The Origins of Political Order: From Prehuman Times to the French Revolution, Francis Fukuyama, Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 608 pages
Whenever prominent national-security intellectual Francis “The End of History” Fukuyama publishes another book, which is often, it’s amusing to wisecrack about how current events show that history has not, indeed, ended. For example, the first half of what Fukuyama intends to be his magnum opus, The Origins of Political Order, landed with a thump on my doorstep the week America plunged into war with Libya. As I write, Americans are astounded by Osama bin Laden being found in the heart of Pakistan’s deep state.
It’s hard to resist making jokes at Fukuyama’s expense, even ones as tired as the non-end of history, because of his self-promoting egotism. This doorstop book is, we are informed: first, an extension forward and backward in time of his late mentor Samuel P. Huntington’s landmark Political Order in Changing Societies; second, Fukuyama’s version of Jared Diamond’s 1997 bestselling History and Theory of Everything, Guns, Germs, and Steel; and, third, a revolutionary work that introduces to political science the cutting edge Darwinian insights of 1960s-1970s sociobiologists. (While Mel Brooks’s “History of the World: Part I” began with cavemen, Fukuyama’s starts with chimpanzees.)
This is not to imply that The Origins of Political Order is a bad book. It’s a very good one, just not as boggling as Fukuyama imagines. Instead, Origins is quite sensible—it traces the historic evolution of what he defines as a good state, one that is strong, accountable, and under the rule of law—unfortunately, it’s also shallow.
A clue to Fukuyama’s astonishing productivity—Who can type that fast?—might be found in his Wikipedia photograph, which shows him wearing a headset microphone. The less-than-magisterial prose style of Origins sometimes sounds as if Fukuyama had dictated it at some haste into Dragon NaturallySpeaking voice-recognition software. For instance, page 10 of Origins reads like Jane Austen on crack:
It concerns the difficulties of creating and maintaining effective political institutions, governments that are simultaneously powerful, rule bound, and accountable. This might seem like an obvious point that any fourth grader would acknowledge, and yet on further reflection it is a truth that many intelligent people fail to understand.
To be fair, Fukuyama’s 1989 prediction of the end of history has held up rather well, as long as you define “history” in his narrowly Hegelian terms as a struggle among ideologies. Indeed, Communism, Nazism, hereditary divine-right monarchy, anarchism, and other ideologies that once entranced Westerners haven’t attracted much buzz recently. As Fukuyama explains in Origins, he’s ending this first volume with the French Revolution because history didn’t really end in 1989, but in 1806. He concludes this tour d’horizon of politics from the Olduvai Gorge to the palace of Versailles by declaring:
Alexandre Kojève, the great Russian-French interpreter of Hegel, argued that history as such had ended in the year 1806 with the Battle of Jena-Auerstadt, when Napoleon defeated the Prussian monarchy and brought the principles of liberty and equality to Hegel’s part of Europe. … I believe that Kojève’s assertion still deserves to be taken seriously.
Origins is a lengthy polemic in favor of the victor at Jena’s political ideal: “careers open to talent.” I suspect that the Corsican adventurer will be the foremost figure in Fukuyama’s second volume, just as this volume’s main man is Qin Shi Huangdi, who clawed his way to becoming first emperor of China in 221 BC by hiring the best advisors available, no matter who their relations were.
In Origins, Fukuyama emphasizes the global importance of governmental developments in China and India, while almost completely ignoring the usual suspects: Sumer, Egypt, Greece, and Rome. Yet China and India had very little influence on, say, the French Revolution, that event of such world-historical importance that Fukuyama divides his two volumes around it.
As a marketing plan aimed at airport bookstores, though, this makes sense. We’ve all read textbooks recounting the evolution of governments northwesterly from Middle Eastern river valleys. Learning about the pasts of China and India, in contrast, sounds more relevant to making money in the 21st-century market.
Fukuyama’s enthusiasm for Qin Shi Huangdi’s lack of ethnic bias in hiring advisors is tied into his complex relationship with Huntington. In “The Good Shepherd,” Robert DeNiro’s 2006 movie about the traditional WASP monopoly on the best jobs in the national-security apparatus, Joe Pesci’s mafia don asks Matt Damon’s CIA agent: “We Italians, we got our families … the Jews, their tradition … What about you people, Mr. Wilson, what do you have?”
Damon’s Yale Bonesman replies, “The United States of America. The rest of you are just visiting.”
The WASP academic was certainly a meritocrat: Huntington earned his Harvard Ph.D. by age 23, despite having served a hitch in the Army. Yet Huntington was also the proud son of one of America’s oldest and most accomplished lineages. “Huntington” isn’t the most famous name in American history, but it’s unavoidable. The Wikipedia disambiguation page distinguishes 34 notable Huntingtons, including three Samuel Huntingtons, one of whom signed the Declaration of Independence. The American Journal of Sociology exclaimed in 1936, “They are a great race, these Huntingtons…”
Huntington over time edged in a paleoconservative direction. In 1993, he responded to Fukuyama’s End of History with his The Clash of Civilizations, which argued that different cultures would continue to rub each other the wrong way. Huntington coined the term “Davos Man” to describe those who “have little need for national loyalty.” In 2004’s Who Are We? Huntington argued that mass immigration from Mexico is undermining America’s national identity. “There is no Americano dream. There is only the American dream created by an Anglo-Protestant society.”
Fukuyama, of course, comes from more cosmopolitan stock. His immigrant paternal grandfather was interned after Pearl Harbor, while his mother was born in Japan. Yet Fukuyama is perhaps America’s most prominent minority intellectual whose career doesn’t revolve around writing about minorities. He doesn’t speak Japanese and Japan doesn’t come up all that often in his books. In fact, race and ethnicity tend to be conspicuously missing from his work. Fukuyama’s 2000 book about the rise of crime and illegitimacy in the 1960s and 1970s, The Great Disruption, mentioned race on just one page.
This background inclined Fukuyama to the neoconservative camp. After 9/11, he banged loudly for the Iraq War. When it started to go badly, however, he jumped ship, only to have Charles Krauthammer accuse him of anti-Semitism.
In Fukuyama’s telling, Origins is a landmark work of political science because this book finally recognizes that it is human nature to favor your kin. (Even though he deplores nepotism as leading to “political decay.”)
Fukuyama cites evolutionary theorist William D. Hamilton’s famous 1964 papers quantifying “kin selection.” Back in the 1950s, biologist J.B.S. Haldane had quipped that while he wouldn’t give up his life for his brother, he would for more than two brothers or eight first cousins. That joke is funny because each of us shares about half of our variable genes with our siblings and an eighth with our first cousins. Hamilton formalized this insight, offering a revolutionary gene-centric explanation for altruism toward relatives. According to Hamilton’s logic, the ultimate reason you nepotistically gave a job to that useless young nephew of yours was because it might help him thrive and pass on some of your gene variants, one quarter of which you share with him.
Fukuyama’s recent gig trying to foster state building in Melanesia has reminded him that the human norm is politics without much political philosophy. In preliterate times, what mattered instead were kin relations. When the Westminster parliamentary system was transplanted to Papua New Guinea, Fukuyama explains, “the result was chaos. The reason was that most voters in Melanesia do not vote for political programs; rather, they support their Big Man and their wantok.” (Wantok is pidgin for “one talk,” or ethnic group sharing one language.) “If the Big Man … can get elected to parliament, the new MP will use his or her influence to direct government resources back to the wantok.”
Yet how functionally different are these Papuan politicians from my own congressman, Howard Berman (D-Calif.)? Berman’s 28-year career in the House has revolved around kinship, too. His primary concern as the former chairman of the House Foreign Relations Committee was empowering the ethnocentrism of his Hollywood Hills constituents in the Middle East conflict. And in the great crisis of his career after the 2000 census showed that the San Fernando Valley was due a Latino seat, thus making likely a strong Democratic primary challenge by a Mexican-American, Berman hired his brother, who craftily redistricted all of California, ensuring his political survival by selecting a new people for him. Who else could he trust?
Unfortunately, Fukuyama never gets around to wrestling with the obvious question that has been central to the study of ethnic nepotism since Hamilton made explicit the genetic basis of tribal altruism in a 1975 paper: Who, exactly, are your kin? Where do your relatives end? The answer is: It depends. You grapple with this same question in your daily life, where the answers turn out to depend upon circumstance. You might send a Christmas card to a third cousin whom you wouldn’t invite to Thanksgiving dinner. Similarly, Rep. Berman clearly trusts his brother more than he trusts voters. Yet he also trusts Jewish constituents more than Hispanic ones because he fears the latter will vote for a hermano instead of him.
When you stop to think about it (which Fukuyama doesn’t), your relations with your relatives are, unsurprisingly, relativistic.
Hamilton’s math was popularized by Edward O. Wilson’s 1975 bombshell Sociobiology and by Richard Dawkins’s 1976 bestseller The Selfish Gene. (A more accurate title would have been The Dynastic Gene.) According to Fukuyama, however, political science has scandalously ignored the implications of these famous books. That’s true in general, although I have on my bookshelves academic works pointing out the fascinating political implications of kin selection by Pierre L. van den Berghe, Frank Salter, Tatu Vanhanen, and J.P. Rushton, none of whom Fukuyama cites.
Confusingly, even though Hamilton used the everyday term “nepotism,” Fukuyama insists on calling this urge “patrimonialism.” Why misuse “patrimonialism,” an obscure term invented by Max Weber for another purpose (and which isn’t in Microsoft Word’s spell-checker), when “nepotism” is universally comprehensible? Perhaps because Fukuyama doesn’t want anyone to associate his book with the three-decade-old study of “ethnic nepotism.”
Illustrating Hamilton’s math with political examples from around the world, van den Berghe’s 1981 book, The Ethnic Phenomenon, developed the concept of ethnic nepotism: discriminating in favor of co-ethnics as if they were nephews and other kin. Van den Berghe, a mordant anarchist sociologist, implied that Marx’s fixation on class as the engine of exploitation was parochially biased by the ethnic homogeneity of 19th-century European nation-states. In most times and places, class and ideological conflicts are overshadowed by ethnic rivalries resembling gang wars between organized crime families writ large.
Extrapolating from Haldane’s witticism, van den Berghe’s book implied that if it makes genetic sense to sacrifice your life for eight first cousins, what about for 32 second cousins or 128 third cousins or 512 fourth cousins? Does Hamiltonian kin selection genetically explain the root causes of tribalism and ethnocentrism, or is ethnic nepotism just a persuasive metaphor for politicians? Van den Berghe was agnostic about whether ethnic groups really were Hamiltonian extended families or whether their leaders simply borrowed family terminology (“We happy few, we band of brothers”) to build solidarity.
Dawkins pooh-poohed the genetic reality of ethnic nepotism, arguing that genetic similarity dissipates outward in the family tree too quickly for Hamiltonian kin selection to matter beyond close relatives. Significantly, however, the great Hamilton himself did not come to Dawkins’s aid. In fact, Hamilton’s memoirs, Narrow Roads of Gene Land, caused a scandal by revealing a host of politically incorrect views.
As Hamilton’s collected papers made clear, Dawkins overlooked the importance of endogamy—inbreeding. Most individuals have less sprawling family trees than Tiger Woods, and thus come from a limited number of semi-closed breeding pools. You tend to be related to your co-ethnics through many genealogical pathways.
Some cultures even try to intensify genetic similarity within families by arranging cousin marriages. If you were a Middle Easterner, an ideal son-in-law might be your nephew, so that you and your brother can leave the family herd to your mutual grandsons. One reason political life in Pakistan is so clannishly conspiratorial, resembling the plot of the “Godfather,” is that in the 1990s over 60 percent of Pakistani marriages were between first or second cousins.
Political scientist Frank Salter’s 2003 book On Genetic Interests attempted to resolve van den Berghe’s quandary by employing population geneticist Luigi Luca Cavalli-Sforza’s data and genetic anthropologist Henry Harpending’s math. In this era when the conventional wisdom is that racial groups are merely social constructs, Harpending was astonished to find that the typical human is almost as closely related genetically to the average member of his own ethnic group, relative to the rest of humanity, as he is to his own nephew, relative to their mutual ethnic group. Eventually, it occurred to Harpending that he might indeed have a harder time distinguishing an unknown nephew of his from a random group of children of the same race than he would have distinguishing among races.
Fukuyama is worried enough by this unpublicized but powerful line of logic that he tries to brush off the entire concept of ethnic nepotism:
Since virtually all human societies organized themselves tribally at one point, many people are tempted to believe that this is somehow a natural state of affairs or biologically driven. It is not obvious, however, why you should want to cooperate with a cousin four times removed rather than a familiar nonrelative just because you share one sixty-fourth of your genes with your cousin.
Indeed, it is “not obvious,” but Fukuyama’s challenge is hardly unanswerable. In arranged-marriage cultures, clans, tribes, and castes can perpetuate themselves indefinitely, making states typically either ineffective or tyrannical. For example, as I’m writing, Colonel Gaddafi has so far survived NATO aerial bombardment by rallying many Bedouin tribes to his banner. Even though most Libyan nomads have settled down, they’ve maintained tribalism as what anthropologist Stanley Kurtz calls their “social structure in reserve” precisely for violent times like these when you can only trust blood relations.
In the West, in contrast, over the generations familiar nonrelatives—i.e., neighbors—tend to turn into relatives, or at least potential in-laws, because European cultures frequently permitted love marriages with the girl next door. Moreover, as Fukuyama notes, the Catholic Church discouraged even fourth-cousin marriages. The resulting broad but shallow regional blood ties help explain why Western cultures were able to organize politically on a territorial basis without always being looted by self-interested clans.
Fukuyama’s account is incomplete, but The Origins of Political Order offers a respectable starting point for those looking for a more sophisticated understanding of where states and nations come from.
Steve Sailer blogs at www.iSteve.blogspot.com.