- The Evolution of Political Order
Francis Fukuyama’s latest book, the sequel to his 2011 work The Origins of Political Order: From Prehuman Times to the French Revolution, brings the story told in the earlier volume up to the present day. The treatment of the past two centuries takes over six-hundred pages, more than its predecessor had employed in recounting the prior 200,000 years of human history. The new volume nonetheless covers an enormous amount of ground. It contains a remarkably diverse collection of case studies focused on particular countries or continents, along with other chapters that deal with broad thematic issues.
The book is divided into four sections: The first (“The State”) looks at political development in Prussia, Greece, Italy, Britain, and the United States. A second section examines “the effort to transplant modern political institutions from one part of the world to another” (p. 213), with particular attention to Africa, Latin America, and East Asia. The third part deals more specifically with the spread of democracy in the world since the nineteenth century, and a fourth and concluding section on “Political Decay” analyzes the increasing dysfunctionality of political institutions in the United States.
Initially, the logic behind Fukuyama’s unusual selection of so many cases is difficult to discern, but as the reader advances, the design becomes more intelligible and the true intellectual ambition of the author becomes [End Page 169] clearer. As the concluding chapter suggests, he views Political Order and Political Decay as a kind of analogue to Darwin’s On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection. (Fukuyama’s book therefore goes even beyond its professed ambition, stated in the preface to the first volume, of updating Samuel P. Huntington’s masterly 1968 work Political Order in Changing Societies.) Fukuyama tries to provide no less than an account of the evolution of political orders by means of natural selection. Darwin’s design in the biological realm was exactly this—to offer a theory, confirmed by a wealth of evidence from his examination of both living and extinct animals, that could explain how species had evolved or disappeared (without divine intervention) through adaptation to their environment.
The challenge for the social sciences, however, is that they do not have an equivalent to the hierarchical classification system of species, invented by Swedish scientist Carl Linnaeus (1707–78) in the eighteenth century, which guided Darwin and is still in use today. There is no agreed-upon scale of modernity, and we find only a very imperfect consistency between progress in economic development, good governance, freedom, and human happiness. Authoritarian China seems to have better mass educational attainment than pluralistic India, and some of the most equal and developed countries in the world have the highest suicide rates. We also fail to keep a good count of extinct species in the way that biologists do. Norman Davies’s 2011 book Vanished Kingdoms: The Rise and Fall of States and Nations offers only a small selection. Even for Europe alone, one could add dozens of vanished city-states, including some that were highly successful for a time but could not endure. The kind of evidence that we can summon in social science tends to be insufficient to prove our more ambitious theories.
It is fortunate, however, that such obstacles do not deter authors like Francis Fukuyama; otherwise, remarkable books such as this one would never get written. Fukuyama sets out to explain the evolution of political order on the basis of three “institutions”: the state, the rule of law, and mechanisms of accountability. These may perhaps be better understood as three equilibria that a society strives to reach: The first entails the central control of violence by the state. The second requires the establishment of an objective law by which rulers are effectively bound and that they cannot change arbitrarily to suit their purposes. The third, democratic accountability, is close to what Seymour Martin Lipset described in his account of political modernization as inclusion: the development of modern...