Fukuyama debuts latest book to Stanford community

On April 11, the Center on Democracy, Development, and the Rule of Law (CDDRL) hosted an event to celebrate the release of Francis Fukuyama's latest book, The Origins of Political Order: From Prehuman Times to the French Revolution. The occasion drew an audience of over 100 faculty, students, and members of the community, who were eager to hear Fukuyama introduce the first volume of this "magnum opus," which traces the history of the development of political institutions through the eighteenth century. Fukuyama was joined by two Stanford faculty members to provide commentary on the book; Ian Morris, Professor of Classics and History, and Barry Weingast, Senior Fellow at the Hoover Institute.

The Origins of Political Order: From Prehuman Times to the French Revolution
Francis Fukuyama
Farrar, Strauss, and Giroux, 2011
608 pages

Fukuyama is the Olivier Nomellini Senior Fellow at the Freeman Spogli Institute and in residence at CDDRL since July 2011, coming to Stanford from the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS). CDDRL Director, Larry Diamond opened the event by commenting on how CDDRL is the ideal intellectual home for the Origins of Political Order, which examines democracy, development, and the rule of law from an evolutionary perspective. Diamond discussed the richness and breadth of Fukuyama's scholarship, which is not confined to one region or discipline but is truly global and interdisciplinary in nature, underpinning the philosophy and approach of CDDRL's research agenda.

Fukuyama provided the audience with an overview of how he conceived of writing such a sweeping account of political development, which began when his former teacher and mentor, the late Samuel Huntington asked him to write the forward to a new version of the 1968 classic, Political Order in Changing Societies. It occurred to him that there was little scholarship available that focused on where institutions first originated and how they evolved throughout human history. Fukuyama stressed the practical importance of this empirical question and its application to the present day, as Arab states struggle to create viable political institutions in the wake of revolution. 

Fukuyama described modern political order as consisting of three characteristics that are the foundational analysis of his book--the state, rule of law, and accountability. In discussing the evolution of the state, Fukuyama characterized it as the "long term historical struggle against a family."

Examining history through an anthropological lens, Fukuyama described early societies as orderly, with specific rules based on biologically grounded mechanisms, favoritism towards kin, and reciprocal altruism. Cooperation among relatives and friends is something that "every human society defaults to in the absence of institutions that provide different incentives," said Fukuyama.

These early social orders evolved into modern states once patrimonialism was replaced by a more impersonal form of politics, and citizens were no longer favored based on their ties to the ruler. Fukuyama traces the first modern state to ancient China during the time of the Qin dynasty in the third century BC, which created an impersonal, rational, and centralized bureaucracy that diverged from the patrimonial systems of the past. Similarly, in the Muslim world a system of military slavery was adopted by the Ottoman empire to break young men's allegiance to their family and generate loyalty to the Sultan.  

While state institutions were constructed in the Arab, Hindu, and Chinese worlds, underneath these systems, Fukuyama stressed, are strong kinship groups that continued to influence the formation of the modern state. By contrast, he claimed, "Europe is the only world civilization that gets beyond kinship on a social but not a political level."

Examining the development of rule of law, Fukuyama described it as, "an outgrowth of religious law administered by a hierarchy residing outside the state that puts limits on the executive." In order to institutionalize law, a cadre of legal specialists were trained and law was made coherent through codification.

Something that I find striking about the rise of democracy or accountable government in Europe is how accidental and contingent it is.
- Francis Fukuyama

Fukuyama discussed how the sequence in the development of institutions can often be an accident of history that will ultimately determine its type of governance. "Something that I find striking about the rise of democracy or accountable government in Europe is how accidental and contingent it is," Fukuyama continued, "you would not have democratic institutions in the west were it not for the survival of certain feudal institutions into the modern period."

European monarchical authority was limited by feudal institutions called estates, parliaments, sovereign courts, and the like, consisting of the upper nobility, gentry, and bourgeoisie, which served as a balance of power against the central state. Fukuyama argued that this ultimately led to constitutional governance in England, but not in France, Spain, Russia, or Hungary, were parliaments were weak and divided.

Stanford historian and classicist Ian Morris, author of Why the West Rules for Now, lent an historical account of Fukuyama's book, commenting on the breadth of the scholarship and soundness of his historical judgment, which he views as a rarity in academia. On the whole Morris agreed with Fukuyama's argument, particularly the way he stressed the evolutionary basis of social and political change.

However, he disagreed with a specific detail of Fukuyama's analysis, where he classified the Qin dynasty as the first modern state. Instead, Morris views the Qin as part of a broader package of shifts occurring during the 1st millennium BCE, from China to the Mediterranean basin where patrimonial states evolved toward more "high-end type states," which separate political power from kinship networks.

On a deeper level, Morris believes there are more similarities than differences in patterns of human development. The biggest divergences did not occur until the last 500 years when according to Morris, "geographical forces have driven the rule of law, accountable government, and all that's happened since the French Revolution."

Barry Weingast, Professor of Political Science at Stanford and Senior Fellow at the Hoover Institution, provided a theoretical examination of The Origins of Political Order, discussing the important gap Fukuyama's book fills in defining political development since Huntington's seminal 1968 piece.

Weingast highlighted two areas of the book--the role of ideas and the issue of violence. According to Weingast, the role of ideas is a causal feature of Fukuyama's analysis but he does include ancient Greece and Rome, telling the story of republics and how ideas defined their political development. Weingast discusses the dilemma that lies at the heart of governance from the time of the Romans to the early American republic, which is characterized as a 2,000-year struggle of how to scale-up into larger societies, capable of defending themselves from other larger societies.

Examining the concept of violence, Weingast argues that Fukuyama does not give enough attention to the theoretical element of violence and challenges the way he conceptualizes it through Max Weber's definition of a modern state, which "has a monopoly on the legitimate uses of violence."

The debut of Fukuyama's treatise on political development left everyone in the room with a fresh perspective on where modern institutions evolved from to more fully understand their characteristics and complexities today. We look forward to the second volume of this book, which will bring the story up to the present day.