The Origins of Political Order

From Prehuman Times to the French Revolution
Francis Fukuyama

Loc 873 (p 35): Here “earlier” refers to the Axelrod tournament. The tit-for-tat strategy requires about one neuron much to the consternation of other tournament players. It is also necessary to recognize individuals which requires much more than one neuron. The Axelrod tournament was significant for showing that mental states are unnecessary to reason about. Mind models are important but only in much more complex situations.

(@1780) “Social contract theorists like Hobbes, Locke, and Rousseau were not in the first instance trying to give empirical accounts of how the state arose. They were attempting, rather, to understand a government’s basis of legitimacy.”

This is a good and important distinction that some scholars seem to miss.

Loc 2096 (p 100) Fukuyama implicitly assumes that states are resisted by the populace.

Loc 2292 (p 110) As I read the introducing paragraphs it makes me cease to view sates as desirable.

(@2632) Pronounce Qin Shi Huangdi, 秦始皇.

(@2707) The last 10 pages felt like the ‘one-damn-thing-after-another’ style history. Any other random scrambling of the omelet would serve as well.

(@2764) Emperor Wu seems to have begun a form of inclusive government, at least reaching out to the populace to find competent administrators. Also there was a new notion that the state was for the people, and not the other way round.

(@2887)Fukuyama opines here that there was little opportunity for innovation or the entrepreneur and thus difference in wealth was not due to a difference of wealth creation but rather rent seeking and such. That would be convenient to believe but I would like to be convinced. He does, by contrast, seem to admit that some of today’s wealth difference is due to innovation by individuals.

(@3254) “division of labor between ruler and priest” Arghhh!

I am skipping chapters 12 thru 15 for now.

(@5343) I dislike phrases such as “the early modern period”.

(@5374) “As conservative Hindu was reported to have said in response to the postindependence Indian parliament’s effort to modify the marriage and divorce laws, ‘The authority of Parliament cannot override the dictates of the Shastras, God’s Spoken Words, written down for our benefit by all-seeing Rishis. No Hindu can accept any other authority than that of the Shastras.’” It seems clear to me that in Haidt’s metaphor this is the rider spokesman speaking.

(@5900) Since @5300 I have been reading with the rider-spokesman perspective. I like Fukuyama’s capsule description of Olsen’s bandit metaphor.

(@5921) “Only at certain points did rulers push their societies toward a counterproductive breaking point, and this usually occurred in response to desperate conditions at the end of a dynasty. During normal times they must have been taxing their societies at levels well below the maximum.” “counterproductive breaking point” is the point of economic collapse or rebellion I suppose. That is well below the bandit’s “monopolist’s price” to use Fukuyama’s apt term. He seems to have fallen into the anti capitalist’s error of confusing the two. Not even the framers of our antitrust laws made that mistake.

(6474) I am disoriented. Fukuyama portrays these classes or ‘estates’ in Figure 1 @6417: Upper Nobility, Gentry, Third Estate, Peasantry. I feel that trying to understand how they evolved is useless without understanding how they remained the same. What was the nature of the stable equilibrium whose shifting we are studying? To be blunt: Why did a peasant deliver food to someone in the Nobility? For money perhaps?, in which case where did the Nobility get the money? I wonder if any of the conclusions such as Fukuyama draws can be justified without considering questions such as these? It is sort of like in physics where statics must precede dynamics. That is not a logical necessity in physics, but it seems to be a pedagogical necessity. I fear that understanding history is just too complicated for us humans to do.

(@6459) “Government, in other words, was privatized down to its core functions, and public offices turned into heritable private property.” This is part of the answer to the previous question I suppose but the question remains “How does one benefit from ‘owing’ such an asset—from whence its value?”. Is it merely the obvious opportunity for ‘corruption’ available to most bureaucrats? Or was there some government salary attendant upon such a position? An economist friend was driving in Mexico and was stopped by a police officer, perhaps justly, for speeding. It was clear that the expected transaction was to pay the officer in cash. The economist wondered if the system was actually worse than ours. It was certainly more efficient than ours with a lower transaction cost. To be just and stable, other mechanisms, perhaps statistical, would be required. (P.S. I wrote the above as I came to this point in the book. Subsequent material in the book answer these questions in part.)

(@6502) “Indeed, the very word ‘rente’ originated in the French government’s practice of selling off a public asset, like the right to collect a certain type of tax, that would produce a continuing stream of revenues.” Thanks, that is a bit of the answer. It fits in with my dictum that tax is necessary but can never be rational.

(@6550) The tensions described here between public and private property is just that described first to my understanding in Jacobs’ “Systems of Survival”. Here the logic of money was spilling over into the traditional realm of tax.

(@6566) “Wealthy individuals, instead of investing their money in productive assets in the private economy, spent their fortunes on heritable offices that could not create but only redistribute wealth.” I find myself unexpectedly on the other side here from Fukuyama here, and a good many of my friends. There was indeed an evil here but it was in the creation of these “heritable offices” not in their sale. Perhaps these ‘offices’ grew in potency—the rules are not clear here. Their growth would also be evil.

(@7313) “Hungary lost its independent existence as a nation and was divided up into three parts controlled by the Austrian Hapsburgs.” OK I will admit that this is a conclusion that bears on the topic of “political order” but I suspect that Fukuyama thinks this was bad for the Hungarians. I suspect that Fukuyama thinks that this is obvious. This is the sort of history that Fernand Braudel deprecates.

(@7888) I have not learned to glean information from these diagrams.

(@8425) “Without the investiture conflict and its consequences, the rule of law would never have become so deeply rooted in the West.” This is just one of many conclusions that entirely escape me and I think that I read that section carefully.

(@8453) “Political systems evolve in a manner roughly comparable to biological evolution.” Agreed but evolution leads to form of an organism. A polity is not an organism in this sense however. The memes of polysci are a bit more like organisms however.

(@8890) “Having a state is a basic precondition for intensive economic growth.” I suppose, but this has been too much taken as an axiom than a theorem. “A great deal of Africa’s poverty in the late twentieth century was related to the fact that states there were very weak and subject to constant breakdown and instability.” I would say not weak but corrupt.

Fukuyama sees and claims many cause-effect relationships. He convinces me of very few.
I prefer “Autocatalytic collection of memes” to Fukuyama’s turtles.(@8994)
Fukuyama likes strong states. In The Rational Optimist Ridley deprecates strong states. Ridley suggests that China’s advances occurred between the great dynasties. Ridley admits that strong states often suppress pirates, but then usually to tax instead.

Fukuyama considers this as a subsequent volume.