The Origins of Political Order: From Prehuman Times to the French Revolution

By Smith, Jordan Michael | The Christian Science Monitor, April 19, 2011 | Go to article overview

The Origins of Political Order: From Prehuman Times to the French Revolution


Smith, Jordan Michael, The Christian Science Monitor


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

intellectuals.

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. …

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