Foreign Affairs features a review of Francis Fukuyama’s newest book, The Origins of Political Order (only the first volume, which covers prehistory to the French Revolution; the second volume is forthcoming). It’s a helpful review, and what makes it interesting is that, although Fukuyama can definitely be classed as a liberal thinker (indeed, he is—or was—one of the biggest names in neoconservatism), he doesn’t pin the blame for the rise of modernity on religious violence or see liberalism as an attempt to stamp out faith. Rather, he claims, the primary enemy of liberalism is “tribalism,” by which he means networks of familial connections:
Weber also seems to have inspired Fukuyama’s argument that the main enemies of the efficient, orderly state are the patrimonialism, cronyism, and corruption of family, kin, and tribal networks that protect their privileges and exact rents. He calls this “the tyranny of cousins” [ . . . ] The Abbasid caliphs and the Ottoman Turks used abducted slaves (the Mamluks and the Janissaries, respectively) as officials and soldiers, since the slaves lacked blood ties to any local tribes and could not pass on their offices to their children. And the medieval Catholic Church under Pope Gregory VII introduced celibacy for priests in order to avoid kinship cronyism. Reliance on cousins and tribalism, Fukuyama suggests, remain the default modes of political organization for humans when things go wrong — as they often do.
Indeed, for Fukuyama, religion helped birth the modern conceptions of order by initiating many of the reforms of human and communal behavior that would only later cross-pollinate into the political realm. The Church in particular is the exemplar for the West:
Religion and ideology play an important part in Fukuyama’s story. Where they establish a power base independent of the state, he claims — as have Hinduism in India, Islam in the Middle East, and Christianity in Europe — the rule of law develops most. Thus, he rejects reductionist attempts to explain political and social institutions as mere reflections of underlying economic or technological structures: “It is impossible to develop any meaningful theory of political development without treating ideas as fundamental causes of why societies differ and follow distinct development paths.”
As the review goes on to conclude, Fukuyama believes the key to sustaining the democratic settlement is “equilibrium”—that each of the independent power bases retains its competence and autonomy, and that the state in particular is limited to some extent. This of course represents a significant evolution from the essay which made his name, “The End of History,” in which he postulated that the passing of the USSR might represent the final triumph of liberal democracy as the default form of human government.
Obviously world events since 1989 have forced a rethink of that giddy triumphalism, and while Fukuyama “still believes in the virtues of Western liberal democracy,” he “now asks where it came from and how it might be sustained.” Voicing a truth sure to make political progressives uncomfortable, he notes that, when it comes to liberalism, “past performance is no guarantee of future success.” And so he is now “worried,” the review’s conclusion notes, about the fate of democracy for several reasons, one being the increasing difficulty with which established market economies (altered by globalization and ever-increasing efficiency) are having in delivering satisfactory results. Another source of concern, one might hasten to add, is the trajectory of religion—whether it’s its declining relevance in secular societies, the growing marginalization and bullying of faith by Western governments, or a resurgent fundamentalism which promises restoration but masks irreligion—there is no guarantee that it will continue to occupy the collaborative, mediating role lately expected of it in the political arena. And if this pillar—or one or more of the others—continue to erode, he admits, the end of history is quite a ways off.