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Origins Of Political Order [Hardcover]

Francis Fukuyama
4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (5 customer reviews)
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Book Description

April 12 2011
A New York Times Notable Book for 2011
A Globe and Mail Best Books of the Year 2011 Title
A Kirkus Reviews Best Nonfiction of 2011 title
 
Virtually all human societies were once organized tribally, yet over time most developed new political institutions which included a central state that could keep the peace and uniform laws that applied to all citizens. Some went on to create governments that were accountable to their constituents. We take these institutions for granted, but they are absent or are unable to perform in many of today’s developing countries—with often disastrous consequences for the rest of the world.

Francis Fukuyama, author of the bestselling The End of History and the Last Man and one of our most important political thinkers, provides a sweeping account of how today’s basic political institutions developed. The first of a major two-volume work, The Origins of Political Order begins with politics among our primate ancestors and follows the story through the emergence of tribal societies, the growth of the first modern state in China, the beginning of the rule of law in India and the Middle East, and the development of political accountability in Europe up until the eve of the French Revolution.

Drawing on a vast body of knowledge—history, evolutionary biology, archaeology, and economics—Fukuyama has produced a brilliant, provocative work that offers fresh insights on the origins of democratic societies and raises essential questions about the nature of politics and its discontents.

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Review

“Ambitious and highly readable.”—The New Yorker
 
“Political theorist Francis Fukuyama’s new book is a major accomplishment, likely to find its place among the works of seminal thinkers like Jean-Jacques Rousseau and John Locke, and modern moral philosophers and economists such as John Rawls and Amartya Sen . . .It is a perspective and a voice that can supply a thinker’s tonic for our current political maladies.”—Earl Pike, The Cleveland Plain Dealer
 
“An intellectual triumph—bold in scope, sound in judgment, and rich in provocations; in short, a classic.”—Ian Morris, Slate
 
“A sweeping survey that tries to explain why human beings act as they do in the political sphere. Magisterial in its learning and admirably immodest in its ambition.”—David Gress, The Wall Street Journal

“In many respects, Fukuyama is an ideal guide for this enormous undertaking. He combines a deep expertise in political institutions with an impressive familiarity of world history, philosophy and social theory. An engaging writer, his prose crackles with sharp observations and illuminating comparisons, and the book marshals a breathtaking array of stimulating facts and provocative generalizations. Who knew, for instance, that the tsetse fly retarded the spread of Islam into sub-Saharan Africa? Simply as a compendium of fascinating minutiae and social science theory, the book offers a treasure trove to the casual student of political history. More important, Fukuyama's book can help us appreciate why so many countries fail to combine the strong institutions, rule of law and accountability that are the hallmark of peaceful and prosperous nations.” —Eric Oliver, San Francisco Chronicle

“Fukuyama’s intellectual instincts hard-wire him into the most geopolitically strategic—not to mention dangerous—corners of the world….[He] is arguably the world’s bestselling contemporary political scientist... His new book, The Origins of Political Order, which hits bookstores this week, seeks to understand how human beings transcended tribal affiliations and organized themselves into political societies... His books have taken on not only politics and philosophy, but also biotechnology and that tinderbox of an idea: human nature. ‘He’s incredibly intellectually honest,’ says Walter Russell Mead, a historian of American foreign policy. ‘He goes where his head takes him. His first duty is to the truth as he sees it.’” —Andrew Bast, Newsweek

“The history profession is today dominated by small minds studying small topics. Specialists trade in abstractions, taking refuge in tiny foxholes of arcane knowledge. It was not always this way. In the 19th century, men like Leopold von Ranke, George Macaulay Trevelyan and Frederick Jackson Turner used the past to try to understand the present. Their ideas were big, and sometimes too were their mistakes. Francis Fukuyama is at heart a Victorian. As he admits, he wants to revive a ‘lost tradition’ when historians were big thinkers. In The Origins of Political Order, his topic is the world, his starting point the chimpanzee. He charts how states evolved, in the process explaining why, despite humans’ common origin in Africa perhaps 50,000 years ago, great political diversity exists today...[It is] impressive to see such a huge and complicated topic covered in such an accessible and engaging fashion....The Origins of Political Order  tries to make sense of the complexity that has cluttered the last two decades. It is a bold book, probably too bold for the specialists who take refuge in tiny topics and fear big ideas. But Fukuyama deserves congratulation for thinking big and not worrying about making mistakes. This is a book that will be remembered, like those of Ranke, Trevelyan and Turner. Bring on volume II.” —Gerard DeGrott, The Washington Post

The Origins of Political Order “begins in prehumen times and concludes on the eve of the American and French Revolutions. Along the way, Fukuyama mines the fields of anthropology, archaeology, biology, evolutionary psychology, economics, and, of course, political science and international relations to establish a framework for understanding the evolution of political institutions. And that’s just Volume One….At the center of the project is a fundamental question: Why do some states succeed while others collapse?” —Evan Goldstein, The Chronicle of Higher Education
 
“The evolving tension between private and public animates this magisterial history of the state....Fukuyama writes a crystalline prose that balances engaging erudition with incisive analysis. As germane to the turmoil in Afghanistan as it is to today's congressional battles, this is that rare work of history with up-to-the-minute relevance.”—Publishers Weekly (starred, and a Top 10 Politics Pick for the Spring Preview)

“Ambitious, erudite and eloquent, this book is undeniably a major achievement by one of the leading public intellectuals of our time.” — Michael Lind, The New York Times Book Review

“Stimulating. . . With impressive erudition, the author travels across China, India, the Islamic world and different regions of Europe looking for the main components of good political order and at how and why these emerged (or failed to) in each place. . . Mr. Fukuyama is still the big-picture man who gave us The End of History, but he has an unerring eye for illuminating detail. Books on political theory are not often page-turners; this one is.” — The Economist

“This exceptional book should be in every library.” —David Keymer, Library Journal
 
“Human social behavior has an evolutionary basis. This was the thesis in Edward O. Wilson’s book Sociobiology that has caused such a stir . . . In The Origins of Political Order, Francis Fukuyama of Stanford University presents a sweeping new overview of human social structures throughout history, taking over from where Dr. Wilson’s ambitious synthesis left off. . . Previous attempts to write grand analyses of human development have tended to focus on a single causal explanation, like economics or warfare, or, as with Jared Diamond’s Guns, Germs, and Steel, on geography. Dr. Fukuyama’s is unusual in that he considers several factors, including warfare, religion, and in particular human social behaviors like favoring kin. . . 'You have to be bowled over by the extraordinary breath of approach,’ said Arthur Melzer, a political scientist at Michigan State University who invited Dr. Fukuyama to give lectures on the book. 'It's definitely a magnum opus.’” —Nicholas Wade, The New York Times
 
“Sweeping, provocative big picture-study of humankind’s political impulses. . . Endlessly interesting — reminiscent in turns of Oswald Spengler, Stanislaw Andreski and Samuel Huntington, though less pessimistic and much better written.” —Kirkus Reviews
 
“Political theorist Fukuyama presents nothing less than a unified theory of state formation, a comparative study of how tribally organized societies in various parts of the world and various moments of history have transformed into societies with political systems and institutions and, in some cases, political accountability. . . This wide-ranging and frequently provocative work also carries the mantel of the great nineteenth-century socioloists.”—Brendan Driscoll, Booklist
 
 

About the Author

Francis Fukuyama is the Olivier Nomellini Senior Fellow at Stanford University’s Freeman Spogli Institute for International Studies. He has previously taught at the Paul H. Nitze School of Advanced International Studies of Johns Hopkins University and at the George Mason University School of Public Policy. He was a researcher at the RAND Corporation and served as the deputy director in the State Department’s policy planning staff. He is the author of The End of History and the Last Man, Trust, and America at the Crossroads: Democracy, Power, and the Neoconservative Legacy. He lives with his wife in California.


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15 of 16 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Interesting, but incomplete April 20 2011
By A. Volk #1 REVIEWER #1 HALL OF FAME
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
I enjoyed reading this book because it does a good job reviewing the politics of ancient societies that traditionally don't get a lot of ink (Islamic, India, and especially China). They are part of the author's thesis that there are traceable origins to political order and the structure of governments. Briefly, Fukuyama is interested in how governments form and change over time, and why. This is a laudable goal, especially if the sequel to this book explores that theme to analyze where we are now and where we are likely to go in the future.

So why only four stars? Well, there's a few problems with the book. First, in places, the review of history is frankly boring. Fuyukama makes both broad generalizations (in this 300-year period there was calm) as well as rather pointless specifics (in the years 179, 184, and 185 A.D. there was war). Either make a detailed case of give me the summarized version. Switching back and forth seems odd at best, cherry-picking at worst. Second, despite proclaiming trying to find a theory of political origins, when it comes to the origins of government he claims, "in the end, there are too many interacting factors to be able to develop one strong, predictive theory of how and when states formed". Um, isn't that sort of the point of this book? Limited evidence (e.g., about early Indian governments) doesn't stop the author in other places. This smacks of cowardice and/or laziness. Finally, on a related note, the author suggests that a lot of historical writing is just "one [darn] thing after another" without any attempt at broad generalizations. Well, the author has at his disposal an excellent tool that he points out- human evolutionary biology/psychology.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Great First Half June 20 2011
By Vlad Thelad TOP 500 REVIEWER
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
Anyone familiar with development, or at least with development lingo, has heard that "institutions matter." Indeed they do, yet, how, why, what for, and to what extent, are, for the most part, still unanswered questions. It is refreshing, then, that Fukuyama sets out to explore where it all comes from. He breaks down the notion of political order into three components (state, rule of law, and accountability) and tracks them through history (up to the eve of the French Revolution) inductively elaborating the basis of an explanatory Theory of their development.
Eventually, the hope is, we will know how to go about "institution building."
This is a very well written and pedagogical book. As for the theoretical principles that seem to emerge from it, brilliantly argued, as they are, their greatest asset lies in setting the stage for Volume 2. We eagerly await this second part, as this is a work that deserves to be gauged in its entirety.
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5.0 out of 5 stars A new classic Nov. 19 2012
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
The Origins of Political Order deserves to be a new classic at the intersection of history, political science and human studies. A remarkably concise, coherent and internally consistent history of human political development, it has breadth, as well as depth and substance.
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7 of 10 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Hegel 2.0 April 17 2011
By sean s. TOP 500 REVIEWER
Format:Hardcover
Francis Fukuyama is an American political philosopher, perhaps best known for his 1992 book The End of History, in which he argued that ideological struggle ended with the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, which marked the triumph of liberal democracy as a universal human ideal (even if reality does not quite live up to the ideal).

Despite the controversial nature of this claim, two decades later he stands by it in The Origins of Political Order: "Such is the prestige of modern liberal democracy that today's would-be authoritarians all have to stage elections and manipulate the media from behind the scenes to legitimate themselves. Authoritarians pay a compliment to democracy by pretending to be democrats."

Fukuyama presents his latest work as an update to his mentor Samuel Huntington's 1968 classic Political Order in Changing Societies. So it is both a work of history, and a work of political theory.

One novelty of Fukuyama's book is that he begins his history with pre-history: with chimpanzee politics, to be precise:

"According to the archaeologist Steven LeBlanc, much of non-complex society human warfare is similar to chimpanzee attacks. Massacres among humans at that social level are, in fact, rare occurrences, and victory by attrition is a viable strategy, as are buffer zones, surprise raids, taking captive females into the group, and mutilation of victims. The chimp and human behaviors are almost completely parallel. The primary difference is that human beings are more deadly because they are able to use a wider and more lethal suite of weapons.
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4.0 out of 5 stars Empire-Based History Nov. 8 2011
By Ian Gordon Malcomson HALL OF FAME TOP 10 REVIEWER
Format:Hardcover
After six thousand years of civilization we are as the human race still trying to figure out what good government as opposed to bad really looks like. Eminent American sociologist Francis Fukuyama, originator of the controversial post-Cold War thesis concerning the end of history, has produced yet another in-depth, wide-sweeping analysis on how political rule has evolved over the ages. While this book may contain several controversial positions on the emergence of the modern state, it does not lack for evidence that shows a persistent pattern forming where the effective wielding of power at the centre guarantees the long-term survival of the polity. Following the tradition of the late Samuel Huntington, Fukuyama focuses on the internal development of empires like China, India, Russia, Islam, and France throughout history. He believes that the political center, with the help of a well-trained bureaucratic and militaristic institutions, usually manages to subdue opposing tribal forces or landed families enough to secure a substantial period of international dominance. Where that central strength breaks down through patrimonial corruption and incompetence, the many peripheral dissenting groups destabilize the ruling center. For example, the fall of the Bourbon and Tsarist empires were triggered by a protracted break-down of central control where monarch and court were unable to control the surging masses of the disaffected. Going into the twenty-first century, the two traditional empires of China and Russia appear to have a lock on centrally controlling their geopolitical space while continuing to augment their external presence. Read more ›
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