Francis Fukuyama’s ‘Political Order and Political Decay’

Book Review by David Runciman of  “Political Order and Political Decay: From the Industrial Revolution to the Globalisation of Democracy”, by Francis Fukuyama in the Financial TImes: “It is not often that a 600-page work of political science ends with a cliffhanger. But the first volume of Francis Fukuyama’s epic two-part account of what makes political societies work, published three years ago, left the big question unanswered. That book took the story of political order from prehistoric times to the dawn of modern democracy in the aftermath of the French Revolution. Fukuyama is still best known as the man who announced in 1989 that the birth of liberal democracy represented the end of history: there were simply no better ideas available. But here he hinted that liberal democracies were not immune to the pattern of stagnation and decay that afflicted all other political societies. They too might need to be replaced by something better. So which was it: are our current political arrangements part of the solution, or part of the problem?
Political Order and Political Decay is his answer. He squares the circle by insisting that democratic institutions are only ever one component of political stability. In the wrong circumstances they can be a destabilising force as well. His core argument is that three building blocks are required for a well-ordered society: you need a strong state, the rule of law and democratic accountability. And you need them all together. The arrival of democracy at the end of the 18th century opened up that possibility but by no means guaranteed it. The mere fact of modernity does not solve anything in the domain of politics (which is why Fukuyama is disdainful of the easy mantra that failing states just need to “modernise”).
The explosive growth in industrial capacity and wealth that the world has experienced in the past 200 years has vastly expanded the range of political possibilities available, for better and for worse (just look at the terrifying gap between the world’s best functioning societies – such as Denmark – and the worst – such as the Democratic Republic of Congo). There are now multiple different ways state capacity, legal systems and forms of government can interact with each other, and in an age of globalisation multiple different ways states can interact with each other as well. Modernity has speeded up the process of political development and it has complicated it. It has just not made it any easier. What matters most of all is getting the sequence right. Democracy doesn’t come first. A strong state does. …”