I never wrote proper notes on Fukuyama’s Origins of Political Order when I first read it. I recently started the new volume, Political Order and Political Decay. The introduction to the second entry provided a great high-level reintroduction to the first, so I thought I’d put it down for the record.


Notes on “The Origins of Political Order”

Natural Human Sociability is built on 1) kin selection and 2) reciprocal altruism. These habits build reliable social patterns: band-level societies.

“Institutions are ‘stable, valued, recurring patterns of behavior’ [quoting Samuel Huntington] that persist beyond individuals. These patterns can override the defaults of human sociability but when they break down those original patterns remain.”

Ten thousand years ago, the first major institutional transition occurred from band-level societies to larger “tribe-level societies” organized around a belief in the power of dead ancestors or unborn descendants, which expands the definition of family and thus the umbrella of empathy and privilege.

Later (roughly 8000 yrs ago) came the State, an institution monopolizing force. Following Max Weber, Fukuyama recognizes two flavors of state: the “Patrimonial State”, treating a defined territory or constituency as under the ownership of the ruler, and the more recently invented “Modern State”, which is ideally impersonal and blind to the polity’s relationship with the ruler.

De-patrimonializing the state is difficult and requires some institutional innovation (e.g. military pressure to tax and provision, moving in out-of-region administrators, disallowing advisors from having families). In the contemporary world, the classic patrimonial attitude is more difficult to establish, and so modern tyrants dress themselves in the trappings of public administration (“neopatrimonialism”).

Our idealized modern, competent nation-state involves three interacting social institutions:

Fukuyama is interested in the balance and timing of the development of these institutions, and how to “get to Denmark”, an idealized impersonal state that is competent and responsive to its citizens.

In the opening chapter of his second volume, Fukuyama identifies two patterns of political decay:

1. “… as recurring patterns of behavior, [institutions] can also grow rigid and fail to adapt when the circumstances that brought them into being in the first place change. There is an inherent conservatism to human behavior that tends to invest institutions with emotional significance once they are put in place.”

2. “Repatrimonialization”: Elites tend to fall back on (and provide resources to) their friends and families. “When they succeed, elites are said to ‘capture’ the state, which reduces the latter’s legitimacy and makes it less accountable to the population as a whole. Long periods of peace and prosperity often provide the conditions for spreading capture by elites, which can lead to political crisis if followed by an economic downturn or external political shock.”

More notes as I get around to it. I recently finished Kissinger’s “World Order” and might put some words down as well.