'Political Order and Political Decay' - Francis Fukyama - Review

Francis Fukuyama is most famous for his comment that the fall of the Berlin wall and the collapse of communism in Eastern Europe in 1989 represented 'the end of history' - largely interpreted as epitomising American arrogance, exceptionalism and triumphalism in its assumption that American style liberal democracy was the only viable political system - something that he has been trying to live down ever since.  Review of his 'End of History and the Last Man' here.  This is the second volume, review of the first here

'Political order and political decay' is, in part, Francis Fukuyama's answer to the question of what constitutes a successfull liberal democracy, or establish 'political order' to use Fukuyama's terminology, which he states consists of three components:- (1) an established state that has legitimacy able to maintain order and provide basic services (2) rule of law, i.e an independent judiciary not beholden to the ruling powers and (3) democratic accountability. Fukuyama surveys all major political systems from the French revolution onwards to look at how different societies have attempted to answer this question. He does not offer any prescriptions but notes that all three elements have to be held in a balance to avoid what he describes as 'political decay.'

What is surprising about the book considering it is written by a man associated with American triumphalism is that some of Fukuyama's sternest criticisms are reserved for his own country. Fukuyama charges his fellow countrymen with being so preoccupied with the second and third part of what constitutes a successfull liberal democracy in their constant criticisms of 'big government' that they have forgotten that the first part is equally important. This is reflected, Fukuyama states, by the polarisation currently evident in American politics which he posits as being rooted within its much vaunted constitution as it makes it near impossible to achieve bipartisanship and political consensus to mobilise real change due to the seperation of powers embedded and multiple checks and balances throughout. Provision of universal healthcare being one clear example of this. Fukuyama categorises the American political system as a 'vetocracy.' Fukuyama outlines how this blind spot on the part of many Americans to recognise that the first component is as equally as important as the other two has lead to political decay at home and chaos in Iraq and Afghanistan. 'State building and democracy building are not the same thing, and in the short run they often exist in a great deal of tension with one another.'

This blind spot on the part of the American political system to recognise the importance of having a strong state is also reflected, Fukuyama explains, via a key point outlined in in the first volume and extended further in the second volume that what we refer to today as 'corruption' in politics has its roots in a part of human nature that is unlikely to go away, what biologists would refer to as 'inclusive fitness' and 'reciprocal altruism' or what a layman would describe as the everyday tendency to favour family and friends. In the first volume Fukuyama examined political development from pre-history onwards as humans progressed from bands to tribes ultimately to states. Fukuyama's insight is that while we may have moved away from living in bands and tribes, in many ways, it is unnatural for us to do so and that the 'social contract' which any state represents is always inherently fragile, a reality forgotten by many Americans Fukuyama claims. The 'social contract' upon which all successfull states are based have to overcome these instincts if they are to avoid political decay is the message. Fukuyama states that this 'social contract' is being undermined in American via the corrupting effect of professional lobbyists.

The two volumes cover an immense amount of ground therefore it is difficult for any review to it justice. Although this volume is more academic and difficult to read than the first volume, any criticism is of limited significance as he has distilled all of human political history into two volumes. It gets 5/5


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