Francis Fukuyama’s “Political Order and Political Decay,” a whirlwind tour of modern political development from the French Revolution to the present, is nothing if not ambitious, says Columbia University’s Sheri Berman.
“He wants to do more than just describe what liberal democracy is; he wants to discover how and why it develops (or does not),” she writes for the New York Times:
He suggests that the sequencing of political development is important, arguing that “those countries in which democracy preceded modern state building have had much greater problems achieving high-quality governance than those that inherited modern states from absolutist times.” But the cases he gives as examples do not necessarily fit the argument well (since Prussia’s state eventually had trouble deferring to civilian authorities and the early weakness of the Italian state was probably caused more by a lack of democracy than a surfeit of it). In addition, he surely understands that authoritarianism is even more likely to generate state weakness than democracy since without free media, an active civil society and regular elections, authoritarianism has more opportunities to make use of corruption, clientelism and predation than democracies do.
Fukuyama, a board member of the National Endowment for Democracy, leaves his readers with a depressing paradox, Berman notes:
Liberal democracy remains the best system for dealing with the challenges of modernity, and there is little reason to believe that Chinese, Russian or Islamist alternatives can provide the diverse range of economic, social and political goods that all humans crave. But unless liberal democracies can somehow manage to reform themselves and combat institutional decay, history will end not with a bang but with a resounding whimper.