I took all summer and and fall, after I started in the spring, to finish Fukuyama’s big book, The Origins of Political Order. I recommend it and found it hard to put down, but obviously did, often, and racked up quite a bit in library fines in doing so. Truly, it is well written and clear in presentation. I’ve debated how to write about the contents but will make this declaration up front:
The main point in Fukuyama’s book is that those in a society who occupy the top ranks are driven by biology to favor their relatives (called “patrimonialism” by Fukuyama)) and that a major part of how they increase their wealth and welfare is by exempting themselves and theirs from taxation. They do this by using their power to forge policy and law exempting them and theirs, thus shifting the burden of funding the government onto those less powerful plus weakening the government via loss of tax income so that the elites become even more powerful. Eventually, the society fails and revolution or some other change overtakes the entire society.
What I took away from this is the picture of the 1% doing exactly this, gradually depriving the middle class of resources, setting groups in society against one another, and using fear of loss of power, wealth, and status to foment disunity which the elites take advantage of to augment their own power base.
To back this take up, I will write up what I think are critical portions and pronouncements in the book. You will have to read the book yourself, of course, and decide for yourself.
Fukuyama starts off by setting the scene, so to speak, taking us back to society in its basic state. That’s my meat and potatoes because I was an anthropology major and noted a number of citations and bibliographic entries I was familiar with. He denounces the traditional philosophers’ armchair anthropologizing and gives a well-grounded picture of early society. He then goes on to discuss at length how complex societies arose and formed states, and how they differ from each other. He treats China in detail, noting its very early development of complex governmental solutions to problems and its continuation into modern times of the patrimonial aspect of clans aka extended family.
Fukuyama contends that societies fail when the natural desire to promote one’s kin erases the possibility of the best governing personnel and some threat such as invasion or ecological disaster reveals the society’s weakness and it collapses. He traces many such failures in Chinese society and treats several other societies in convincing detail. He distinguishes between Spain and France, between France and England, between Western Europe and Eastern Europe and between Russia and Hungary.