Book Review: Political Order and Political Decay by Francis Fukuyama

Quote of the book

“The right to participate politically grants recognition to the moral personhood of the citizen, and exercise of that right gives that person some degree of agency over the common life of the community.”

5 key points

  • Institutions need to create a more accessible platform for political participation and this is something that modern day governments need to focus on.
  • One way that democracy can be measured is through “voice” and “accountability”. Voice is the bottom-up transfer of information from citizens to the government, so that they can participate in politics. Accountability allows citizens to assure that the government is acting in their interests and being transparent about their decisions.
  • Community-Driven Development can be a really powerful tool to develop an area since communities are more likely to have insider knowledge on what they need and what the local conditions are like.
  • In some societies, in order to get the support of voters, politicians have to use clientelism and mobilise voters. Additionally, some politicians might try to divide voters or offer individual benefits to get votes. Fukuyama writes that this form of voting should be seen as an early form of democracy rather than a form of corruption.
  • Being able to participate in politics gives individuals a level of autonomy and moral recognition of them as an individual, whether as a voter or by standing for office. It is a part of developing as a human.

Review

Political Order and Political Decay: From the Industrial Revolution to the Globalization of Democracy is a notable political classic by renowned political scientist Francis Fukuyama. This book explores how the state, its law, and its democracy, have developed over a series of historical events, and how in current times, the state of democracy has started to decay in today’s most developed democracies.

It should firstly be noted that this is not a popular non-fiction book; rather, it is heavily academic and specialised so it does not make for light reading. However, for those interested in world history, political science, institutions, and democracies, this book is an informative and thought-provoking read. I would recommend it more as a book to reference certain chapters from, rather than a cover-to-cover read, as it is very dense and long. This book is the second in the Political Order series by Fukuyama (the first was: The Origins of Political Order: From Prehuman Times to the French Revolution). Each book can be read independently or together with no loss in context.

The analysis in this book is very strong, with examples from all around the world. For example, Fukuyama notes how in India, participation in politics is a symbol of upward social mobility. In Italy, the strength of community bonds is notable. He observes how in Northern Italy, people participate more in society and politics where community bonds are stronger, and less so in Southern Italy. This is something that has been visible during the coronavirus pandemic as well. I wouldn’t be surprised if the communities with stronger bonds and which are more close-knit are also the ones which have been more engaged with their neighbours and local authorities.

In terms of writing style, it is a dense book, probably primarily aimed at academics and students rather than the general public, but it is still accessible in its language. Fukuyama is very knowledgeable about political science, so if you have the patience to get through the book and the desire to learn about how systems are run, it’s well worth the time and it leaves you with an appreciation of how important it is to study the field of political science.

If you are looking for a comprehensive account of political science and history, this book ticks all of those boxes and I’d say it is essential reading for students of these disciplines. If you are looking for a more introductory read to political science, I’d perhaps return to this one later on as it is very academic.

Overall, this book is very much a classic in political theory and science and, especially with its focus on history, it is likely to be timeless. I would recommend this book to anyone studying or interested in political science, political theory, economics, and world history. I think it’s worth the time to read as it will provide an insightful analysis of the world we share and how we got to the stage today where democracy feels so weak. One key takeaway for politicians and the public alike is how powerful and what a privilege it is to be able to participate in politics. Without this, there is no democracy.

Overall rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐

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Non-fiction book reviews, summaries, and recommendations

4 thoughts on “Book Review: Political Order and Political Decay by Francis Fukuyama

  1. I haven’t engaged much with Fukuyama beyond studying The End of History at uni. What data does he use to analyse different countries? I’m normally quite sceptical of books that make broad comparisons across countries because I worry that things have been missed or left out. Is there much chance or this here, or is Fukuyama thorough?

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I haven’t read The End of History so I’ll need to check it out.

      He uses a range of secondary data sources such as from the World Bank or other books.

      I would say that Fukuyama has generally been thorough here in terms of ideas/themes (where has development stalled, what does democracy look like here), but inevitably it’s hard to do a deeper regional analysis. He uses graphs to explain his ideas, but overall it’s very theory based.

      He separates the book into sections, either by region across the world, a section on Asia, a section on what development is and about democracy, to name a few. I think one of these sections plus a more specialist book or chapter about a country would be sufficient to answer an essay question, to give you an idea of thoroughness. Fukuyama for the theory and ideas, the other book for the deeper country analysis.

      I haven’t read the other Political Order in this series but I imagine both together would be extremely thorough.

      Liked by 2 people

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