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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 … 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 1485

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 4669

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 5533

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 5581

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 6139

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

Cortés 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 7056

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-Schildkröte (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 7729

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