Evan Soltas
Apr 17, 2015

Notes on Fukuyama and Walzer

Political Order and Political Decay
by Francis Fukuyama
Farrar, Strouss and Giroux, 672 p.p., $22.00

The Paradox of Liberation
by Michael Walzer
Yale University Press, 192 p.p., $18.00

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Frank Fukuyama and Michael Walzer came to Princeton in the last few days to give talks. Both were great: Fukuyama brought historical insights into the process of building effective state institutions, and Walzer compared trends in the post-colonial world. Here I've tried to pull together my notes and recollections on both.

The question of how to build a political order, Fukuyama argues, ought be divided into three. First, is there a central state with control over the territory it claims? Second, does that state obey rule of law -- that is, does the political authority see its role as one of an impartial agent, or does it use its role for corruption and extraction? Third, does real democratic accountability exist?

Fukuyama contends that far too much time has been spent thinking about the first and the third and the West is at a loss when asked to help achieve the second. The result is that Western advice is counterproductive and ahistorical. Fukuyama pointed to the historical transformations of rule of law in the U.S., beginning with the establishment of the spoils system under Andrew Jackson and then the switch into a professionalized civil service under the Pendleton Act of 1883.

Making institutions non-extractive and neutral, Fukuyama suggested, is where the pressure of a burgeoning economic middle class might actually matter -- as opposed to democracy, where the middle-class argument has struggled as of late. He named Ukraine, India, and Brazil as examples here.

Ukraine, he thought, faced a choice not just between Russia and the West, but also between the extractive institutions embodied by Yanukovych and backed by Russia and the liberal institutions that Yatsenyuk, Poroshenko, and European Union trade connections all seemed to promise. In India, a new professional class had tossed the long-incumbent Congress Party out of power for the BJP, whose platform on the issue of corruption sounds so much like the historical Western civil-service movements as to be eerie. And Fukuyama suggested that Brazil may be on the edge of a similar change, as the middle class has had enough with the Dilma Rousseff government's extractive management of Petrobras, the oil giant.

Why, Walzer asks, did secular national liberation movements fail and give way to religious reaction? His book is as a set of three case studies: Israel, India, and Algeria.

The early left-wing Zionism that had been so hostile to Judaism had capitulated to a right that saw Israel as a Jewish religious state, not a secular democratic state for the Jewish people. In India, progress for women under Nehru stalled out under pressure from Hindu nationalism. And, in Algeria, the secular socialist FLN was overthrown by the Islamist FIS.

Walzer's answer begins by pointing to the oddity that the liberators often seem to be at war with the people they are supposed to be liberating. That is, in the desire of the national liberation movement to modernize their countries, they branded too much of their nation's cultural and religious heritage as outmoded -- and were left with a cultural husk that they were unprepared to fill.

He points to the tight bond of religious and social ritual to crucial life events -- coming of age, marriage, birth, death -- and asks how a social system that offered no substitute for these gatherings could ever be fulfilling. The secularists, in modernizing, failed to build a new cultural structure. A cheap commercial Westernism often filled the void. Yet this was unsatisfying. Dissatisfaction led to its replacement by the return of the religious forces the socialist movement had discarded.