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    The Origins of Political Order by Francis Fukuyama

    Date published:10 May  2013
    Article category: Media

     “The Origins of Political Order” - Public Lecture by Dr Francis Fukuyama

    Back L  to R: Gail Smith (MISTRA), Prof Brian Levy (UCT), Joel Netshitenzhe (MISTRA), Oyama Mabandla (MISTRA), Yacoob Abba Omar (MISTRA).  Front L to R: Bridgitte Mabandla (MISTRA), Prof Francis Fukuyama, Prof Sibusiso Vil-Nkomo (MISTRA) 


    “The Origins of Political Order” - Public Lecture by Dr Francis Fukuyama

    I am going to talk about where political institutions come from.  I believe that this is the central issue in development, because if you don’t get the politics right – and by politics I don’t mean just the short term political decisions, but the actual institutions around which societies are organised – then you’re not going to have economic growth, you are not going to have the right kind of social development and you’re not going to have a just society.  Recent history clearly reveals this as truth. What was the problem in Russia after the breakdown of the former Soviet Union? It was the fact that the Soviet State collapsed. The new Russian state could not even do something like privatisation, moving towards a market economy fairly and cleanly, because it did not have a state with capacity.  If you think about the difference between Norway and Nigeria, both oil rich countries, one of which is building a very sustainable trust fund for the future, the other which has actually seen increasing levels of poverty over the same period that oil revenues have flowed in: the entire difference is really in the quality of the governance there.  And then if you think about East Asia, the miracles that have been beginning in Japan, Korea, Taiwan and now in China, it is my view, and I will talk about this at greater length in a moment, that a lot of this has to be located in the quality of the state institutions. That is one of the historical legacies of Chinese history.  So politics matters.  It matters to my country, the United States, because in the course of these two invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq, all of a sudden the United States found itself needing to build state institutions in areas of a collapsed state, and it turned out we had no idea how to do it.  And I think many of the policy failures in American foreign policy over the past decade stem from this lack of awareness of the importance of institutions, the fact that we take them for granted so there is really a kind of gap in our knowledge of where they come from.  This thus is going to be the subject of my talk tonight.


    I am going to begin with some definitions.  I am a professor, and that is what Professors do.  We begin with definitions.  So when we talk about political institutions, what are we talking about?  It is my view that there are really three important categories of institutions around which modern politics is based. 


    The first is The State itself.  I like the German sociologist Max Weber’s  definition of The State as a legitimate monopoly of force that covers a defined territory.  I think that this is a good definition because it distinguishes a state from a corporation, from an NGO, from a labour union, from a garden club. A state has a very specific function and that function is to concentrate power and to be able to use that power to enforce rules, to provide order, to supply services, to supply basic public goods.  That is what states do.  There is another important definition that also comes from Max Weber which has to do with what a modern state is.  So a traditional, patrimonial state is basically an extension of the ruler’s household.  The ruler simply appoints his cousins and brothers and in-laws to positions of power in the state, or perhaps friends that have been warriors with him. An impersonal state is the hallmark of a modern state.  That is to say the state is staffed by people that are chosen on the basis of their qualifications and, most importantly, their relationship to the state does not depend on their personal relationships to the ruler. It depends on their being a citizen and therefore the state treats you with a certain degree of equality, even before the advent of modern democracy.  And so this transition from what Weber called a patrimonial state to a modern state is really one of the critical transitions that makes for modern politics.  And so how that transition comes about is one of the key questions that we have to answer. 



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