The Origins of Political Order

My job and social life have kept me preoccupied from this site of intellectual masturbation, but now that things are slowing down, I hope to turn out a few original posts. I’ve just finished Friedrich Hayek’s Road to Serfdom and there was some very “sexy” philosophy which I would like to elaborate on later. In the meantime, I found this rather interesting review of Fukuyama’s new book The Origins of Political Order, which actually includes Hayekian philosophy, and now makes me anxious to read it, as I was hoping to incorporate Hayek’s philosophy in a rebirth of the liberal IR theory to address the critique of postmodern IR theory. I must get my hands on it and read it! Along with Fareed Zakaria’s The Future of Freedom and Henry Kissinger’s On China.


***Taken from

Not Quite a Review of Fukuyama’s Origins of Political Order

Leave a Comment Posted by on July 5, 2011

I finally finished Francis Fukuyama’s The Origins of Political Order. I should really like it. Fukuyama uses many eclectic positions which I share with him, namely the importance of evolutionary psychology, the relevance of Jared Diamond’s emphasis on geography (especially with respect to influence the patterns of political institutions), and a rejection of Becker-style economics. He also employs a Hayekian method of group selection. Unfortunately for the latter, he doesn’t seem to realize it. His criticisms of things I know about are very superficial, and he’ll often use a footnote to hide the superficiality. He basically warns at the beginning of the book that in a work as sprawling as this, he would probably make a few mistakes in citing stuff outside his realm of expertise. It would help if he had simply cut the amount of material in the book- his philosophy seemed to be, why talk about Indian political development for five pages when I can do it for three full chapter?

I don’t think this is a review because I’m just bitching without providing very many good examples. I will go after him about Hayek, though. He paints Hayek as a dialogue for looking at the development of common law as always a bottom up process, even though the historical record shows that common law only became effective after the state consciously took it out of the hands of the local feudal lords and stopped the lords from issuing biased rulings. This completely contradicts what I have heard elsewhere on the topic, that there was competition amongst the courts before the central government got involved, and that the competition provided better results (as well as instituting a method of evolving the law in a much more rapid form than exists in common law today). I am more confident that the Hayekian understanding is accurate elsewhere, especially in merchant law. At no point does Fukuyama reference Bruce Benson, who developed the Hayekian bottom-up explanation of law more than Hayek himself did.

But all of this is irrelevant. Hayek didn’t disagree with Fukuyama over whether the state can intervene and improve the law. He even had a word for it, “tinkering.” The idea is that it is fine to experiment (i.e. tinker), but don’t believe that you understand civilization so well that you can build it from the ground-up, as socialism tried to. Hayek also says that tinkering is the same thing as what Popper called “piecemeal social engineering,” which makes it all the more clear that he is talking about the same thing Fukuyama criticized him for being blind to. The reason why Hayek used the word tinkering was because he was uncomfortable advocating anything called social engineering because of what it would typically connote (not to mention Hayek’s despise of the word “social”).

At the risk of venturing into bad faith, I am going to rip into Fukuyama’s manner in citing Hayek. At one point late in the book, he has a throwaway line that “Hayek is correct, however, that institutional evolution is not dependent on the ability of human beings to design successful institutions; random variation and the principle of selection by themselves can produce an adaptive outcome.” For the entire book up to this point (including that paragraph), Fukuyama never suggests that his group selection is the same as Hayek. The footnote at the end of that passage then cites Armen Alchian, not where Hayek extensively talked about group selection elsewhere. The Fatal Conceit is in the bibliography, but I’m not sure if Fukuyama really read it since it is plastered with group selection.

He also had a peculiar method of citing Law, Legislation, and Liberty. What’s strange is that he cites it as being one work (kinda it is), but from what I can tell, all of his references are to Rules and Order, which came out in 1973. In the bibliography, he cites an edition that came out in 1976. Volume 2 came out in 1976. From what I can tell, volume 1 did not have a separate edition that came out in 1976. The clearest, most sustained discussion of group selection comes in the epilogue of the third volume, which came out in 1979.

This lack of careful attention to Hayek (whom Fukuyama pretends to know deeply both here and in other works) exemplifies the superficiality of the book.

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