John's Reviews > The Origins of Political Order: From Prehuman Times to the French Revolution

The Origins of Political Order by Francis Fukuyama
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's review
Mar 04, 12

it was amazing
Read in March, 2012

This is not a five star rating for this book, but a five star rating for the scholarly process that allowed Francis Fukuyama to write it. His earlier work, "The End of History and the Last Man" is a fine bit of philosophy and political science that captured the spirit of the end of the cold war as democracy seemingly became the only legitimate political ideal, if not practice. However, this was in many ways the work as a young man, and Prof. Fukuyama found that practical field work challenged assumptions in the universals of political ideals. In the course of doing practical development work, the question "why these developing countries have trouble having institutions as good as Denmark's?" was frequently raised. Unfortunately, this leaves the critical question of how Denmark acquired these institutions in the first place unanswered. This book attempts to answer where the practices we associate with proper governments took their form, across cultures comparatively from as early as the evidence will allow.

There seem to be two answers: the first of these is that we remain human, and given our preferences will revert to our biological foundations, looking out for our kin and trading favors. Only with our also natural predisposition to give credence to long-standing rules, often of religious origin, can we transcend to institutions based impartially upon merit, and even then have a difficult time maintaining institutions.

The second lesson is that these cultural rules will take hold creating a history that generally shapes how new institutional forms are incorporated into these cultures differently. These rules are not total, and can be escaped, but they cannot be transitioned from easily except under extreme pressure. Here, as elsewhere in social science, the structuration of individuals and their societies hold.

This is the first of two volumes, ending on the eve of the American and French revolutions politically, and the eve of the Industrial Revolution as a technological context, which has created material and communication conditions means that state development is cooperative instead of competitive, at least for now, and thus historical rules hold less well.

This volume represents the author coming to terms with the contingency of historical legacy, cultural difference, and multiplicity of trajectory, while still managing to find a theory providing a reasonable global estimation for the dynamics across cultures. It considers specific evidence without resorting any insistence that nothing is to be learned, given particularities. These general dynamics still serve valuable lessons today in how cultural tendencies were shaped.

Altogether, this work shows the wisdom of an idealist who, when confronted with a broader scope of evidence, has the courage to change his mind. It is readable and clear, nearly suffering from repetition to demonstrate common forms that emerge.

I look forward to say what the second volume has to say about state building in the world we now find ourselves in.

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