Freedom’s Secret Recipe

Balancing the State, Law, and Accountability

Francis Fukuyama shot to fame with a 1989 essay called "The End of History?" which he expanded into a 1992 book, The End of History and the Last Man. His thesis was a reworking of the "end of ideology" argument propounded in the 1950s by Daniel Bell and others, with an even more emphatic twist. "What we may be witnessing," Fukuyama declared, "is not just the end of the Cold War, or the passing of a particular period of postwar history, but the end of history as such: that is, the endpoint of mankind's ideological evolution and the universalization of Western liberal democracy as the final form of human government." The argument seemed hubristic, a product of the era's American triumphalism.

Two decades later, Fukuyama has revisited the question of political development in another, more sophisticated book, The Origins of Political Order -- the first of a projected two volumes, with the initial one running from prehistory to the French Revolution and its successor planned to take the story into the present and the future. Fukuyama still believes in the virtues of Western liberal democracy but now asks where it came from and how it might be sustained. At 608 pages, the first volume is long and dense, even though written with great fluency, and few are likely to read it cover to cover. But they should, since it is a brilliant book demonstrating great independence of mind and an astonishing breadth of knowledge.

THE SECULAR TRINITY

Fukuyama starts by asking why only a few nations behave like Denmark. That small Scandinavian country, he notes, combines three elements essential to political freedom: an orderly and efficient state, the rule of law, and government accountability to the people. The "miracle of modern politics," he argues, is the balancing of a powerful, effective state with a transparent legal system and representative assemblies. As he demonstrates in a survey of political regimes across history, the combination of all three components in a stable liberal democracy is a rarity, generated by long and winding historical paths and much good fortune. 

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