Fukuyama, Francis. The Origins of Political Order: Front Prehuman Times to the French Revolution.

Author:Quest, Linda
Position:Book review
 
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Fukuyama, Francis. The Origins of Political Order: Front Prehuman Times to the French Revolution. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2011. xiv + 585 pages. Cloth, $35.00.

All the social sciences are involved in this book. It maps the state in which we--and our ancestors--find, and have found ourselves, whether we are students, professionals, practitioners, or dilettantes. As political scientist and political economist Francis Fukuyama asserts, there are more variables than there are cases. He focuses on the state, the rule of law, and accountable government to make comparisons and show contrasts as well as portray rise and decline. Detailed coverage of dysfunctional practices and "good enough" practices make this book particularly readable as differentiated from compendiums of "best practices."

In The Origins of Political Order, Fukuyama provides a cohesive account of state formation. Guidelines emerge for contemporary developing countries. Overall, the book records historical, empirical cases that build an inductive argument. The cases refer to things we happen to know and tell of things we missed. Consider, for example, the "RentSeekers." It should discourage emulation, and it relieved this reviewer's persistent perplexity about French taxation, which had looked like a salute to absurdity. Maybe the practical explanation was in a course not taken or in books not read, but it is a treat to read Fukuyama on the tortuous development of French taxation and to check his sources on where to look for additional works on the topic. Some readers might not know about the Empress Wu and will want to know more about her. Others will seek more evidence as to whether using eunuchs, demanding celibacy, or another approach succeeds any better than meritocracy against patrimonialism. What about Admiral Zheng and his fellow admirals whose great fleet mapped longitudes and gave navigation charts as well as mini-encyclopedias wherever they made port or touched shore? Gavin Menzies, in both 1421: The Year China Discovered America (2002) and 1434." The Year a Magnificent Chinese Fleet Sailed to Italy and Ignited the Renaissance (2008), documents an account of technological transfer and inspiration for innovation around the world, but not in China. Why not in China? Fukuyama states that China had enormous self-satisfaction and complacency but did not have the spirit of maximization. Innovation simply seemed not worth the effort in Ming China. Menzies (not...

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