I’ve got far too many books to read at the moment, and so have been havering about whether to get Francis Fukuyama’s The Origins of Political Order: From Prehuman Times to the French Revolution, partly because it seems very relevant to understanding why countries like Egypt stand a chance of becoming modern states while one’s like Libya and Bahrain don’t. Until this morning I had concluded that life is too short to read long books way outside of my field, but having read David Runciman’s absorbing review, now I’m not so sure.
Fukuyama’s new book is dominated by the influence of another of his mentors, the conservative Harvard political scientist Samuel Huntington. Huntington is best known for his own cosmic soundbite – The Clash of Civilizations. But his main interest was in political order: how to achieve it and how to mess it up. Basically Huntington thought there are two things that could go wrong on the road to a well-ordered society. You could fail to get there because your society never gets beyond a condition of internecine conflict and incipient civil war. Or you could get there and find your society gets stuck in a rut and fails to adapt to new threats and challenges. Fukuyama takes this framework and applies it to the problem of democratic order. Why is it that some societies have gone down the democratic route to stability while others have remained stuck with autocracy? And will democracies be able to adapt to the new threats and challenges that they face?
Runciman provides a lucid and illuminating summary of Fukuyama’s argument, which I suppose might constitute an argument for not buying the book. Against that, he’s whetted my appetite for it. Damn.
Approaching his subject as a trained anthropologist would, Lieven describes how Pakistan, though nominally a modern nation state, is still largely governed by the “traditions of overriding loyalty to family, clan and religion”. There is hardly an institution in Pakistan that is immune to “the rules of behavior that these loyalties enjoin”. These persisting ties of patronage and kinship, which are reminiscent of pre-modern Europe, indicate that the work of creating impersonal modern institutions and turning Pakistanis into citizens of a nation state – a long and brutal process in Europe, as Eugen Weber and others have shown – has barely begun.