Fukuyama on state-building

A powerhouse duo came to SAIS to speak on state-building in the DRC a few weeks ago: Frank Fukuyama (on the “state-building” side of the equation) and Severine Autesserre (on the “DRC” side).  Whilst Fukuyama admitted to not having any particular experience in the DRC, he’s obviously done a great deal of thinking on state-building, and mentioned some general precepts that seemed applicable here.

One of his first points was that state-building is essentially the process of “getting to Denmark” – but this is complicated by the fact that even the Danes don’t necessarily know how they got to Denmark.  Generally speaking, the Western liberal state is characterized by three things: a monopoly of violence (or “state-building”), the rule of law, and accountability between the rulers and the ruled.  Fukuyama’s take on success stories like Denmark, and Europe more generally, is that these are places where the rule of law developed alongside or preceded a monopoly of violence by the state.  He cites both Catholic canon law and feudal order as placing constraints on the power of rulers well before they could fully exert power & monopolize violence across all of their territory. (Based on this review, it looks like he’s going to develop this thesis more fully in his upcoming book.)  From this perspective, attempts to solidify state control of ungoverned areas before building up the rule of law is going about state-building backwards.  (Autesserre, as I’ll write about later, seems to agree in the specific case of the DRC – as does this recent HRW report on whether there should be “justice before peace” in the Congo and Burundi.)

Fukuyama also raised the interesting point that many contemporary strong states explicitly focused on nation-building alongside or after state-building – but before they began to work towards accountability.  (The classic African example is that of Tanzania, with its unique national language and de-emphasis of tribal identity, vs. Kenya, where tribal identity is still highly salient.)  He feels that the importance of nation-building is underappreciated by contemporary theorists of state-building, although (in my opinion) much of this is a warranted backlash against the type of cultural imperialism that delegitimated “local” and “native” cultures in the Western mind for the past few centuries.  More generally, Fukuyama points out that the increased push towards democratic accountability at all levels makes any nation-building project much more difficult.

Lots of future post ideas coming out of this talk, for sure!  I am in the end of two minds about the nation-building point.  But the focus on promoting the rule of law before the expansion of state territorial control seems well-founded.  It makes me think here of Bull’s The Anarchical Society and its point about social order developing independently of formal governance; of Scott’s The Art of Not Being Governed; and of whether there’s some type of principal-agent problem in the justice-vs-territorial-control debate, where people might value the rule of law from any entity more than participating in a formal state, but the state naturally wants to focus on expanding territorial control and subsumes the idea of justice within the projection of power…  Will hopefully write more on this soon.

NB: Thanks to James Wilson for catching a typo in an earlier version!

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