Political decay — Insights from Francis Fukuyama

Are we experiencing political decay?

Our political situation, particularly the current Presidential election process, is unsettling and unprecedented in my lifetime. Is this political decay or just a rough patch in our political process? I have been trying to determine whether my reaction has some rational basis or is just the emotional response of someone in the last third of life who, like so many before me, feels the world is falling apart because it is so different from what I grew up with.

I have found the writings of Francis Fukuyama helpful in understanding the current situation from the perspective of the broad sweep of human political development. I recently heard a talk at the University of Wisconsin – Madison by Francis Fukuyama.  I have read several of his books and am impressed with his ability to take a complicated subject and pull out the simplifying themes. His book, The Origins of Political Order, was fascinating and explained how we moved from small bands of individuals to complex political systems. He has written a second book, titled Political Order and Political Decay, picks up where the first book left off. It addresses more recent evolution of political institutions and addresses the process of political decay.

My conclusion based on his analysis and my own observations and thinking is yes, there is good reason to worry. We are in a period of political decay in the United States. I now have a better understanding of why that is happening. As Fukuyama argues, political polarization, expansion of powerful interest groups, and our constitutional checks and balances are working together to make it very difficult for the state to solve the problems even when we know the answers.  There are no easy solutions. We are unlikely to change our constitution and adopt a parliamentary system. But the decay can be reversed. Understanding the nature of the problem is the first step. One step we can take as individuals is work to find more common ground with those we differ on politically instead of demonizing or dismissing them.

Below is a video of a recent workshop conducted by Professor Fukuyama on his book Political Order and Political Decay. It is a couple months old as this is written but he does talk a bit about the 2016 election cycle. It is worth listening to.