Political Order and Political Decay | Francis Fukuyama

Summary of: Political Order and Political Decay: From the Industrial Revolution to the Globalization of Democracy
By: Francis Fukuyama

Introduction

Can democracy survive in today’s rapidly changing world? Francis Fukuyama’s ‘Political Order and Political Decay’ gives a sweeping view of the historical and political context of democracy – covering its utopian beginnings, the rise of the middle class, and the impact of technological advancements. It dives into the issue of wealth disparity, the growing influence of lobbying on government decisions, and the corrupting effect of repatrimonialization. The summary also shares the cautionary tale of the US Forest Service, which illustrates how institutions can get caught in a downward spiral of dysfunction. As you delve into this book summary, explore the key themes and challenges that face modern democracy and the importance of adaptation in overcoming those obstacles.

Democracy Unwrapped

The concept of democracy is the central theme of this book. Democracy is a government for the people, by the people. The US Constitution brought together democratic ideals of equality and fair representation in a radical way. Unfortunately, the values of the Constitution were ignored for much of the country’s early history. However, things began to change toward the end of the nineteenth century. By the mid-twentieth century, the American federal government had become an independent, effective, and value-driven political actor. But as democracy spread, it encountered its fair share of challenges along the way – and this is even true of democracy in the United States.

The Bedrock of Democracy

Since ancient times, philosophers have recognized the importance of the middle class to healthy states and democracies. However, defining the middle class can be difficult. In political science, it refers to a measurement of social and educational standing. Studies show that a large middle class is linked to better rates of economic growth, education, health, civil stability, and the spread of democracy. Middle-class values of self-discipline, a strong work ethic, and long-term saving and investment contribute to a healthy democracy. Denmark, France, Sweden, Germany, Britain, and many other nations have their middle classes to thank for their transitions to democracy. The middle class is the bedrock of democracy in the Western world.

Middle Class Squeeze

The middle class in America is under serious threat. Since the 70s, the trend of declining middle-class
incomes has been hidden, and it’s only getting worse. Women entering the workforce did not improve
the situation; it simply disguised the fact that paychecks were getting smaller. The use of credit
as a substitute for income redistribution was detrimental, and technology has played a big role in
the decline of the middle class by eliminating low-skilled but well-paid jobs. On the flipside,
there are new and higher-paying jobs for skilled workers, which are contributing to the ever-widening
income inequality gap between the rich and the rest of society. The middle class is being squeezed
like never before.

The Rise of Repatrimonialization in American Politics

Repatrimonialization refers to the way that wealthy and powerful individuals dominate democratic institutions in pursuit of their own interests, often at the expense of the wider population. One way this manifests in American politics is through lobbying, which has become a massive industry worth billions of dollars. Lobbying groups work to influence policy in areas like taxation, often securing special exemptions and benefits for corporations, which has contributed to a sense of unrepresentativeness and voicelessness amongst the wider public. The influence of groups like the National Rifle Association in pursuit of their goals represents a further example of this phenomenon. The result is a crisis of representation, with the democratic process undermined and American society subject to the interests of a select few.

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