From a NY Times book review of Stanford Professor Francis Fukuyama's new book “The Origins of Political Order”:
“We take institutions for granted but in fact have no idea where they come from,” he writes. Institutions are the rules that coordinate social behavior. Just as tribes are based on the deep-seated human instinct of looking out for one’s family and relatives, states depend on the human propensity to create and follow social rules.I liked this. I liked thinking about how societies protect and reinforce themselves through stability and unity. I liked thinking about how the downside of stability, however, is rigidity and a lack of maneuverability, as anyone who has been in a very small boat versus a very large boat understands. The best thing that any society can do then is to diversify itself. No modern navy would be complete without stable aircraft carriers, sure, but nor would it be complete without sneaky submarines. Similarly, no vibrant, dynamic society would be complete without those who show a propensity to create and follow rules, nor would it be complete without those ultimates in human flexibility and adaptability -- our good friends, the sociopaths.
Without taking human behavior into account, “you misunderstand the nature of political institutions,” Dr. Fukuyama said in the interview at Johns Hopkins. Such behaviors, particularly the faculty for creating rules, are the basis for social institutions, even though the content of institutions is supplied by culture. Dr. Fukuyama sees the situation as similar to that of language, in which the genes generate the neural machinery for learning language but culture supplies the content.
Institutions, though cultural, can be very hard to change. The reason is that, once they are created, people start to invest them with intrinsic value, often religious. This process “probably had an evolutionary significance in stabilizing human societies,” Dr. Fukuyama said, since with an accepted set of rules a society didn’t have to fight everything out again every few years. The inertia of institutions explains why societies are usually so slow to change. Societies are not trapped by their past, but nor are they free in any given generation to remake themselves.