Wednesday, March 09, 2011

The beginning and middle of human history

Nicholas Wade has done a fascinating article on Franis Fukayama and his new book "The Origins of Political Order." (Which I've pre-ordered for my Amazon Kindle - Publishing date of April 12). The book takes off where E.O. Wilson's "Sociobiology" left off, emphasizing cultural traits built around evolved behaviors like favoring relatives, reciprocal altruism, creating and following rules, and a propensity for warfare. Starting with the transition from tribes to states (which occurred in China 1000 years earlier than in Europe, ~200 BC versus 800 AD, he describes the natural selection that occurred as European countries tried different formulas for distributing power, with only England and Denmark (almost by accident) developing the essential institutions of a strong state, the rule of law, and mechanisms to hold the ruler accountable. This successful formula then became adopted by other European states, through a kind of natural selection that favored the most successful variation. The book stops with the French revolution, and a subsequent book will continue to the present. Fukayama still thinks the modern liberal state is the "end of history" (The title of his most famous book).
In a parallel universe with no feudalism, European rulers might have been absolute, just like those of China. But through the accident of democracy, England and then the United States created a powerful system that many others wish to emulate. The question for China, in Dr. Fukuyama’s view, is whether a modern society can continue to be run through a top-down bureaucratic system with no solution to the bad emperor problem. “If I had to bet on these two systems, I’d bet on ours,” he said.

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