Sweeping, provocative big-picture study of humankind’s political impulses.
Fukuyama (Falling Behind: Explaining the Development Gap Between Latin America and the United States, 2008, etc.) is best known for the post-Hegelian end-of-history thesis he advanced at the conclusion of the Cold War, a thesis often quoted and caricatured but not widely understood. Then as now, he defied easy categorization: Some were inclined to view him as a hard-right conservative, but Edmund Burke probably would have called him a liberal. Just so, his latest study—the first volume, he advertises, of two—describes, in the widest terms, the evolution of the political order that led to the widespread democratization of the globe at the end of the 20th century. With evolution comes the possibility of devolution, though, and Fukuyama opens with the sobering observation that even though that democratization did in fact occur, much trumpeted by neonconservatives certain that the spread of capitalism had everything to do with that victory, we’re witnessing much back-sliding: “a ‘democratic recession’ emerged in the first decade of the twenty-first century.” Given that so much of the international dealings of the United States has concerned the putative spread of democracy and nation-building, and given that the U.S. seems to be one place where this recession is in full swing—as witness the “Left-Right polarization of Congress” and the collapse of “intergenerational social mobility”—Fukuyama offers a broad thesis for what constitutes a healthy modern state. Having looked at such various and sometimes arcane matters as tribal organization on the plains of Central Asia, the Yellow Turban revolt, “the persistent pattern of oligarchic dominance” in medieval Hungary and the rise of English common law, the author isolates three qualities: a strong state, the rule of law and accountability. If all three seem to be waning in this country, then Fukuyama has even more alarming news, the denouement of which will have to await a history that has yet to come to an end, to say nothing of volume two.
Endlessly interesting—reminiscent at turns of Oswald Spengler, Stanislaw Andreski and Samuel Huntington, though less pessimistic and much better written.