Political Order and Political Decay: From the Industrial Revolution to the Globalization of Democracy (Anglais) Relié – 30 septembre 2014
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In The Origins of Political Order, Francis Fukuyama took us from the dawn of mankind to the French and American Revolutions. Here, he picks up the thread again in the second instalment of his definitive account of mankind's emergence as a political animal. This is the story of how state, law and democracy developed after these cataclysmic events, how the modern landscape - with its uneasy tension between dictatorships and liberal democracies - evolved and how in the United States and in other developed democracies, unmistakable signs of decay have emerged. If we want to understand the political systems that dominate and order our lives, we must first address their origins - in our own recent past as well as in the earliest systems of human government. Fukuyama argues that the key to successful government can be reduced to three key elements: a strong state, the rule of law, and institutions of democratic accountability. This magisterial account is required reading for anyone wishing to know more about mankind's greatest achievements.--Ce texte fait référence à l'édition Broché.
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Francis also points out, again with examples, that a democratically established government has a built in tendency to decay that is quite difficult to reverse. That is the reason that the title of the book is "Political order and POLITICAL DECAY." I was surprised at this conclusion. His analysis of the political order shows that leaders of government, unless "controlled", over the longer term appoint family members, clan members and friends to top level positions and reduce their taxes. A rather sad conclusion, but as he points out that has always been the case. It is the normal and fallback position. It is one of the negative tendencies in human nature.
The democratic system is designed to avoid this tendency by the regular renewal of the appointment of the members of parliament and most of the cabinet members.
Francis with "political delay" often refers to the United States where an economic elite uses its wealth to influence the appointment of a political leader they prefer. He refers to this decay as based on reciprocal altruism. This means that a person or group donates large sums to the candidate they prefer and expect that they will benefit if that person is appointed. The economic elite is not the only group using funds to influence the outcome; the same applies to labor unions and other organizations that want to appoint a leader that will look after their benefits. .
The civil service executes the application of laws and regulations. They do a lot more. They also advise the political leaders about the need for new or revised laws and in case the political leader or parliament wants to introduce new laws on what the top civil servants think is possible and how to go about it.
Francis also points out that developing a high performance civil service is a major challenge that takes many decades, even several generations.
Lee Kuan Yew, even though not a perfect democrat, showed how it could be done in a few decades. His method: the best people in the country should become members of the government. They should be paid salaries not too far removed from what these people can earn in the private sector, otherwise the level of corruption becomes very high. This is a rather shocking view, however the civil service has become excellent and the welfare results are outstanding.
Francis at the beginning of the book states that he will not make any recommendations on how to solve the decay problem. On the contrary he explains how very difficult it is to get new laws approved by congress necessary to stop the decay.
For me Francis has already provided a part of an answer. One of the top priorities of the political leaders of a government is to strengthen the capabilities of the civil service and that means attracting top class people and paying them well
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Parts I and II discuss the "State" and "Foreign Influence." In an excellent historical overview he demonstrates that what would appear to be similar circumstances lead to disparate outcomes. Much less than in previous works Dr. Fukuyama treats us to current unanswered questions; how none of the current theoretical constructs adequately explain what has transpired and as such can not give clear guidance on how to proceed.
"The State made War and War made the State." In Part III the discussion turns to Democracy. Although revered on an intellectual basis we find that historically democracy is not the panacea one hopes. Periods of semi-benevolent autocracy have many times been fundamental to the development of the modern state. The extension of suffrage has in many cases resulted in clientism - the political elites purchasing votes from the newly empowered reinforcing rather than reducing the elites' political control.
In Part IV we get to political decay. Fundamental to human nature is the acquisition of power and the desire once obtained to hold on to it. In a constantly changing world this usually leads to a disparity between the needs and desires of the "in group" and the needs and desires of the "out groups." As the balance between state, law, and accountability becomes more and more out of sync and the "out groups" gain power political upheaval, frequently in the form of armed conflict, is the result. But in Part IV we are once again reminded that there are many paths to and outcomes from political upheaval.
I found this book to be both enlightening and frustrating. As an American who in Dr. Fukuyama's words "has a reverence to the Declaration of Independence and the U. S. Constitution" his thoughtful analysis of how our political system has contributed to the current state of American governance: political scandal, incompetent bureaucracy, overt and inappropriate power by special interest groups, approval of Congress in the single digits, was hard to accept - but accept it I did. Frustrating is that there does not appear to be a clear path to resolution.
As the book gets closer to modern times I am reminded of Dr. Fukuyama's question in "The End of History." He said (I paraphrase) are we evolving over time to a better form of political governance? Inherent in evolution are two facts: it takes a long time and many evolutionary paths result in dead ends. This suggests that the "mess" the world is in today may be a perturbation in the long term trend of political evolution.
On a personal note I found this a enjoyable book. As can be inferred from the time between its publication and my review I spent a couple of long nights engrossed in reading rather than sleeping. The book is more descriptive than prescriptive. If you are looking to justify your political outlook you will not find it here. Likewise if you are looking for the elegant solution to the world's problems it is not here either. But if you want to be educated into just how complex an undertaking of providing a balance between state, law and accountability this is your book.
Fukuyama focuses on three features that influence national success: state (effective bureaucracy), rule of law, and autonomy (democratic accountability).
Much of the book argues against libertarian ideas from a fairly centrist perspective, although he mostly avoids directly discussing libertarian beliefs. Instead, he implies that we should de-emphasize debates over big government versus small government, and look more at effectiveness versus corruption.
Many of these ideas build on what Fukuyama wrote in Trust - I suggest reading that book first.
One of the book's thread's overlaps substantially with Ian Morris' book War! What Is It Good For?. Fukuyama believes that war sometimes causes states to make their bureaucracy more efficient. Fukuyama is more credible here than Morris because Fukuyama is more cautious about the effects he claims to see.
The book suggests that young nations have some key stage where threat of conquest can create the right incentives for developing an efficient bureaucracy (i.e. without efficient support for the military, including effective taxation, they get absorbed into a state that does better at those tasks). Without such a threat, states can get stuck in an equilibrium where the bureaucracy simply serves a small number of powerful people. But with such a threat, politicians need to delegate enough authority that the bureaucracy develops some independence, which enables it to care about broader notions of national welfare. (Fukuyama talks as if the bureaucracies are somewhat altruistic. I think of it more as the bureaucracies caring about their long-term revenue source, when individual politicians don't hold power long enough to care about the long term).
It seems plausible that China would have helped to lead the industrial revolution if it had faced a serious risk of being conquered in the 17th and 18th centuries. China's relative safety back then seems to have left it complacent and stagnant.
Fukuyama hints that the three pillars of modern nation-states (state, law, autonomy) have roughly equal importance.
Yet I don't buy that. I expect that whatever virtues are responsible for the rule of law are a good deal more important than effective bureaucracies or democratic accountability.
Fukuyama doesn't make a strong case for the value of democracy for national success, presumably in part because he expects most readers to already agree with him about that. I'll conjecture that democracy is mostly a byproduct of success at the other features that Fukuyama considers important.
It's likely that democracy is somewhat valuable for generating fairness, but that has limited relevance to what Fukuyama tries to explain (i.e. mainly power and wealth).
Full-fledged rule of law might be needed to get all the benefits of the best modern societies. But the differences between good and bad nations seem to have originated well before those nations had more than a rudimentary version of rule of law.
That suggests some underlying factor that matters - maybe just the basic notion of law as something separate from individual leaders or ethnic groups (Fukuyama's previous book says Christianity played an important role here); or maybe the kind of cultural advance suggested by Greg Clark.
Fukuyama argues that it's risky to adopt democracy before creating effective states and the rule of law. He's probably right to expect that such democracies will be dominated by people who fight to get the spoils of politics for their family / clan / ethnic group, with little thought to national wellbeing.
National identity is important for producing the kind of government that Fukuyama likes. It's hard for government employees to focus on the welfare of the nation if they identify mainly as members of a non-majority ethnic group.
He mentions that the printing press helped create national identities out of more fragmented cultures. This seems important enough to Europe's success that it deserves more emphasis than the two paragraphs he devotes to it.
He describes several countries that started out as a patchwork of ethnic groups, and had differing degrees of success at developing a unified national identity: Tanzania, Kenya, Nigeria, and Indonesia. I was a bit disappointed that the differences there seemed to be mostly accidents of the personalities of leading politicians.
He talks as if the only two options for such regions were to develop a clear national identity or be crippled by ethnic conflict. Why not also consider the option of splitting into smaller political units that can aim to become city-states such as Singapore and Dubai?
He makes many minor claims that sound suspicious enough for me to have moderate doubts about trusting his scholarship.
For example, he tries to refute claims that "industrial policy never works", mainly by using the example of the government developing the internet. (His use of the word "never" suggests that he's not exactly attacking the most sophisticated version of the belief in question). How familiar is he with the history of the internet? The entities in charge of internet tried to restrict commercial use until 1995. Actual commercial use of the internet started before the government made a clear decision to tolerate such use, much less endorse it. So Fukuyama either has a faulty understanding of internet history, or is using the phrase industrial policy in a way that puzzles me.
Then there's the claim that the Spanish conquered important parts of the New World before the native nations had declined due to European diseases. Fukuyama seems unfamiliar with the contrary evidence reported by Charles C. Mann in 1491 and 1493. Mann may not be an ideal source, but he appears at least as reliable as the sources that Fukuyama cites.
That leads into more general doubts about history books, especially ambitiously broad books aimed at popular audiences.
Tetlock's research into the accuracy of political pundits has led me to assume that a broad range of "expert" commentary is roughly equivalent to random guessing. Much of what historians do  seems quite similar to the opinions of the experts that Tetlock studies. Neither historians nor political pundits get adequate feedback about mistaken beliefs, or get significant rewards for insights that are later confirmed by new evidence. That leads me to worry that the study of history is little better than voodoo.
In sum, I can't quite decide whether to recommend that you read this book.
 - I.e. drawing inferences from aggregations of data. That's not to say that historians don't devote lots of time to reporting observed facts. But most of those facts don't have value to me unless I can generalize from them in ways that help me understand the future. Historian's choices of what facts to emphasize will unavoidably influence any generalizations I draw.
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