Previous Book  (Origins of Political Order)

Political Order and Political Decay

This is Part Three, notes and quotes (1) on Class-based analysis of the development of modern states, (2) about how the political franchise has expanded historically, (3) arguments against democracy, (4) the Arab Spring, and (5) where Marx went wrong.

I’ll try to get the last part (on “Political Decay”) out next week.

0. Waves of Democracy

Between 1970 and 2010, the number of democracies in the world had increased from 35 to 120 (or 60% of the world’s countries).

The question Fukuyama poses is why it happened in some places rather than others.

1. Theories of Social Class

1.1 Marx’s Insight stems from the behaviors of three social classes.

1.2 Barrington Moore is a post-Marxist scholar that Fukuyama draws from.

“No bourgeoisie, no democracy.”

By this he means that a Bourgeoisie is necessary but not sufficient for democracy. In Germany, the industrial bourgeoisie actually allied with the aristocracy (“rye and iron”) to uphold Bismarckian authoritarianism and protect their new privileges. But a rapidly expanding bourgeoisie can displace the old order of landowners and peasants. “This happened in England, [Moore] noted, as an entrepreneurial bourgeoisie in the countryside succeeded in commercializing agriculture, driving peasants off the land, and using the proceeds to fund the Industrial Revolution. Peasants become urban proletarians, and the aristocracy is displaced.”

Moore focuses more on peasants than Marx did. Marx figured that the peasantry would be eliminated by conversion to urban, industrial proletariat. Lenin and Mao, though, used the peasant class to gain power. “Labor-repressive” agriculture keeps peasants tied to large estates longer, and the authoritarian landowning class kept power and forced the hand of the peasantry. Worker-peasant revolutionary movements resulted.

Fukuyama notes that the bourgeoisie are not a unified class: there are tycoons, and there are the “petty bourgeois” (small shopkeepers and urban professionals), and their aims are different.


1.3 Fukuyama’s Perspective on class as a factor in societal development is similar to his take on geography and climate as factors. “Sure, a bit.”

Her argues that the two components of liberal democracy- [liberal] rule of law and [democracy] mass political participation- are separable political goals that initially tended to be favored by different social groups. “Over time, however, the liberal and the democratic agendas began to converge, and democracy became a middle-class goal. Rule of law and democratic accountability are, after all, alternative means of constraining power, and in practice are often mutually supportive.”

“The key insight is that democracy is desired most strongly by one specific social group in society: the middle class. If we are to understand the likelihood of democracy emerging, we need to evaluate the strength of the middle class relative to other social groups that prefer other forms of government, such as the old landed oligarchy who are inclined to support authoritarian systems, or radicalized groups of peasants or urban poor who are focused on economic redistribution.”

1.4 There are limitations to Class-Based Analysis, of course. Classes are not necessarily self-aware, coherent social actors. They are useful intellectual abstractions. Classes “have to be politically mobilized and represented by political parties. It is for this reason that political parties have been considered necessary to the success of any democracy, despite the fact that they were unanticipated by many early democratic theorists.”

Another major problem with class-based analysis:

“a number of cross-cutting issues that united people across class lines and blurred the class profiles of political parties. Among the most important were ethnicity, religion, and foreign policy.”

Fukuyama notes how particular parties in a variety of countries roughly map to class interests in those countries. He also notes that political parties can be autonomous political actors, so that while they may try to represent the interests of a political class, they might shift their agendas to one of the extracurricular (get it?!) factors I mentioned above, and therefore fail to represent the true interests of their client class: e.g. the Communist Parties in China and Russia becoming historically terrible for workers and peasants.

“Political parties are created by political entrepreneurs who organize followings around particular ideas and who then go on to organize real-world political machines.”

So there is genius and decision-making involved. Particular partisan divides are not destined. Personalities and strategy are as important as the strength of the different social classes. Communist organization required Lenin’s genius to arise. British Conservatives (traditionally representing the aristocracy) and American Republicans (traditionally representing the Business Class) were able to reach out to working class electorates on these extracurricular (culture) grounds. The Italian Christian Democrats were able to organize large clientelistic networks to survive. “Those conservative parties that failed to adapt to these new conditions of electoral politics were tempted to resort to nondemocratic methods for preserving their power, like the Argentine coup of 1930.


1.5 The Marx-Moore Framework Remains Basically Sound. “Democratic institutions are driven by multiple causes, but one of the most important centers on economic change.” Growth enables social mobilization, which affords demands for rule of law and accountability (through democracy). If given adequate voice from the traditional elites, a stable democratic system is possible. Ideas are still important but are related to changes in other dimensions of development.


“Democracy emerged in Europe in gradual stages over a 150-year period, as a result of struggles among the middle classes, working class, old oligarchy, and peasantry, all being shaped in turn by underlying changes in the economy and society. The Marx-Moore framework, with a few emendations, remains basically sound.”


2. Accountability and the Expanding Franchise

According to Fukuyama, the institution of Accountability in England was the accidental result of the survival of the institution of Feudalism, since Monarchs could not totally consolidate the oligarchy of the estates and therefore had to create a sort of bargain. By contrast, in France, Spain, Sweden, Prussia, and Russia, the monarchies were able to establish absolutist rule; and in Poland and Hungary, the estates won totally over the Monarchy and remained decentralized until larger foreigners could conquer them.

“Accountable government is not simply a matter of opposition groups overwhelming a government and forcing it to do their bidding. Throughout human history, out-groups have fought in-groups, and once they succeeded in displacing the power holder became the new oppressive in-group. Accountable government, by contrast, means formal recognition of the principle of accountability to the broader public and the legitimacy of opposition. This is where ideas came to play a pivotal role.”

The idea of people being able to choose their governments and governors, the idea of “no taxation without representation”, the idea of “consent of the governed”, the shift from the “rights of Englishmen” to “natural rights”, and their implication that these revolutions were not about replacing oppressive elite groups with identical ones.

2.1 Liberal Democracy is often associated as a bundle, but liberal rule of law and democratic accountability are conceptually separate and were championed by different social groups. Consequently, Liberal Democracy was developed in stages over time. It’s hard to say that the United States’ adoption of the Constitution in 1787 was the birth of a Liberal Democracy. Perhaps the birthdate of the open-franchised Liberal Democracy of the USA might be 1920 on paper, and maybe even more fully at enforcement post-1965. Looking at it this way, the First Wave of democratization was very slow and shaky.

“Prussia adopted universal male suffrage in 1849, but under a three-tier voting system and an open ballot that wasn’t abolished until 1918. Some countries like Britain, Italy, and Denmark had unelected upper houses that could veto or otherwise alter legislation.”

It was not a one-time ordeal. Political parties of various stripes were banned. France gave rights to citizens and then stripped them when the Empire arose again. Long breaks and regressions occurred in Europe (and later, elsewhere).”The simplest reason for this circuitous route is that Europe was not socially ready for democracy until the final third of the 19th century.”

Source: Fukuyama, "Political Order and Political Decay", table 6


“Napoleon’s defeat ushered in a prolonged period of authoritarian reversion under the aegis of the Austrian-Prussian-Russian Holy Alliance, in which conservative monarchical regimes tried to turn back the clock to the period before 1789.”

Very few republican governments survived this period, and mostly in small scale (some Swiss and German states). Constitutional monarchies in the west and more absolutist monarchies in the east ruled Europe.

The “second great surge towards democracy” was in the Revolutions of 1848, the “Springtime of Peoples”, starting in France and spreading like a contagion, covering Bavaria, Italy, Hungary, Austria, and Prussia the next month. This movement was quickly and forcefully repressed. Newspapers and a rapidly growing middle-class (“civil society”) were enabled but unable to sustain their revolution. It was the nascent political parties, banned in much of Europe but persisting in private society, that spearheaded the Revolutions of 1848. At the time of the revolutions, social transformation was still underway and the middle class was still a minority.

The decades immediately following the restoration of the conservative order post-1848 would prove to be the most economically and socially transformative in European history, as they were in the history of the United States. The more advanced countries- Britain, France, Germany, Belgium, and the Netherlands- went from being majority agrarian societies to urban-industrial ones on the eve of World War I. This led to enormous change in social classes and created the basis for new mass democratic politics.


2.2 Some Era Conservatives Proactively Enabled Liberal Democracy, because they are not dumb and read the writing on the wall. The Revolutions of 1848 failed in the short term, but all authoritarian leaders were wary of revolution for decades since, and set their own time tables to accommodate political changes.

One of my favorite new perspectives:

“Many of the moves towards more liberal societies and greater democracy were […] the work of conservative leaders who lived through 1848 and were conscious of the fact that they faced societies mobilized in ways they had not been earlier in the century.”


In fact, this pattern shows up quite a lot with some countries, as conservative elites realize that the game is changing and make moves to build new coalitions out of other social classes. The British elites of the mid-19c felt that “silent changes were taking place in the minds of members of the working classes, not unlike movements of the earth’s crust.”

“It was not the Liberals led by Gladstone […] but his Conservative archrival Disraeli introduced a radical reform bill that led to the immediate doubling of the franchise.”

Many conservatives considered it a betrayal of their class interests. Historian Gertrude Himmelfarb argued that this move stemmed form a “belief that the Tories were a national party representing a natural order in which the aristocracy and the working class were allies.” Whether genuinely believed or not, the Conservatives would basically hold Britain for a generation from the new coalition. Disraeli was correct in arguing that the newly-enfranchised working class would largely vote in their common cultural interests (and despite their class interests). Americans might’ve heard a version of this story before.

The British pattern of democratization being initiated by elite parties rather than pushed from below by grassroots mobilization was not unique. Political scientist Rush Collier notes that the kind of top-down process she labels “electoral support mobilization” drove the “ins” to enfranchise the “outs” in Switzerland, Chile, Norway, Italy, and Uruguay, as well as in Britain. These cases illustrate the way institutional arrangements can become self-reinforcing: once the principle of electoral politics is established under a limited franchise, incumbent parties can attempt to stay in power by seeking new voters, shifting to new issues, and reaching out across class lines.

And some elites decide to stop play the democratic game: Italy, Germany, and Argentina in the 1920’s and ’30s, Latina America after the Cuban Revolution in 1959.

Another important note:

The middle-class supporters of constitutional government at midcentury would turn out to be inconsistent democrats, however, because the democratic impulse was hijacked, in many countries, by nationalism.

Some German liberals rallied behind conservative Bismarck because of his apparent power to unify Germany. Many liberal elites were happy enough to “represent” the nation without giving all citizens the right to vote. Many elites across nations were more than happy to work towards keeping their own privileges rather than franchise expansion. British Conservatives won working class votes for their stance against Irish Home Rule, even though their economic policies were not necessarily representative of working class interests.

3. Arguments Against Democracy

John Stuart Mill argued in 1861 that

These arguments are mostly out of vogue, although Fukuyama smells them in elite complaints about “populist” policies, for example.

He admits that ever-increasing levels of popular participation is not a great democratic band-aid, though:

“When higher levels of democratic participation are encouraged by putting more issues before voters through mechanisms like public referenda, the result is often not the accurate representation of popular will but the domination of the public space by the best-organized and most richly resourced interest groups.”


4. Early Notes on The Arab Spring

It is of course impossible to predict the long-term consequences of the Arab Spring. However, those observers who criticize the chaotic results of this upheaval and argue that they cannot lead to a good democratic outcome in the long run often fail to remember what a long, chaotic, and violent process the democratization of Europe was.

Fukuyama maintains that 19c Europe is a better model for the Arab Spring than the more recent Third Wave. Third Wave nations (Latin America and Eastern Europe) had some experience with democracy already. Those institutions were there already and had been disrupted. Those nations had nearby neighbors who were models and also could offer incentives and substantive assistance to democratize. Nineteenth century Europe, on the other hand, basically had to put itself together in the dark, with no strong precedent.

The rising middle class was a big factor in organizing both the 1848 Revolutions and the Arab Spring. Tunisia and Egypt are good examples of an urban middle-class feeling economically thwarted by the regime. Libya and Yemen are more complicated, with smaller middle classes and tribal rivalries also in the mix.

For a generation after independence from colonialism, secular nationalism worked as a source of identity, but it was discredited by the late 1970s by its failure to produce consistent and shared economic growth, and by its political failure in dealing with issues like the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The vacuum was filled by religion, which became a clear source of identity to recently urbanized rural folk who now had access to satellite television and the Internet. One of the reasons for the strength of political Islam today is that it can speak to issues of identity, religion, and social class simultaneously.

Religious politics masks social class, but Islamist parties draw from the rural poor and the urban marginalized, and that Western-style liberal democracy comes from the educated, urban middle class.

The politics often polarizes between the authoritarian government and the theocratic insurgency. Fukuyama makes a point that Political Islam as “waxed and waned over the decades” and like all cultural systems can be reinterpreted all sorts of ways, as other religious+political systems have. More saliently, he compares the Middle Eastern popular mobilization towards religion to the “nineteenth century European impulse towards nationalism.”

1848 also indicates that toppling the regime is the starting line of a long race, and that sustainable democracy is not just around the corner. See all of the above.

The social basis for stable democracy did not exist in the Europe of 1848, and it may not yet exist in many parts of the Middle East today.


5. Where Marx Went Wrong

Marx’s story about the future of capitalism seemed plausible as he was writing it, but “six developments occurred on the way to proletarian revolution” [paraphrased below.] Note that the first four spring from the conversion of the working class into “a broad middle class”.

  1. Labor incomes began to rise as we ran out of new workers to mobilize. The same thing is happening today in China.
  2. Countries established public education systems to produce literate and technical workers for higher-value work.
  3. The franchise expanded to include the working classes.
  4.  The working class stopped growing (eventually), both in absolute terms and as a share of the workforce. They owned property and now wanted to protect their privileges.
  5. A new class of poor and underprivileged developed beneath the industrial workers, including recent immigrants, racial and ethnic minorities, and other marginalized groups. “Workers in manufacturing industries who were represented by trade unions became a kind of aristocracy within the labor force.”
  6. Worldwide, the political Left “lost its focus on economic and class issues, and became fragmented as the result of the spread of identity politics.

A broad middle class undercuts the appeal of Marxism and increases the appeal of liberal democracy as a political system.

“There is unfortunately a lot of evidence that this process [of a growing global middle class and the further spread of democracy] may have begun to unfold in the developed world, where income inequality has increased massively since the 1980s.”

Yeah, well.

Next week: Political Decay.