Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Getting to Denmark in More Ways than One

Last week I felt like I was living the idea of the "university student" because I went to a fascinating lecture on the origins of the state by a scholar in international affairs.

I may not have attended this lecture by Francis Fukuyama at the Kellogg Center last night if  Francis Fukuyama's picture had not been popping up on the Aarhus University homepage. I've been frequenting that website since it is where I will be studying abroad in the spring semester. Several months ago I noticed that he is Visiting Professor there.

Even though no doubt both Fukuyama and I are traveling to Denmark, Fukuyama is concerned with the modern state, which Denmark is represents. His lectures are titled "Getting to Denmark: Where the State, Rule of Law, and Accountable Government Come From". (It's same as the title as his forthcoming book, I think.) Basically, the premise is that Denmark is a mythical country with effective and uncorrupt institutions, peace, democracy, good living standards -- all the things that developing countries want. These three components: state, rule of law, accountable government are all necessary for political order.

Fukuyama's thesis is that ancient China was the first modern state. Other great civilizations at the time -- Romans, Egyptians, Mesopotamians -- were not modern states as he defines them. Basically a modern state is impersonal, administered by meritocratic bureaucrats who levy taxes, muster armies, redistribute land. It is not a patronizing society. He said that in a modern state, you don't hire your cousin to be the chief tax collector; you hire the person who is best at administering tax collections.
I thought this was a fascinating lecture, not only because it filled my heart with Chinese pride, because Fukuyama's broader approach to modern state. His examples were from ancient, like, 1000 B.C.E., Chinese history and similar times in Indian history.

While China was the first modern state, it is missing the rule of law and accountable government. Without these two, Fukuyama said that China is just a more perfect tyranny. This has its advantages and disadvantages. The government can do whatever it wants very quickly. Want to build a dam and displace three million people? Done. Want to build world's highest railway from to Tibet? Just do it. The millions of people who will be displaced can stamp their feet but their interests are ultimately not considered.

Initially I was disappointed that I would not be in East Lansing for his third and fourth lectures, as I will be in Denmark, of all places. But I found videos of previous versions of these lectures he gave at Johns Hopkins University.

His first lecture, which I didn't go to, was on the origins of the state. I mean, the origins, like from

Jumping back to my life, I'm literally going to Denmark in about a month and a half so I'm deeply mired in the logistics of setting up life there for six months. Over the weekend I booked my round trip flight to Copenhagen, January 3 to June 22, 2010.

1 comment:

Jessieroo said...

What will you be studying in Denmark? How exciting! I hope your trip preparation is going well.