Fukuyama, Francis. The Origins of Political Order: Front Prehuman Times to the French Revolution.
|Article Type:||Book review|
|Subject:||Books (Book reviews)|
|Publication:||Name: International Social Science Review Publisher: Pi Gamma Mu Audience: Academic Format: Magazine/Journal Subject: Social sciences Copyright: COPYRIGHT 2012 Pi Gamma Mu ISSN: 0278-2308|
|Issue:||Date: Spring-Summer, 2012 Source Volume: 87 Source Issue: 1-2|
|Topic:||NamedWork: The Origins of Political Order: Front Prehuman Times to the French Revolution (Nonfiction work)|
|Persons:||Reviewee: Fukuyama, Francis|
Fukuyama, Francis. The Origins of Political Order: Front Prehuman
Times to the French Revolution. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux,
2011. xiv + 585 pages. Cloth, $35.00.
All the social sciences are involved in this book. It maps the state in which we--and our ancestors--find, and have found ourselves, whether we are students, professionals, practitioners, or dilettantes. As political scientist and political economist Francis Fukuyama asserts, there are more variables than there are cases. He focuses on the state, the rule of law, and accountable government to make comparisons and show contrasts as well as portray rise and decline. Detailed coverage of dysfunctional practices and "good enough" practices make this book particularly readable as differentiated from compendiums of "best practices."
In The Origins of Political Order, Fukuyama provides a cohesive account of state formation. Guidelines emerge for contemporary developing countries. Overall, the book records historical, empirical cases that build an inductive argument. The cases refer to things we happen to know and tell of things we missed. Consider, for example, the "RentSeekers." It should discourage emulation, and it relieved this reviewer's persistent perplexity about French taxation, which had looked like a salute to absurdity. Maybe the practical explanation was in a course not taken or in books not read, but it is a treat to read Fukuyama on the tortuous development of French taxation and to check his sources on where to look for additional works on the topic. Some readers might not know about the Empress Wu and will want to know more about her. Others will seek more evidence as to whether using eunuchs, demanding celibacy, or another approach succeeds any better than meritocracy against patrimonialism. What about Admiral Zheng and his fellow admirals whose great fleet mapped longitudes and gave navigation charts as well as mini-encyclopedias wherever they made port or touched shore? Gavin Menzies, in both 1421: The Year China Discovered America (2002) and 1434." The Year a Magnificent Chinese Fleet Sailed to Italy and Ignited the Renaissance (2008), documents an account of technological transfer and inspiration for innovation around the world, but not in China. Why not in China? Fukuyama states that China had enormous self-satisfaction and complacency but did not have the spirit of maximization. Innovation simply seemed not worth the effort in Ming China. Menzies (not among Fukuyama's sources) notes that court rivalries and border invasions were distractions. Others cite cultural aversion to technology by gentlemen and scholars who treated it as degrading. Being a question of state development rather than of origins, this is peripheral to Fukuyama's inquiry, although it is a cautionary tale for today.
How does Fukuyama define political? Suspense builds waiting for this to be forthcoming. It isn't. Rather, he tempts the reader to plug in definitions by modern political science "founding fathers" David Easton, Harold Lasswell, Robert A. Dahl (none of their works are listed the bibliography) or another familiar political scientist. Let the reader resist that urge. Fukuyama alludes to Hobbes, Locke, and Rousseau (all found in the bibliography and index) who are not endorsed apropos Origins. The discarded and rejected theories mount throughout the book. Examples accumulate as manifestations of actual collective behavior and rule. Suspense grows on through Part Five: "Toward a Theory of Political Development."
Origins are natural (biological), with cultural practices being conventional (most of the book narrates stories of conventions norms, rules, institutions). Shared biological human nature "does not determine political behavior," but "frames and limits" the institutions that are possible. Inductively, Fukuyama pulls five propositions from the evidence gathered and collated: Human beings never existed in a pre-social state; natural human sociability is built around two principles, kin selection and reciprocal altruism; human beings have an innate propensity for creating and following norms or rules; human beings have a natural propensity for violence; and, human beings by nature desire not just material resources but also recognition (pp. 438-41).
Did Fukuyama select his sources and skew his narrative of empirical behaviors and historical arrangements to support the propositions listed above? It looks possible, although his story is plausible. He makes it clear that outcomes are neither necessary nor inevitable. He also makes it clear that the divide between this book and the next one is based on drastic changes in everyday life and world affairs. Origins of Political Order is a methodological masterpiece and a nonfiction literary cliffhanger.
In the end, Herodotus wrote that he merely reported what people said, and he was not required to believe it. The more curious the mind, the more intriguing it is to read Fukuyama. Think, enjoy, challenge, applaud, and suspend both belief and disbelief. This reviewer enthusiastically recommends this book and eagerly awaits Fukuyama's next volume which will carry the inquiry forward from the American and French revolutions to date.
Linda Quest, Ph.D.
Department of Political Science
New York, New York
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