Outline of “The Origins of Political Order” by Francis Fukuyama 2011

This is one of the best explanations of the origins of human political behavior that I have encountered. It deserves careful consideration.

The book is available here.

Outline based on portions of summary chapter 29.

 

  • Fukuyama rejects the idea that all behavior is socially constructed. There are certain scientific facts about human biology that affect and constrain human behavior.
  • Humans never existed in a “state of nature”
    • The “state of nature” of Hobbes, Locke, Rousseau, etc. is a fiction. Humans never actually existed in such a state of isolated individuals. As long as there have been humans (and primates) we have organized ourselves into groups and behaved in terms of our group identities.
    • Thus, humans evolved the necessary “cognitive and emotional faculties” to exist efficiently in groups. The fact that we cooperate in groups isn’t purely a rational cost-benefit calculation, but also a biological instinct and urge that evolved over time.
  • Why do we cooperate with one another?
    • ANSWER 1: “kin selection.” Human beings have evolved to be altruistic toward those who share common genes. This is an evolutionary adaptation to promote gene survival and reproduction.
    • ANSWER 2: “reciprocal altruism.” Human beings learn from repeated interactions with other individuals/groups and develop either trust or mistrust based on the results of those interactions.
      • Since we interact most often with those who share our genes and learn that this is beneficial to us, we are predisposed to treat those in our kin groups better than those outside our kin groups.
      • We learned that our survival is enhanced by cooperating with members of our kin groups.
      • This explains the political behavior of PATRIMONIALISM – or favoring those in your kin group.
    • Why are human beings rule-followers?
      • Human beings have a natural inclination to create rules and institutions.
      • Humans can create rules rationally through an economic cost-benefit analysis based on a desire to maximize advantages, reduce costs, and solve “prisoner’s dilemma-type problems of social cooperation.”
      • The instinct to follow rules, however, is more a product of emotion, evolution, and instinct. These come through emotions like “guilt, shame, pride, anger, embarrassment, and admiration.” These are biologically transmitted more than culturally transmitted. This is evidenced in the fact that small children organize their behavior according to these emotions.
      • We have evolved a psychological predisposition to “endow rules with intrinsic value.”
        • This explains why there is a bias toward conservatism in societies.
        • Individuals and societies cling to rules long after conditions have changed because of the emotional investment in the “rightness” of those rules.
      • Why are human beings aggressive?
        • We are predisposed to violent behavior. This has been inherited from our primate ancestors who behave similarly.
        • Institutions have always arisen to help “control and channel violence.”
      • Human being desire “not just material resources but also recognition.”
        • Recognition is “the acknowledgement of another human being’s dignity or worth.” This is also known as “status.”
        • Status is relative, not absolute, and thus exists in a zero-sum environment.
          • We attain recognition only at the expense of others because we organize ourselves into hierarchies.
          • Those with higher levels of recognition (status) have greater access to sexual partners and thus a higher degree of reproductive success. Thus, we have evolved a desire for recognition and status.
        • Much of human political behavior revolves around the desire for recognition.
          • This involves recognition not just for oneself, but for one’s values, culture, religion, etc.
          • Liberal democracy is based on the desire/demand for “equal recognition.”
        • Political LEGITIMACY arises when humans transfer the object of recognition from an individual to an institution. AUTHORITY is based on that perceived legitimacy.
      • Ideas are causal factors in political behavior.
        • Humans have evolved to create “mental models of reality.”
        • These models attribute causal explanations to things. These can be visible and demonstrable or invisible and assumed.
          • Early human causal factors: spirits, demons, gods
          • Contemporary human causal factors: gravity, radiation, self-interest
        • All religions constitute a “mental model of reality” that explain cause and effect relationships.
          • Humans have evolved a desire for mental models that make the world “legible, predictable, and easy to manipulate.” Religion is a mental model. Science is a mental model.
        • Shared mental models are necessary for facilitating widespread collective action. Religion is especially useful for playing this role. Religion can motivate people to overcome the collective action problem because it gives people intrinsic motivation for action. Thus, religion is very useful to the formation of politics and the state.
          • Religion also helps motivate people to transcend kinship and friends as a “source of social relationships.”
          • At the same time, secular ideologies like Marxism or nationalism can accomplish the same function.
        • Religions persist because they are non-falsifiable to one extent or another, and the natural bias toward conservatism endows them with intrinsic value. Also, there is evidence that humans are “hardwired” for religion just as they are “hardwired” for language or following rules.
        • Contra Marx, religion is not an invention of the elites to control the masses. Religion was present long before social hierarchies became common.
        • Brahmanism in India and Catholicism in Europe helped establish political institutions and the rule of law in those areas.
        • Political legitimacy should be understood as an idea, similar to other ideas that people have about “God, justice, society, wealth,” etc.
        • Democracy and accountable government cannot be explained in the absence of the importance of ideas.
      • How do political institutions develop?
        • “Political systems evolve in a manner roughly comparable to biological evolution.” Variation and selection.
        • Human biology provides for the instinct to follow rules, but the content of those rules develops through an “evolutionary” process.
        • Differences:
          • Variation is planned.
          • Characteristics are transmitted culturally instead of genetically. This is an advantage because they can be changed at whim instead of being biologically “hardwired.” But it’s a disadvantage because of our conservatism bias.
          • Can spread through imitation, not reproduction.
        • Competition drives political development. This drives the selection process of political development.
          • Most competitive pressures have come from “violence and war.”
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