The Origins of Political Order

Book notes for "The Origins of Political Order", From Prehuman Times to the French Revolution by Francis Fukuyama

Papua New Guinea hosts more than nine hundred mutually incomprehensible
languages, nearly one-sixth of all of the world's extant tongues. The
Solomon Islands, with a population of only five hundred thousand,
nonetheless has over seventy distinct languages. Most residents of the
PNG highlands have never left the small mountain valleys in which they
were born; their lives are lived within the wantok and in competition
with neighboring wantoks. loc 81

This book covers a large number of societies and historical periods; I
also use material from disciplines outside my own, including
anthropology, economics, and biology. Obviously in a work of this scope,
I have had to rely almost exclusively on secondary sources for the
research. I have tried to pass this material through as many expert
filters as possible, but it is nonetheless likely that I have made both
factual and interpretational mistakes along the way. While many of the
individual chapters will not pass muster with people whose job it is to
study particular societies and historical periods in depth, it does seem
to me that there is a virtue in looking across time and space in a
comparative fashion. Some of the broader patterns of political
development are simply not visible to those who focus too narrowly on
specific subjects. loc 132

Free markets are necessary to promote long-term growth, but they are not
self-regulating, particularly when it comes to banks and other large
financial institutions. The system's instability is a reflection of what
is ultimately a political failure, that is, the failure to provide
sufficient regulatory oversight both at a national and an international
level. loc 206

Indeed, the kinds of minimal or no-government societies envisioned by
dreamers of the Left and Right are not fantasies; they actually exist in
the contemporary developing world. Many parts of sub-Saharan Africa are
a libertarian's paradise. The region as a whole is a low-tax utopia,
with governments often unable to collect more than about 10 percent of
GDP in taxes, compared to more than 30 percent in the United States and
50 percent in parts of Europe. loc 329

Nigeria has a film industry that produces as many titles as India's
famed Bollywood, but films have to earn a quick return because the
government is incapable of guaranteeing intellectual property rights and
preventing products from being copied illegally. loc 336

much of it is not comparative on a sufficiently broad scale. It is only
by comparing the experience of different societies that we can begin to
sort through complex causal factors that explain why certain
institutions emerged in some places but not in others. A lot of
theorizing about modernization, from the massive studies of Karl Marx to
contemporary economic historians like Douglass North, has focused
heavily on the experience of England as the first country to
industrialize. The English experience was exceptional in many ways but
is not necessarily a good guide to development in countries differently
situated. loc 413

Modern political institutions appeared far earlier in history than did
the Industrial Revolution and the modern capitalist economy. Indeed,
many of the elements of what we now understand to be a modern state were
already in place in China in the third century B.C., some eighteen
hundred years before they emerged in loc 446

But it is in fact individualism and not sociability that developed over
the course of human history. That individualism seems today like a solid
core of our economic and political behavior is only because we have
developed institutions that override our more naturally communal
instincts. Aristotle was more correct than these early modern liberal
theorists when he said that human beings were political by nature. So
while an individualistic understanding of human motivation may help to
explain the activities of commodity traders and libertarian activists in
present-day America, it is not the most helpful way to understand the
early evolution of human politics. loc 620

This produces a regularity that was formulated by the biologist William
Hamilton as the principle of inclusive fitness or kin selection, which
holds that individuals of any sexually reproducing species will behave
altruistically toward kin in proportion to the number of genes they
share.5 Parents and children, and full brothers and sisters, share 50
percent of their genes, and so will behave more altruistically toward
each other than toward first cousins, who share only 25 percent. This
behavior has been observed in species ranging from ground squirrels,
which discriminate between full and half sisters in nesting behavior, to
human beings, for whom nepotism is not only a socially but a
biologically grounded reality. loc 633

Axelrod staged a tournament of computer programs that mechanically
implemented strategies for solving repeated prisoner's dilemma games.
The winning strategy was called tit-for-tat, in which a player
reciprocated cooperation if the other player had cooperated in an
earlier game but refused to cooperate with a player who had failed to
cooperate previously.8 Axelrod demonstrated that a form of morality
could evolve spontaneously as rational decision makers interact with one
another over time, even though motivated in the first instance by
nothing more than self-interest. loc 643

In large groups, it becomes harder and harder to monitor the individual
contributions of members; free riding and other forms of opportunistic
behavior become much more common.26 Religion solves this collective
action problem by presenting rewards and punishments that greatly
reinforce the gains from cooperation in the here and now. If I believe
that my tribe's chief is just another fellow like me following his own
self-interests, I may or may not decide to obey his authority. But if I
believe that the chief can command the spirits of dead ancestors to
reward or punish me, I will be much more likely to respect his word. My
sense of shame is potentially much greater if I believe I am being
observed by a dead ancestor who might see into my real motives better
than a live kinsman. loc 759

These emotional responses make human beings conformist, norm-following
animals. While the specific content of norms is culturally determined
("don't eat pork"; "respect your ancestors"; "don't light up a cigarette
at a dinner party"), the faculties for norm following are genetically
based, just as languages vary across cultures while being rooted in a
universal human faculty for language. All human beings, for example,
feel the emotion of embarrassment when they are seen violating a norm or
rule followed by their peers. Embarrassment is clearly not a learned
behavior, since children are often far more easily embarrassed than
their parents by small failures to follow the rules. loc 805

Since human beings organize themselves into social hierarchies,
recognition is usually of relative rather than absolute worth. This
makes the struggle for recognition fundamentally different from
struggles over economic exchange, since the conflict is zero sum rather
than positive sum. That is, one person's recognition can come only at
the expense of the dignity of someone else; status can only be relative.
In contests over status, there are no win-win situations as in trade.33
The desire for recognition has biological roots. loc 835

The highly developed suite of emotions related to norm following ensure,
however, that no mental model of how the world works is ever regarded as
a simple theory that can be discarded when it no longer conforms to
observed reality. (Even in the domain of modern natural science, where
there are clear rules for hypothesis testing, scientists develop
emotional attachments to theories and resist empirical evidence
indicating that their pet theories are wrong.) The tendency to invest
mental models and theories with intrinsic worth promotes social
stability and allows societies to bulk up enormously in size. But it
also means that societies are highly conservative and will fiercely
resist challenges to their dominant ideas. This is most obvious in the
case of religious ideas, but secular rules also tend to be invested with
great emotion under the headings of tradition, ritual, and custom. The
conservatism of societies with regard to rules is then a source of
political decay. Rules or institutions created in response to one set of
environmental circumstances become dysfunctional under later conditions,
but they cannot be changed due to people's heavy emotional investments
in them. This means that social change is often not linear-that is, a
process of constant small adjustments to shifting conditions-but rather
follows a pattern of prolonged stasis followed by catastrophic change.
loc 892

Depending on climatic conditions, hunter-gatherer societies have a
population density from 0.1 to 1 person per square kilometer, while the
invention of agriculture permits densities to rise to 40-60 per square
kilometer. loc 1085

The terms "tribes," "clans," "kindreds," and "lineages" are all used to
describe the next stage of social organization above the band. These
terms are often used with considerable imprecision, even by
anthropologists whose bread and butter it is to study them. Their common
characteristic is that they are first, segmentary, and second, based on
a principle of common descent. loc 1088

Most people in developed societies do not know how to grow their own
food, or repair their cars, or fabricate their own cell phones. In a
segmentary society, by contrast, each "segment" is a self-sufficient
unit, able to feed, clothe, and defend itself, and thus is characterized
by what Durkheim called "mechanical" solidarity.26 The segments can come
together for common purposes, like self-defense, but are otherwise not
dependent on one another for survival; no one can be a member of more
than one segment at the same level. loc 1094

each individual has a strong interest in having male descendants (in an
agnatic system), since it is only they who will be able to look after
one's soul after one's death. As a result, there is a strong imperative
to marry and have male children; celibacy in early Greece and Rome was
in most circumstances illegal. loc 1192

As Hugh Baker puts it with regard to Chinese kinship, there is a rope
representing the continuum of descent that "stretches from Infinity to
Infinity passing over a razor which is the Present. If the rope is cut,
both ends fall away from the middle and the rope is no more. If the man
alive now dies without heir, the whole continuum of ancestors and unborn
descendants dies with him 鈥?His existence as an individual is necessary
but insignificant beside his existence as the representative of the
whole." loc 1195

It is important to note, however, that tribal societies are not
"natural" or default forms of social organization to which all societies
revert if higher-level organization breaks down. They were preceded by
family- or band-level forms of organization, and flourished only under
specific environmental conditions. loc 1219

Morgan had described customary property owned by tightly bonded kin
groups; real-world Communist regimes in the former USSR and China forced
millions of unrelated peasants into collective farms. By breaking the
link between individual effort and reward, collectivization undermined
incentives to work, leading to mass famines in Russia and China, and
severely reducing agricultural productivity. In the former USSR, the 4
percent of land that remained privately owned accounted for almost
one-quarter of total agricultural output. In China, once collective
farms were disbanded in 1978 under the leadership of the reformer Deng
Xiaoping, agricultural output doubled in the space of just four years.
loc 1241

Surviving groups of hunter-gatherers, like the Bushmen of the Kalahari
Desert or the Copper Eskimos in Canada, had rates of homicide four times
that of the United States when left to their own devices. loc 1410

Virtually all conquering tribal societies-at least, the ones that did
not quickly evolve into state-level societies-ended up disintegrating
within a generation or two, as brothers, cousins, and grandsons vied for
the founding leader's patrimony. When tribal-level societies were
succeeded by state-level societies, tribalism did not simply disappear.
In China, India, the Middle East, and pre-Columbian America, state
institutions were merely layered on top of tribal institutions and
existed in an uneasy balance with them for long periods of time. loc

The only part of the world where tribalism was fully superseded by more
voluntary and individualistic forms of social relationship was Europe,
where Christianity played a decisive role in undermining kinship as a
basis for social cohesion. Since most early modernization theorists were
European, they assumed that other parts of the world would experience a
similar shift away from kinship as part of the modernization process.
But they were mistaken. Although China was the first civilization to
invent the modern state, it never succeeded in suppressing the power of
kinship on social and cultural levels. Hence much of its subsequent
two-thousand-year political history revolved around attempts to block
the reassertion of kinship structures into state administration. In
India, kinship interacted with religion and mutated into the caste
system, which up to the present day has proved much stronger than any
state in defining the nature of Indian society. From the Melanesian
wantok to the Arab tribe to the Taiwanese lineage to the Bolivian ayllu,
complex kinship structures remain the primary locus of social life for
many people in the contemporary world, and strongly shape their
interaction with modern political institutions. loc 1490

The Greek word charisma means "touched by God"; a charismatic leader
asserts authority not because he is elected by his fellow tribesmen for
leadership ability but because he is believed to be a designee of God.
loc 1648

While the founding of the first Arab state is a particularly striking
illustration of the political power of religious ideas, virtually every
other state has relied on religion to legitimate itself. The founding
myths of the Greek, Roman, Hindu, and Chinese states all trace the
regime's ancestry back to a divinity, or at least to a semidivine hero.
Political power in early states cannot be understood apart from the
religious rituals that the ruler controlled and used to legitimate his
power. Consider, loc 1680

We need the confluence of several factors. First, there needs to be a
sufficient abundance of resources to permit the creation of surpluses
above what is necessary for subsistence. This abundance can be natural:
the Pacific Northwest was so full of game and fish that the
hunter-gatherer-level societies there were able to generate chiefdoms,
if not states. But more often abundance is made possible through
technological advances like agriculture. Second, the absolute scale of
the society has to be sufficiently large to permit the emergence of a
rudimentary division of labor and a ruling elite. Third, that population
needs to be physically constrained so that it increases in density when
technological opportunities present themselves, and in order to make
sure that subjects cannot run away when coerced. And finally, tribal
groups have to be motivated to give up their freedom to the authority of
a state. This can come about through the threat of physical extinction
by other, increasingly well-organized groups. Or it can result from the
charismatic authority of a religious leader. Taken together, these
appear to be plausible factors leading to the emergence of a state in
places like the Nile valley. loc 1690

metallurgy and settled communities first appeared during the predynastic
Yangshao period (5000-3000 B.C.). Walled cities and clear evidence of
social stratification appeared during the Longshan period (3000-2000
B.C.). loc 1797

the five canonical works whose study constituted the foundation of a
Chinese Mandarin's education in later centuries: the Shi Jing, or Book
of Odes; the Li Chi, or Book of Rites; the Shu Jing, or Book of History;
the I Jing, or Book of Changes; and the Chun Qiu, or Spring and Autumn
Annals. The five classics were said to have been compiled, edited, and
transmitted by Confucius, and they and their voluminous interpretations
were the basis of Confucian ideology, which shaped Chinese culture for
millennia. The classics were composed against the backdrop of growing
civil war and political breakdown during the Eastern Zhou; the Spring
and Autumn Annals is an account of the reigns of twelve successive
rulers of the state of Lu that to Confucius demonstrated the growing
degeneracy of this period. loc 1816

There is clear evidence, however, that there was a tremendous reduction
in the total number of political units in China, from approximately ten
thousand at the beginning of the Xia Dynasty to twelve hundred at the
onset of the Western Zhou, to seven at the time of the Warring States.
loc 1824

Compared to other militaristic societies, China under the Zhou was
remarkably violent. By one estimate, the state of Qin succeeded in
mobilizing 8 to 20 percent of its total population, compared to only 1
percent for the Roman Republic and 5.2 percent for the Greek Delian
League. loc 2049

Physical losses to the ranks of the aristocracy also had the effect of
encouraging promotion within the military based on merit. In the early
Zhou, positions of military leadership were claimed entirely on the
basis of kinship and status within the clan. But as time went on, an
increasing number of nonaristocratic leaders were promoted on the basis
of their valor in battle. States began to offer explicit incentives of
land, titles, and serfs as inducements to soldiers, and it soon became
common for obscure commoners to rise to the position of general.9 In a
field army at war, meritocracy is not a cultural norm but a condition
for survival, and it is very likely that the principle of merit-based
promotion began in military hierarchies before it was introduced into
the civilian bureaucracy. loc 2079

The policies implemented by Shang Yang in Qin were justified and turned
into a full-blown ideology known as Legalism by later writers like Han
Fei. Much of China's subsequent history up through the Communist victory
in 1949 can be understood in terms of the tensions between Legalism and
Confucianism, a tension that revolved in part around the appropriate
role of the family in politics. loc 2192

Confucian moral precepts dictated that one owed much stronger
obligations to one's parents, and particularly to one's father, than to
one's wife or children. Failure to act respectfully toward one's
parents, or to fail to care for them economically, was severely
punished, as was a son who showed greater concern for his immediate
family than for his parents. And if there was a conflict between one's
duty to one's parents-for example, if one's father was accused of a
crime-and one's duty to the state, the father's interest clearly trumped
that of the state. loc 2200

The Legalists were proposing to treat subjects not as moral beings to be
cultivated through education and learning but as Homo economicus,
self-interested individuals who would respond to positive and negative
incentives-especially punishments. The Legalist state therefore sought
to undermine tradition, break the bonds of family moral obligation, and
rebind citizens to the state on a new basis. loc 2221

Zhou-style feudalism, in which a family acquired a local power base
independent of the central government, recurred periodically in
subsequent Chinese history, particularly in the chaotic periods between
dynasties. But once the central government regained its footing, it
always had the ability to reassert control over these entities. There
was never a period in which the territorial barons were powerful enough
to force a constitutional compromise on the monarch, as happened in
England under the Magna Carta. Local power holders never had the legal
legitimacy that they did in feudal Europe. loc 2405

These considerations just beg the question, though, of why the military
received so little prestige in the Chinese system. And here the answer
is likely to be normative: somehow, in the crucible of the Spring and
Autumn and Warring States periods, the idea arose that true political
authority lies in education and literacy rather than in military
prowess. Military men who wanted to rule found they had to garb
themselves in Confucian learning if they were to be obeyed and have
their sons educated by learned academics if they were to succeed them as
rulers. If it seems unsatisfying to think that the pen is mightier than
the sword, we should reflect on the fact that all successful efforts by
civilian authorities to control their militaries are ultimately based on
normative ideas about legitimate authority. The U.S. military could
seize power from the president tomorrow if it wanted; that it has not
done so reflects the fact that the vast majority of officers wouldn't
dream of overturning the U.S. Constitution, and that the vast majority
of soldiers they command would not obey their authority if they tried to
do so. loc 2508

The only kind of economic growth possible was extensive growth, in which
new land was settled and brought into cultivation, or else simply stolen
from someone else. A Malthusian world is thus zero sum, in which a gain
for one party means a loss for another. A wealthy landowner was
therefore not necessarily more productive than a small one; he simply
had more resources to tide him over rough periods.8 In a Malthusian
economy where intensive growth is not possible, strong property rights
simply reinforce the existing distribution of resources. The actual
distribution of wealth is more likely to represent chance starting
conditions or the property holder's access to political power than
productivity or hard work. loc 2590

The default Chinese political condition over the past two millennia was
to be a centralized bureaucratic state punctuated by periods of disunity
and decay; India's default situation was to be a series of small,
squabbling kingdoms and principalities, punctuated by brief periods of
political unity. loc 2743

the Brahmin varna was regarded as the guardian of the sacred law that
existed prior to and independently of political rule. Kings were thus
regarded as subject to law written by others, not simply as the makers
of law as in China. Thus in India, as in Europe, there was a germ of
something that could be called the rule of law that would limit the
power of secular political authority. loc 2768

The major differences in kinship rules between the Sanskritic north and
Dravidian south related to cross-cousin marriage, which may have had
consequences for political organization. In the north, a son must marry
outside the father's lineage, and one cannot marry a first cousin. In
the south also a son must marry outside the father's lineage; however,
he is not simply permitted but positively encouraged to marry his
father's sister's daughter. loc 2857

It is of course difficult to know when the Brahmins were simply
defending their own interests as opposed to upholding a sacred law, much
as in the case of the medieval Catholic church. But like Europe and
unlike China, authority in India was split in a way that placed
meaningful checks on political power. loc 3171

The social system that grew out of Indian religion thus severely
constrained the ability of states to concentrate power. Rulers could not
create a powerful military instrument capable of mobilizing a large
proportion of the population; they could not penetrate the
self-governing, highly organized jatis that existed in every village;
they and their administrators lacked education and literacy; and they
faced a well-organized priestly class that protected a normative order
in which they were consigned to a subordinate role. In every one of
these respects their situation was very different from that of the
Chinese. loc 3173

there is no evidence of any of the road or canal building to facilitate
communications like that of the early Chinese governments. It is
remarkable that the Mauryans left no monuments to their power anywhere
except in their capital city of Pataliputra, which is perhaps one reason
why Ashoka failed to be remembered by later generations as an empire
builder. loc 3275

The legacy of Muslim rule is felt today in the existence of the states
of Pakistan and Bangladesh, as well as in the more than 150 million
Indian citizens who are Muslim. But the Muslim political legacy in terms
of surviving institutions is not terribly large, apart from some
practices like the zamindari landholding system. loc 3346

Kaviraj argues that, contrary to the Indian nationalist narrative, "The
British did not conquer an India which existed before their conquest;
rather, they conquered a series of independent kingdoms that became
political India during, and in part as a response to their dominion."
loc 3350

many people find it surprising that India has maintained a successful
democracy at all since its independence in 1947. India meets none of the
"structural" conditions for being a stable democracy: it has been, and
in many ways remains, an extremely poor country; it is highly fragmented
religiously, ethnically, linguistically, and in class terms; it was born
in an orgy of communal violence that reappears periodically as its
different subgroups rub up against each other. In this view, democracy
is seen as something culturally foreign to India's highly inegalitarian
culture, brought by a colonial power and not deeply rooted in the
country's traditions. This is a very superficial view of contemporary
Indian politics. It is not that democracy in its modern institutional
manifestations is deeply rooted in ancient Indian practices, as
observers like Amartya Sen have suggested.26 Rather, the course of
Indian political development demonstrates that there was never the
social basis for the development of a tyrannical state that could
concentrate power so effectively that it could aspire to reach deeply
into society and change its fundamental social institutions. The type of
despotic government that arose in China or in Russia, a system that
divested the whole society, beginning with its elites, of property and
personal rights, has never existed on Indian soil-not under an
indigenous Hindu government, not under the Moghuls, and not under the
British. loc 3375

Looking at such societies from a modern democratic perspective, we tend
to see monarchs in agrarian societies as just other members of a
predatory elite, perhaps designated by other oligarchs to protect their
rents and interests.12 In fact, there was almost always a three-sided
struggle going on in these societies, among the king, an aristocratic or
oligarchic elite, and nonelite actors like peasants and townsmen. The
king often took the side of the nonelite actors against the oligarchy,
both to weaken potential political challenges and to claim his share of
tax revenues. In this, we can see the germ of the notion of the monarchy
as the representative of a general public interest. loc 3503

Socrates points out that sexual desire and the desire for children are
natural, but that ties to the family compete with loyalty to the city
that the guardians protect. It is for that reason, he argues, that they
must be told the "noble lie" that they are children of the earth, and
not of biological parents. He argues that they must live in common, and
that they not be allowed to marry individual women but rather have sex
with different partners and raise their children in common. The natural
family is the enemy of the public good: loc 3584

The purpose of the discussion was to highlight the permanent tensions
that exist between people's private kinship ties and their obligations
to a broader public political order. The implication is that any
successful order needs to suppress the power of kinship through some
mechanism that makes the guardians value their ties to the state over
their love for their families. loc 3593

But the institution of military slavery responded to the same
imperatives as Plato's just city. The slaves were not told they were
born of the earth; rather, they were born very far away and told they
had no other loyalty than to their caliph, who was the embodiment of the
state and the public interest. The slaves did not know their biological
parents; they knew their master only and were intensely loyal to him
alone. They were given nondescript new names, usually Turkish, that left
them unconnected to any lineage in a society based on lineage. They did
not practice a communism of women and children, but they were segregated
from Arab society and not allowed to sink roots into it. In particular,
they were not permitted to set up private households to which they could
drag off "whatever they could get their hands on"; the problem of
nepotism and conflicting tribal loyalties that was pervasive in
traditional Arab society was thus overcome. loc 3597

In addition to the way they were educated, a key to the success of the
Mamluks as a political institution was the fact that they were a
one-generation nobility. They could not pass on their Mamluk status to
their children; their sons would be ejected into the general population
and their grandsons would enjoy no special privileges at all. The theory
behind this was straightforward: a Muslim could not be a slave, and all
of the Mamluks' children were born Muslims. Moreover, the Mamluk
children were born in the city and raised without the rigors of nomadic
life on the steppe, where the weak died young. Were Mamluk status to
become hereditary, it would violate the strict meritocratic grounds on
which young Mamluks were selected. loc 3695

These frontier tribes organized themselves to wage gaza, or war, against
the Byzantines. loc 3835

Timars were granted in return for military service; they could be taken
away if that service wasn't performed, but only by the sultan himself.
The holders of large estates could not subinfeudate their lands, as in
Europe. When the sipahi grew too old to serve or died, his land reverted
to the state and could be reassigned to a new cavalryman. Indeed, the
status sipahi itself was not heritable; the children of military men had
to return to the civilian population.7 The peasants working the land for
the timar and zeamet holders, by contrast, had only usufructuary rights
to their land, but unlike their lords, they could pass these rights down
to their children.8 The Ottoman state thus created a one-generation
aristocracy, preventing the emergence of a powerful landed aristocracy
with its own resource base and inherited privileges. loc 3863

The Ottomans never developed an indigenous capitalism capable of
sustained productivity growth over long periods, and hence they were
dependent on extensive growth for fiscal resources. loc 4060

In all of these regions-China, India, and the Middle East-family and
kinship remain far stronger today as sources of social organization and
identity than they do in Europe or North America. There are still
full-blown segmentary lineages in Taiwan and southern China, Indian
marriages remain more a union of families than of individuals, and
tribal affiliations remain omnipresent throughout the Arab Middle East,
particularly among people of Bedouin stock. loc 4081

European society was, in other words, individualistic at a very early
point, in the sense that individuals and not their families or kin
groups could make important decisions about marriage, property, and
other personal issues. Individualism in the family is the foundation of
all other individualisms. Individualism did not wait for the emergence
of a state declaring the legal rights of individuals and using the
weight of its coercive power to enforce those rights. Rather, states
were formed on top of societies in which individuals already enjoyed
substantial freedom from social obligations to kindreds. In Europe,
social development preceded political development. loc 4095

Yet Englishwomen had the right to hold and dispose of property freely
and to sell it to individuals outside the family from a point not long
after the Norman Conquest in 1066. Indeed, from at least the thirteenth
century, they could not only own land and chattels, they also could sue
and be sued, and make wills and contracts without permission of a male
guardian. Granting such rights in a patrilineal society would have the
effect of undermining the lineage's ability to control property, and
would thus undermine the social system as a whole.10 Hence the ability
of women to own and bequeath property is an indicator of the
deterioration of tribal organization and suggests that strict
patrilineality had already disappeared by this early point. loc 4146

The reduction of relationships in the family to "a mere money relation"
that Marx thundered against was not, it appears, an innovation of the
eighteenth-century bourgeoisie but appeared in England many centuries
before that class's supposed rise. Putting one's parents out to pasture
in a nursing home has very deep historical roots in Western Europe. This
suggests that, contrary to Marx, capitalism was the consequence rather
than the cause of a change in social relationships and custom. loc 4167

The Western European pattern was different in all of these respects:
inheritance was bilateral; cross-cousin marriage was banned and exogamy
promoted; and women had greater rights to property and participation in
public events. This shift was driven by the Catholic church, which took
a strong stand against four practices: marriages between close kin,
marriages to the widows of dead relatives (the so-called levirate), the
adoption of children, and divorce. loc 4213

The probability of a couple's producing a male heir who survived into
adulthood and who could carry on the ancestral line was quite low. As a
result, societies legitimated a wide range of practices that allowed
individuals to produce heirs. Concubinage has already been discussed in
this regard in the discussion of China; divorce can be seen as a form of
serial concubinage in monogamous societies. The levirate was practiced
when a brother died before he produced children; his wife's marriage to
a younger brother ensured that his property would remain consolidated
with that of his siblings. Cross-cousin marriage ensured that property
would remain in the hands of close family members. Whatever the case,
the church systematically cut off all available avenues that families
had for passing down property to descendants. At the same time, it
strongly promoted voluntary donations of land and property to itself.
The church thus stood to benefit materially from an increasing pool of
property-owning Christians who died without heirs.21 The relatively high
status of women in Western Europe was an accidental by-product of the
church's self-interest. loc 4229

Europe (and its colonial offshoots) was exceptional insofar as the
transition out of complex kinship occurred first on a social and
cultural level rather than on a political one. By changing marriage and
inheritance rules, the church in a sense acted politically and for
economic motives. But the church was not the sovereign ruler of the
territories where it operated; rather, it was a social actor whose
influence lay in its ability to set cultural rules. As a result, a far
more individualistic European society was already in place during the
Middle Ages, before the process of state building began, and centuries
before the Reformation, Enlightenment, and Industrial Revolution. Rather
than being the outcome of these great modernizing shifts, change in the
family was more likely a facilitative condition for modernization to
happen in the first place. loc 4256

But a fair normative order also requires power. If the king was
unwilling to enforce the law against the country's elites, or lacked the
capacity to do so, the law's legitimacy would be compromised no matter
what its source in religion, tradition, or custom. This is a point that
Hayek and his libertarian followers fail to see: the Common Law may be
the work of dispersed judges, but it would not have come into being in
the first place, or been enforced, without a strong centralized state.
loc 4597

Certain historical events are catalyzed by individuals and cannot be
explained without reference to their particular moral qualities. loc

To this day, the Justinian Code remains the basis for the civil law
tradition that is practiced throughout continental Europe and in other
countries colonized by or influenced by countries there, from Argentina
to Japan. Many basic legal concepts, like the distinction between civil
and criminal law, and between public and private law, have their origins
in it. loc 4714

Rule of law was institutionalized to a greater degree in Western Europe
than in the Middle East or India. This was probably less a function of
the underlying religious ideas than of historically contingent
circumstances of European development, since the Eastern Orthodox church
never went through a comparable development. A critical factor was the
extreme fragmentation of power in Europe, which gave the church
tremendous leverage. loc 5078

With the possible brief exception of the late-twentieth-century Republic
of China (since 1949 moved to Taiwan), no Chinese government has
accepted a true rule of law. While the People's Republic of China has a
written constitution, it is the Chinese Communist Party that is
sovereign over the constitution. Similarly, in dynastic China, no
emperor ever acknowledged the primacy of any legal source of authority;
law was only the positive law that he himself made. There were, in other
words, no judicial checks on the power of the emperor, which allowed
enormous scope for tyranny. loc 5115

The Chinese invented the modern state, but they could not prevent that
state from being repatrimonialized. The subsequent centuries of imperial
Chinese history constituted a continual struggle to maintain these
institutions against decay, to prevent powerful individuals from
patrimonializing power by carving out privileges for themselves and
their families. What were the forces promoting political decay, and its
reversal? loc 5129

Many payments were consumed (that is, "budgeted") locally; others had to
be physically shipped to granaries at successively higher levels of
administration and ultimately to the capital (first at Nanjing, and
later in Beijing). Taxpayers were charged the costs of shipping their
taxes to the government, a surcharge that often exceeded the value of
the underlying goods. loc 5391

The typical solution that Chinese rulers devised to get around the
problem of unresponsive administrative hierarchies was to superimpose on
them a parallel network of spies and informants who were completely
outside the formal governmental system. This explains the great role
played by eunuchs. Unlike normal bureaucrats, eunuchs had direct access
to the imperial household and often came to be trusted to a far greater
degree than the regular administrators. The palace therefore sent them
out on missions to spy on and discipline the regular hierarchy. By the
end of the Ming Dynasty, there were an estimated one hundred thousand
eunuchs associated with the palace.17 From 1420 on they were organized
into an Orwellian secret police organization known as the Eastern Depot,
loc 5448

The best students were recommended by their teachers to go on to the
national universities in Beijing and Nanjing, where they would prepare
to take the civil service exams. (Teachers who recommended students who
failed to perform well were punished, something that modern universities
might consider as a means of combating grade inflation.) loc 5480

But the experience of the Ming Dynasty, as well as other periods of
Chinese history, raises troubling questions about the durability of good
governance under conditions where there is no rule of law or
accountability. Under the leadership of a strong and capable emperor,
the system could be incredibly efficient and decisive. But under
capricious or incompetent sovereigns, the enormous powers granted them
often undermined the effectiveness of the administrative system. loc

The quality of the bureaucracy, particularly in its upper reaches, is
high; the Chinese leadership has been able to guide the country through
a miraculous economic transformation in the decades after 1978 that few
other governments could have pulled off. However, neither rule of law
nor political accountability exists in contemporary China any more than
they did in dynastic China. The vast majority of abuses that take place
are not those of a tyrannical central government but rather of a
dispersed hierarchy of local government officials who collude in the
stealing of peasants' land, take bribes from developers, overlook
environmental and safety rules, and otherwise behave as local government
officials in China have behaved from time immemorial. loc 5548

What China did not have was the spirit of maximization that economists
assume is a universal human trait. An enormous complacency pervaded Ming
China in all walks of life. It was not just emperors who didn't feel it
necessary to extract as much as they could in taxes; other forms of
innovation and change simply didn't seem to be worth the effort. loc

It is far likelier that cultural attitudes toward science, learning, and
innovation explain why China did so poorly in the global economic race
in previous centuries, and is doing so well at the present, rather than
any fundamental defect in its political institutions. loc 5597

The miracle of modern liberal democracy, in which strong states capable
of enforcing law are nonetheless checked by law and by legislatures,
could arise only as a result of the fact that there was a rough balance
of power among the different political actors within the society. If
none of them was dominant, then they would need to compromise. loc 5671

States in the early modern period did not provide much by way of
services other than basic public order and justice; the vast bulk of
their budgets went to military expenses. Ninety percent of the budget of
the Dutch Republic was spent on war in the period of their long struggle
with the Spanish king; 98 percent of the Habsburg Empire's budget went
to finance its wars with Turkey and the Protestant powers in the
seventeenth century. loc 5765

The death of Louis XIV in 1715 left the monarchy with crushing debts. In
order to reduce this burden, the state resorted to what amounted to a
protection racket. It summoned special courts it controlled called the
chambres de justice and then threatened creditors with investigations
into their personal finances. Since virtually all of the creditors were
corrupt in one way or another, they agreed to reduce the amount owed the
government in return for calling off the investigation.28 The tactic of
the selective use of anticorruption investigations to raise revenues and
intimidate political opponents is still very much in use today. loc 6051

Tax exemption was the most hated of all privileges and became all the
more so as the burden of taxation increased steadily throughout the
sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. With the sale of public offices,
tax exemption became the privilege not just of a broad social class but
also of an individual family. The individuals who bought proprietary
offices were willing to let the rights of their fellow citizens be
compromised, as long as they themselves felt secure. In England, it was
the poor who enjoyed tax privileges; in France, it was the wealthy. loc

The monarchy would have been perfectly happy to abolish venal
officeholding altogether, and tried to do so toward the end of its
existence. The officeholders themselves had little sympathy for anyone
but themselves. But they could not tolerate the idea of reform because
of their own deep personal stake in the system. This was, then, a
perfect collective-action problem: the society as a whole would have
benefited enormously from abolishing the system, but the individual
interests of the parties making it up prevented them from cooperating to
bring about change. loc 6160 Note: The monarchy would have been
perfectly happy to abolish venal officeholding altogether, and tried to
do so toward the end of its existence. The officeholders themselves had
little sympathy for anyone but themselves. But they could not tolerate
the idea of reform because of their own deep personal stake in the
system. This was, then, a perfect collective-action problem: the society
as a whole would have benefited enormously from abolishing the system,
but the individual interests of the parties making it up prevented them
from cooperating to bring about change. shellng pt Edit The government's
perpetual failure to live up to debt obligations was an alternative to
taxing these same elites directly, which the regime found much more
difficult to do politically. It is a tradition carried on by
contemporary governments in Latin America, such as that of Argentina,
which after the economic crisis of 2001 forced not just foreign
investors but also its own pensioners and savers to accept a massive
write-down of its sovereign debt. loc 6281

Rather than risk confrontation over higher levels of direct taxes, they
debased the currency and accepted a higher rate of inflation. Inflation
via loose monetary policy is in effect a tax, but one that does not have
to be legislated and that tends to hurt ordinary people more than elites
with real rather than monetary assets. loc 6356

Cort茅s conducted his campaign against the Aztecs as if he were fighting
the Moors and used similar strategies of divide and conquer.27 Many of
the same techniques of settlement, colonization, and political
organization were simply lifted from the experience of colonizing
southern Spain. Indeed, the conquistadores had a habit of referring to
indigenous temples as "mosques." loc 6368

in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. In the lands west of the
Elbe River-that is, in the western German states, the Low Countries,
France, England, and Italy-the serfdom that had been imposed on peasants
during the Middle Ages was gradually abolished. It never existed in the
first place in Spain, Sweden, and Norway. By contrast, east of the river
(in Bohemia, Silesia, Hungary, Prussia, Livonia, Poland, Lithuania, and
Russia), formerly free peasants were progressively enserfed at virtually
the same historical moment. loc 6513

The existence of free cities in turn made serfdom increasingly difficult
to maintain; they were like an internal frontier to which serfs could
escape to win their freedom (hence the medieval saying, "Stadtluft macht
frei"-City air makes you free). loc 6553

In contemporary China, many of the worst abuses of peasant rights,
violations of environmental and safety laws, and cases of gross
corruption are the work not of the central government in Beijing but of
local party officials or of the private employers who work hand in hand
with them. It is the responsibility of the central government to enforce
its own laws against the oligarchy; freedom is lost not when the state
is too strong but when it is too weak. In the United States, the ending
of Jim Crow laws and racial segregation in the two decades following
World War II was brought about only when the federal government used its
power to enforce the Constitution against the states in the South.
Political freedom is not won, it would seem, only when the power of the
state is constrained but when a strong state comes up against an equally
strong society that seeks to restrict its power. loc 6680

But many stacked turtles lie hidden beneath communism. To attribute
contemporary authoritarianism simply to twentieth-century politics begs
the question of why communism triumphed so thoroughly in Russia in the
first place, as it did in China. There was, of course, a much older
absolutist tradition at play. loc 6715

But increasingly real power was held by a royal official, the shire
reeve (or sheriff), who was appointed by the king and represented royal
authority. loc 7006

By the fifteenth century, the independence and perceived neutrality of
the English judicial system allowed it to play an increasingly important
role as a genuine "third branch" with competence to judge constitutional
issues, like the right of Parliament to abrogate a royal patent. loc

With reasons possibly having to do with the greater sense of local
solidarity in England, the wealthier classes did not conspire with the
Crown to shift the tax burden onto the peasantry, artisans, or newly
rich middle classes, and therefore had a direct stake in the powers and
prerogatives of Parliament. loc 7176

All of the elements that came together to produce the late Stuart
reforms are still critical: an external environment that puts fiscal
pressure on the government to improve its performance; a chief executive
who, if not personally leading the reform effort, is at least not
blocking it; reform champions within the government who have sufficient
political support to carry out their program; and finally, strong
political pressure from below on the part of those who are paying taxes
to the government and don't want to see their money wasted. Many recent
anticorruption efforts by international institutions like the World Bank
or Britain's Department of International Development have foundered
because one or another of these elements was not in place. One
problematic characteristic of the contemporary world is that corrupt
governments often do not have to go to their own citizens for revenues
the way Charles II did and have no parliament or civil society watching
over the way their money is spent. Instead, government income comes from
natural resources or aid from international donors, who do not demand
accountability for how their money is spent. loc 7214

I will summarize some of the themes that have run through the historical
account of institutional development given in this book and try to
distill from them the outlines of a theory of political development and
political decay. This may not amount to a genuine predictive theory,
since outcomes are the result of so many interlocking factors. There is,
moreover, the turtle problem: the turtle one chooses as an explanatory
factor is always resting on another turtle farther down. One of the
reasons I began this volume with an account of the state of nature and
human biology is that it is an obvious starting point, a
Grund-Schildkr枚te (base turtle) on which subsequent turtles can be
placed. loc 7561

Unlike cooperative games, or the gains from free trade, which are
positive sum and allow both players to win, struggles over relative
status are zero sum in which a gain for one player is necessarily a loss
for another. loc 7613

The expansion of the charmed circle of human beings accorded equal
dignity was very slow, however, and only after the seventeenth century
came eventually to include the lower social classes, women, racial,
religious, and ethnic minorities, and the like. loc 7685

During Japan's Tokugawa shogunate from the seventeenth to the nineteenth
century, the feudal lords who ran the country knew about the existence
of firearms from their early contacts with the Portuguese and other
travelers. They engaged in what amounted to a long-term arms control
arrangement, however, by which they agreed not to introduce firearms
among themselves because they did not want to give up their traditional
form of sword- and archery-based warfare. But when Commodore Matthew
Perry showed up with his "black ships" in Tokyo Bay in 1853, the ruling
elite realized that they would have to end this comfortable arrangement
and acquire the same types of military technology possessed by the
Americans if they were not to end up a Western colony like China. loc

While individual leaders can shape institutions, more highly developed
institutions not only survive poor individual leaders but also have a
system for training and recruiting new and better ones. loc 7811

But the problem of dysfunctional equilibria goes much farther back in
history than this. There is archaeological evidence of band-level
societies that had access to agricultural technology and yet did not
make the shift from hunting and gathering for many generations. The
reason for this would again appear to be the vested interests of
existing stakeholders. Band-level societies are egalitarian and engage
in considerable food sharing, something that becomes impossible once
agriculture and private property are adopted. The moment that one family
settles down and starts growing food, it would have to be shared among
the other members of the band, destroying the incentive for investing in
agriculture in the first place. The shift from one form of production to
another would make the society as a whole richer due to the higher
productivity of agriculture over hunting and gathering, but it would
also require the exclusion of certain members of the band from the free
enjoyment of surpluses. The archaeologist Steven LeBlanc suggests that
the slowness of some forager societies to adopt agriculture was due
precisely to their inability to solve this type of cooperation problem.
loc 7878

With the emergence of the modern economic world, it has been common to
disparage "Malthusian" economics as shortsighted and unduly pessimistic
about the prospects for technological change.10 But if Malthus's model
did not work very well for the period 1800-2000, it is more plausible as
a basis for understanding the political economy of the world prior to
that period. loc 8002

Per capita spending on all government services, from armies and roads to
schools and police on the street, was about \$17,000 in the United
States in 2008 but only \$19 in Afghanistan.23 It is therefore not a
surprise that the Afghan state is much weaker than the American one, or
that large flows of aid money generate corruption. loc 8115

The failings of modern democracies come in many flavors, but the
dominant one in the early twenty-first century is probably state
weakness: contemporary democracies become too easily gridlocked and
rigid, and thus unable to make difficult decisions to ensure their
long-term economic and political survival. loc 8324