June 12, 2011


Francis Fukuyama, The Origins of Political Order: From Prehuman Times to the French Revolution ( New York: Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 2011) ("American political institutions may well be headed for a major test of their adaptability. The American system was built around the firm conviction that concentrated political power constituted an imminent danger to the lives and liberty of citizens. For this reason , the U.S. Constitution was designed with a broad range of checks and balances by which different parts of the government could prevent other parts from exercising tyrannical control. This system has served the country well, but only because at certain critical junctures in its history when strong government was necessary, it was possible to forge the consensus to bring it about through the exercise of political leadership." 'There is unfortunately no institutional guarantee that the system as designed will always check tyrannical power yet allow exercise of state authority when the need arises. The latter depends in the first instance on the existence of a social consensus on political ends, and this has been lacking in American political life in recent years. The United States faces a series of large challenges, mostly related to fixing its long-term fiscal situation. Over the past generation, Americans have spend money on themselves without paying their own way through taxation, a situation that has been exacerbated by years of too-easy access to credit and overspending on both a household and governmental level. The long-term fiscal shortfall and foreign indebtedness threatens the very basis of American power around the world, as other countries like China gain in relative statute." Id. at 7-8. "It is quite legitimate to argue that modern governments have grown excessively large, and that they thereby limit economic growth and individual freedom. People are right to complain about unresponsive bureaucracy, corrupt politicians, and the unprincipled nature of politics. But in the developed world, we rake the existence of government so much for granted that we sometimes forget how important it is, and how difficult it was to create, and what the world would look like without certain basic political institutions." Id. at 12. "The purpose of this book is to fill in some of the gaps of this historical amnesia, by giving an account of where basic political institutions came from in societies that now take them for granted. The three categories of institutions in question are . . . : 1. the state[,] 2. the rule of law[, and] 3. accountable government." Id. at 25-16 (format omitted). An interesting perspective, and interesting read. While reading The Origin of Political Order I wondered how many law students or, for that matter, how many lawyers, could give a coherent, non-banal answer the the query, Why does law matter? After all you would think that a person who is spending three years of his or her life studying, not to mention decades of his or her life practicing, law would have something to say. How many would stumble after mumbling something on the order of you gotta have rules, without law there would be anarchy and chaos--which, of course, begs the question. We take law for granted, not giving much thought to where law comes from. In most law schools they don't teach much jurisprudence, overarching legal history, or law simply as a social institution. If such were taught in more law schools perhaps, then, more law students and lawyers would better understand how and why the institution of law is failing American society.).