*The Origins of Political Order*

by on April 16, 2011 at 2:39 am in Books, History, Political Science, Uncategorized | Permalink

That is the new book from Frank Fukuyama and the subtitle is From Prehuman Times to the French Revolution.  A few points:

1. Every page is intelligent and reasonable.

2. It is a useful general overview of what we know about the origins of states, with full coverage given to the non-Western world, most of all China.

3. My single sentence summary would be: “I am showing you how some polities developed workable, strong states, based in accountability, and how others did not.”  If that is it, I would rather that the empirical material were more focused on the “model” and less on overall general narrative.  Ultimately the organization sprawls.  Nonetheless, this book is an important implied revision of public choice economics, with the focus on history and the question of how strong states get built.

4. In its scope and method, this book feels late 19th century.

5. I am not convinced by the discussion of why earlier China did not progress, found in the range of 51% on Kindle.  Fukuyama seems to suggest they simply weren’t interested in doing better.  I would be happier if so much did not rest on that question.

6. One implication of the analysis is that we should not be very optimistic about the current revolutions in the Middle East.

7. Try this sentence: “The very lateness of the European state-building project was the source of the political liberty that Europeans would later enjoy.”

8. The section on biology could use a major dose of Robin Hanson.

Here is one useful review.  Here is a review from The Economist.

Snizz April 16, 2011 at 4:29 am

#7 Fukuyama himself was the one that pointed out that as late as
WWII there were only a dozen democracies left in the world – interestingly almost all of which are of Anglo-Saxon or Scandinavian. These are both cultures related to the Germanic ones Tacitus praised. The primitive community councils were seen as part of the cultural foundation by early parliamentarians.

Gabriel E April 16, 2011 at 4:38 am

This is Francis “End of History” Fukuyama?

dearieme April 16, 2011 at 5:03 am

“One implication of the analysis is that we should not be very optimistic about the current revolutions in the Middle East.” Many analyses have that in common.

mk April 16, 2011 at 6:15 am

In light of the “genetics of linguistics” NYT article from the other day; I wonder if one could do an experiment correlating “willingness to marry across tribal boundaries” with GDP per capita.

For example, in 50 randomly chosen countries, find 50 randomly chosen married couples and 50 randomly chosen single people. Get everybody’s genome. Then simply count similarity between (1) a married person and their spouse, versus (2) a married person and a random opposite-gender single or married person from the same country.

mk April 16, 2011 at 6:21 am

(Then make a graph in which the ratio between (1) and (2) is the X axis, and GDP per capita is the Y axis. Perhaps normalize using logarithmic scales. See if there’s a correlation)

Steve Sailer April 17, 2011 at 2:35 am

What you are asking about is quantifying inbreeding. That’s been done many times in many places, both genetically and genealogically. For example, both genetic analysis and genealogical analysis confirms that Icelanders have been highly inbred for close to 1,000 years.

SteveX (formerly Steve) April 17, 2011 at 10:46 am

Wow! A thousand years of inbreeding you say. Does that mean in another century or two they’ll be well-qualified to rule European monarchies?

Steve Sailer April 17, 2011 at 1:55 pm

Nah, they’re fine. You inbreed long enough, the lethal recessives die out.

Sergey Kurdakov April 16, 2011 at 8:58 am

I think that reading such authors – there is need to have other related works in mind

http://www.amazon.com/Deconstructing-History-Second-Edition-ebook/dp/B000OT7W7Q

and

http://www.amazon.com/Fooled-Randomness-Hidden-Markets-ebook/dp/B001FA0W5W

also less easy to get but useful is A Contemporary Critique of Historical Materialism (two volumes ) by Anthony Giddens

at least – despite the visible patterns – it is almost not possible to capture them as ‘rules’.

Fukuyama follows Hegel/Marx tradition, which has a lot of problems in methodology.

So while such books have value, it is much less, if to know the problems with the approach chosen for inquiry

agm April 16, 2011 at 10:42 am

““I am showing you how some polities developed workable, strong states, based in accountability, and how others did not.” If that is it, I would rather that the empirical material were more focused on the “model” and less on overall general narrative.”

Isn’t this saying “May I please have less historical narrative with my historical narrative?”

JonF April 16, 2011 at 11:36 am

Re: The primitive community councils were seen as part of the cultural foundation by early parliamentarians.

But those were not just germannic: they were a general feature of the Indoeuropean peoples. The Romans had their Popular Assembly, the Greeks had various similar bodies which were the foundation of Greek democracy. In the medieval Russian states the Sobor could depose a prince– and the prince would pack his bags and go.
The question is more why Germannic Europe (outside Germany/Austria itself) kept these institutions and indeed parlayed them into more formal national bodies while Medierranean and Eastern Europe did not.

James April 16, 2011 at 3:41 pm

Plus, I don’t know, Nazi Germany seems to be a pretty big outlier in the thesis that the Germanic tribes that Tacitus praised were the remaining bulwark of democracy in the 20th century, especially given that the eastern half of Germany did not become fully democratic until 1989. . .

James April 16, 2011 at 11:29 pm

Additionally, I want to say that having a council of leading men was not confined to the Indo-Europeans. Councils of “leading men” who would advise the king appear frequently in many societies. The Carthaginians, for example, had a constitutional structure.

JohnE April 16, 2011 at 12:08 pm

If you like this, you would live Finer’s masterful History of Government from the Earliest Time http://www.amazon.com/History-Government-Vol-1-C/dp/019820664X/ref=pd_sim_b_1

I too find they China did not develeop because they did not want to develop argument’s unsatisfying. A related phenomena can be found in this In Our Time discussion of the Needham Question http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p0038x9m

CIP April 16, 2011 at 12:21 pm

Give me a hint as to why you think Robin Hanson knows anything about biology. Everything of his that I have read suggests the opposite.

DK April 17, 2011 at 1:18 am

Robin Hanson is a polymath. He knows everything. Everyone at GMU knows that.

Cyrus April 16, 2011 at 1:07 pm

As long as your comparing it the late 19th century, can you give any reason that it advances beyond late 19th century ideas like, cultivators are easy to oppress. Herders, fishers, foragers, tradespeople, less so.

Steve Sailer April 17, 2011 at 2:30 am

Fukuyama’s book is Late 19th Centuryish in the sense that it’s overtly inspired by Darwinism. But it’s also Late 19th Centuryish in the sense that Fukuyama’s Darwinism is far from state of the art.

jorod April 16, 2011 at 4:20 pm

I would say Western society found a way for rulers/elites to surrender/transfer power peacefully. China never evolved beyond the clan/aristocracy phase. Also, Christianity emphasized reason, progress and individual freedom/self-worth. Also, the Chinese thought they were the highest form of civilization, closed from the progress created by sharing knowledge and ideas.

Michael Carroll April 16, 2011 at 4:49 pm

Is:

“…with full coverage given to the non-Western world, most of all China.”

Similar to:

“The whole team gave a full 100 percent. Especially, Bob.”

doctorpat April 17, 2011 at 11:19 pm

There is a reasonable explanation:

China is the largest country in the world. So a full coverage of the entire world would be about China more than anywhere else.

Of course this is assuming that the amount of governmental history that occurs in a country is proportional to the population.

Steve Sailer April 17, 2011 at 2:26 am

I’m reviewing Fukuyama’s book, so I’ll point out here merely that Tyler is right that the book is quite reasonable. On the other hand, as Tyler also suggests, Fukuyama’s level of intellectual sophistication is less than stunning. Fukuyama is proud that he’s incorporating into political science lessons about the importance of kinship inspired by the work of sociobiologists William D. Hamilton and Edward O. Wilson. But Wilson’s “Sociobiology” was a huge bombshell 36 years ago!

For a more insightful study of the impact of kinship on polities, see Pierre L. van den Berghe’s 1981 book “The Ethnic Phenomenon:”

http://www.amazon.com/Ethnic-Phenomenon-Pierre-van-Berghe/dp/0275927091

TGGP April 17, 2011 at 4:25 pm

What does this book add that North, Wallison & Weingast’s “Violence and Social Orders” doesn’t have?

At the beginning of WW2 France was one of the largest democracies. Switzlerland has long been among the “most democratic”. Neither is Scandinavian or Anglo-Saxon.

The Barnes & Noble reviewer writes “For someone who once identified himself as a neoconservative, he displays a refreshing lack of antipathy for taxation and an admirable skepticism about extreme libertarianism”. Such surprise evidences little knowledge of neoconservatism.

TGGP April 17, 2011 at 4:30 pm

Reading the Economist review, for those more interested in Pope Gregory’s reforms regarding priestly celibacy etc, check out Harold Berman’s “Law and Revolution”. Another one possibly of interest in Azar Gat’s “War in Human Civilization”, since war made the state and state-building is an important part of the history of warfare.

Andrea D. Merciless April 17, 2011 at 4:26 pm

“5. I am not convinced by the discussion of why earlier China did not progress, found in the range of 51% on Kindle. Fukuyama seems to suggest they simply weren’t interested in doing better. I would be happier if so much did not rest on that question.”

Maybe it would be more accurate to say that the Chinese believed they couldn’t do any better since they believed they were the most civilized and advanced people in the middle of the universe.

Right Wing-nut April 17, 2011 at 9:50 pm

Is no one here familiar with Sun Tzu? He specifically advocates a number of actions be taken to pacify the populace. Add to that Confucianism, Taoism, and Buddhism, and you don’t really have a whole lot of reason to try to undergo the work to try to change things, do you?

As for Germany, it is hard to develop strong local traditions regarding government when you are the battlefield for everyone else. Until I receive really convincing evidence to the contrary, I’m going with geographic isolation as the main engine for political freedom in England & the US. I got that from the Federalist Papers, btw.

doctorpat April 17, 2011 at 11:24 pm

Geographic isolation also works for Scandinavia (Baltic) and Switzerland (mountains).
But clearly it isn’t a sufficient condition, otherwise Japan and Tibet would also have such traditions.

jkl April 18, 2011 at 11:55 pm

Kindle has already page numbers

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