Notes on Fukuyama’s Origins of Political Order.

Part One of Political Order and Political Decay.

(This is Part Two)

I’ll try to get the next part out next week.

I’ve been pretty bad about writing lately. I haven’t been traveling consistently (my preferred writing time). I also got a new cat. I discovered an allergy to her. I am the Czar of Russia in a grueling stalemate in a weeks-long match of Diplomacy (1 turn per day). Some habits were broken and others were formed. That’s life.


0. Foreign Institutions

Fukuyama examines the development outcomes in Latin America, sub-Saharan Africa, and East Asia, exploring climate, geography, and colonial legacy as potential factors that explain why we have what we have today.

He opens with Nigeria. Nigeria is atypically corrupt for Africa. Fukuyama suggests that the country is being choked by Dutch Disease, weak institutions and clientelism. The politically active parts of the population are members of the clientelistic networks, so information about corruption has little effect.

“The roots of Nigeria’s development problem are institutional; indeed, it is hard to find a better example of weak institutions and bad government trapping a nation in poverty. Of the three categories of basic political institutions- state, rule of law, democracy- lack of democracy is not the core of the country’s problems. However poor the quality of Nigeria’s democratic institutions, substantial political competition, debate, and opportunities for the exercise of accountability have existed since the end of military rule in 1999.”

Nigeria’s state is weak and incapable of providing services transparently and impersonally, and further it suffers from a lack of legitimacy. Fukuyama asks why this is, and explores a variety of options.

1. Theories of Climate and Geography: Schools of Thought

Between ‘developing’ nations in the past half-century, “the difference in economic outcomes corresponds to the difference in political institutions.” Fukuyama asks what conditions might be factors in the development of Western institutions, over others?

1.1 Montesquieu may have been the world’s first “comparative political scientist”. He made arguments about both climate and geography influencing behavior of nations differently. He argued that men in cold countries were more industrious but possessed less sensibility for pleasure. Men in warm countries (e.g. Italy) had “exquisite sensibilities” (taste in wine and the arts, maybe?) but were less brave and hard-working. He further argued that Asia was predisposed to empires, because its vast plains made military centralization easier, while Europe’s rough terrain predisposed it to smaller competing and cooperating powers that maintain a [anachronism alert] balance of power, which was a more fertile environment for concepts of personal liberty to develop.

1.2 Climatic/Geographical Determinism came back into vogue a bit, recently. Jeffrey Sachs points out the correlation between temperate zones and industrial nations. He also emphasizes waterway access and disease in the tropics. The infamous Jared Diamond’s Guns, Germs, and Steel also provided interesting meditations: Europe’s east-west orientation meant that technologies and communications could travel far while maintaining the same climate, whereas South America’s north-south distance encompasses many climates. Wheat and rye were good cash crops that could grow in Europe, and the horse provided a huge boost in mobility which catalyzed the development of immunities to a wider variety of diseases contacted. The relative homogeneity of the American peoples was a great disadvantage when they made contact with European diseases.

1.3 Economic Historians speak more about institutions than Sachs and Diamond did. Fukuyama references economic historian Douglass North, who notes that England seeded North America with common law and a representative system, whereas Spain and Portugal seeded South America with Mercantilism and Absolutism. Economic Historians Engerman and Sokoloff focus on “factor endowments”, or the types of resources that can be grown or extracted in a place. At the time of the American Revolution, “Cuba and Barbados were wealthy colonies due to the relative efficiency of large-scale plantation agriculture employing slaves.” Barbados, by the way, is a British colony as well. New Spain (Mexico) and Peru were organized around gold and silver extraction, which concentrated power and did not require mass slave importation. Even as the conditions that gave rise to these social dynamics changed, those who had power continued to work towards keeping it. The Creole elites in Latin America kept their power and even today, so the story goes, Latin America is still intensely unequal even though it is now democratic. Acemoglu, Robinson, and Johnson hazarded that the Europeans simply demanded rights for themselves wherever it was safe enough for them to settle, and that colonial powers created “extractive” institutions where it was too costly for European settlement.

2. Theories of Climate and Geography: Fukuyama’s Perspective

Except that:

Snapshot, 250 CE

2.1 Warmer Peoples Used to be More Productive. Before 1500 [so, most of the time…], Montesquieu’s observations made little sense. The Roman Empire was based out of the warm Mediterranean sea, and its northernmost holdings were sparsely populated and barbarian. Most Empires by necessity were tied to warmer climates that could support a large agrarian culture. The large precolumbian American empires were based in the tropics and subtropics. Even into the modern era this trend took some time to reverse. The Spanish Empire developed its riches by usurping the seats of indigenous American institutions. The Plantation economies in the Caribbean and northern Brazil were major cash cows:

“At the beginning of the seventeenth century, it is estimated that the sugar island of Barbados was two-thirds richer  than the thirteen North American colonies in per capita terms; Cuba was far richer than Massachusetts at the time of the American Revolution.”

2.2 Fukuyama Believes that Climate and Geography are Factors, though perhaps not the golden factors that some of these thinkers present it as. Ideas and technologies still mean something. The slave trade required transatlantic shipping and was undercut by sugarcane alternatives like beet sugar.

Fukuyama did note in his previous book that the earliest states basically necessitated rivers with high soil fertility in just-right sized valleys (large enough for dense populations but small enough to contain subservient peoples). Tribal societies (our default mode) can persist over a variety of ecosystems, but States need some enabling conditions to accrue power. There are still areas that have resisted statehood:

“mountains (Afghanistan or highland Southeast Asia), deserts (the Bedouin in the Arabian peninsula, the !Kung San in the Kalahari), jungles (tribal groups in India and parts of Africa), or extreme Arctic conditions (Eskimos, Inuits in the far north of Canada). They have survived simply because it is difficult for states to project military force into such regions.”

Fukuyama allows for the idea that geography can affect the presence of autocracy or democracy. Following Montesquieu, he concedes that flat plains and horseback riding allowed for tribally-organized horsemen out of Central Asia to conquer much wealthier, more complex societies nearby. This was a two millennia old pattern in the Middle East, China, and other regions neighboring the steppes of Central Asia.

The Mongols found limits to their lifestyle as they left those steppes. Europe was forested and mountainous, slowing their horses; the heat and humidity in India began to delaminate their bows; the Arabs of northern Africa found their horse- and camel-mounted conquests slowed by the tsetse fly in West Africa’s more forested areas. Gunpowder would ultimately close the long era of horseback-mounted conquerers.

Fukuyama suggests how geography influenced Russia’s destiny by setting it apart from its neighbors in Eastern Europe. They were conquered by Mongol commanders in the 1230’s and preyed upon for 250 years. The Kievan Rus’ early culture was warped by this occupation (I’m recalling Spengler’s idea of Pseudomorphosis), their exchange with the West was cut off, their Byzantine-Roman legal traditions undermined, and their local leaders coerced into extracting resources for tribute. European feudalism and strong local government did not reach Russia, and so local feudal castles to defend small regions did not develop either. Consequently, when Russia began to centralize, there was no strong noble class with defensive structures to counteract the force of centralization. The Muscovites rode across the Russian steppes and steamrolled their neighbors, until they hit more organized communities in Lithuania, Poland, and Turkey. Russia’s Tsardom would be a more absolute monarchy than those in the West.

3. Institutional Development in Latin America, Sub-Saharan Africa, and East Asia

Maybe I got carried away, but I had fun with the climate/geography bit.

3.1 Latin America geographically resembles sub-Saharan Africa more than Europe: forested, mountainous. Its indigenous population crumbled and its resources were extracted instead of reinvested locally. Its indigenous institutions were wrecked and in its place, Iberian absolutism was seeded in the region. Spain and Portugal were far away, though, and could not effectively manage their holdings. Instead, the Creole class were free to develop an oligarchical social structure “based on privileges rather than liberties” that would survive independence from Europe.

Still, on the whole, South America did not look much different structurally than much of Europe for a time. However, during the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, Europe endured massive upheavals, “beginning with the French Revolution and the Napoleonic Wars” and arguably ending at World War II (or later). This violence, Fukuyama contends, was the crucible in which Europe’s modern states were formed (see my last installment of notes). Industrialization bred urbanization and new social orders: Nationalism was invented, and whole social classes were erased (the German Junkers, the French Venal offices…) South America was peaceful by comparison, or at least on the national scale. Strife continued between classes and within nations. The ruling class held power. European political spectra did not apply until very recently in much of South America.But geography+climate+institutions are not necessarily destiny: through smart elite decision-making, Costa Rica avoided the banana republic fate of its sister states in Central America. Argentina, on the other hand, had factors suggesting greatness but got captured by poor decision-making and personality-led governance.

3.2 Sub-Saharan Africa did not get an “extractive” European government as South America did; instead, it ended up with no strong institutions whatsoever. When the “Scramble for Africa” began in earnest, the Spanish and Portguese colonies in the Americas were already around 400 years old. Europeans found neither large populations nor extremely valued resources in Africa. Aside from in the far south, most of the region was not easily inhabitable, either. Therefore, European powers didn’t invest much in Africa, instead opting to prop up local guys to extract resources over areas that were (to the locals) basically arbitrarily drawn, seeding decades of conflict since. There was no local elite class or permanent bureaucracy to operate regional governments, and after independence many saw the government as a path to prosperity (as in Greece and Italy in my previous installment), turning politics into a “neopatrimonial contest over capture of the state and its resources”. Fukuyama notes, as an aside, that the arbitrary state lines are often over-emphasized in common wisdom, because there is little or no nationalism in Africa, and in most of Africa the ethnic groups are too small to form strong states. Tanzania, however, is an example of a state whose elites did succeed in forging a national identity.

3.3 East Asia has a long history of strong centralized states. China invented the modern state, and in the 18 centuries until Europe caught up it grew and shrank, was copied and captured, but through all of this the strong centralized state model became common in parts of East Asia. Other regions in East Asia had no such tradition: Singapore and Malaysia were British inventions (and despite their nonhistory as states, are quite strong and stable). According to Fukuyama, Indonesia was as fragmented and diverse as Nigeria.

Japan effectively resisted Western domination. China never fully dissolved under Western pressure, and managed to bounce back into shape after a few decades of turmoil in the 20’s-40’s. Vietnam shook France (and later the United States) off of it. These states share a heritage: “a Confucian moral and bureaucratic system that oriented rulers, through education and socialization, toward a broader concept of the common good”, which in conjunction with Confucian emphasis on literacy and learning led to expectations of technocratic leadership that steered what are otherwise autocratic governments through social and economic development. “China, Japan, Vietnam, and Korea could seek to modernize their economies while taking for granted the existence of a strong and coherent state as well as a well-established national identity.” Clientelism is not much of a concern in strong-stated East Asia (exception: the Philippines, which democratized prior to developing a strong state, like the United States).  Sub-Saharan Africa had to do state-building, democracy building, national-identity forging, and rule-of-law developing at once, and has had very little time so far to do it.

More soon.