Review of the book Political Order and Political Decay. From the Industrial Revolution to the Globalization of Democracy, by By Francis Fukuyama (Profile Books 658pp) .
Political Order and Political Decay is the second volume of a duology in political science by Francis Fukuyama, an American political scientist specialised in democratization and international political economy, and whose 1992 book The End of History and the Last Man was a best seller translated into several languages. The first book of the duology, The Origins of Political Order, describes the historical origins of political institutions from prehuman civilization until just before the French and the American revolutions. The present book describes how the contemporary states continued to develop until they became the democracies that inspire other states to undertake a similar journey of political development. In his account, Fukuyama explores the most critical elements to political development such as geography, culture and tradition, including how these interact with one another. He also points out that since each country has its own set of conditions, each must find their own journey of political development.
Least and Most Developed States
Fukuyama portrays political development as a journey whose earlier and later stages are occupied by the least, and the most, developed states respectively. The least developed states are poor, unstable and often corrupt while the most developed states are economically autonomous, stable, impersonal and accountable. He highlights Max Weber’s classification of states into patrimonial and nonpatrimonial, pointing out that their traits coincide with those associated with the least and the most developed states. In a patrimonial state, government’s posts are filled according to the wishes of the head of the state, while in a nonpatrimonial state they are filled according to an open system of recruitment. The West introduced the nonpatrimonial state relatively late, especially when compared to China, which introduced a system of civil service examination in the third century B.C., Fukuyama points out.
Fukuyama’s account of how the European states developed into full democracies starts with the the gradual accommodation of the new middle class and the industrial working class created by the Industrial Revolution. The example he choses is England, were the non-élites formed by these two new classes, eventually gained access to government jobs which until then were ear-marked for the élite of land owners and Oxbridge graduates. That, he points out, was not enough for the new industrial working class, which after organising themselves began to demand redistribution under the aegis of Karl Marx’s socialism, which included a workers’ revolution. Although Marx’s influence extended itself into other parts of the world, it was there and not in the newly industrialised European states that workers’ revolution took place.
The crucial thing that paved the journey towards democracy of the European states is the way their political institutions reacted to accommodate the changes brought about by the Industrial Revolution. Nevertheless, the European states did not became democracies overnight. Yheir journey to democracy was sluggish and this was because many educated and well meaning people of the nineteenth century believed that the ‘masses’ simply did not have the capacity to exercise the right to vote. According with Fukuyama, at the time of the Congress of Vienna in 1815 there was no country in Europe that qualified as a full democracy. Europe became ready for democracy only in the final third of the nineteenth century. First, the right to vote was extended to all male citizens and only several decades later, women gained the right to vote.
Fukuyama likes to use the term ‘franchise’ to describe the inclusion of the individual in the political process that was gained through the right of vote. In Chapter 28, he provides a three column table showing how the ‘franchise’ of democracy expanded to form the world’s first full democracies. The first column shows the percentages of the ‘enfranchised’ population of each country. Apart from Denmark, in all the countries listed the percentage of the enfranchised population was under ten per cent during most of the nineteenth century. The second column shows the year when manhood suffrage appeared in each country and the third column, the year when the universal suffrage was attained. The United States was the first country to introduce the manhood suffrage, around the 1820s. Only after that it was gradually extended to the other countries. Universal suffrage was attained only in the twentieth century after women gained the right to vote.
Another European country that Fukuyama singles out is Denmark, which in addition to having had the highest percentage of enfranchised population during the nineteenth century, came top in a recent World Bank study contrasting government tax revenue as a % of GDP and government effectiveness. Denmark’s top rank inspired Fukuyama’s expression ‘getting to Denmark’, a metaphor for the journey of democracy, the big message in Fukuyama’s book.
Much further down in the journey of democracy are mature states, each with their own sets of institutions organized in such way as to provide a system of government accountability. And accountability, Fukuyama shows, is more than just a yardstick of government quality. It is an integral part of a feedback circuit involving government and society that needs to be in working order to allow democracy to flourish. Society needs to trust the state and such trust depends on the quality of its government. Fukuyama shows that trust is a social capital. If government cannot be trusted to protect the individual and property then individuals are prone to take things into their own hands. According with Fukuyama, ‘any given individual has no incentive to be the first person not to take a bribe or to pay her taxes’. Fukuyama also shows that trust is not something that comes about easily for there are many hurdles on its path.
Although the journey of democracy requires a basic political structure, states are very diverse in terms of their visions of democracy. Each state has conditions that are inherent to it and for that reason, the solutions to the problems of political development must be specific to each particular state.
Fukuyama points out that although there are many states in the world (194, at the latest count) very few can be properly called modern states, those characterized by having good accountability, being free from clientelism and ranking high in terms of political development. He also presents a safeguard pointing out that although such states are also the most stable ones, ‘political stability’ and ‘political strength’ are different things. State stability depends on the outlook of its citizens, which is related to the degree of trust citizens have in their society. A despotic power may generate a strong state but only when the state provides a sense of fairness to its citizens will it gain their support and become politically stable. Fukuyama shows that corruption is the main reason that stands in the way of political development. Corruption can occur in omany forms. The direct form of corruprion involves stealing from the treasury, and it is referred by Max Weber as ‘prebendalism’, from the feudal ‘prebend’, where a lord simply granted a vassal a piece of land that he could exploit for his own benefit. Apart from direct corruption, Fukuyama singles out two other types of government corruption: rents and clientelism.
A ‘rent’, Fukuyama explains, is an economic term to denote the special gain that derives from a situation of scarcity, although not all government rents represent corruption. He cites as good rents those aimed to insure environmental quality, such as water supply, clean atmosphere and nature conservation. According with Fukuyama, the bad rents are those that result from an outright abuse of government power. And governments can be very crafty in creating scarcities from which they can extract rents, says Fukuyama. The example he gives of the imposition of very high import duties, something that also predispose a system of bribes to custom officers to reduce the duties or to expedite the clearance process.
Fukuyama explains clientelism as the reciprocal exchange of favours between two parties referred to as the ‘patron’ and the ‘client’. Also referred to as patronage, clientelism is characterized when a patron gives something to the client in exchange for his loyalty and political support. He also shows that sometimes a distinction is made between clientelism and patronage but that distinction is simply due to scale: patronage being the small corruption resulting from a face-to-face interaction, and clientelism the large scale corruption involving exchanges of favours between many patrons and clients.
Fukuyama explains how clientelism weakens society’s trust in government and invites further corruption. In a normal democratic process, voters choose their candidates based on a ‘programmatic’ agenda, which is justified in terms of broad concepts of justice or the general good. In a clientelistic system, on the other hand, the voters chose their candidates based on the benefits that they, as individuals, are going to receive. Since such benefits are not universal, they are detrimental both to the economy and to democracy.
High and Low Trust Societies
Political trust is another concept well explored by Fukuyama in this book. According with him, trust can be a valuable commodity albeit only in ‘high trust societies’, whose members practice social virtues like honesty, reliability and openness. A high trust society has many advantages over a low trust society such as higher cooperation and the fact that their formal mechanisms are less onerous. People are much more likely to obey the law if they see that other people around them do that too, says Fukuyama.
‘Low trust societies’, Fukuyama explains, are centered around the family, for everyone else is distrusted, including the state. This is why most business in such societies are family owned, and in order for family to control them they must remain small. Such business usually keep two sets of accountancy books, an accurate one for the family and another one for the tax collector. Thus, high tax evasion is another problem of low trust societies.
The Evolution of Democracy
Fukyuama believes that the political order is shaped by a process of evolution similar to that of the biological species and that liberal democracy is at the very edge of such evolution. He sees as an evidence of this the three waves of democracy described by Samuel Huntington; just as a reminder, the first one occurred from the 1820s to the end of the nineteenth century, the second right after World War II and the third from the 1970s until 2010. During the third wave of democracy the number of democracies around the world increased from 35 to nearly 120, something which Fukuyama interprets as a global acceptance of democracy. And Fukuyama cites three other things that evidence the globalization of democracy: (i) the new social groups that mobilize each year around the world; (ii) the mass protests that have erupted in places from Tunis to Kiev and from Istanbul to São Paulo; (iii) and the hundreds of thousands of economic migrants who try to enter into the United States and Great Britain each year.
The Process of State Building and Its Cost
According with Fukuyama, the process of state building follows the process of nation building. He explains nation building as something that aims to create a sense of national identity through tradition, symbols, historical memories and common points of reference. Such things, Fukuyama explains, are conducive to the kind of loyalty that supersedes tribes, villages, regions and ethnic groups. Fukuyama explains state building through the creation of institutions such as armies, police, bureaucracies, ministries and similar things.
Fukuyama recognises that the processes of nation and state building comes at a cost. He quotes French philosopher Ernest Renan (1823-1892) who denounced the ‘historical amnesia’ that facilitated the nation building process in France. The term ‘historical amnesia’ describes this cost, which refers to the disappearance of many small ethnic groups and societies. Fukuyama extends the French case which Renan described to the formation of Great Britain and the United States. In Great Britain the original culture of the original Celtic Gaelic-speaking inhabitants was side-lined by the Romans, the Angles, the Saxons, the Danes, and the Normans invaders, as well as the incorporation of Wales, Scotland and Ireland. The United States was formed at the expense of the country’s indigenous inhabitants. The consequence of this is that the existing states, including the most modern democracies, can neither erase the bloody struggles in their distant past nor the crimes against their respective indigenous inhabitants.
In this book Fukuyama puts a magnifying glass over several countries in order to take a closer look at their most pertinent problems. From Europe, Fukuyama singles out Italy and Greece, two countries that in spite of being industrialised have failed to modernise. Fukuyama suggests that it was not a coincidence that both Greece and Italy were at the very core of the 2009 euro crisis. The case of Italy is specially interesting because Italy is not only an industrialised state but a rich one as well. The case of Greece is particularly interesting because it is the birth place of democracy and yet the Greek government is known today for its low quality. To Fukyuama, the lack of a strong tradition of statehood is at the heart of Greece’s problems. He pointed out that in modern times Greece spent a long period under various foreign influences and only after World War II did it regain its independence. The lack of a strong tradition of statehood turned Greece into a low trust society with few entrepreneurial opportunities. Due to this particular situation, the Greeks prefer to seek jobs in the state sector than to become entrepreneurs, and the Greek politicians are happy to oblige in exchange for votes.
Both Italy and Greece remain highly clientelistic states. In 2009 the number of public employees in Greece was around seven hundred thousand. According with a report by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) between 1970 and 2009 the number of public employees in Greece had increased five fold. The same report revealed that the public sector wages plus bonuses were one and a half times those in the private sector.
Another important point that Fukuyama makes after describing the problems of Greece is that such problems are very similar to those of Latin America. In his account of Latin America Fukuyama points that although its countries introduced constitutions and modelled their system of government in the presidentialist system of the United States they kept the authoritarian and mercantilist institutions they inherited from the Spanish and Portuguese, including the old class structure characterised by an unequal distribution of resources.
What Fukuyama said about the cost of creating the states of Great Britain and the United States, namely the loss of their indigenous peoples, also applies to Latin America. But Fukuyama also deals directly with the indigenous peoples of the American continent. In comparative terms, Fukuyama places the pre-Colombian civilizations of Mexico and Peru at the same level of development as the Chinese Qin-Han and even more so with the Mauryas of India who lived in the third century B.C., although he points out that the latter did participate in the political process in India under the leader Ashoka. Fukuyama states having tried to understand why the most advanced Aztecs and Incas failed to contribute to the political institutions that the European settlers created, like similar indigenous groups in China and India. He posits that the Aztecs and Incas lacked a bureaucratic hierarchy needed to build political institutions. Although the Aztecs had an ancient system of writing, such protowriting was sufficient for some ritual purposes but not for routine communications throughout a bureaucratic hierarchy.
In his analysis of Latin America Fukuyama refers to its inequality as a ‘birth defect’, which implies that Latin American’s inequality is not a problem to be solved but a problem to be managed. To him, the way to manage Latin America’s inequality is by modernizing, that is, by getting rid of corruption. Fukuyama also points out the fact that many political parties in Latin America are clientelistic instead of programmatic. He cites as an example only the Peronist party in Argentina. However, us Latin Americans know many more. The Latin American clientelistic parties thrive on the vote of the poor which is much cheaper than the vote of the middle classes. Due to the relation that exists between clientelism and low economic development, the electoral success of the clientelist parties of Latin America serve only perpetuate the region’s inequality.
When Democracy Decays
The fact that the word ‘decay’ appears in the title of Fukuyama’s book shows the importance he gives to the possibility of the democratic process to fall back. In an inverted parody of Tolstoy’s statement about families Fukuyama states that each democracy is different but the causes of their political decay are the same. On the subject of political decay Fukuyama uses as examples the United States and the Brics, the four emerging global economies singled out in a Goldman Sachs report: Brazil, India, China and South Africa.
It is somewhat surprising that the first target of Fukuyama’s criticism of political decay is the United States, not only because it is his own country but also because American democracy is considered to be one of the most developed. According with Fukuyama, in the second half of the twenty century the processes of checks and balances that the founding fathers of America had introduced extrapolated into that which he calls ‘excessive judicialization’. To Fukuyama, the American democracy has become a ‘vetocracy’, for the United States government are currently in the hands of the courts. The Brics are also under the threat of political decay. According to Fukuyama, these countries are experimenting fast economic growth but their institutions are failing to evolve to accommodate the changes that have resulted from that.
Many academic books originated in the United States and Europe are of the type ‘West and Rest’, but this is not the case of Fukuyama’s impressive duology. In Political Order and Political Decay Fukuyama shows that political order and democracy are processes that need to be maintained and fine-tuned, otherwise they begin to decay. He also shows that each country has its own pattern of political order and democracy and therefore must find the solutions to its own problems accordingly. Fukuyama ends his book with the warning that democracies exist and survive because people want and are willing to fight for them. In other words, democracy needs the support of citizens, who in turn need to gain a reasonable understanding of their political institutions and their government. The best way to gain this understanding is by asking questions and this book is useful precisely because it has many examples of relevant questions: What is the connection between economic development and democracy? Why did the three waves of democratization occur? Why did they occur in some regions and societies and not in others? Why did democracy became accepted globally in the twentieth century but not before? How the twenty century would have been if Marx had not existed?
Jo Pires-O’Brien is the editor of PortVitoria, a biannual e-magazine about the Luso-Hispanic culture: https://www.portvitoria.com/
FUKUYAMA, F. Political Order and Political Decay: From the Industrial Revolution to the Globalization of Democracy. London, Profile Books, 2014. Review by: PIRES-O’BRIEN, J. (2015). The Journey.PortVitoria, UK, v.10, Jan-Jun, 2015. ISSN 2044-8236, https://www.portvitoria.com/archive.html