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Tulane Event: What is Political Development?

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World-renowned political economist premieres latest book

NEW ORLEANS, La. – On Friday the Murphy Institute of Tulane University hosted Francis Fukayama, a world renowned political economist and philosopher, for its 15th annual Yates lecture. Fukuyama introduced more than 100 attendees to his latest book, The Origins of Political Order, on sale for the first time.

Given the breadth of the book – 608 pages, “from prehuman times to the French revolution” – Fukuyama had to heavily distill its content for a one hour presentation. The overarching theme was a framework by which individuals can assess and understand political development, distinct from but complementary to economic development.

Fukuyama broke development into five dimensions, with economic growth and social mobilization as the first two. In his view these two dimensions already receive considerable attention, but he did define them and affirm that they were highly connected by the process of division of labor.

Then he proposed three categories of political development: state building, accountability, and rule of law.

“The state is a legitimate monopoly of force over a defined territory,” said Fukuyama. “States are about power and coercion.” Although he did not clarify how states earn legitimacy as a monopoly, he saw their development as the tightening of this monopoly and their ability to enforce state laws.

The accountability and rule of law dimensions then potentially keep the state in check, most prominently through elections. Fukuyama described the rule of law as separate from elections, though. In his view rule of law means everyone, including government officials, is subject to a higher, already-existing law. Often, he acknowledges, rule of law originates in a common religion and tradition among a nation’s inhabitants.

Fukayama believes development of each dimension encourages development of the others, but he did acknowledge many exceptions. He then applied his theory of development to the histories of states such as China, the United States, and the Ottoman empire.

He also, carefully, made predictions about countries and regions that are currently undergoing significant development or instability. China was of particular interest, and one attendee questioned what Americans ought to expect.

While advanced in state building and rule of law, Fukuyama says there is almost no accountability in China. In his view, this presents a major vulnerability to China’s continued advancement towards an advanced economy.

Steven Sheffrin, a Tulane professor of economics, directs the Murphy Institute, and he described this year’s Yates lecture as a success in all regards, “designed to engage the general campus on issues of public importance.”

“[Fukuyama’s] take away message was that there are many different components of political modernization and has the important corollary that we cannot just ‘implant democracy’ without institutional foundations.  And these foundations often have deep roots in aspects of social structure and culture, including religion.”

The lecture ended with a question-and-answer period, which included faculty critical of Fukuyama’s inferences. The Murphy Institute then hosted a reception and signing of the book’s first copies.

Fergus Hodgson is the capitol bureau reporter with the Pelican Institute for Public Policy and editor of The Pelican Post. He can be contacted at, and one can follow him on twitter.

Charlotte McCray contributed to this article as a research assistant with the Pelican Institute for Public Policy. McCray studies philosophy and economics at Loyola University in New Orleans.

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