Saturday, October 04, 2014

'Political Order and Political Decay' by Francis Fukuyama

The second volume of Francis Fukuyama's magnum opus, 'Political Order and Political Decay', is 548 pages and I therefore subcontract its review to the Wall Street Journal (I reviewed the first volume here).
" ... to the extent that he has an overarching narrative, it is this: Human beings are possessed of certain biologically rooted imperatives to favor kith and kin over others—what he calls patrimonialism. Successful political order entails the establishment of institutions that check and redirect these impulses in productive and publicly beneficial ways.

"Since the Industrial Revolution and the spread of market capitalism (i.e., globalization), the institutions that most successfully accomplish this feat have been the modern state coupled with the rule of law and some degree of democratic accountability. What we call corruption is really the imperfect realization (or absence) of such institutions.

"Political decay, to which the final section of this work is devoted, is the condition where public institutions, grown sclerotic over time, prove increasingly unable to manage the natural reassertion of patrimonial impulses."
In a close-to-home example of political decay, Dr Fukuyama sees the 'checks and balances' system in the US as having been latterly captured by special interest groups and lobbyists, constituting a 'vetocracy'. He is not an optimist as regards future governance prospects there. Interestingly, he's more a fan of the UK's 'elective dictatorship' which, he believes, gets things done and is much more resistant to special interest group capture.

'Political Order and Political Decay' is crammed full of insights and allows the re-framing of many contemporary hot-spots such as Ukraine and the Middle-East. The question of transition to advanced development status as in 'getting to Denmark' is a central preoccupation of the book. But talking in the abstract about institutions and social capital doesn't quite hack it given the biologically rooted diversity of both humans and human groups across the planet as regards pro-social and cognitive competences. Fukuyama appears somewhat aware of the literature on the subject but this is one hot potato he's (perhaps understandably) not prepared to engage with, to the detriment of his conclusions. Perhaps not everywhere, sadly, has an unaided route to 'Denmark'.