The Origins of Political Order: Fukuyama Blogging Intro

Francis Fukuyama is best known for his much misunderstood meditation on the epochal significance of the end of the Cold War, ‘The End of History and the Last Man’ , which famously argued that post-nationalist liberal democratic capitalism represented the final form of human social evolution – barring any radical efforts to utilised technology to alter human nature.

Since 9/11, however,Fukuyamahas been preoccupied with the thorny problem of how underdeveloped nations can actually establish the institutions of liberal democratic capitalism for themselves, the problem of ‘getting toDenmark’. His concerns led to a brief and unhappy fling with the neo-cons, who he subsequently denounced as ideologically blinkered yahoos unable to learn from their mistakes and ignorant of the difficulties in exporting liberal democracy . As a result, he published ‘State-Building’, a series of lectures reflecting the state of the art on the art of making states.

This avenue of inquiry seems to have led Fukuyama to a much more ambitious project: developing a theory of the evolution of political order from pre-history to the present. In doing so, Fukuyama is making a bid to top his mentor and rival, Samuel Huntingdon, and to renovate modernisation theory, the master theory which united American social science in the post-war period and provided a framework for the US’s attempts to fight communism and control the development of the post-colonial world. All societies around the world were posited as moving though a series of steps until they finally converged on the ‘high mass-consumption’ society of the Eisenhauer-era USA.

I have to admit that I’m of two minds about Fukuyama’s project. Few perspectives have had more criticism directed at them than modernisation theory, which has rightly been lambasted for its dubious Eurocentric assumptions, empirical flaws, authoritarian value commitments and quasi-totalitarian political implications. This is, after all, the ideology which played no small role in the disaster of Vietnam– as recounted in Nils Gilman’s brilliant intellectual history of modernisation theory. Huntingdon’s opus, ‘Political Order in Changing Societies’ may be a classic of political science and path-breaking work on the political sociology of development, but it is also a treatise justifying support for the most odious regimes – an apologia for the Suhartos and the Mubaraks of the world.

However, I’m an avid reader of big-picture historical sociology and attempts to make sense of large-scale patterns of human socio-economic and political development – I can’t really turn away when Fukuyama throws his hat into the ring. I’m also of the opinion that so much calumny has been thrown at modernisation theory that scholars might be missing the important points that it does make. In particular, the reaction against ‘stagist’ theories of human development, where human societies are posited as moving along a linear path from one form of political order to the next, has gone much too far. As a result, it has become difficult to discuss notions of development or to raise the possibility that some directional processes link together what does on in changing societies.

So I’m interested to see what Fukuyama’s ‘The Origins of Political Order’ brings to the debate. The book is divided into five parts and I plan on writing a little review of each section with an overview and some reflections in the last post.


Posted on November 30, 2011, in development, historical sociology, political order, theorists and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 6 Comments.

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