed more quickly than others. And he boldly reckons with the future of democracy in the face of a rising global middle class and entrenched political paralysis in the West.
A sweeping, masterful account of the struggle to create a well-functioning modern state, Political Order and Political Decay is destined to be a classic.
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Francis Fukuyama is the Olivier Nomellini Senior Fellow at Stanford University's Freeman Spogli Institute for International Studies. He has previously taught at the Paul H. Nitze School of Advanced International Studies of the Johns Hopkins University and at the George Mason University School of Public Policy. Fukuyama was a researcher at the RAND Corporation and served on the State Department's Policy Planning Staff. He is the author of The Origins of Political Order, The End of History and the Last Man, Trust, and America at the Crossroads, among other books. He lives with his wife in California.Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:
WHAT IS POLITICAL DEVELOPMENT?
Political development and its three components: the state, rule of law, and accountability; why all societies are subject to political decay; the plan for the book; why it is good to have a balanced political system
Political development is change over time in political institutions. This is different from shifts in politics or policies: prime ministers, presidents, and legislators may come and go, laws may be modified, but it is the underlying rules by which societies organize themselves that define a political order.
In the first volume of this book, I argued that there were three basic categories of institutions that constituted a political order: the state, rule of law, and mechanisms of accountability. The state is a hierarchical, centralized organization that holds a monopoly on legitimate force over a defined territory. In addition to characteristics like complexity and adaptability, states can be more or less impersonal: early states were indistinguishable from the ruler’s household and were described as “patrimonial” because they favored and worked through the ruler’s family and friends. Modern, more highly developed states, by contrast, make a distinction between the private interest of the rulers and the public interest of the whole community. They strive to treat citizens on a more impersonal basis, applying laws, recruiting officials, and undertaking policies without favoritism.
The rule of law has many possible definitions, including simple law and order, property rights and contract enforcement, or the modern Western understanding of human rights, which includes equal rights for women and racial and ethnic minorities.1 The definition of the rule of law I am using in this book is not tied to a specific substantive understanding of law. Rather, I define it as a set of rules of behavior, reflecting a broad consensus within the society, that is binding on even the most powerful political actors in the society, whether kings, presidents, or prime ministers. If rulers can change the law to suit themselves, the rule of law does not exist, even if those laws are applied uniformly to the rest of society. To be effective, a rule of law usually has to be embodied in a separate judicial institution that can act autonomously from the executive. Rule of law by this definition is not associated with any particular substantive body of law, like those prevailing in the contemporary United States or Europe. Rule of law as a constraint on political power existed in ancient Israel, in India, in the Muslim world, as well as in the Christian West.
Rule of law should be distinguished from what is sometimes referred to as “rule by law.” In the latter case, law represents commands issued by the ruler but is not binding on the ruler himself. Rule by law as we will see sometimes becomes more institutionalized, regular, and transparent, under which conditions it begins to fulfill some of the functions of rule of law by reducing the ruler’s discretionary authority.
Accountability means that the government is responsive to the interests of the whole society—what Aristotle called the common good—rather than to just its own narrow self-interest. Accountability today is understood most typically as procedural accountability, that is, periodic free and fair multiparty elections that allow citizens to choose and discipline their rulers. But accountability can also be substantive: rulers can respond to the interests of the broader society without necessarily being subject to procedural accountability. Unelected governments can differ greatly in their responsiveness to public needs, which is why Aristotle in the Politics distinguished between monarchy and tyranny. There is, however, typically a strong connection between procedural and substantive accountability because unconstrained rulers, even if responsive to the common good, usually cannot be trusted to remain that way forever. When we use the word “accountability,” we are mostly speaking of modern democracy defined in terms of procedures that make the governments responsive to their citizens. We need to bear in mind, however, that good procedures do not inevitably produce proper substantive results.
The institutions of the state concentrate power and allow the community to deploy that power to enforce laws, keep the peace, defend itself against outside enemies, and provide necessary public goods. The rule of law and mechanisms of accountability, by contrast, pull in the opposite direction: they constrain the state’s power and ensure that it is used only in a controlled and consensual manner. The miracle of modern politics is that we can have political orders that are simultaneously strong and capable and yet constrained to act only within the parameters established by law and democratic choice.
These three categories of institutions may exist in different polities independently of one another, and in various combinations. Hence the People’s Republic of China has a strong and well-developed state but a weak rule of law and no democracy. Singapore has a rule of law in addition to a state but very limited democracy. Russia has democratic elections, a state that is good at suppressing dissidence but not so good at delivering services, and a weak rule of law. In many failed states, like Somalia, Haiti, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo in the early twenty-first century, the state and rule of law are weak or nonexistent, though the latter two have held democratic elections. By contrast, a politically developed liberal democracy includes all three sets of institutions—the state, rule of law, and procedural accountability—in some kind of balance. A state that is powerful without serious checks is a dictatorship; one that is weak and checked by a multitude of subordinate political forces is ineffective and often unstable.
GETTING TO DENMARK
In the first volume, I suggested that contemporary developing countries and the international community seeking to help them face the problem of “getting to Denmark.” By this I mean less the actual country Denmark than an imagined society that is prosperous, democratic, secure, and well governed, and experiences low levels of corruption. “Denmark” would have all three sets of political institutions in perfect balance: a competent state, strong rule of law, and democratic accountability. The international community would like to turn Afghanistan, Somalia, Libya, and Haiti into idealized places like “Denmark,” but it doesn’t have the slightest idea of how to bring this about. As I argued earlier, part of the problem is that we don’t understand how Denmark itself came to be Denmark and therefore don’t comprehend the complexity and difficulty of political development.
Of Denmark’s various positive qualities, the least studied and most poorly understood concerns how its political system made the transition from a patrimonial to a modern state. In the former, rulers are supported by networks of friends and family who receive material benefits in return for political loyalty; in the latter, government officials are supposed to be servants or custodians of a broader public interest and are legally prohibited from using their offices for private gain. How did Denmark come to be governed by bureaucracies that were characterized by strict subordination to public purposes, technical expertise, a functional division of labor, and recruitment on the basis of merit?
Today, not even the most corrupt dictators would argue, like some early kings or sultans, that they literally “owned” their countries and could do with them what they liked. Everyone pays lip service to the distinction between public and private interest. Hence patrimonialism has evolved into what is called “neopatrimonialism,” in which political leaders adopt the outward forms of modern states—with bureaucracies, legal systems, elections, and the like—and yet in reality rule for private gain. Public good may be invoked during election campaigns, but the state is not impersonal: favors are doled out to networks of political supporters in exchange for votes or attendance at rallies. This pattern of behavior is visible in countries from Nigeria to Mexico to Indonesia.2 Douglass North, John Wallis, and Barry Weingast have an alternative label for neopatrimonialism, what they call a “limited access order,” in which a coalition of rent-seeking elites use their political power to prevent free competition in both the economy and the political system.3 Daron Acemoglu and James Robinson use the term “extractive” to describe the same phenomenon.4 At one stage in human history, all governments could be described as patrimonial, limited access, or extractive.
The question is, How did such political orders ever evolve into modern states? The authors cited above are better at describing the transition than providing a dynamic theory of change. As we will see, there are several forces promoting state modernization. An important one historically was military competition, which creates incentives much more powerful than economic self-interest in motivating political reform. A second driver of change was rooted in the social mobilization brought about by industrialization. Economic growth generates new social groups, which over time organize themselves for collective action and seek to participate in the political system. This process does not always lead to the creation of modern states, but under the right circumstances it can and has.
Following Samuel Huntington’s definition, political institutions develop by becoming more complex, adaptable, autonomous, and coherent.5 But he argues that they can also decay. Institutions are created to meet certain needs of societies, such as making war, dealing with economic conflicts, and regulating social behavior. But as recurring patterns of behavior, they can also grow rigid and fail to adapt when the circumstances that brought them into being in the first place themselves change. There is an inherent conservatism to human behavior that tends to invest institutions with emotional significance once they are put in place. Anyone who suggests abolishing the British Monarchy, or the American Constitution, or the Japanese emperor and replacing it with something newer and better, faces a huge uphill struggle.
There is a second source of political decay in addition to the failure of institutions to adapt to new circumstances. Natural human sociability is based on kin selection and reciprocal altruism—that is, the preference for family and friends. While modern political orders seek to promote impersonal rule, elites in most societies tend to fall back on networks of family and friends, both as an instrument for protecting their positions and as the beneficiaries of their efforts. When they succeed, elites are said to “capture” the state, which reduces the latter’s legitimacy and makes it less accountable to the population as a whole. Long periods of peace and prosperity often provide the conditions for spreading capture by elites, which can lead to political crisis if followed by an economic downturn or external political shock.
In Volume 1 we saw many examples of this phenomenon. China’s great Han Dynasty broke down in the third century A.D. when the government was reappropriated by elite families, who continued to dominate Chinese politics throughout the subsequent Sui and Tang Dynasties. The Mamluk regime in Egypt, built around Turkish slave-soldiers, collapsed when the slave-rulers began having families and looking out for their own children, as did the Sephahis and Janissaries—cavalry and infantry—on which Ottoman power was built. France under the Old Regime sought to build a modern centralized administration from the middle of the seventeenth century on. But the constant fiscal needs of the monarchy forced it to corrupt its administration through the outright sale of public offices to wealthy individuals, a practice known as venality. Through these two volumes, I use a very long word—“repatrimonialization”—to designate the capture of ostensibly impersonal state institutions by powerful elites.
Modern liberal democracies are no less subject to political decay than other types of regimes. No modern society is likely ever to fully revert to a tribal one, but we see examples of “tribalism” all around us, from street gangs to the patronage cliques and influence peddling at the highest levels of modern politics. While everyone in a modern democracy speaks the language of universal rights, many are happy to settle for privilege—special exemptions, subsidies, or benefits intended for themselves, their family, and their friends alone. Some scholars have argued that accountable political systems have self-correcting mechanisms to prevent decay: if governments perform poorly or corrupt elites capture the state, the nonelites can simply vote them out of office.6 There are times in the history of the growth of modern democracy when this has happened. But there is no guarantee that this self-correction will occur, perhaps because the nonelites are poorly organized, or they fail to understand their own interests correctly. The conservatism of institutions often makes reform prohibitively difficult. This kind of political decay leads either to slowly increasing levels of corruption, with correspondingly lower levels of government effectiveness, or to violent populist reactions to perceived elite manipulation.
AFTER THE REVOLUTIONS: THE PLAN FOR THIS VOLUME
The first volume of this book traced the emergence of the state, rule of law, and democratic accountability up through the American and French Revolutions. These revolutions marked the point at which all three categories of institutions—what we call liberal democracy—had come into being somewhere in the world. The present volume will trace the dynamics of their interaction up until the early twenty-first century.
The juncture between the two volumes also marks the onset of a third revolution, which was even more consequential—the Industrial Revolution. The long continuities described in the first volume seem to suggest that societies are trapped by their historical pasts, limiting their choices for types of political order in the future. This was a misunderstanding of the evolutionary story told in that volume, but any implicit historical determinism becomes even less valid once industrialization takes off. The political aspects of development are intimately linked in complex ways with the economic, social, and ideological dimensions. These linkages will be the subject of the following chapter.
The Industrial Revolution vastly increased the rate of growth of per capita output in the societies experiencing it, a phenomenon that brings in its train enormous social consequences. Sustained economic growth increased the rate of change along all of the dimensions of development. Between the former Han Dynasty in the second century B.C. and the Qing Dynasty in the eighteenth century A.D., neither the basic character of Chinese agrarian life nor the nature of its political system evolved terribly much; far more change would occur in the succeeding two centuries than in the preceding two millennia. This rapid pace of change continues into the twenty-first century.
Part I of the present volume will focus on the parts of the world that first experienced this revolution, Europe and North America, where the first liberal democracies appeared. It will try to answer the question, Why, in the early twenty-first century, are some countries, like Germany, characterized by modern, relatively uncorrupt state administrations, while countries like Greece and Italy are still plagued by clientelistic ...
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