Origins of Political Order: Francis Fukuyama and the Start of History

AD20110527781497-The Origins of Richard Gowan in The National:

It is not too much to say that Fukuyama had no choice but to write this book. Twenty years ago he seized the post-Cold War moment to raise the possibility of the “end of history” – the moment that liberal democracy trumped all other political systems. Versions of this idea informed the Clinton administration's efforts to draw ex-Communist states into a liberal world order and the Bush administration's democratisation agenda.

On some college campuses, it has been fashionable to suggest that Fukuyama's thesis led directly to America's misadventure in Iraq and the struggle to build a modern state in Afghanistan. This is piffle. Anyone who has read detailed accounts of the Bush team's debates over Afghanistan and Iraq will recognise that these campaigns were shaped by an initial post-9/11 panic, old-fashioned power politics and much Washingtonian infighting.

Yet, to his credit, Fukuyama has worried a good deal about why his country's efforts to transform the world have gone awry. He not only disowned the neoconservatives in a finely argued 2007 polemic, America at the Crossroads, but has written and edited a number of technical studies of development policy and nation-building. Even ardent admirers may have missed his article, “State-building in the Solomon Islands”, in the 2008 Pacific Economic Review, cited dutifully in The Origins of Political Order.

Although Fukuyama notes that this new work is partially inspired by a preoccupation with “the real-world problems of weak and failed states”, it is evidently his return to the big picture. The book is Fukuyama's attempt to address those “real-world problems” by grappling with the sociological and philosophical flaws of long-defunct societies.

This is a remarkably old-fashioned project. In tracing the highways and byways of human development, Fukuyama appears far more interested in probing the classics of political philosophy and sociology than current development theory.