The Origins of Political Order

It’s been a while since I read anything by the author of “The End of History and The Last Man” but my latest acquisition of Francis Fukuyama’s is phenomenal. My interest in anthropology stems from my fascination (still) with climate change and societal development. What this means is the Neolithic Revolution (10,500 years ago) to the present. In other words the Agricultural Revolution and the development of our way of life.

For those of you who share a similar fascination, I imagine you’ve dabbled in Jared Diamond’s “Guns, Germs and Steel” and you’ll most likely be familiar with the concept of climatic determinism. Don’t worry. I won’t be talking about the latter but an awareness of the former will certainly help.

A key question that Diamond never fully answered was why did complex social developments occur in the first instance. Guns, Germs and Steel is predicated around how western Europeans dominated the world from the 15th century more or less through to the present. On the other hand, Part 1 of Fukuyama’s two-part series aims to discuss why certain regions developed the way they did when they did and why others did not. This is fascinating. It turns out that political, social, and technological development were determined by population density. Population density is the key variable that determines if an areas human population will remain tribal and nomadic or whether they will farm, become sedentary, and build!

This juncture is important. By not setting down permanent settlements tribes are at a significant disadvantage. Though they never have to compete with others for scant resources it means their social and political institutions never fully develop and moreover, they are ill-equipped for war on a massive scale. In short, nomads adapt by migrating. Sedentism, on the other hand, fosters one of two approaches: be conquered or conquer.

Legitimising Histories Nero’s

It’s long been known that religious institutions prop up the power and legitimacy of monarchies and vice-versa. In agricultural societies, of which we are still one, there is a clear need for hierarchy and specific functions. Those who use hard power and coercion quickly become the leaders of this new world. Those who do not become slaves to this hierarchy. Fukuyama discusses how as we settled and acquiesced power to both the priests and monarchs,  this entailed curtailing certain freedoms in return for safety. This of course is classic Hobbes territory, the idea that the state of nature is harsh, brutal and short. Early cities and states went some way to ameliorating our species ultimate fear: death. Religion is the opiate that we consume on mass because of our finite life. States tapped into this visceral fear and continue to do so. Because we want to be safe and enjoy freedoms, we make certain tradeoffs to the state’s government and this defines the social contract which, over the course of history, has bent more towards the benefit of government than citizenry.

On the cusp of starting Section 3, he’s covered the unification of China, India’s disunity, the Arab and Ottoman conquests, and English individual exceptionalism and the role of the Catholic Church in changing the social fabric of Western Europe. What’s clear from reading is religion plays a central role in how societies form once they’re settled and the sooner they’re unified the sooner significant advancements can occur.

 

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