By Chet Yarbrough
Written by: Francis Fukuyama
Narrated by: Johnathan Davis
Francis Fukuyama offers a benediction and warning about democracy in “Political Order and Political Decay”. His book is difficult to absorb because of its wide territorial coverage and a listener’s sense that political theory is being justified as much as proven. However, Fukuyama impressively argues that democracy is the best form of government in the world and may evolve into a form of government that is best for all modern societies. He examines the current state of American democracy and other forms of democracy developed, or developing, in other countries.
Fukuyama explains there are three pillars of democracy. First, a state must be formed to protect its citizens and its territory in a framework of liberty. Second, rule-of-law must be established to constrain power held by the few over the many with the goal of justice for all. And three, accountability must be institutionalized for policies that offer equality of opportunity for all; not only factions or special interests. When any of these supports are weakened, democracy decays.
Many examples of good and bad democracies are given by Fukuyama. To narrow the territory, this review will focus on the United States but the author offers many historical examples that reinforce, and sometimes complicate, his theory. In the U. S., the founding fathers address forming a nation-state with rule-of-law and a balance of power institutional’ formula intended to serve the interest of all citizens. For over two hundred years, America has adhered, in principle, to these three pillars of democracy. However, America has failed, at different times, in different degrees, in ways that have shaken each of democracy’s pillars.
The nation-state is nearly destroyed in the American Civil War. The iniquity of slavery and the importance of nationhood are played out. The right of national governance of all states of the union is clarified and mandated by the victory of Union forces. Through blood and treasure lost in the Civil War, the United States became one, and the institution of slavery null.
There have been numerous attacks on the rule-of-law in America when addressing equality of opportunity, the right to vote, and freedom of expression. Victories and losses are referred to in Fukuyama’s book with a trend toward betterment in America but a work-in-progress. Fukuyama notes that many nations are not ready for democracy because they have not adopted rule-of-law that establishes human rights for all citizens.
Institutionalized accountability has been distorted by political gerrymandering, special interest influences, patronage, and what Fukuyama calls “clientism” (selling one’s vote for reward). Concern is expressed over the role of special interest money in its distortion of political will for the many by the few. Fukuyama decries the growing extremism in America because of political parties that rely on local political caucuses controlled by minorities, or special interests. These special interests nominate candidates who are not qualified to be leaders but are beholding to small interest groups. If elected, they become clients of special interests rather than representatives of their districts.
Fukuyama spends a good deal of time giving examples of Presidents like Jackson who strongly endorsed patronage appointments based on relationship rather than merit. Fukuyama notes that patronage in America evolves when a disgruntled acquaintance is denied a foreign post by President Garfield. The denied acquaintance assassinates the President. The Pendleton Act is passed and a merit system of appointment is established for government positions. Fukuyama notes that the Pendleton Act did not eliminate patronage but it reduced it; the Civil Service came into being.
Fukuyama makes the point that institutionalization of the ideals of the three pillars of democracy insures government stability and longevity. The Civil Service is an example of another step taken by America to preserve democratic government.
The main points of “Political Order and Political Decay” revolve around the pillars of democracy. Fukuyama shows that there are many democracies in the world but those that violate any of the three pillars are likely to decay over time. If institutions are not established to repair or maintain the state as sovereign, defensible, and dependent on the good will of the many, democracy will decay. Democratic nations must be willing to guarantee individual rights by rule-of-law, and leaders must be accountable for their actions. Fukuyama infers countries that choose not to be democratic, based on the three pillars, will not rival the success of modern world nation-states that have achieved economic and political stability.
However, Fukuyama is not suggesting the United States will necessarily remain the super power it has become. Fukuyama argues that warning signals are flashing in America because of changes occurring in its political system. Recognition of corporations as individuals by the Supreme Court opens a wider door for special interest influence on public policy. Corporations are able to contribute as much money as they want to super-pacs as client recruitment organizations for political representatives. Consequently, these political representatives become more influenced by corporate interests than public good. History has made it clear that what is good for General Motors is not necessarily good for the country.
Another warning bell in America is the blurring lines for separation of powers. The Supreme Court is entering the realm of the legislature by making new law out of Congressionally legislated acts. Interpretation of freedom of speech, health care legislation, and women’s rights have resulted in what some consider new law. Further, Fukuyama suggests veto power has eroded compromise between legislative and presidential branches of government. Fukuyama also notes that administrative rules in the legislature are corrosive because they block disputing party’ negotiation; giving Congress a do-nothing reputation. And finally, Fukuyama attacks government bureaucracies that have become ossified by unionization, job justification, and lack of accountability.
Fukuyama argues that American’ government size is not the issue. The number of employees in the federal government have been roughly the same since WWII. Too many public service responsibilities have been outsourced because of government leadership’s failure to improve government agency performance. He explains that government agencies have become inflexible, self-perpetuating organizations that ineffectively serve the needs of American’ citizens.
Confidence in the American Federal Government is diminishing. Belief in the legislative process is at an all-time low. The public grows to believe government serves special interests more than common good. Loss of confidence bleeds into citizen mistrust of government.
If Fukuyama’s theory is correct, it offers a road map to America for its leadership role in the world. The road map starts with America righting its own ship of state by being a good example of democracy. America should support outside countries’ efforts to become independent democracies. Fukuyama suggests every developing sovereign country should be treated with respect based on their road to nationhood. Governments will form based on acquiring their own state identity. America’s role is to support nations trying to establish rule-of-law’ policies that serve interests of their citizens. Finally, America’s role is to demonstrate, encourage, and supplement other nations’ efforts to create institutional organizations that promote the pillars of democracy; with the United States, not as a parent, but as a partner.