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23 of 23 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A Political Primer of Lasting Value
Why have Western attempts to impose democracy on autocratic regimes met with such limited success? Why do so many developing countries remain mired in endless cycles of conflict and corruption? And why do manifestly authoritarian countries like China continue to prosper despite their widespread abuse of human rights?

In this hugely ambitious, yet accessible...
Published on 25 Oct. 2011 by Sensible Cat

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1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Weight, serious but at times tedious
Valuable wide-ranging and erudite introduction to the origins of political organisation and the emergence of the state, the rule of law and formally established governance systems. Well researched and referenced with examples and insights from China and India, the Arab world and Ottoman Empire, and Europe. This is at times contrasted with other societies such as in the...
Published 8 months ago by Anthony


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23 of 23 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A Political Primer of Lasting Value, 25 Oct. 2011
By 
Sensible Cat (Manchester, UK) - See all my reviews
Why have Western attempts to impose democracy on autocratic regimes met with such limited success? Why do so many developing countries remain mired in endless cycles of conflict and corruption? And why do manifestly authoritarian countries like China continue to prosper despite their widespread abuse of human rights?

In this hugely ambitious, yet accessible book, Fukuyama attempts to answer these questions by tracing the history of the development of human societies into fully functional states. Beginning in pre-human times, he analyses the reasons why isolated and generally nepotistic tribal groups started to co-operate and organise themselves into states. The answer, he argues, generally consists of war, religion and various combinations of the two.

It is becoming customary for Western liberals to demonise religion and, John Lennon-like, imagine that a world without it would be a better one. Some of Fukuyama's conclusions may surprise and even disturb them. Religion, he argues, is one of the very few forces capable of persuading human beings to abandon their traditional nepotism and work together towards a common ideal. Not everyone will be comfortable with his generally positive analysis of the role played by the Catholic church in medieval times, albeit accidentally, in promoting what he describes as "the rule of law." This phrase he defines at some length as being the concept of a moral code greater, even, than the power and authority of kings; this, combined with a strong state and universal democracy is a key attribute of a successful human civilisation.

Fukuyama analyses the development of the first sophisticated civilization in China, pointing out its strengths and weaknesses - these can still be recognised as characteristic of a number of Asian societies today. Stopping off to discuss the deep social divisions that have made Indian government democratic but frequently ineffectual, he proceeds to an account of the radical approach to nepotism adopted by the Ottoman empire - their solution was to enslave conquered peoples by forcibly removing their most promising sons to run their state bureaucracy; they were given enormous powers and privileges but forbidden to intermingle with their host society and, crucially, to bequeath their social capital to their children. The celibacy of clergy in the Catholic Church was a similar attempt to address this problem.

Fukuyama then turns to Europe where, he claims, the conditions of a successful state were most effectively established, particularly in England. Extensive and comparatively egalitarian participation in the machinery of justice at local and regional levels paved the way for a parliamentary assembly able to impose the rule of law on monarchs that overstepped their powers, culminating in the Glorious Revolution of the late 17th Century that paved the way for the French and American revolutions just over 100 years later. This is the point at which Fukuyama's narrative ends; a second volume will continue the story under the vastly different conditions prevailing after the Industrial Revolution. However, Fukuyama acknowledges that the English success was not unique by examining the very different route taken by Dennmark to a similar outcome, and before he discusses the English case he looks at the problems encountered by the ancien regime in France, weak absolutism in Spain and its malign influence on Latin American postcolonial societies, and the limitations of serfdom and oligarchy in Russia and Hungary. All this undermines any Eurocentric triumphalism.

It is greatly to Fukuyama's credit that he manages to explain all this in terms that are comprehensible to the intelligent layman. This is an easy book to read, but it is dense in argument and information, so much so that it would probably be impossible to grasp all its nuances in a single reading. What makes it absorbing and exciting to read are the frequent occasions when light is shed on a seemingly intractable political problem in our own times. It will deepen any thoughtful reader's understanding of the challenging and often dangerous world we live in, and every day listening to a news bulletin will throw into focus the general principles of Fukuyama's analysis. He discusses 21st century military adventures in the Middle East and Afghanistan, and devotes several pages to the global implications of China's phenomenal economic growth. It is to be hoped that the events of the Arab Spring, which appear to have taken place after the manuscript was completed, will be addressed either in the promised second volume, or possibly a revision of the first. This book is likely to become a key primer in international relations and political science, and therefore likely to run to more than one edition.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An interesting and coherent presentation, 13 April 2014
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In this work Fukuyama's objective is to explain how and why political order arises and under what circumstances the resultant social, economic and cultural conditions may or may not facilitate the eventual evolution of liberal democratic polities. He argues that for political development to take place in any society three institutional components must be present. These are: a strong and capable state; the notion of a rule of law to which the state is subordinated; and governments which are accountable to all their citizens. With the aid of these three interlinked institutional structures Fukuyama constructs his view of political development and decay.

All societies were originally organized as tribes or bands. The state came into existence as a consequence of various factors the most prominent of which may have been the need to wage war or defend one self from neighbouring tribes or bands. The state is understood to be an organization that enjoys a legitimate monopoly in the deployment of violence/coercion over a defined territory.

To illustrate the nature of political order and development and its relationship to the process of state building, the rule of law and accountability, Fukuyama makes a series of historical comparisons between different regions. These relate to China, India, the Middle East under the Ottomans, and Medieval and Early Modern Europe.

Fukuyama argues that China was the first society to develop a state structure in the modern sense ie an organization that is impersonal in terms of recruitment and authority over its citizens; whose administrative machinery is subject to a rational division of labour; and is based on technical specialisation and expertise. However although China historically had a strong state the idea that no individual even the ruler was above the law was absent. Similarly the notion of accountability did not exist throughout the period of China's historical development. Fukuyama argues that this was not the case historically in India, the Ottoman Empire and Western Europe. A nascent idea of the rule of law was present in these regions but it was derived from religious sources in all three cases. However the only country to develop notions of accountability was England in the Early Modern period.

Fukuyama argues that stable, free, democratic polities only arise when these three institutional structures are present. Thus a strong, rationally organised and capable state must be balanced by the presence of a strong sense of the rule of law and government accountability.That is, a strong state must be capable of being checked and if necessary, challenged, by a robust civil society. He epitomises this outcome as "getting to Denmark". However political order in this sense is not necessarily the same as same as economic development. Modern China and parts of South East Asia have experienced relatively high levels of growth recently yet in these regions accountability and the rule of law are comparatively weak vis-a-vis strong state apparatuses.

Overall, Fukuyama takes a Weberian perspective to the problem of political order. He stresses the importance of what Marxist would describe as superstructural elements in the process of historical and political development as opposed to the view that it is economic activity or the economic base that is the sole driver of societal evolution. Thus ideological factors such as religion, culture and politics play a significant role in social change and hence state formation, the development of the rule of law and political accountability. He is implicitly critical of Marx's notion of modes of production. Such a model of historical change is specific ( for example the idea of feudalism ) to the historical evolution of Europe and may not necessarily apply to other parts of the world. Thus there is no certainty that developing countries will follow the same path of development Europe underwent over the past five hundred years in order to "get to Denmark" or achieve high levels of growth and freedom. Furthermore, Fukuyama argues that no country is bound by its history and that all social and political development is contingent upon circumstances and do not follow necessary laws of historical development.

The problem of political decay is integral to that of development. Fukuyama argues that this occurs when the impersonality and rationality of the state are compromised by the process of patrimonialisation ie when social elites and other powerful groups gain control of the state and promote their own kin and clients irrespective of their suitabiliy, to high positions within it. Historically this has been a persistent problem that has beset all countries. States have responded in various ways to this problem. For example the Han Chinese instituted impartial competitive examinations open to all suitable candidates, for entry into public service in order to combat the problem of nepotism. The Ottomans recruited slaves as officials and soldiers within their empire as a solution for precisely the same problem.

Fukuyama bases his notion of patrimonialisation from his perspective on human nature which he derives in part from the findings of evolutionary psychology. He argues that biological and evolutionary factors play a role (as well as cultural ones) in the development of human institutions. That human beings have an in-built tendency based on genetic inheritance for norm-building and rule-making and that the same tendency will function in favouring altruistic behaviour and kin selection as a default outcome in the absence of any counterveiling normative restraints. He likens this tendency to the ability of humans to learn languages because the means to do so are hardwired genetically. While there may be some truth in this view, it is, nevertheless, highly contentious territory that needs to be clarified further

On the whole this book is very lucid, interesting and coherent in its presentation. As other commentators have noted it does provide a framework for understanding the problems faced by contemporary developing countries ie why some evolve into authoritarian dictatorships while others degenerate into pariah or failed states. In my opinion it dispels the the charge held in some quarters that the author is just another neo-con mouthpiece. Fukuyama disagrees with the Hobbsian and Lockian view that all human beings in the state of nature were isolated, competing individuals. They were and are in the Aristotelian sense, social and political beings. Individualism is something that evolved through the course of history and is not a natural human condition. Fukuyama is dismissive of the kind of right wing economic anarchism based on this fallacious view of human individuality that would prefer to abolish as much of the state and its functions as possible in favour of the freemarket. Thus Fukuyama displays a communitarian outlook that appears to encompass both elements of the political spectrum.
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31 of 34 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Political history, 22 May 2011
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Gavin Mcewen - See all my reviews
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Fukuyama has a gift of writing intelligibly for the non-academic although he does use some jargon. This is history as I wish I had learned it; not battles, kings, generals and prime ministers but the institutions and structures that lead some societies to collapse, others to tyranny and a few to liberty and prosperity. While testing such theories by experiment is not possible, he draws on a wide range of sources and disciplines and a global reach to give a plausible account. He teases out the key factors in the development of societies that offer freedom and the protection of the law to their citizens in contrast to others that are ostensible democracies but continue to deny these to their citizens. Having lived for a number of years in a country with a democratic constitution and regular elections, but where the watchword was: "Why pay a lawyer when you can buy a judge?", I find his insights of much more than academic interest.
I look forward impatiently to the publication of Volume 2 covering the period from the French Revolution to today.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A thorough, clearly mandated and well executed work of scholarship, 20 Jan. 2014
Exploring the history of political systems throughout the world, Francis Fukoyama seeks to elucidate how governments emerge, why they work or don't, and the basic human tendencies, such as paternalism and tribalism that political systems throughout the world struggle to escape.

This book taught me so many things that I did not know, and elucidated further many things that I did. A few reviewers have criticized the author for waffling and being repetitive. I think this is more a case that the history repeats itself. And possibly the most important message within the book is that humans work in such a way that and political systems fall foul of these most basic tenets of human nature to reproduce similar results time and time again.

While this book may not add much to established political theory, is does bring it all together, or at least to me appears to do so. If you watch the news and ask yourself upon seeing reports from certain middle-eastern and African nations, 'why can't these people just get on with it a set up a decent government?' this book explains why. It explains why the anglo-saxon model is so successful, but why it is also frustrating, often appearing ineffectual. But ultimately I came away feeling that the politics we all complain about again and again, really can't be taken for granted. You can't build it, you can't buy it, and you can only rarely import it, you just have to look to history to see how you can incrementally improve it.
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21 of 24 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Huge, amibitious and a very interesting read., 18 May 2011
Francis Fukuyama is one of those authors for whom "all of history" is a challenge. Rather than shy away from delving too far into the past, he has taken it upon himself to explain the origins of our political world and its institutions by looking at the whole of human history.

'Origins of Political Order' is broad, and it is sweeping. From pre-human times to the French Revolution, stopping on the way in early China, India, Turkey, and England. The amazing thing is that the book doesn't lose its thread, and teaching us about these early civilisations, continues to get across its point: that the state, the rule of law, and accountability are the key elements in the formation of the modern state.

Certain areas are more gripping than others (obviously depending on where one's interests lie); personally, the chapters on China interested me a lot more than, say, the Ottomans - the overview of Chinese bureaucratic was fascinating, and very well argued. And while I don't agree with all the conclusions being drawn, I cannot deny the fantastic skill of the writing.

Whether you agree with him or not, this book is a fantastic one to read. It's brilliantly written, and the scope is simply astounding. If you have any interest in politics, or are even slightly curious as to how the institutions we know today came about, then this is definitely one to read. My copy will be well thumbed and well referenced before too long!
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars comparative politics at its best, 1 Jan. 2014
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This is one of the best books on political history I have read. If you want to get your head thinking what makes states different throughout history have a look in this book. Although I found the schematics a bit too crude and the last chapter (Political development, then and now) appears to have been written in haste, the material and the ideas presented in the book are highly original and the author is honest in what he is trying to achieve: understand the origins of democratic societies.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The book I never knew I've always wanted, 2 July 2011
Loads of books exist detailing how the Romans, Chinese, Greeks, Indians, Arabs etc. developed and the course of their history. I had yet to find a book that linked all these different paths as part of a complete, comparative work before I purchased this one. Fukuyama shows in a concise yet convincing manner how the myriads of factors affecting different societies combined to produce such diverse results from one culture to the next. I eagerly anticipate the second volume.
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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Now you will understand why different countries are the way they are, 25 Jan. 2013
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Ever wondered why China for example is an authoritarian regime that brooks no dissent? Answer, it has always been that way - for more than two thousand years. This book covers a subject area that I wish I had discovered years ago, political science. Francis Fukuyama explains how a vital balance between a strong state (but not too strong), a strong society, accountability and the rule of law produces a safe, prosperous and free country. He also explains how 'democracy' is only one aspect of this balance and just because countries have elections does not mean they are either democracies or free and safe - Russia being a prime example. I was particularly proud, after reading this book and being British, to have explained to me why, what I had long suspected, which is that despite its faults Britain is the first and possibly the most complete example of all the elements above being in balance, with Denmark a close second or even joint first. Francis Fukuyama is balanced, fair and objective throughout and examines the Moslem world and America, his own country, constructively and in a complimentary way.

This is not just a roll call of various countries' current political set-ups, but a deeply rewarding examination of how the human race organises itself. Such knowledge should be vital to the present century's organisational problems and the challenges the human race faces in violence, poverty, oppression, overpopulation and religious conflict. Intellectually stimulating, factually rewarding and highly revealing. Presidents and Prime Ministers should order now, read and inwardly digest. Highly recommended.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Fascinating book about history that explains so much, 30 Mar. 2014
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This review is from: The Origins of Political Order: From Prehuman Times to the French Revolution (Kindle Edition)
Although long, and at times repetitive, this book has a scope and coherence that makes it deeply satisfying. I would put it up ther with Guns, Germs, and Steel as the sort of book that helps explain WHY the world developed in the way that it did and HOW it came to exist as it does.
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9 of 12 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A brilliant thinker, 18 May 2011
I've never read the End of History so this was my first introduction to Francis Fukuyama and I'm really impressed - he's a brilliant thinker. The book has a rather dry-sounding title but it's really about our history as human beings, how we have organised ourselves over the centuries and developed from tribal groups to modern societies. I was surprised to find that it was the Chinese who invented the modern state over 2,000 years ago. Fukuyama argues that because socially and biologically we are hard-wired to favour family and friends a crucial task for any state is to find a way of circumventing this and prevent corruption. For instance in ancient China they did this by recruiting civil servants, based upon merit rather than family ties, to take run government functions.

Other states over the centuries tackled this problem in different ways. Fukuyama shows why Christian military slaves may have saved Islam, why the Brahmins stopped the state developing in India - and why, we might assume the Christian church naturally supports the family as an institution but there are times when it actually undermined it.

Although the book finishes around the time of the French revolution (there's a volume two in the offing)it sheds light on a lot of what's happening today. For instance, why developing nations lack proper political institutions and how this is keeping them in poverty. Why attempts to transplant a modern democracy into a tribal country like Afghanistan, are bound to run into difficulties. And why despite all the difficulties people worldwide aspire to liberal democracy.

Read it!
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