Francis Fukuyama's analysis of the development of the modern state is a masterwork.
Francis Fukuyama became famous for his essay "The End of
History," published in the journal The National Interest in 1989.
Along with the expanded book-version, the essay remains exciting and
challenging more than two decades after it was first written. But
"The End of History" has overshadowed everything he has published
since, which is unfortunate because Fukuyama has quietly amassed a
portfolio of writing that ranks him as among America's best public
Reading his tremendous new book The Origins of Political Order is a
reminder of how poorly Fukuyama ever wore the neo-conservative label.
True, he worked in the Reagan administration and ran with the Bill
Kristol/Commentary crowd. But he was always far more intellectually
serious and empirical than most other neo-cons. When Fukuyama opposed
the Iraq War and wrote "America at the Crossroads," a 2006 book
lamenting the demise of neo-conservatism, it was as much a result of
latent political differences as it was of philosophical shifting.
Retrospectively, at least, it would have been more precise to see
Fukuyama as in the mold of Seymour Martin Lipset, Daniel Bell, Nathan
Glazer, and Daniel Patrick Moynihan, the first generation of neo- cons
who were never conned into becoming Republican ideologues.
"The Origins of Political Order" is a sequel of sorts to the
late Samuel Huntington's classic "Political Order in Changing
Societies." Fukuyama's update of Huntington's work examines
what current scholarship understands about the evolution of states.
Beginning with hunter-gatherers, the book ranges across an
astonishing array of knowledge to look at the development of
countries, up to the French Revolution. (A second volume is intended
to pick up where "The Origins of Political Order" leaves off).
Evolutionary biology, sociology, political philosophy, anthropology
- all these disciplines are mined for insights into what is among
the most difficult problems in international politics: the question
of how to establish modern, functioning states.
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Fukuyama deliberately avoids establishing a concrete thesis,
convinced as he is that traditional theories of development have been
flawed precisely because they seek to establish definitive
conclusions where none exist. There are real limits to our knowledge
of state-building, and it is best to sidestep ultimate statements or
theories. What Fukuyama does contend is that "there are many
potential paths to modernization possible today," as opposed to the
arguments that development follows a specific sequence, such as
stable middle classes preceding democracy, for instance. …