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20140921 The Origins of Political Order


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This book is based on notion of evolution of political organization of society as direct continuation of human biological evolution. The main idea is to link together human biology, institutions of society, political organization derived from them, and then use historical evidence not only from typical point of view of Western history, but on the wider scale, including history of China, India, and Eastern Europe.

The point is made that humans are social creatures who always existed within the group and they always used political organization formal or not to maintain existence and cohesiveness of these groups. The political organization of society depends on size and method of production of society, developing from tribal organization to chiefdom, and to the state. Each level of organization provides for more effective military capabilities and therefore for success in competition with other societies for resources.

However the size and complexity of political organization creates some internal tensions. This could lead to decay and destruction of society either from within or from without. The main source of tension is human nature to help one’s kin, friends, and tribe at the expense of more distant members of society. The analysis of these internal tensions is concentrated on relative strength of central authority versus aristocracy, legitimacy of authority in the view of members of society, accountability of rulers, and rule of law as method of achieving legitimacy and accountability.



This book is about historical origins of political institutions and process of decay of these institutions. The period covered is from origin of humanity to French Revolution.

PART ONE – Before the State

1 – THE NECESSITY OF POLITICS: The third wave of democratization and contemporary anxieties about the future of contemporary liberal democracy; how both the Left and the Right entertain fantasies about the abolition of government; how contemporary developing countries represent the fulfillment of these fantasies; how we take institutions for granted but in fact have no idea where they come from.

POLITICAL ANXIETIES: To many in recently democratized world hopes for economic prosperity and political security associated with Western world just did not happen despite elections and multiparty systems. Unable to accommodate to newly discovered insecurity and volatility of capitalism some countries fall back to traditional authoritarian rulers like Putin and Hugo Chaves.

POLITICAL DECAY: The important part of this recession is political decay of American democracy – the oldest and most powerful example of results of such form of government. Despite being relatively mild this decay led to growth of unproductive elite, bloated state, financial insolvency, and economic stagnation.

FANTASIES OF STATELESSNESS: The fantasies of left and right about disappearance of state are meaningless, because a state is required to provide security, assure property rights, infrastructure, and other public goods.

GETTING TO DENMARK: In this context Denmark is a mythical rich democratic country which is capable to provide 3 necessary ingredients for prosperous society:

  1. The State
  2. The Rule of law
  3. Government accountability.

This book is an attempt to use history to provide answer to a question why contemporary political entities are the way they are.

CHINA FIRST: Since China is country with the oldest and the best-documented political history, it makes sense to start there.

TURTLES ALL THE WAY DOWN: This is just a metaphor for an attempt to explain world by using circular thinking: “the world is on the turtle and turtle on another turtle all the way down”.

2 – THE STATE OF NATURE: Philosophical discussions of the state of nature; how the contemporary life sciences shed light on human nature and hence on the biological foundations of politics; politics among chimpanzees and other primates; what aspects of human nature undergird politics; when different parts of the world were first settled.

CHIMPANZEE POLITICS AND ITS RELEVANCE: This is review of evidence developed from research of chimps and their group dynamics.

TO HUMAN POLITICAL DEVELOPMENT: This is a short analysis of differences with humans being much more capable of high-level organization and complex communication due to development of language.

SPECIFICALLY HUMAN THE BEAST WITH RED CHEEKS: This is analysis of human emotions as highly important part of social interactions in the group.

THE STRUGGLE FOR RECOGNITION: This is review of need for recognition as another part necessary for construction of social system.

FOUNDATIONS OF POLITICAL DEVELOPMENT: This is a compilation of human traits conductive for building political system:

  • Inclusive fitness of the group and kin selection
  • Ability for mental modeling of causality
  • Emotional foundation for establishing and following norms
  • Need for recognition that generates legitimacy that in turn creates foundation for political authority

EVOLUTION AND MIGRATION: This is a very short recount of human expansion from origin in Africa throughout the globe.


3 – THE TYRANNY OF COUSINS: Disputes over the fact and nature of human social evolution; family- or band-level social organization, and the transition to tribalism; an introduction to lineages, agnation, and other basic anthropological concepts

STAGES OF PREHISTORY: This is a review of history of anthropological definitions for development stages of human society. Author decided on use of four-level taxonomy: bands, tribes, chiefdoms, and states

FAMILY- AND BAND-LEVEL ORGANIZATION: This is review of family as a primitive organization of hunter-gatherers with no private property and no individualism. The person is nothing more then a part of a group with need for immediate consumption leading to extensive sharing. Hierarchy is based on personal qualities such as strength and is fluid as it is with chimps.

FROM BAND TO TRIBE: Tribes are growing out of bands and are built on common ancestry and usually parental lineage. It allows much higher level of organization with expansion by just drawing lineage to the more ancient ancestor. Tribes often contain segments, which could continuously ally or fight with each other.

ANCESTORS AND RELIGION: The same logic of common ancestors is normally used in development of religion with ancestors morphing into gods over time.

RELIGION AND POWER: Being much more powerful military then bands and more cohesive due to common ideology, tribes expand at the expense of bands either incorporating or annihilating them.

4 – TRIBAL SOCIETIES: PROPERTY, JUSTICE, WAR: How kinship is related to the development of property fights; the nature of justice in a tribal society; tribal societies as military organizations; strengths and weaknesses of tribal organization

KINSHIP AND PRIVATE PROPERTY: The earliest private property rights held not by individuals, but by lineage groups or tribes. The use of property avoided tragedy of commons by clearly defined rules and tribes cohesiveness.

LAW AND JUSTICE: Tribes have very weak formal authority if any, but it has traditions and prevalent attitudes that warranties use of violence against rule breakers as long as enough people support it. In this environment Leader cannot just command, he had to be more of an arbitrator between various groups. This arrangement made tribes relatively more vulnerable to dissolution than other forms.

WARFARE AND MILITARY ORGANIZATION: With discovery of agriculture warfare became highly efficient way to obtain resources such as land, food, or slaves. Correspondingly ability to conduct effective warfare becomes main factor in evolutionary selection between different forms of societies. On the later stages of tribe development the application of violence becomes more professional with leaders forming professional teams of warriors. However nature of relationship between leader and warrior is much more built on reciprocity and communality then in societies at more advanced stages. When successful societies started moving from tribes to states, it was an organic transformation with states being build on the top of tribal societies restricting, but not eliminating tribal relationships and loyalties.

FROM TRIBALISM TO PATRONS, CLIENTS, AND POLITICAL MACHINES: The movement from tribe to state also included evolution in structure of tribe that become more inclusive by incorporation genetically non-related people as clients. From this background came contemporary democratic political machines and patronage networks.

5 – THE COMING OF THE LEVIATHAN: How state-level societies differ from tribal ones; “pristine” versus competitive state formation; different theories of state formation, including some dead ends like irrigation, leading to an explanation of why states emerged early on in some parts of the world and not in others


  1. The State as a The Voluntary Social Contract
  2. The State as The Engineering Project
  3. The State as The Result of Population Density
  4. The State as The Product of Violence and Compulsion
  5. The State as The Product of Charismatic Authority

WHY WEREN’T STATES UNIVERSAL? The answer provided based on known non-state societies in Africa, Australia, and elsewhere is that geography, type of agriculture, and ease of travel and trade could prevent society from developing into the state.

 PART TWO – State Building

6 – CHINESE TRIBALISM: The origins of Chinese civilization; organization of tribal society in ancient China; characteristics of Chinese family and kinship; spread of feudalism under the Zhou and the nature of political authority. The review of Chinese civilization going from 5000BC archeological settlements Yangzhou until Qin dynasty 221BC

TRIBAL CHINA: This is a short review of expansion and eventual mingling, competition, and wars of China’s tribes on their way to formation of the state.

CHINESE FAMILY AND KINSHIP: The case made here is that China never really got over its family lineages structure developed by tribes and keeps it just below superstructure of unified state.

CHINA’S “FEUDAL” PERIOD: China got to the level of bunch of chiefdoms by the time of Zhou (1200 BC) becoming a series of lords and their kin groups.

 7 – WAR AND THE RISE OF THE CHINESE STATE: How the Chinese state arose out of military, competition; Shang Yang’s modernizing reforms; the doctrine of Legalism and its critique of Confucian familism; why political development was not accompanied by economic or social development

WAR AND STATE BUILDING: As in Europe, formation of state in China occurred via continuing warring between different entities for 294 years all counting 468 wars with very high levels of mobilization to up to 20% of total population.

INSTITUTIONAL INNOVATIONS BROUGHT ON BY CONSTANT WARFARE: As consequence of this warfare a number of institutions were developed to meet military mobilization needs:

  • Meritocratic advancement of military commanders
  • Taxation and Population Registration
  • Bureaucracy
  • Military and Civilian technology
  • Ideological upheaval that produced Confucius and formation of Chinese culture with its superior literature and tradition so powerful that future conquerors like Mongol would be assimilated into it rather then impose their own alternatives.

SHANG YANG’S CAMPAIGN AGAINST THE FAMILY: These reforms in Qin period where directed into development of protocapitalist society with individual ownership of land, nuclear family, universal system of measurements and such, but with state being superior by far to individual and imposing whatever it deem needed by cruelest measures possible.

CONFUCIANISM VS. LEGALISM: These reforms developed into ideological concept of Legalism. Consequently it produced ideological struggle with Confucianism so pretty much all Chinese history could be viewed in the light of this ideological struggle. Legalism promoting direct relationship from individual to state with its supremacy continuously collided with Confucianism promoting extended family with strive to find harmonious relationships between families across individuals and time, with state and emperor being just a top decision making mechanism for family of families.

WHY CHINA’S DEVELOPMENT PATH DIFFERED FROM EUROPE’S: The final result of Chinese warring period was creation of one unified state contrary to Europe where nobody was able to complete unification so it still remains a conglomerate of states competing between themselves. The reasons here identified as geography – more difficult in Europe, Culture – much higher diversity in Europe, and human factor – leadership.

MANY MODERNIZATIONS: Historically Qin went through multiple modernizations with tribal relationships undermined by the state with high levels of violence resulting in reversal as soon as pressure of the state diminished, preventing development of individualistic voluntary cooperation. In Europe, on other hand, move away from tribe was from bottom up via development of Christianity making it slower, but much organic process with higher level of staying power.

8 – THE GREAT HAN SYSTEM: The first Qin emperor and why the dynasty he founded collapsed so quickly; how the Han Dynasty, restored Confucian institutions but retained Legalist principles; how China was governed under the Qin and Han

THE QIN STATE AND ITS DEMISE: The first Qin emperor (259-210 BC) rejected Confucianism and moved to legalism with extreme cruelty and prejudice. It resulted in multiple revolts eventually leading Qin to demise returning in 202 BC to Confucian bureaucracy of family with emperor being morally responsible for wellbeing of population. This period is known as Han dynasty.

THE NATURE OF HAN GOVERNMENT: The much better balance between state power and family/tribe power was achieved with basically modern bureaucratic machine, including nepotism and reasonable levels of corruption. Also educational system was developed to supply bureaucrats for all parts of the system. Interestingly enough military was pushed at the subordinate level to bureaucracy. Build on compromise Han dynasty proved to be pretty stable lasting from 202BC to 220 AD

 9 – POLITICAL DECAY AND THE RETURN OF PATRIMONIAL GOVERNMENT: Why the four-hundred-year-old Han Dynasty, collapsed; significance of the growth of latifundia and inequality in a Malthusian society; how great families captured the government and weakened the state; the Chinese sense of nation

THE RICH GET RICHER: One of the main reasons of Han destruction was expansion of big land estate with the same level of technology causing Malthusian trap with deprivations for majority. With military busy at outpost there was not enough forces to maintain internal order.

CHINA DISINTEGRATES AND PATRIMONIALISM RETURNS: Han collapsed in 220 AD. This event was followed by struggle between its parts for dominance. Significant part was played fight between aristocracy based on land ownership and bureaucracy based on its traditional strong position in control of the state.

THE STRONG CHINESE STATE: The unified Chinese state was restored in new form only in 580 with short Sui dynasty that was substituted by Tang dynasty in 617. It lasted until X century. Author poses the question why China reunified while Roman Empire dissolved for good. The answers he provides are two sided: strength of Chinese state and unified culture.

 10 – THE INDIAN DETOUR: How India’s early development diverged from China’s due to the rise of Brahmanic religion; varnas and jatis; tribal society in early India; peculiarities of Indian kinship; the Indian detour on the road to statehood. In short, the difference between India and China is defined by main engine of society: State and bureaucracy in China, Religion and priests in India. The review of Indian development includes: INDIAN TRIBAL SOCIETY, INDIAN FAMILY AND KINSHIP; TRANSITION TO STATEHOOD; AND THE DETOUR: The deviation of India development was due to the fact that India did not go through 500 years of was with eventual unification as China did. Author seems to believe that this was result of religious development in India, which made the law and order sourced not directly from government, but rather from superior source, establishing highly stable caste system with priests at the top. The influence of this development is lasting up to the present day, making it difficult for India to establish an effective state.

 11 – VARNAS AND JATIS: Economics versus religion as a source of social change; how Indian social life becomes comprehensible in light of religious ideas; implications of Indian religion for political power

THE RATIONALITY OF INDIAN RELIGION: It is an interesting take on dispute between economics and religion as primary engine of society. Indian religion achieved a fantastic feat of stabilizing society practically forever by successfully moving opportunity for achievement out of human life span.

IDEAS AND THEIR POLITICAL CONSEQUENCES: Varna system however had not only stabilizing influence on society, but also weakening effect. By subordinating warriors to priest it clearly decreases military abilities of society overall leading to higher level of vulnerability to external threats.

12 – WEAKNESSES OF INDIAN POLITIES: How the Mauryas were the first and most successful indigenous rulers of India; the nature of the Indian state under the Mauryas; the character of Ashoka; decline, disunity, and revival under the Guptas; why India subsequently fell to foreign conquerors. The main point here is that India developed strong society that prevented development of strong state.

THE MAURYAN EMPIRE: WHAT KIND OF STATE? Ashoka Empire was different from Chinese Qin in absence of strong meritocratic administrative system. Its administration was based on caste and lineage. It did not go through such wars as in China and as result losing aristocratic groups stayed around. Buddhism had serious impact making empire weaker.

THE VICTORY OF SOCIETY OVER POLITICS: The following empire of Gupta was also relatively weak for the same reasons.

NATION BUILDING BY FOREIGNERS: Eventually development of India into one united country was mainly conducted by foreign powers. First it was Muslim conquerors and later British colonizers.

CHINA VERSUS INDIA: The key difference is strong state and weak society in China and weak state and strong society in India.

 13 – SLAVERY AND THE MUSLIM EXIT FROM TRIBALISM: The Ottoman institution of military slavery; how tribalism was the main obstacle to political development among the Arabs; how military slavery first arose under the Abbasid dynasty; why tribesmen make good conquerors but poor administrators; Plato’s solution to the problem of patrimonialism

CREATION OF A MUSLIM STATE: This part is about origin of Islam and its original military expansion under 3 caliphs: Abu Bakr (632-634), Umar (634-644), and Uthman (644-656). By 711 Islam expanded throughout Middle East and conquered Spain until it was stopped in France in 732. Islam states never fully rid of tribal groups that continue to have impact to this day.

THE ORIGINS OF MILITARY SLAVERY: Islam came up with a unique way to control nepotism and promote meritocracy while preventing successful meritocrats from establishing dynasty of mediocrities. It was military slavery that was able to meet such contradictory requirements for a very long period.

 14 – THE MAMLUKS SAVE ISLAM. MAMLUK DECAY. STATES AS ORGANIZED CRIMINALS: How the Mamluks came to power in Egypt; the curious fact that power in the Arab Middle East was in the hands of Turkish slaves; how the Mamluks saved Islam from the Crusaders and Mongols; defects in the Mamluks implementation of military slavery that led to the regime’s ultimate decline

MAMLUK DECAY: The decay eventually came from two sources: lack of political institutions that made selection of sultan to be at the top of hierarchy of problems due to dysfunctional process without clear rules. The second problem was lack of overarching political authority. All these problems led to a high level of internal fights at the expense of ability to mobilize against external threads.

STATES AS ORGANIZED CRIMINALS: This is an interesting part of discussion because it reviews notion of state, using Mamluk’s history, as criminal organization trying to separate immature states in which predation is unlimited from mature states in which predation is limited by elite intention to leave something for investment and development in hope to increase opportunities for bigger take from robbery in the future. Eventual substitution of Mamluks by Ottomans came after leaders successfully moved to heritability of their positions leading to increase of struggle between lineages and weakening of the system.

15 – THE FUNCTIONING AND DECLINE OF THE OTTOMAN STATE: How the Ottomans centralized power in a way that eluded European monarchs; how the Ottomans perfected the system of military slavery; instability of the Turkish state and its reliance on continued foreign expansion; caused decay of the Ottoman system; military slavery as a developmental dead end. Here is the main difference between Islamic and European states defined based on the level of top down control strong at the East and weakened by aristocracy at the West.

A ONE-GENERATION ARISTOCRACY: Ottoman system was pretty much based on military patterns so aristocrat was not linked to the land as much as lord in Europe, but rather sent to different positions within hierarchy as needed. With regular military service adding long absences from family and estate, such aristocrat would not have power base to challenge superiors or piers. These positions were not heritable so children returned to civil population.

MILITARY SLAVERY PERFECTED: This is description of military slavery structure and procedures.

THE OTTOMAN STATE AS A GOVERNING INSTITUTION: As institution Ottoman state was a mature institution based on idea that moderate robbery is conductive for resource multiplication leading to better robbery opportunities in the future.

REPATRIMONIALIZATION AND DECAY: Author sees decay of Ottomans as result of two factors: end of opportunities for territorial expansion that was necessary because the state was structured around military expansion; another factor also related to militarism was use of firearms which significantly degraded value of Ottoman’s cavalry and exposed intellectual and technological deficiencies of this society.

THE OTTOMAN LEGACY: By far the most successful Islamic state Ottomans demonstrated potential of administrative society with top of society being without blood links to each other. It also demoed potential of external to the state lawmaking organization in this case religious establishment.

 16 – CHRISTIANITY UNDERMINES THE FAMILY: How the European exit from kinship was due to religion, rather than politics; common misunderstandings about the nature of the European family; how the Catholic church destroyed extended kinship groups; how English individualism was extreme even in a European context

EUROPEAN EXCEPTIONALISM: The striking difference between Europe and East was structure of the family. Kinship for regular people mattered a lot less and even more important, the decision-making was at the level of individual rather then clan.

MARX’S MISTAKE: Marks assigned reasons for these specifics to development of capitalism in Europe, when in reality these features existed well before capitalism developed in Europe.

STATUS TO CONTRACT: Marriage, control over property, and other decision-making areas in Europe were controlled by contract rather then status at in Eastern empires and timing of establishment of this pattern was consistently moving back with expansion of historical knowledge

THE SOCIAL BACKGROUND TO STATE BUILDING IN EUROPE: Another exceptional feature of Europe is that transition out of kinship structure occurred in social and cultural sphere rather then in political. Author believes that it was caused by religious influence of Christianity and Catholic Church.

PART THREE – The Rule of Law

17- THE ORIGINS OF THE RULE OF LAW: European exceptionalism evident in the role of law in early state formation; definitions and disagreements about the rule of law; Hayek’s theories about the priority of law over legislation; how English Common Law was based on royal power, and how that bolstered the legitimacy of the English state. Law here is defined as set of abstract rules that keeps community together. The rule of law could exist only if previous body of low is sovereign over legislation.

CONTEMPORARY CONFUSIONS CONCERNING THE RULE OF LAW: This is mainly discussion about relations between rule of low and economic development. Author’s position is that even if rule of law in contracts and property rights is clearly related to economic development it is not necessary to be absolute. If there is “good enough” rule of law it could be sufficient for economic success as it is now in China. He also discusses development of property rights in Western world where it occurred at first at the aristocratic top of society and only slowly moved down to commoners.

HAYEK’S THEORY THAT LAW IS PRIOR TO LEGISLATION: Hayek’s point is that common rules precede the law and consequently that ideas of constructionists that law should be created as needed is a cause of huge damage of French and Russian revolutions.

FROM CUSTOMARY TO COMMON LAW: Here author discusses transition from customary law typical for tribal society. The main difference is that customary law enforcement based on group self-help, while common law enforced by power of the state.

 18 – THE CHURCH BECOMES A STATE: How the Catholic church was critical to the establishment of the rule of law in Europe; the investiture conflict and its consequences; how the church itself acquired statelike characteristics; the emergence of a domain of secular rule; how contemporary role of law is rooted in these developments

THE CATHOLIC CHURCH DECLARES INDEPENDENCE: In 11th century Catholic Church took over control over appointment of bishops and other church officials from kings. It also established celibacy as tool to keep land in hands of church preventing lineages from dividing land and power. However it was too weak military to subjugate kings, as result leading to separation of church and state with church slowly being pushed our of secular politics, while kings ceasing control over spiritual and ideological lives of their people.

THE REAPPEARANCE OF ROMAN LAW: Another result of such separation was revival of Roman law. Professional lawyers took over from church control over legal system, which become somewhat independent part of state not fully under control of either church or king.

LAW AND THE RISE OF THE MODERN STATE: Consequently the modern western state was formed not only by pure violence of strongmen of the moment, but also by need of these strongmen to obtain legitimacy from religious authority from the church and legal authority from the lawyers.

HOW THE MEDIEVAL CHURCH SET PRECEDENTS FOR CONTEMPORARY RULE OF LAW: After reforms of 11th and 12th centuries Catholic Church appeared as supranational bureaucracy working on higher scale then small bureaucracies of European kingdoms and having significant impact on laws and everyday lives of population. Eventually it opened road to separation of power between multiple entities: legal, legislative, executive, and ideological. It was a specific characteristic of Western Catholic form of Christianity. Eastern Christianity remained under control of kings with no separation of power between church and state and no independent legal power.

 19 – THE STATE BECOMES A CHURCH: How the rule of law developed in India and the Middle East but not in China; how authority was effectively split between secular and religious authorities in the Middle East; how premodern Middle Eastern regimes observed property rights; why the Muslim ulama were never able to check state power in the manner of the Christian church; why no rule of law exists in the contemporary Arab world; the modem rules of law compared.

The opposite of Eastern Christianity development occurred in India where it was religion – Brahmins managed to get control over military power of state Kshatriyas, but only at ideological level without any bureaucratic organization of Brahmins.

RULE OF LAW IN THE MIDDLE EAST: Islamic countries developed one more solution when both religion and state merged into one in the person of caliph, but still was sourced from written law of sharia. The issue of complexity of control over wide territories was resolved by delegation of caliph’s power down to whoever was in actual control of local territory.

SEPARATION OF MOSQUE AND STATE: Some separation did exist in Islam in form of caliph being able to create laws outside of sharia formally subordinated to it, but mostly covering issue outside of it. The important thing about Islam is that individual property rights did not exist. In Ottoman Empire everything formally belonged to the state, but actual owners could pass it as inheritance and do whatever they wanted.

HOW THE RULE OF LAW FAILED TO SURVIVE CONTACT WITH THE WEST IN BOTH INDIA AND ISLAM: Both Eastern systems India and Islam failed to maintain their traditional structure of legitimacy and law after direct encounter with the West. Destroyed first by Western colonization they where substituted by week corrupted pro-socialistic democracy in India and by authoritarian regimes in Islamic countries. With demise of socialism its ideas lost attraction and gave push to powerful wish to go back to old time when Islam was pure and not corrupted by the West. Interestingly enough it turned into totalitarian terrorist movements that define themselves through war against the West and infidels. The most significant result to date is Iranian revolution, which so far failed to build effective self-sustained state.

WHY THE RULE OF LAW WAS STRONGER IN WESTERN EUROPE? Author’s answer: Codification, Legal Specialization, and Institutional autonomy.

20 – ORIENTAL DESPOTISM: How a modem state was reconsolidated in China after the Tang Dynasty; the usurpation of the empress Wu and what it tells us about the Chinese political system; what the Mandate of Heaven was and how political legitimacy was established in dynastic China

CHINA’S MODERNITY AFTER THE TANG-SONG TRANSITION: This is review of China’s development for next 1000 years from Tang (618) to Qing (1644). During this time China established modern bureaucratic system with meritocracy through examination system.

THE EVIL EMPRESS WU: This is story of revolt against bureaucracy by the populist despot who successfully cleansed out elite using terror with support of population.

THE MANDATE OF HEAVEN: This is discussion of Chinese legitimacy of ruler issue: Mandate of Heaven. It is just a set of understandings about duties of ruler toward masses common in Chinese culture.

21 – STATIONARY BANDITS: Whether all states are predatory, and whether the Chinese state in Ming times deserved to be called that; examples of arbitrary rule drawn from later periods in Chinese history; whether good government can be maintained in a state without checks on executive authority

GOOD GOVERNMENT, BAD GOVERNMENT: Author seems to be associating good government with efficient meritocratic bureaucracy and “bad government” with emperor at the top of hierarchy who’ve got there without climbing a ladder of bureaucratic hierarchy.

THE “BAD EMPEROR” PROBLEM: Here is where Chinese problems are coming in. Neither Emperor of old nor current Emperor of Chinese communist party is limited by rule of law and/or political accountability. As result they can and do going bad causing a lot of pain for population

INSTITUTIONS AREN’T ENOUGH: The point here is that China possesses pretty good institutions, but its people had a wrong attitude of extreme self-satisfaction that led to stagnation. With this attitude gone China is doing very well at present.

 PART FOUR – An Accountable Government

22 – THE RISE OF POLITICAL ACCOUNTABILITY: What political accountability” is; how the lateness of European state building was the source of subsequent liberty; what is wrong with “Whig history” and how political development cannot be understood except by comparing countries; five different European outcomes

EUROPE’S LATE STATE BUILDING: European kings started state building rather late and consequently encountered much more resistance from aristocracy and commoners than Chinese and Muslims. As result they failed achieve complete control except for Russia. This became source of political liberties in Europe.

THE MARCH OF EQUALITY: This is a very short review of democratic political waves that formed contemporary world.


EUROPE’S EASTERN ZHOU PERIOD: This is about similarity of Europe in 1100 AD with Zhou dynasty in China 770 BC with multiple feudal forces fighting for dominance.

THE ROLE OF LAW IN EUROPEAN DEVELOPMENT: Contrary to China the existing laws outside of kings’ control prevented creation of mass armies and consequently unification in Europe as it happened in China.

A FRAMEWORK FOR STATE BUILDING: This is classification of political development in Europe as:

  1. Weak absolutism (French, Spanish)
  2. Successful absolutism (Russia)
  3. Failed oligarchy (Hungary, Poland)
  4. Accountable government (England, Denmark)

23 – RENTE SEEKERS: How fiscal crisis led to the rise of patrimonial government in France; the intendants and the growth of centralized government; how the French elite understood liberty as privilege, and how they were prevented from achieving collective action; the French government’s ultimate weakness and inability, to tax or control its own elites.


RENT-SEEKING SOCIETIES: The last part contains general inferences about rent-seeking societies based on French history. The most important is idea that rule of law and property rights extended to elite only creates growing and irremediable inequality that eventually leads to explosion.

 24 – PATRIMONIALISM CROSSES THE ATLANTIC: Why government in Latin America has characteristic features not found in other parts of the world; early modern Spain and how it developed patrimonial absolutism very similar to that of France; Spanish institutions and their transmission to colonies in the New World.

This is specific example of political development resulted from conquest and interracial interactions. The chapter covers: THE BANKRUPT SPANISH STATE; TAXATION AND NO REPRESENTATION; TRANSFER OF INSTITUTIONS TO THE NEW WORLD; and THE IRON LAW OF LATIFUNDIA: In Latin America despite similar to France rent seeking, the explosion did not occur or it rather was channeled into revolutions for independence. The new elite resumed rent seeking in multiple forms often using financial methods such as nationalization, inflation, and state bankruptcy not easily understood by population and therefore allowing continuation of patrimonial society so far.

 25 – EAST OF THE ELBE: Why Hungary is of interest as an alternative route to failed accountability; how serfdom was imposed in Eastern Europe just as it was being abolished in the West; the emergence of constitutionalism and noble dominance in Hungary; why it is important to have a strong central state as well as constraints on that state if liberty, is to flourish.

This is detailed review of Hungarian state and its development. It is opposite to Russia and/or France case when fight between king and nobles was won by nobles with resulting decline of state without strong unifying force.

LORDSHIP AND BONDAGE: The development of relationship between serfs and nobles reviewed mainly on the example of Eastern Europe and Russia. In contrast to West where lords were restricted by strong kings in East lords were more powerful resulting in much higher loss of freedom by serfs.

CONSTITUTIONALISM AND DECLINE IN HUNGARY: This is about Hungary developing very strong society institution at the expense of state leading to military and eventually total decline of the country.

FREEDOM AND OLIGARCHY: This is an additional discussion of necessity of balance between societies and state without which either state becomes too weak and could fall or society becomes too weak to prevent despotism.

 26 – TOWARD A MORE PERFECT ABSOLUTISM: The emergence of the Muscovite state and peculiarities of Russian political development; how the gradual enslavement of Russian peasants was the result of the monarchy’s dependence on the aristocracy; why absolutism triumphed more completely in Russia than in other parts of Europe.


 27 – TAXATION AND REPRESENTATION: How the preceding cases of failed accountability set a context for understanding the development of parliamentary institutions in England; sources of political solidarity and their roots in pre-Norman England; the role of law in legitimizing English institutions; what the Glorious Revolution actually accomplished.


  1. English solidarity was more political as represented by local governments than social from the beginning.
  2. Common law and legal system supported individual property rights
  3. Religion supported Parliament in its contest with king

FREE CITIES AND THE BOURGEOISIE: The bourgeois cities developed as independent force countering lord and attracting serfs. The specific of Europe was that cities were given charters and protection by king as counterweight against lords. It was not necessary in the East Europe were lords were dominant or in Russia were king was dominant, but in England relative equivalence of power prompted king to support cities as supplemental power. This created opportunity for development of city based relatively free market economic system.

THE STRUGGLE OVER TAXATION: This is a story of XVII century fight over taxation between king and parliament with particular outcome of lower level of corruption than elsewhere developed as specific English feature.

THE GLORIOUS REVOLUTION: The main achievement of Glorious revolution was achievement of compromise that legitimized taxation making it dependent on consent of taxpayers.

TO THE AMERICAN AND FRENCH REVOLUTIONS: This volume does not stop before American and French revolution. This part briefly reviews status of political systems at this point.

 28 – WHY ACCOUNTABILITY? WHY ABSOLUTISM? The previous cases compared; why England’s path to representative government was not the only one possible; getting to Denmark; how the historical discussion is relevant to democratic struggles in the present

STRONG ABSOLUTISM: The case of strong absolutism reviewed in Russia.

WHY DIDN’T ENGLAND END UP LIKE HUNGARY? The reasons provided: the first is high mobility of society with tradition of grassroots political participation. The second reason was the state strong enough to suppress aristocracy when needed.

GETTING TO DENMARK: Another interesting case represented by Denmark where parliament was defeated by king and strong state, but monarch freed serfs to use as counterweight to landed aristocracy. Danish way to democracy was complicated and dependent on many contingencies, but it just proves that there are multiple roads to Denmark as example of prosperous democratic state.

 PART FIVE – Toward a Theory of Political Development

29 – POLITICAL DEVELOPMENT AND POLITICAL DECAY: The biological foundations of politics; mechanisms by which political order evolves; what politics is and how it differs from economics; a definition of institutions; sources of political decay; the state, rule of law, accountability, and how they are related; how the conditions for political development have changed over time


Humans always existed as part of social group and human sociability built around kin selection and reciprocal altruism.

Humans have innate propensity for creating and following norms and rules.

Humans have a natural propensity for violence.

Humans naturally desire not only material goods, but also recognition.

IDEAS AS CAUSE: Human Ideas are fundamental causes of why societies are different and follow different development paths.

Humans create mental models of reality that often take form of religions that facilitate collective actions and establish rules of moral behavior.

Religions are not purely spiritual constructs; they also define to large extent division of labor and resource distribution in society by providing legitimacy to political order.

THE GENERAL MECHANISM OF POLITICAL DEVELOPMENT: Political order develops from band – tribal level to state level by suppressing kin-lineage relationships and expanding political and material relationships not related to kin, family, and tribe. Political development is Darwinian process with inheritance, variation, and selection. The specifics are:

  • Units of selection are rules and institutions that embody these rules
  • Variation is not random, but rather result of deliberate ideological development of interacting humans
  • Inheritance occur culturally, rather then genetically
  • The competition most often occurred in the form of wars and conquest

SPANDRELS EVERYWHERE: As in biological evolution political evolution produces innumerable spandrels

INSTITUTIONS: Institutions here defined as stable, valued, and recurring patterns of behavior. The main institution discussed is state not only as monopoly on violence on specific territory, but also as subject to division of labor. Characteristics of this institution define on the axis Adaptability – Rigidity; Complexity – Simplicity; Autonomy – Subordination; and Coherence – Disunity.

POLITICAL DECAY: Political decay occurs when society’s institutions functionality declines and they could not fulfill their missions any more. The second form of political decay is repatrimonialization when patron-client relationship when subset of society hijack control over state and successfully obtains rent at the expense of members of society outside of this group.

VIOLENCE AND THE DYSFUNCTIONAL EQUILIBRIUM: Rent seeking groups can and do establish dysfunctional equilibrium when groups get disproportionally high share of continuously shrinking pool of resources. The pool is shrinking because everybody is busy in increase share of their group and efforts to expand resources in the pool meaningless for producers. The typical way out of this is violence either external – conquest by society with better functioning military, or internal violence of revolution when individual in groups who get disproportionally small share revolt against groups who get disproportionally high share.

 30 – POLITICAL DEVELOPMENT, THEN AND NOW THOMAS MALTHUS: How the conditions for political development have changed dramatically since the eighteenth century; the political, economic, and social dimensions of development, and how they interacted in a Malthusian world; how these dimensions interact now; anticipations of the contemporary world

THOMAS MALTHUS: Before 1800 humans lived in Malthusian world where resources grow slowly if at all and number of people quickly outgrows available resources and is regularly trimmed by war, starvation, and diseases. However in reality humans grew in 10,000 years from a small group of a few millions to a billion or so worldwide by 1800 mainly through territorial expansion including expansion at the expense of less fitted groups.

POLITICS IN A MALTHUSIAN WORLD: In the zero-sum world the best way to survive and expand was to achieve military superiority over neighbors that would provide for ability to defend own resources and take resources from others. It was achieved via social mobilization based on legitimacy that was in turn supported rule of law and state building all of which were connected via feedback loops.

DEVELOPMENT UNDER CONTEMPORARY CONDITIONS: The same process took much more efficient form in contemporary world where social mobilization creates not only military power, but high level of economic growth and innovation taking humanity out of Malthusian trap and making territorial expansion and conquest comparatively inefficient way to obtain resources.

THE MODERN DEVELOPMENT PARADIGM: Here author reviews the contemporary development paradigm by using example of South Korea that went from poor autocracy to prospering democracy in just a few decades.

WHAT HAS CHANGED: The main change is globalization and integration of societies around the world. After the end of Cold War only two societal model are standing: Democratic liberal capitalism with welfare state as represented by America and Western Europe; and autocratic state controlled capitalism as represented by China and Russia. Author seems to believe that western concept of individual dignity and recognition would lead to victory of democratic model.

ACCOUNTABILITY TODAY: However the victory of democracy is not inevitable mainly because western democracy now is in crisis of typical political decay with multiple organized groups professional, racial or religious managed to establish rent flow to them at the expense of society as the whole leading to economic stagnation and political deadlock.

WHAT COMES NEXT: The China model while still rising economically still did not prove its economic and innovation viability because so far it was catching up using western capital, know how, and markets. Would it be able to stand on its own when increase of income and quality of life slow down? Would it be able to produce innovation without individual freedom for its people?

On other hand would Western society find its way out of doldrums of welfare state, moral decline, and political gridlock? Would it be able to restart its economic growth and move to the next level of prosperity or its current malaise is not curable? The answers to these questions will come in the future in due order.


I generally agreed with ideas presented in this book. The only point that I would like to make is that the unit of evolution mainly used here – society as whole could not provide level of resolution necessary for deep analysis of situation and prediction of future development. I think that the unit of evolution is always at the level of individual and it is clash of ideas in the heads of individuals and clash of individuals with different dominant ideas in their heads that defines condition and dynamic of change for every society. I understand that it is too much to ask for analysis based on history because of lack of sufficient data, but explanatory power at such high level as society is just not enough to achieve reasonable level of predictive power, which, I believe, is final objective of such analysis.

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