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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 (Canada) - See all my reviews
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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.

Time and again, the author points out how kin nepotism and reciprocal altruism play crucial roles in resisting and altering the courses and forces of government as powerful individuals seek to help their own. Yet, other than a brief mention at the beginning and end of the book (3 pages each), Fuyukama doesn't take advantage of the growing body of evolutionary psychology literature to inform his theory about how and why people across the worlds, in different cultures, work with or against governments to further their own evolutionary interests. That's ironic because Fuyukama is quite good at applying a Darwinian-type model to the evolution of different, competing governments. But ultimately, governments are made by and for people, and if any single theme emerges from this overview of political history, that's the theme- people acting out their evolved biases to promote themselves, their kin, and reciprocal allies at the expense of others. The chapter "The State of Nature" covers this in only the most basic, cursory overview with virtually no discussion of modern studies of kin selection and reciprocal altruism. Following chapters barely even mention these ideas.

So why four stars and not lower? Well, Fuyukama does make some interesting arguments about the power of different religions in shaping local governments, as well as spelling out some of the conditions for various forms of government to evolve. His big-picture, cross-cultural approach is refreshing and informative. Most of his arguments are generally clear and persuasive. It's a hefty book, but one that I generally found easy to read, which is a credit to his good writing.

Still, I can't help but come away with the feeling that this is a missed opportunity. It lacks a truly integrative theory that explains how political organizations form (in detail and with explicit evidence), largely because the author sticks to closely too history without adding psychology and other related disciplines. Perhaps that's what the author is building towards in his next book, but I don't think so. If this book is meant to be his theoretical foundation, I'd say it's interesting, but needs more work. Kind of like modern democracy!
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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 (Ottawa, Ontario, Canada) - See all my reviews
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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
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This review is from: Origins Of Political Order (Paperback)
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. (montreal) - See all my reviews
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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."

"Once male or female chimps have achieved dominance within their respective hierarchies, they exercise what can only be described as authority - the ability to settle conflicts and set rules based on their status within the hierarchy. Chimps recognize authority through a submissive greeting, a series of short grunts followed by deep bows, the holding out of a hand to the superior, and kissing of feet."

For a moment I thought he was writing about the royal wedding!

Fukuyama has good reason to include the section on the politics of chimpanzees - which share 99% of our DNA - because it discredits many classical political theories:

"For the account of the state of nature given by Hobbes, Locke or Rousseau to be correct, we would have to postulate that in the course of evolving into modern humans, our ape ancestors somehow momentarily lost their social behaviours and emotions, and they evolved them a second time at a somewhat later stage in development. It is much more plausible to assume that human beings never existed as isolated individuals, and that social bonding into kin-based groups was part of their behaviour from before the time that modern humans existed. Human sociability is not a historical or cultural acquisition, but something hardwired into human nature."

In terms of history, there are a lot of fascinating facts in this book, and to his credit Fukuyama insists on the cultural specificities of development in China, India and Arabia. He even includes a chapter entitled "Christianity undermines the Family", explaining how traditional European extended kinship groups were weakened by the church. Interesting stuff.

However, in terms of political theory the book is hardly ground-breaking. Perhaps theoretical innovation will come in the promised second volume, since the Origins of Political Order only takes us to the eve of the American and French revolutions.

Looking at the book on a more abstract level, a few observations can be made.

1) In terms of human societies, Fukuyama has made a conscious choice to start his story with China, rather than like most conventional Western histories that start with Greece and Rome. In terms of the arc of his story, this means that human progress is portrayed as evolution from the Chinese model of centralized authoritarian government, to the liberal democracy of the United States (though he does recognize the moderating influence of Confucianism on Chinese culture).

2) Those familiar with political theory will quickly recognize this book as neo-Hegelian in numerous respects: in its portrayal of all change over time as "progress"; in its assumption of the universal foundational power of "intersubjective recognition" (Hegel's master-slave dialectic in the Phenomenology of Spirit); and in the necessary dialectical progression from family, to band, to tribe, to state, echoing the movement in Hegel's Philosophy of Right from family, to civil society, to state.

3) Fukuyama's theoretical focus on the state is well past its best-before date, and serious political theorists today are shifting their attention elsewhere. Ireland no longer has to fear England; Greece doesn't have to fear Turkey; and Portugal doesn't have to fear dictatorship. However they all have to fear Moody's, Standard and Poor's and Fitch, which can now destroy a country much more effectively than any army can, with a single word: downgrade. I look forward to what Fukuyama has to say about this new type of power in his upcoming volume II.
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4.0 out of 5 stars Empire-Based History, Nov. 8 2011
By 
Ian Gordon Malcomson (Victoria, BC) - See all my reviews
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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. If there is an important trend here, it is one in which the central authority of the modern state is getting stronger because its leaders have learned to base the all-crucial rule of law on a trade-off between absolute rule and individual freedom. The one weakness in this work is that it tends to see history strictly through the dynamics of empire building rather than the emergence of modern nation-states and alliances and the increasing impact of democracy on political institutions.
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Origins Of Political Order
Origins Of Political Order by Francis Fukuyama (Paperback - March 30 2012)
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