Political Order and Political Decay in the Time of Trump

Fukuyama - Origins of Political Order / Political Order and Political Decay

Political Order and Political Decay is the second part of Francis Fukuyama’s epic tome of political economy begun in 2011 with The Origins of Political Order.  The 2014 follow-up fills out the 2011 tome’s theory of politics as biology with consideration of Democracy and The Western State, Colonialism, and ultimately Political Decay—the question of whether all ordered states will inevitably decay, independent of the health of the society they serve.

Fukuyama starts his second volume continuing his examination of the Administrative State, the Rule of Law, and Democratic Accountability, after the French Revolution, and more particularly the Industrial Revolution.  Why did some liberal democracies “get to Denmark” in developing modern, relatively incorruptible states, while others stayed mired in in clientelistic politics and high levels of corruption?  And maybe most interestingly, how did the United States shake off its early, Jacksonian populist corruption for Theodore Roosevelt’s progressive scientific administrative state?

In the non-Western world, the European states shaped our current politic order (and disorder) through colonialism.  I am not one to blame Western Culture for all the ills of the world, and every nation has the opportunity to improve their own lot, but looking back on the Colonial Era we (the Western Powers) really did muck it up.  Accidents of geography, with nation-states and cultural/tribal areas all mixed up, didn’t help but that’s not the whole story.  Areas with pre-colonial indigenous institutions were better able to recover after colonial powers departed, while others were left to whichever local strongman could fill the power vacuum.  Democracy holds those institutions accountable, but has very little to do with creating an effective state in the first place.

“Modern institutions require people to work contrary to their natural instincts.”

“The spread of democracy depends on the legitimacy of the idea of democracy,” writes Fukuyama in his Introduction.  “But ideas do not exist in a vacuum.”  Fukuyama supports the idea that a strong middle class, and particularly the Industrial working-class, are the foundation of democratic order.  He continues, “democracy worldwide has been facilitated by globalization itself, the reduction of barriers to the movement of ideas, goods, investment, and people across international boundaries.”  Yet the broad middle class is at the same time threatened by “the disappearance of middle-class jobs as a result of advancing technology and globalization.”

We all face the need to balance stability and change.  All political order eventually decays.  Fukuyama cites two major pressure points on our current political institutions and order—rigidity and “repatrimonialization”.  The stability of enduring norms and institutions has allowed us to achieve continuous prosperity; yet life changes and we adapt or die.  Organizations are also subject to what Fukuyama labels “repatrimonialization”, or a devolution to kin selection and reciprocal altruism explored at length in the prior book.  “Modern institutions require people to work contrary to their natural instincts,” he writes.  While written well prior to the last election cycle, so much of what disturbs me about Mr. Trump’s populist-elitism falls into this idea of repatrimonialization, from nepotism and rampant conflicts of interest, to his focus on “making deals” outside the rule of law.  That’s not “draining the swamp” and it’s not good for the future of the American republic.

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