I’m reading Fukuyama’s intriguing “The Origins of Political Order” at the moment, which is a little preachy and even excessively researched, but certainly worth the investment. Two things caught my attention this morning. First, in his discussion on legalism versus Confucian thought in China(p.119-120), he explains that Confucianism relied on family, kinship, and the patrimonial social order where the family was central. Legalism rejected tht approach, seeing mankind as homo economicus, binding citizens to the state on an economic, self-interested basis. It struck me that much of the socialist / capitalist, left-wing / right wing, US Democrat / US Republican, UK Labour / UK Conservative divide that we see today (and even Irish Labour / Irish Fine Gael, who are in coalition government together) mirrored that distinction from almost three thousand years ago. There are no new ideas, it would appear.
The second thing that piqued my interest was a reference to perfidious albion – in his assessment of why Europe did not develop in the same way as China, he cites geography (mountains, seas etc.) but also the presence of a large and (it would appear) disproportionately influential Britain, who “acted for much of European history as a deliberate balancer that tried to break up hegemonic coalition.” Plus ca change then. I started writing about this today in an attempt to explain current Euro zone goings on, but it descended rather rapidly into polemic, so I posted it on my political / opinion / rant blog over here.