Book Review: Political Order & Political Decay, Volume 2
In Volume 1, Francis Fukuyama takes us through many human societies from 3000 BC to about 1800 AD: Chinese, Turkish, Spanish, Hungarian, and many more. He compares societies that were advancing to those that were declining. In this volume, Fukuyama gives us his formula for the better societies: 1) A strong central state, 2) rule of law, and 3) political accountability.
Volume 2 starts at the Industrial Revolution. There is a significance of splitting the book into two volumes at this historical time. Volume 1 had peasants who had accepted that they weren’t going to much say in the societies they were living in. But when the peasant classes moved from the farms to be workers in the cities, they demanded a bigger voice. Societal dynamics changed, and the ruling classes had to acquiesce to these demands to some extent. This led to the maturation of western democracy.
In Volume 2, Fukuyama elucidates on the three features of a well-functioning state. After the Industrial Revolution, ‘political accountability’ became more entrenched as increased voter suffrage made politicians more cognizant of the needs of the working people. States that were democratic advanced further than those who were not.
Fukuyama also explains that the three features — strong state, rule of law, and accountability — are often at odds with each other, so a careful balance is required.
Fukuyama also gives a couple other tools to build a strong state in Volume 2. The first new tool is a national identity. When citizens can identify with their nation, the rulers can make better decisions and implement those decisions (sometimes for the good, sometimes not). The second is a strong bureaucracy to administer the laws and functioning of the state.
Fukuyama points to a balance in creating a bureaucracy. A bureaucracy hobbled by too many laws to direct the bureaucrats’ actions tends to create solutions that often do not fit many situations, finds too many less-than-competent administrators, and annoys citizens with silly rules. A bureaucracy that becomes unfettered tends to have more power than the elected representatives. Fukuyama gives some interesting insights into finding that right balance. Fukuyama goes through several historical examples of bureaucracies that were either incompetent, competent, or too powerful.
How does a strong state become strong? In Volume 1, I was formally introduced to the concept of “patrimonialism,” which is powerful citizens bestowing advantages to their family members and close friends. I was impressed with that thinkers long before 1800 recognized that patrimonialism was a big source of societal decay — and devised social engineering mechanisms to minimize it. These mechanisms worked for a while. But eventually patrimonialism came back and the society went into slow decay.
So it seems humanity has indeed tried to control its destiny, thinking further than a generation or two beyond the ruler’s life span. My sense is, however, the rulers of up-and-coming societies often had to deal with more immediate needs, recent history, geography, economics, and keeping political allies happy. So building a new society does not get the attention it should have got.
And my sense of Fukuyama’s analyses is that great societies got there more by accident than by good planning.
A good example is Costa Rica. It is the only Latin American nation with a well-functioning democracy. Fukuyama points to the political actors in its democratic formation having moderate perspectives. The political left and political right could actually work together to find some centralist compromise to form this nation. But why didn’t this happen in other Latin American cultures? Costa Rica got lucky, in my opinion, by having the right people in the right place at the right time. We really can’t depend on that, can we?
Fukuyama spends a lot of time with the political problems of the United States. To summarize, he says that USA has become a “veto-ocracy,” where too many political actors have a veto to prevent things from moving forward. Hence, not much moves forward. Fukuyama doesn’t quite say it, but USA is losing its ability to be “strong state” because it can’t change fast enough with the times.
Fukuyama is a big believer in political parties. He says that parties are the vehicles for voters to express their intentions of where they want their nation to go. If enough people want a certain direction and mobilize themselves politically and make the right kind of compromises, they will get some of that direction.
But within a few pages of that profound assertion, Fukuyama expresses his dismay of the Republican Party. He says that the Republican Party has a loyal following, yet that party does little to help that following. This party, to him, is an anomaly in western democracies where successful parties usually reward their political base.
Fukuyama often refers to “getting to Denmark.” Denmark has consistently scored high in world ratings for citizen contentment. Public health care and strong social safety nets are major reasons. And despite a fair amount of socialism, Denmark also has a productive workforce, with the Danes being world leaders in several technologies and businesses.
So it would seem logical for Fukuyama to suggest that the USA should look at the western European model of governance, where representatives are elected by proportional representation. But he does not go in that direction. He really does not offer any solution for the USA.
In the last few pages, he cautions against implementing new ideas for democracy. His rationale is that the world has acquired certain knowledge and experience with current systems such that it can learn to build a better, yet similar, system. Trying to introduce a radical system would only mean that these historical lessons could no longer be applied. To him, this is sailing in uncharted waters.
I guess that leaves out my ideas for Tiered Democratic Governance. I believe we need to get rid of all political parties and those noisy election campaigns. These features are definitely too weird for most political scientists. I also believe we need our elected representatives come to decisions without any partisan or ideological interests. We really need to “go beyond Denmark.”
There is one ominous theme throughout Fukuyama’s book. Major political re-structuring of societies was usually done after some significant warfare. Fukuyama never brings up that point directly.
In Chapter 6 of my book, I mention how we can move societies from western democracy to the TDG with very little violence. For that reason alone, political watchers should spend three hours reading my book.
I highly recommend reading both volumes of Political Order and Political Decay. Any reader will come to a better understanding of how complex societies really are.