Magazine article The Spectator

'Political Order and Political Decay: From the Industrial Revolution to the Globalisation of Democracy', by Francis Fukuyama - Review

Magazine article The Spectator

'Political Order and Political Decay: From the Industrial Revolution to the Globalisation of Democracy', by Francis Fukuyama - Review

Article excerpt

Political Order and Political Decay: From the Industrial Revolution to the Globalisation of Democracy Francis Fukuyama

Profile Books, pp.464, £25, ISBN: 9781846684364

The problem with a futuristic thesis -- particularly when summarised by a futuristic title -- is that it is likely to be thrown back at you in the future. This is the problem that Francis Fukuyama has faced ever since he published his daring and now much derided book, The End of History and the Last Man , in 1992. In it, Fukuyama argued that history had been buried beneath the rubble of the former Berlin Wall and that the teleological process was now at an end: 'What we may be witnessing... is the end point of mankind's ideological evolution and the universalisation of Western liberal democracy as the final form of government.'

To many, this theory was literally exploded when the first plane hit the World Trade Center. Since then it has been undermined further by the financial crisis, the failures of the Arab Spring, the continual rise of Islamic extremism, the failures of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the crisis in the eurozone and two wars in Eastern Europe (Georgia and Ukraine).

In his new book, the sequel to The Origins of Political Order , Fukuyama has refrained from prophecy and instead examines the structural causes of political order and decay since the French Revolution. Accordingly, he asks a number of questions, including: how did Germany become a highly efficient unitary state during the course of the 19th century and not only survive but prosper in the second half of the 20th/21st century? Why have Greece and southern Italy failed to achieve the same levels of political accountability and bureaucratic autonomy as Scandinavia and Japan? What has prevented Argentina, rich in resources and land, from developing along similar lines to the United States? And how has the US itself got to the stage where in many respects it is unable to function as an effective administrator and legislator?

As Fukuyama argued in volume one, political order arises through the triumvirate of the state, the rule of law and accountability. What Fukuyama goes on to demonstrate in this second volume is that democracy -- the ultimate expression of accountability -- requires the other two pillars to be in place before its inception, in order to succeed. Countries which set up democracies before they have functioning states, governed by the rule of law and administered through autonomous, meritocratic bureaucracies, frequently find that the institutions of the state are hijacked by politicians and corrupted as a result. This practice, which Fukuyama terms 'clientelism', is evident in sub-Saharan Africa, Greece, large swaths of South America, and the United States prior to the reform of the American civil service in the last part of the19th century.

Following in the footsteps of Max Weber, Fukuyama sees an autonomous, meritocratic bureaucracy as the prerequisite for effective statehood. Prussia developed a highly efficient civil service at the beginning of the 19th century, well before the establishment of democracy, and went on not only to lead the process of German unification but to become one of the great powers in the world. Greece, by contrast, achieved universal male suffrage in 1864 (preceding Britain by a generation) but had no autonomous system of administration. Greek politicians therefore used the developing offices of the state as sources of political patronage, and within a decade Greece had a civil service seven times the size of Britain's. …

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