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Accountable government, for Fukuyama, means that the rulers believe that they are responsible to the people they govern and put the people's interests above their own. Accountability, as such, can be achieved in a number of ways. It can arise from moral education, which is the form it took in China and countries influenced by Chinese Confucianism. Princes were educated to feel a sense of responsibility to their society and were counselled by a sophisticated bureaucracy in the art of statecraft.

Today people in the West tend to look down on political systems whose rulers profess concern for their people but whose power is unchecked by procedural constraints like the rule of law or elections. But moral constraint still has a meaning in the way that authoritarian societies are governed, exemplified by the contrast between a Hashemite Jordan under its King Abdullah and Baathist Iraq under Saddam Hussein. Neither country was a democracy but the latter imposed a cruel and invasive dictatorship and the former has carefully attended to the needs of various groups in society, despite the very limited powers of the Jordanian Parliament.


Formal accountability is procedural: the government agrees to submit to certain mechanisms that limit its power to do as it pleases. Ultimately these procedures (which are usually spelt out in constitutions) allow the citizens of the society to replace the government entirely for malfeasance, incompetence or abuse of power. Today the predominant from of procedural accountability is elections, preferably multi-party elections with universal suffrage. Earlier forms of political accountability were not to the people as a whole but to a traditional body of law that was seen as representing the consensus of the community, and to an oligarchic legislature.

Over time, starting in Europe and America, democratization took place. The voting franchise was extended and came to include broader classes of people, including men and property, women, and racial and ethnic minorities. In addition, it became clear that the law itself was no longer based on religion, but needed to be democratically ratified, even if its application remained in the hands of professional judges. But in Britain, the United States, and Western Europe, the full democratization of procedural accountability did not occur until the 20th century. The very lateness of the European state-building project was the source of political liberty that Europeans would later enjoy. For precarious state-building in the absence of the rule of law and accountability simply means that states can tyrannize their populations more effectively.


At the beginning of his Democracy in America, Alexis de Tocqueville (15) talks about the "providential" fact that the idea of human equality had been gaining ground across the world for the past 800 years. The Protestant Reformation, combined with the invention of the printing press, empowered individuals to read the Bible and find their way to faith without the interposition of intermediaries like the Church. This reinforced the growing willingness of Europeans to question established authority, starting with recovery of the classics during the later medieval period and the Renaissance.

Modern natural science – the ability to abstract general rules out of a mass of empirical data and test causal theories through controlled experiments – created a new form of authority that was soon institutionalized by universities. Science and the technology it spawned could be put to use by rulers but could never be fully controlled by them. The political manifestation of this change was the demand for political rights, that is the insistence on a share in common decision-making power that had once existed in tribal societies but had been lost with the rise of the state. This demand led to the mobilization of social groups like the bourgeoisie, the peasantry and the urban "crowd" of the French Revolution, which had formerly been passive subjects of political power.

It was critical to the rise of modern accountable government that this demand was couched in universal terms – that it was based, as Thomas Jefferson would later put it in the Declaration of Independence (see Chapter 15), on the premise that "all men are created equal". Throughout all phases of prior human history, different individuals and groups had struggled for recognition. But the recognition that they sought was for themselves, or their kin group, or their social class; they sought to be masters themselves and not to throw into question the entire relationship of lordship and bondage. The new universal understanding of rights meant that the political revolutions to follow would not simply replace one narrow elite group with another but would lay the grounds for the progressive enfranchisement of the whole population.

We have seen this dynamic unfold, Fukuyama maintains, since the collapse of Communism and the emergence of what Samuel Huntington (16) labelled the third wave of democratization. The third wave began with the transitions in Spain, Portugal and Turkey during the 1970s, proceeded to Latin America and East Asia in the 1970s and 1980s, and culminated with the collapse of Communism in Eastern Europe after 1989. The idea that democracy was the most, or indeed the only legitimate form of government spread to every corner of the world. Democratic institutions were rewritten, or written for the first time, in Africa, Asia, Latin America and the former Communist world. But stable liberal democracy was consolidated only in a subset of those countries undergoing democratic transitions, because the material balance of power in each society did not force the different actors to accept constitutional compromise. One or another actor – usually the one that had inherited executive authority – emerged as much more powerful than the others and expanded its domain at the expense of the others.


In the final analysis, for Fukuyama, the European path to modernization was not a spasmodic burst of change across all dimensions of development but rather a series of piecemeal shifts over a period of almost 1,500 years. In this peculiar sequence, individualism on a social level could precede capitalism, the rule of law could precede the formation of the modern state; and feudalism, in the form of strong pockets of local resistance to central authority, could be the foundation of modern democracy. We need then to disaggregate the political, economic and special dimensions of development, and understand how they relate to one another as separate phenomena that periodically interact. We now turn from the introductory orientation to the political order of African polity, starting with the African American historian Chancellor Williams.

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