Wednesday 4 January 2012

The Origins of Political Order

Francis Fukuyama, 2011
(December 2011)

Obviously we all know this guy as Mr End of History, though I’ve never actually read any of his stuff before. Being a parochial Little Englander, I was particularly pleased by his repeated use of the phrase, ‘Britain, and its colonial offshoot the United States’, which proves that there’s at least one yank who knows his proper place.

There’s little here on Japan specifically (or Africa, more glaringly), but one of his central theses put me in mind of the dubious guilt/shame theory of Japanese society (Religions of the Book posit an omniscient deity and so create societies based on guilt. God knows you did it, even if no-one else does. Societies lacking a divine Big Brother are based instead on shame: it’s only a problem if you get caught).

Fukuyama makes a more convincing argument that the rise of the christian church in Europe allowed for a feasible moral constraint on the power of kings, laying the groundwork for the rule of law. He also argues that by opposing traditional patrilineal family property traditions in an attempt to grab that property for itself, the church actually promoted the rights of women to act for themselves. The catholic church as the - unwitting - progenitors of western feminism. There’s a sentence I never thought I’d write.

This is one of those books I’ll drop into my reading list every once in a while in an effort to make myself less stupid. The trouble is, every time I read a book like this it just makes me want to go and play Civilization, and that’s another week of my life down the drain. Swings and roundabouts, eh?


  1. There was a scene in that fabulous movie, Thunderpants, where the POTUS speaks. It was at that very moment that I realized the US is viewed as a kind of religious colony. Or something.

  2. Not seen that one myself. My loss, I guess. Not that that in any way diminishes the validity of your realization. Maybe.