Saturday, May 28, 2011

Origins of Political Order: Francis Fukuyama and the start of history

As they try to make sense of the Arab Spring, many in Washington have argued that the US must put itself on "the right side of history" in the Middle East and North Africa. It's a familiar but bizarre phrase. It is common sense to argue that foreign policy should be driven by national interests and deep-seated principles. But should politicians and diplomats base their choices on their instincts about where the arc of history is heading?
Most professional historians would say no. To acquire a doctorate in history today, at least in the US or UK, is to obsess about details. Topics such as folk perceptions of Joan of Arc in post-Napoleonic Normandy are hot in academic circles. Things like the rise and decline of civilisations don't seem rigorous enough to get historians interested.

Yet there is still a natural hunger for History with a capital H. We live in a moment of dramatic political and economic change, as the US turns inwards, Europe stagnates and China, India and Brazil assert themselves on the world stage. The recent events in the Middle East have only reinforced the sense that we have entered a historically pivotal moment.

So it's hardly surprising that there is currently high demand for explanations of world history that can be applied to immediate political circumstances. This is just what Francis Fukuyama offers in The Origins of Political Order, an expansive survey of global developments stretching from prehistory to the French and American revolutions.
It is not too much to say that Fukuyama had no choice but to write this book. Twenty years ago he seized the post-Cold War moment to raise the possibility of the "end of history" - the moment that liberal democracy trumped all other political systems. Versions of this idea informed the Clinton administration's efforts to draw ex-Communist states into a liberal world order and the Bush administration's democratisation agenda.
Richard Gowan in The National. More Here

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