My long review of Francis Fukuyama's The Origins of Political Order is now in the July 2011 print edition of The American Conservative. Subscribers can read it online. (You can subscribe here.) Here's the opening:
Whenever prominent national security intellectual Francis “The End of History” Fukuyama publishes another book (which is often), it’s always amusing to wisecrack about how current events show that history has not, indeed, ended. For example, the first half of what Fukuyama intends to be his magnum opus, The Origins of Political Order: From Prehuman Times to the French Revolution, landed with a thump on my doorstep the week America plunged into war with Libya. As I write, Americans are astounded by Osama bin Laden being found in the heart of Pakistan’s deep state.
It’s hard to resist making jokes at Fukuyama’s expense, even ones as tired as the non-end of history, because of his self-promoting egotism. For example, this doorstop book is, we are informed: first, an extension both forward and backward in time of his late mentor Samuel P. Huntington’s 1968 landmark, Political Order in Changing Societies; second, Fukuyama’s version of Jared Diamond’s 1997 bestselling History and Theory of Everything, Guns, Germs, and Steel; and, third, a revolutionary work that introduces to political science the cutting edge Darwinian insights of 1960s-1970s sociobiologists. (While Mel Brooks’s History of the World: Part I began with cavemen, Fukuyama’s starts with chimpanzees.)
This is not to imply that The Origins of Political Order is a bad book. It’s a very good one, just not as boggling as Fukuyama imagines. Instead, Origins is quite sensible: it traces the historic evolution of what he defines as a good state: one that is strong, accountable, and under the rule of law. Unfortunately, it’s also shallow.
A clue to Fukuyama’s astonishing productivity—Who can type that fast?—might be found in his Wikipedia photograph, which shows him wearing a headset microphone. The less-than-magisterial prose style of Origins sometimes sounds as if Fukuyama had dictated it at some haste into Dragon Naturally Speaking voice recognition software. For instance, p. 10 of Origins reads like Jane Austen on crack:
"It concerns the difficulties of creating and maintaining effective political institutions, governments that are simultaneously powerful, rule bound, and accountable. This might seem like an obvious point that any fourth grader would acknowledge, and yet on further reflection it is a truth that many intelligent people fail to understand."