The Origins of Political Order | Francis Fukuyama

Summary of: The Origins of Political Order: From Prehuman Times to the French Revolution
By: Francis Fukuyama


Embark on a fascinating journey through the evolution of political order, as we explore the key themes and ideas behind Francis Fukuyama’s captivating book, ‘The Origins of Political Order: From Prehuman Times to the French Revolution’. Delve into the complex world of human sociability, understand the pivotal role of kin selection and reciprocal altruism, and marvel at the transformation from tribes and early tribal law to building powerful modern states. Political interactions, religious beliefs, centralization, and the rule of law influence societies around the world. Witness the intriguing contrasts between China, India, the Middle East, and Europe, as we dig deep into the historic foundations that shape contemporary state governance.

Understanding Human Sociability

Human evolution is made possible by our sociability, our ability to cooperate with others around us. Our natural sociability can be traced to kin selection, which states that we help others according to the percentage of genes we share with them. Reciprocal altruism, on the other hand, means we’re kind to people who’ve been kind to us in the past, even beyond our kinship bounds. As social creatures, we also conform to the rules of groups we belong to, and this process is quite complex and nuanced due to our high intelligence as a species. We developed abstract thinking as our brains evolved, creating theories about our world and giving us a sense of control and understanding. This fostered the creation of transcendent beliefs, which made our social groups more cohesive and gave us something to live for. Eventually, these changes led to the development of politics, where different groups asserted their place in the world. Our group identity is important to us from a biological standpoint, and this has made us the sociable creatures we are today.

The Evolution of Tribes

Humans began settling and growing crops around 10,000 years ago, and this led to the formation of tribes and the earliest forms of justice and property ownership. Justice was defined by family and ancestral connections, and disputes were settled with automatic compensation. As tribes grew, they eventually began to fight wars with each other, but still lacked a central authority to maintain peace or standardized laws. Strong social cohesion helped tribes stay united in times of violence, enabling them to overpower enemies and attain more resources. The Mongol tribes conquered vast territories, but their empire couldn’t be sustained due to a lack of centralized authority and clear leadership succession. Today, we can still see traces of tribal law and communal land ownership in some cultures.

The Birthplace of States

China gave birth to the earliest states, with the formation of 23 separate states in 770 BC. Through a violent unification process, the states merged into one, with Legalism taking precedence over Confucianism. Legalism led to the creation of an official class devoted to the state, a centralized power led by Qin Shi Huangdi, and other fundamental changes. Despite Qin’s influence, uprisings and protests led to the collapse of his dictatorship, and people returned to the more Confucian structure of previous societies. The early conflict highlights the innate tendency for people to favor their relatives, and the state will continue to oscillate between kin-based and merit-based social systems.

India’s Social and Religious Roots

India’s history of caste system and lack of centralization dates back to the emergence of Brahmanic religion in 900 BC. Over time, society became segmented into castes, and religious leaders gained more power than political leaders, limiting the development of a centralized government. This meant that India lacked a strong military and could not compete with other regions. Despite the efforts of some emperors, political offices remained linked to family ties, and strong institutions were not introduced until the British colonial period.

Military Slavery and Centralization

The Middle East was dominated by two imperial systems – the Mamluks and the Ottomans. To rise to power, these systems perfected military slavery, where boys from various Islamic sultanates were captured and raised as elite soldiers. Prevented from having families, power passed from slave to slave rather than from father to son, which helped the empires to become highly centralized world powers. The Ottomans called these soldier-slaves Janissaries, mainly taken from Christian families and converted to Islam, who ran not just the army but also the Ottoman state. However, this only partially crushed inheritance and the decline of these empires. The Mamluk Sultanate manipulated the one-generation system by putting their descendants in charge of public institutions like schools or hospitals and allowing some sultans to relax restrictions on families and inheritance. This led to internal confusion and feuding, which the Mongols eventually took advantage of. The Ottomans tried to keep military under civilian control, but relaxed the rules regarding celibacy for Janissaries, and eventually, these checks and balances failed, leading to the fall of the empire.

How Religion Broke Down Tribalism in Europe

The Catholic Church played a crucial role in breaking down tribalism in Europe by implementing social norms that changed the nature of families and property ownership. The Church banned close kin marriage, marriage to widows of dead relatives, adoption, and divorce. Additionally, women were allowed to own property and bequeath it to the Church, which increased its land ownership. Pope Gregory’s declaration of the Church’s independence from the state led to the Concordat of Worms in 1122, which removed the Holy Roman Emperor’s power to choose the pope. These rulings centralized the state and promoted a religion-based rule of law, which never counterbalanced state power as it did in Western Europe. In contrast, attempts by Islamic and Hindu authorities to implement similar laws collapsed due to a lack of legitimacy and misunderstandings.

Want to read the full book summary?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Fill out this field
Fill out this field
Please enter a valid email address.
You need to agree with the terms to proceed