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The Origins of Political Order

From Prehuman Times to the French Revolution

By Francis Fukuyama
18-minute read
The Origins of Political Order: From Prehuman Times to the French Revolution by Francis Fukuyama

In The Origins of Political Order, Francis Fukuyama delves into the history of modern state-building. Instead of focusing on Ancient Greece or Rome like many earlier scholars, he traces political histories in China, India, the Middle East and Europe. Using a comparative approach, Fukuyama explains how diverse political and social environments allowed Europe to develop many different political systems.

  • Anyone interested in history
  • Anyone interested in politics or international relations
  • Anyone curious about the role of human biology in history

Francis Fukuyama is a world-renowned historian and philosopher. He is especially well-known for his 1992 book The End of History and the Last Man, in which he argued that liberal democracy represented the end of political evolution – a thesis he has since revised. Fukuyama is currently a senior fellow at Stanford, and he’s lectured at John Hopkins, George Mason and many other top universities. He’s also completed research for the RAND corporation and the US State Department.

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The Origins of Political Order

From Prehuman Times to the French Revolution

By Francis Fukuyama
  • Read in 18 minutes
  • Contains 11 key ideas
The Origins of Political Order: From Prehuman Times to the French Revolution by Francis Fukuyama
Synopsis

In The Origins of Political Order, Francis Fukuyama delves into the history of modern state-building. Instead of focusing on Ancient Greece or Rome like many earlier scholars, he traces political histories in China, India, the Middle East and Europe. Using a comparative approach, Fukuyama explains how diverse political and social environments allowed Europe to develop many different political systems.

Key idea 1 of 11

Humans are social creatures who naturally seek to be part of a group.

How can we make sense of our evolution? Our progression from hunter-gatherers to life in today’s complex, organized societies has been so vast it seems to defy comprehension.

We must first understand that we’re social creatures. We thrive by cooperating with our family and others around us.

Our natural sociability derives from our kin selection, whereby we help others according to the percentage of genes we share with them. People help their siblings more than their cousins, for example. We share 50 percent of our genes with siblings, but just over ten percent with cousins, and obviously we are less inclined to help those who aren’t blood relatives.

Reciprocal altruism also shapes our social natures. It means that, beyond the bounds of kinship, we’re kind to people who’ve been kind to us in the past. In the classic game theory experiment, the Prisoner’s Dilemma, two players choose to either cooperate with one another or sell each other down the river. In repeated rounds, players always help those who have cooperated in the past instead of those who have previously betrayed them. If family comes first, friends are a close second.

We also naturally conform to the rules of groups we belong to, because we want to be accepted. This process is quite nuanced, because of our high intelligence as a species.

We developed abstract thinking as our brains became more and more complex. We created theories about our world to give us a sense of control and understanding.

This fostered the creation of transcendent beliefs and religion, which helped make our social groups more cohesive still and gave us something to live for. We didn’t just seek material resources, but social status as well.

Eventually, these changes led to the development of politics. Different social groups with separate gods, flags or races fought to assert their place in the world. These bonded groups can be powerfully enduring. Group identity is still very important to us – we are biologically inclined toward it.

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