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H-Diplo Roundtable on Copeland’s Economic Interdependence and War

H-Diplo has published a very interesting roundtable on Dale Copeland’s book Economic Interdependence and War. I’d already noted the book as potentially worth a read, as it’s a major recent contribution to the long-standing debate on the relationship between geopolitics and economic interdependence – a topic that many great scholars from Waltz to Arrighi to Modelski have attempted to make sense of. But in the roundtable, it’s noted that Copeland is self-consciously working in the tradition of Kennedy and Gilpin – which piques my interest even further. I re-read some of Gilpin’s IPE scholarship recently, and in my view he is one of the most insightful modern realist thinkers. The relationship between the imperatives of economics and security is not straightforward, and so richly deserving of further exploration. I don’t think it’s much surprise that Copeland takes aim at offensive realism, as any realistic realist theory should acknowledge the difficult trade-offs between different facets of security – especially if it seeks to incorporate the role of political economy.

There’s some sharp disagreement in the roundtable, but it’s interesting to note that the controversies concern two issues that I’ve blogged on in the reasonably recent past. Some questions are raised about whether paradigms are really the best way to organise debates in international relations any more, or whether existing general theories ought to be decomposed into more specific middle-range theories. Classifying arguments into a theoretical taxonomy is a bit of a distraction from substantive debate. Second, a major point of substantive disagreement is over our old friend, relative gains!  Relative gains feature in Copeland’s argument concerning the conditions under which conflict might be preferable to trade. Maass argues that Copeland’s arguments relying on relative gains are flawed for similar reasons to those I discussed in the last post (and a couple of others to boot):

states may concede relative losses to one state in order to achieve relative gains compared to another that poses a greater security threat, they may see their peers engaging in trade and fear being left behind, or they may see the relative gains of trade as fluid rather than fixed and anticipate the balance turning in their favor

Copeland, of course, disagrees with this criticism and argues Maass has missed the wider argument – in which the relative gains issue only plays one part.

I thought the debate over relative gains was long dead, but apparently not. But is it encouraging that such issues are subject to continued debate and elaboration, or a worrying sign that the discipline hasn’t really moved on since the debates of the early 1990s?

Rory Stewart, Elite Power and Structural Power

There was an interview in the Guardian yesterday with Tory MP for Penrith and all-round interesting chap Rory Stewart. He restates some of his level-headed, informed and compelling criticisms of NATO intervention and statebuilding. Simply put, these efforts do not work because foreigners cannot hope to understand the complex and diverse societies they are attempting to transform. These views were informed by his travels around Afghanistan and Pakistan, where he gained experience of the different systems of law, custom and political authority operating from region to region, hamlet to hamlet.

He’s now become an MP and has found the rules and customs of Westminster to be as baffling and intricate as those of any Pashtun jirga. His reflection that most MPs don’t reflect, don’t think very hard about Britain’s future and don’t have much of an understanding  of the society that they govern. So far, so in tune with the present (well justified) anti-politician zeitgeist: professional politicians form a discrete elite, insulated from the concerns of ordinary people, specialists only in the art of influencing the news-cycle, maximising expense claims and moving up the greasy pole. Rory Stewart is a bit of an outlier in such a world, a thinker and something of a neo-Victorian adventurer. Parliament otherwise bears testament to the arguments of Michels and other elitists that organised party machines would eventually give rise to new oligarchies.

But Stewart doesn’t think that politicians or any other elites actually rule: ‘We’re not run by anybody. The secret of modern Britain is there is no power anywhere.’ In support of this claim he notes that journalists, politicians and financiers all regard themselves as powerless, that policy is not effective: ‘You get there and you pull the lever, and nothing happens.’

I think Stewart’s arguments are a bit misleading. Part of the problem is the myopia of power and privilege, the lack of experience of real powerlessness and the sense of being subject to forces completely outside of one’s control, forces that threaten to rip apart the fabric of one’s life. But another aspect of the issue is the concept of power Stewart employs. He focuses on the inability of politicians and other elite actors to pull and lever or wave a wand to effect change, to exercise power in the sense of Russell’s ‘production of intended effects’. Well, why should we expect that to be possible? Britain is a liberal democracy under the rule of law. Groups who disagree with a particular policy or law have the opportunity to oppose it electorally, legally and through civil society. Policymaking is the result of compromises struck between diverse interests, the government is limited in its ability to ride roughshod over opposition.

Moving from an account of the ability of elites to exercise ‘power to’ and ‘power over’ others, it seems clear that there is plenty of power to go around in the UK if we consider the power embodied in the arrangements that comprise the status quo. Every society is structured by a set of institutionalised bargains struck between different conflict groups, i.e. competing interests, at various points in its history. A society’s laws, institutions, distribution of resources and customs are shaped by such bargains. Because they reflect the interests of conflict groups and the balance of forces between them, such structures systematically privilege some interests above others.

As immediately pointed out in the comment section in the online version of the interview with Stewart, Britain’s financial institutions were bailed out at cost to the taxpayer after the financial crisis struck. Alastair Darling probably didn’t desire to preside over such a bail out, but structural features of the British economy meant that the alternatives were, at the very least, costly and difficult. Those in the financial sector were able to secure their interests, in contrast to disabled persons now forced to pay a bedroom tax, due to power inequalities embodied in the structural features of the British economy, political system and legal system.

The UK is not run by omnipotent politicians able to pull levers to reshape society in an instant or global elites who can make the masses dance like puppets. The UK and other industrial democracies may well be sclerotic, with vested interests preventing effective policy making. But this doesn’t mean that there is no power in Britain. There is, and it is structural power that makes society resistant to transformation.

Strange Parallels: Levelling, East and West

The advantage of teaching very different subjects is that it draws your attention to strange contrasts and parallels across the social world and human history. 1645, China:

“They sharpened their hoes into swords, and they took to themselves the title of ‘Levelling Kings’, declaring that they were levelling the distinction between masters and serfs, titled and mean, rich and poor… “They tied the masters to pillars and flogged them with whips and with the lashes of bamboo…They would slap them across the cheeks and say: ‘We are all of us equally men. What right had you to cal us serfs? From now on it is going to be the other way around!’”

Mark Elvin, The Pattern of the Chinese Past 1973

Meanwhile, there was levelling going on in England

“I think that the poorest he that is in England hath a life to live, as the greatest he; and therefore truly, Sir, I think it’s clear, that every man that is to live under a government ought first by his own consent to put himself under that government; and I do think that the poorest man in England is not bound in a strict sense to that government that he hath not had a voice to put himself under”

Col. Rainsborough at the Putney debates 1947

Was the outbreak of ‘levelling’ at the opposite ends of Eurasia in the mid-C17th a coincidence? Presumably, I don’t know of any deep, structural process hypothesised by world historians or historical sociologists that would link the two episodes – it seems like a bit of a stretch. But the similarities tempt an explanation.

New Article in Millennium: Structural Inequality, Quasi-rents and the Democratic Peace

An article I wrote was published a week last Friday in a special edition of Millennium: Journal of International Studies focusing on the topic of Materialism and World Politics. The special edition  features papers presented at the rather excellent two-day conference at the LSE in October 2012, including my own. The title of my article is ‘ Structural Inequality, Quasi-rents and the Democratic Peace: A Neo-Ricardian Analysis of International Order’. Here’s the abstract:

This article employs the neo-Ricardian concept of quasi-rents – temporary above-market returns – to vindicate the structuralist claim that patterns of international order are shaped by global inequality and the transnational division of labour. Developing a framework linking the distribution of quasi-rents within the global economy to the process of class formation, the article examines the implications for the influential ‘social market democracy’ explanation of the democratic peace. It argues that the democratic peace is in part predicated on the quasi-rents enjoyed by substantial sections of the workforces of the ‘core’ advanced industrial states. Such a political economy provides the foundations for a ‘social market democracy’ in which economic security can be enjoyed by substantial sections of the population, giving rise to the system of values on which the democratic peace rests. Thus, present patterns of international order result from a historically specific unequal distribution of quasi-rents within the world economy.

The abstract is somewhat technical, due to the need to locate the article in ongoing theoretical debates in less than 150 words.  For the non-initiated, here’s what the article seeks to accomplish: Structuralism is a materialist theory of international relations which focuses on asymmetric relationships beyond the nation-state and how they result in global patterns of inequality. Structuralism has lost favour in international relations theory, partly because scholars feel it doesn’t have much to say about core issues of international politics such as authority, order and the use of organised violence*. This article seeks to present a fresh defence of structuralist arguments, arguing that patterns of war and peace may in fact be linked to patterns of global inequality and the organisation of the global division of labour. It does this by engaging with an influential position in the debate over the ‘democratic peace’ (the observed regularity that democracies very rarely engage in inter-state war with one another), Michael Mousseau’s ‘social market’ theory. He argues that peaceful, human rights-respecting values become dominant when large numbers of individuals in a society can enjoy economic security when they participate in the market. When markets do not provide economic security, those peaceful values will be weakened.

In the paper I investigate the circumstances under which markets may provide economic security, drawing on the labour market sociology of Aage Sorensen. He argued that individuals enjoy security when they occupy certain semi-insulated niches within labour markets, such as within occupationalised careers or professions. The ‘rungs’ of the ‘ladders’ of such internal job markets provide a greater degree of security than fluctating, unfettered markets. These niches arise out of the process of bargaining over quasi-rents, temporary returns above the normal market rate for an economic resource such as land, labour or capital. The local availability of quasi-rents will therefore determine the ability of actors in a common economic position (members of a class, if you like) to establish themselves within a niche in the labour market. The article uses research from the global value-chains literature to analyse some of the features of the distribution of quasi-rents. Until recently, the lion’s share of quasi-rents were located in the advanced industrialised North due to the compounded technological advantages of the early industrialisers. Economic actors in the global South found themselves stuck in industries producing generic products and were forced to compete on price.

But the new global division of labour has shaken this picture up. Many economic actors in the global South still lack access to quasi-rents and find themselves squeezed by large multinational buyers that control supply chains. But in other parts of the world, SE Asia and the S American cone for example, the shift in manufacturing capacity from the North may have led to opportunities to bargain for quasi-rents. Workers in the North, however, have been fighting a rearguard action to protect their niches within labour markets and defend systems of social welfare and insurance. Employers in the North have, due to a conjuncture of political, economic and technological factors, gotten much better at eliminating their workers from shares of quasi-rents. This seems to have led markets to become much more fluid, ‘flexible’ is the preferred term. But as Sorensen argued, freer markets might mean more insecure lives. More insecure lives might mean weaker support for pacific, liberal values. Of course, pacific values might actually strengthen amongst the new industrialisers in the global South. The point is that there are a set of compelling reasons, based on established empirical literatures within three different disciplines, to believe that the democratic peace is in fact underpinned by the specifics of the present global division of labour. This means that structuralism really does have something big and important to contribute to debates in international relations theory and the study of international security.

That’s the gist of the article (reversing the structure of the argument), but the real thing really attempts to nail down each step and present a rigorous, plausible restatement of structuralism using the idea of quasi-rents. I’m really happy with how the paper turned out and delighted to be part of what looks like a great issue of Millennium.

* I wouldn’t necessarily agree on this point, and there are some great counterexamples. But that’s the charge that has to be fought in order to make some headway.

Thug Politics

Oh dear, over a month since I said that I would be reviving the blog and this is the first post to follow. In my defence, I had a busy August teaching at a Summer School in Oxford.

Anyway, there’s an interesting mini-article by Murad Batal al-Shishani and Dalia Elsheikh over on the BBC website about the rise of the thug as an important political actor in the Middle East.

The term “baltagi” is Turkish in origin. “Baltaci”, which means “axe-man”, was adopted into Arabic during Ottoman rule.

In modern day Egypt, baltagi came to mean “thug”. But after mass anti-government unrest erupted in January and February 2011, it began to be used to describe regime supporters who were used to disperse and attack protesters.

The Assad regime in Syria has of course been utilising the Shabiha militias, made up of criminals, to terrorise supporters of the armed opposition. Similar groups are wielded by the Yemeni regime as well, according to the article.

As a non-specialist, the article suggests to me that the political capacity of the regimes of the MENA region must have significantly declined if they are now dependent on hooligans and gangsters to cling on to power. In his recent book on political order (which I blogged on quite a bit) he makes the case for seeing the emergence of such retinues, which orbit strong-men able to keep doling out the loot, as a feature of political decay. Away from West Asia, bands of thugs have been utilised by various regimes whose hold on power and the conventional levers of government was slipping: from the Shanghai gangsters who massacred of workers and communists at the behest of Chiang Kai Shek at the start of the Chinese Civil War, to the squads of football hooligans who formed into ethnic paramilitary units during the Yugoslav wars after the disintegration of the federal state.

As these two example might indicate, the rise of the thug isn’t a good sign for the MENA region. Arguably, democracy requires an existing political order and the institutionalisation of the principle that political disagreements should not be resolved through force. Democracy seems a distant prospect where the state has privatised and farmed out its monopoly on the use of force.

Fukuyama Blogging: Part 5 ‘Conclusion’

IntroPart 1Part 2Part 3China/Russia detourPart 4

Much delayed post on Fukuyama’s conclusion to The Origins of Political Order. I’ve had this post sat on my hard drive for over a month, but I wasn’t feeling the blogging vibe. Let’s have another go!

Having reached the French Revolution and the highest forms of political development through the emergence of the modern state, the rule of law and political accountability vol. 1 of Fukuyama’s The Origins of Political Order concludes. The entire history of politics from our primate ancestors up to the dawn of the modern world: done and dusted. Time to wrap up and look at what Fukuyama hopes we will take away from the book:

1) Modernisation not a general process, nor is political modernisation. Fukuyama’s goal is, in one sense, to rehabilitate modernisation theory and to make a case for the existence of an evolutionary ladder in political development. But at the same time he wants to reject the idea, promoted by classical social thinkers such as Weber, Durkheim and Marx, that all the components of modernisation are linked as part of a general process. Political modernisation inChina ran ahead even absent technological development. Nor is political modernisation a singular process, it can be decomposed into three aspects as I examined above. Fukuyama makes a strong case here, but as I argued in Part 4 its questionable whether he really succeeds in separating the ideas of accountability and the rule of law. The two seem pretty much intertwined empirically, even if they are conceptually distinct.

2) Ideas matter.Fukuyama seems quite irritated by perspectives which fail to acknowledge the independent weight of ideas in the evolution of human societies. He insists that it’s ‘a fool’s er­rand’ to attempt to make sense of the specifics of religion in terms of material circumstances, ideas ‘are tur­tles far down the stack that do not nec­es­sar­ily stand on the backs of tur­tles re­lat­ed to the econ­omy or phys­ical en­vi­ron­ment’. As a partisan of the opposite point of view, however, I wasn’t convinced thatFukuyama provides enough support for this thesis. In his account of political development it seems that it’s the way religious institutions  are socially organised that really matters. This in fact fits in with an ‘organizational materialist’ perspective of scholars like Mann and Tilly very well. At other times,Fukuyama’s account acknowledges the direct material interests of religious actors. It’s pretty rare in the book that the actual substantive content of belief systems makes a big difference independently of other factors.

On the subject, I was slightly disappointed how rarely the idea of the ‘struggle for recognition’ comes up in the book.Fukuyamais a well known for his Hegelian view that the search for recognition – reciprocal acknowledgement by one’s peers – is the driving force in human history. Yet the idea only has a walk on part in this book, with the biological drive to favour friends and family doing the heavy lifting.

Move over, bub, you're History.

3) Violence plays a central role in political development. Following the well known arguments of Hintze, Tilly and others in IR such as Spruyt and Ayoob, Fukuyama places a lot of weight on conflict as a driver of the rise of the state and of political accountability (but not the rule of law as far as I can tell). Violence has a Darwinian function in generating selective pressure amongst political units and generating one of the few impetuses to overcome vested interests (see #7).

Okay, sure, fine. This is a well-established thesis that has been the subject of extensive debate. But it’s worth noting that there are other kinds of competition, for migrants, political supporters, allies and for mobile capital (the latter examined by Arrighi and Silver in the context of early modern Europe), many of which probably drove political development as well.

4) Property rights aren’t everything – oh and Mancur Olson was wrong. Fukuyama spends a lot of time criticizing economists and political scientists who think that everything turns on robust property rights and that all strong states are predators who bury commercial activity with onerous taxes. The story is much more complex than the account inspired by political economists such as Olson, he insists.

Pretty much wrong, apparently

Here there’s not much to disagree with, the property rights uber alles brigade are pretty wearying. But it is worth noting that very often the people that Fukuyama bothers to engage with are all from the conservative side of academic debate, making specific mention of the specifics of arguments by neo-liberals and even neo-conservatives. In one sense, these are probably the people who Fukuyama debates with and is addressing in the book. But it’s notable that, although he often criticises Marx, he doesn’t actually engage with modern scholars influenced by Marx such as GA Cohen or Hobsbawm. There’s some irony in this deployment of straw-man Marxism, as contemporary Marxists such as Brenner and the IR theorist Teschke have made arguments which are of a similar format to Fukuyama’s, stressing the specifics of different systems of property rights and the relations between classes in explaining how capitalism originated in England.

What’s more, for all his attempts to distance himself from the Whig view of history, his account of the development is quite rose tinted in certain respects. It stresses the strong property rights of English subjects and established traditions of political accountability, but makes no mention of enclosure and the colossal theft by elites that it constituted. Both within Britainand overseas in its colonies, the establishment of property rights for some was quite closely related to the loss of property on the part of others. Turning to the modern world, things don’t seem to have changed much: witness the land grabs by unscrupulous local officials in China and the resultant images of ‘nail houses’.

5) Extreme levels of path-dependence characterises development. AlthoughFukuyama is resurrecting the idea of political modernisation and evolution, his account makes it clear that societies do not pass through a sequence of similar changes. Rather, their different paths are shaped by very deep social institutions:

New in­sti­tu­tions are more typ­ical­ly lay­ered on top of ex­ist­ing ones, which sur­vive for ex­traor­di­nar­ily long pe­ri­ods of time.

There’s no smooth and automatic progression along a simple evolutionary pathway either:

The ac­tu­al his­tor­ical roots of dif­fer­ent in­sti­tu­tions of­ten seem to be the prod­ucts of a long con­cate­na­tion of his­tor­ical ac­ci­dents that one could nev­er have pre­dict­ed in ad­vance.

Borrowing the idea of spandrels from Gould and Lewontin, he argues that an institution that arose for one purpose might play a totally different purpose further down the line – a notion that Mann referred to as a kind of institutional promiscuity.

This all makes political development seem pretty haphazard. Indeed, if this is true, then it seems that actually existing historical civilisations probably did not exhaust all the various possible ways of organising agrarian societies.

It makes me wonder as well, what of all the paths of socio-political development off the main linesFukuyamaexamines? All the societies he focuses on are patrilineal, but what about matrilineal cultures such as the Israelites or Sumatra’s Minangkabao people. Were these dead ends or did circumstances just prevent them from achieving the prominence of other world civilisations?

6) Political development should be understood in within-nation terms. Fukuyama actually contradicts himself on this issue I think. His focus is on the internal (endogenous if you like) development of political institutions, not looking at the position of societies in wider webs of relationships. Hence, turning to contemporary questions of development he argues that:

In more re­cent so­ci­eties, it is easy to blame so­cial fail­ures on the machi­na­tions of var­ious out­siders, whether Jews or Amer­ican im­pe­ri­al­ism, rather than look­ing to in­dige­nous in­sti­tu­tions for the ex­pla­na­tion.

Well, yes. But its also easy for those in wealthy nations to blame feckless Mexicans or Africans for the problems of maldevelopment, rather than ask uncomfortable questions about the global division of labour or the architecture of transnational finance. But Fukuyama isn’t so interested in understanding the interlinked global process of development, save for when he examines the second serfdom and can’t avoid acknowledging that the enserfment of those East of the Elbe was causally linked to the economic development of the West.

Suddenly at the end of the book, however, Fukuyamatakes a different perspective on the drivers of political development:

 It is there­fore no longer pos­si­ble to speak sim­ply about “na­tion­al de­vel­op­ment.” In po­lit­ical sci­ence, com­par­ative pol­itics and in­ter­na­tion­al re­la­tions have tra­di­tion­al­ly been re­gard­ed as dis­tinct sub­fields, the one deal­ing with things that hap­pen with­in states, the oth­er with re­la­tion­ships among states. In­creas­ing­ly these fields will have to be stud­ied as an in­te­grat­ed whole.

I’d agree, but I’d also say that the international dimension of development is nothing new in human history.

7) Political decay is a general phenomena. Taking up the baton from Huntingdon,Fukuyama wants to provide a sophisticated general account of political decay. Here I think he is quite successful. He sees two main sources of political decay: legacy investments, where previously successful social institutions are imbued with intrinsic value and thus are preserved long after they cease to be adaptive, and repatrimonialisation, which I examined in other posts. Yes, these are both variants of Olson’s idea of vested interests and ‘distributive coalitions’ gradually ossifying societies, butFukuyama develops the ideas with a lot of empirical and theoretical detail. I think there are other sources of political decay in the post-Malthusian world, but I’ll wait to see what Fukuyama says in the sequel.

One of the most interesting consequences of his argument is that decay generates novel social formations, not simply a reversion to previous forms. Sorry Heraclitus, but the way up is not the same as the way down. The Western Roman Empire had to fall before the possibility of feudalism arose. Decay therefore introduces novelty and can actually open up new pathways for political evolution.

That’s my scattershot appraisal of the threads of argument that run through the whole book. This post is already too long, so I’ll write a coda on the implications for the modern world to follow.

Fukuyama Blogging: Part 4 ‘Political Accountability’

IntroPart 1Part 2Part 3; China/Russia detour

Continuing my efforts to blog my progress through Fukuyama’s The Origins of Political Order vol. 1, here’s Part the 4th. This section could be subtitled ‘a brief history of accountable government’, as it deals with how broadly responsive government emerged in the pre-modern era. Again,Fukuyama is engaged in another plate spinning exercise. Accountability can only exist under very specific ‘goldilocks’ conditions under which the central estate and elite actors are roughly in balance.

Fukuyamapresents a typology of three different kinds of regime: Strong absolutism (his conception of which I discussed in my last post on China and Russia), weak absolutism, failed oligarchy and genuine accountable government. The last three are found primarily inWestern Europe, where the lateness of the development of the state made strong absolutism unlikely.

Ironically, although he makes many criticisms of Marx, it is clear that Fukuyama views class struggle as a pretty major determinant of the type of regime a society ends up with. Weak absolutisms occur where elite actors are co-opted by the state but retain their privileges. This produces a systematically corrupt form of government with a dependent elite above the rule of law and an oppressed peasantry. The exemplars Fukuyama provides are France and Spain, where caste-like gradations between different noble office-holders and elite exemptions from taxation produced societies dominated by rent-seeking.

What’s particularly interesting here is Fukuyama’s examination of how this venal system crossed the Atlantic and was transplanted to the Spanish Americas, giving rise to the legacy of oligarchic and patrimonial politics in Latin America. Indeed,Fukuyamamakes some fascinating comparisons between the travails of weak absolutist regimes and contemporary developing nations, likening Louis XVI’s minister Anne-​Robert-​Jacques Tur­got to technocratic neo-liberals parachuted into finance ministries inLatin America. He also notes that this kind of elite-co-opting state is chronically unable to institute a sensible system of taxation, so it has a strong tendency to default on debts as a surreptitious form of financing its expenditure. The centre cannot truly eliminate well entrenched elites, only chip away at their independence. Networks of patronage take the place of negotiated settlements between organised social groups, the norm in accountable regimes.

Irascible French nobles causing trouble for Edmund Blackadder

Those elites eh? Nothing but trouble. They make a similar nuisance of themselves in ‘failed oligarchies’, the exemplar of which is medieval Hungary. The Hungarian kingdom is not exactly well known as a crucial case-study in the making of the modern state, but it is of pivotal importance to Fukuyama’s argument. Indeed, maybe too much rests on this single case study. Hungary is important because Hungarian elites were able to thoroughly check the powers of their monarch and reduce him to their agent through the Golden Bull of 1222, a kind of super Magna Carta. The church, high nobles and lower gentry were all arrayed against the centre. The result was a weak state that failed to institute the kind of fiscal-military reforms pioneered elsewhere inEuropein the late middle-ages. At the mercy of large noble estates, the peasantry was crushed:

The “free­dom” sought by the Hun­gar­ian no­ble class was the free­dom to ex­ploit their own peas­ants more thor­ough­ly, and the ab­sence of a strong cen­tral state al­lowed them to do just that. Ev­ery­one un­der­stands the Chi­nese form of tyran­ny, one per­pe­trat­ed by a cen­tral­ized dic­ta­tor­ship. But tyran­ny can re­sult from de­cen­tral­ized oli­garchic dom­ina­tion as well

So we hit another dead end.

The Hungarian example is important because it buttresses Fukuyama’s belief that too much of anything (state power, elite independence) is a bad thing. The path to political development is the golden mean between alternatives. Down this path walked England, where a strong state faced a coherent landed elite. Unlike in Russia or China, English elites retained their independence. Unlike in France, they had deep roots on their estates in the country, they did not become office holders clustering round the royal court like flies. Why didn’t England go down the path of Hungary, however? Alternatively, why didn’t Englandend up like France? Why were the tendencies towards weak absolutism in the Stuart period defeated? For Fukuyama the important factors were the established liberties enjoyed by all social groups and the more open and less caste-like nature of social class in England.

Okay, plausible enough. But I wonder if an alternative explanation could be thrashed out by focusing on the terms of the settlement between elites and the state in the late medieval period. Whereas once lords had vied for the crown and acted as kingmakers, under the Tudors the elites were largely disarmed. However, the monarch depended on parliament to raise taxes for the purpose of war-making. So, perhaps by accident, the UK happened to hit on a compact between nobles and the state in which an accountable state secured a monopoly on the use of force. I’m not a historian of this period (yet alone of medieval Hungary for purpose of comparison), but I believe Mann makes the argument that by Elizabeth I the outlines of constitutional government were already in place.

Once again,Fukuyama’s argument might seem rather Whiggish, with its story of the rights of freeborn Englishmen triumphing over the plots of popish Stuarts, but he tries to head off the criticism with an example of how it could all go wrong as it did in Hungary, and how it went right for slightly different reasons in Denmark. In the home the best lager in the world, the monarchy supported literacy amongst the peasantry for religious reasons and attempted to build a peasant-based conscript army to avoid dependence on the nobles. This established traditions of corporate organisation amongst the upwardly mobile peasantry, setting the stage for gradual political mobilisation and the demand for accountable government. So the English Goldilocks had sister.

What Britain and Denmark shared was a synchronicity between state-strength, rule of law and accountability – providing a virtuous circle which created conditions for further political development. These nations were able to deal with the strains of modernisation, whereas (as Fukuyama acknowledges in the conclusion of the book) absolutist regimes such asFrancecould not cope with the demands of newly mobilised social groups during the dawn of the modern era. In any case,

The three com­po­nents of a mod­ern po­lit­ical or­der—a strong and ca­pa­ble state, the state’s sub­or­di­na­tion to a rule of law, and gov­ern­ment ac­count­abil­ity to all cit­izens—had all been es­tab­lished in one or an­oth­er part of the world by the end of the eigh­teenth cen­tu­ry.

Returning to form as a disciple of Hegel and Kojeve, he notes that history effectively ended in 1806 at the battle of Jena. All that follows is epilogue.

But before the owl of minerva takes flight, lets go back a bit. First, I’m not really sure how separable the rule of law and political accountability in Fukuyama’s narrative. The problem is that England (and sometimes Denmark) is the exemplar of both of these aspects of political development. Both require a balance between state and elite power. Fukuyama suggests that Prussia under Fredrick the Great was an absolutism constrained by the rule of law, a Rechstaat, and it might have been enlightening if it had been used as a case study. But it is difficult to think of a state with political accountability (which we might define as the ability of corporate actors representing both elite and subordinate social classes to constrain the state) in which the rule of law was unknown. It’s hard to think of any likely candidates.

Second, I think that there is still a lot to be said for an alternative perspective that sees Britain as one of a chain of capitalist polities of increasing scale and ‘nation-ness’, from the city state of Genoa to the United Provinces of the Netherlands. This family of polities, which also might include Switzerland and the Hanseatic League, has been of interest to scholars such as Tilly, Arrighi and Deudney. It’s not as if the international aspect of political development is missed by Fukuyama. But whilst the importance of conflict is acknowledged, he pays little attention to the development of worldwide capitalism and how it drove processes such as urbanisation in early modern Europe. War, trade and political development have always been related, however. The maritime orientation of Britain, for example, has been seen as pushing it towards developing a navy and seeking colonies overseas instead of remaining involved in continental European geopolitics. Its decision to become a sea rather than land power may have pushed it down a very different path to Spain, which Tilly suggests it otherwise resembled. Navies are expensive, but they cannot be used as a tool to oppress and extract wealth from domestic actors.

But in Fukuyama’s account, the rise of urban commerce and the burgher class depended more on domestic factors than international relationships. Capitalism arose in Europe because a deadlock between elites and the state prevented it from being strangled in the crib by either.

But enough, onwards towards the final post, where I’ll cover the conclusion as well as sling out some more reflections onFukuyama’s opus.