WAY OF THE WORLD
academic prose, The Origins of Political Order is a treatise of a kind one hoped had gone out of fashion. Starting with the social behaviour of chimpanzees, Fukuyama moves quickly on to consider tr ibalism in prehistoric China, pauses briefly to discuss political weakness in the Indian subcontinent (the ‘Indian detour’) and the emergence of the rule of law in Europe, before going on to the grand finale – the emergence of ‘accountable government’ in England in the Glorious Revolution, and the transmission of this ideal to America and France. There are some useful observations – Fukuyama notes that rapid economic growth has been achieved in China without anything resembling the legally protected property rights that are commonly believed to be necessary, for example – but on the whole this is familiar stuff, and he is aware that he may be criticised for falling into ‘the pitfalls of what is called “Whig history”’. There may be other ways of reaching the desired destination apart from the one that was followed in England, he admits. ‘The Danes took a much different route to get to modern liberal democracy, but in the end they arrived in a very
MARTIN VANDER WEYER
I NS I DE THE SQUID MONEY AND POWER: HOW GOLDMAN
SACHS CAME TO RULE THE WORLD
By William D Cohan (Allen Lane/The Penguin Press 658pp £25)
THIS IS William D Cohan’s third weighty volume of Wall Street history and I fell upon it eagerly, having very much enjoyed its predecessors. The Last Tycoons (2007) was his award-winning ‘secret history’ of Lazard Frères, the very private investment banking firm where Cohan himself worked as a young corporate financier. It was followed by House of Cards (2009), which took the lid off another big but by then bankrupt name on the Street – Bear Stearns. Both were memorable especially for the portraits of the giant individual egos that gave these firms their corporate characters. Now he has attempted the same exercise with the biggest and, to some, most s inister name of a l l – Goldman Sachs. The firm will be branded forever with a description concocted by Rolling Stone writer Matt Taibbi: ‘a great vampire squid wrapped around the face of humanity, relentlessly jamming its blood funnel into anything that smells like money’. That fantastical image is so powerful because it precisely captures the legend of Goldman, at least as it is seen by its critics.
The firm is perceived, for example, to have exceptional influence in US government circles, not least because similar place.’
The idea that history may have no overall direction remains unthinkable to him, as does the notion that its destination could be anything other than liberal democracy.
In fact liberal democracy is only the most recent of many imagined destinations. If Marx was sure history could end only in communism (assuming barbar ism could be avoided), Comte was no less certain that it would culminate with a type of hierarchical technocracy, while Herbert Spencer believed the future could only lie with laissez-faire capitalism and Sidney and Beatrice Webb with Soviet-style central planning. The one thing these visions have in common is that they have all come to nothing. Imagining that the future can be charted according to the currently prevailing idea of progress is a mug’s game. It is unclear whether Baldwin’s puzzlement regarding the direction of human development was pretended or real. But it reveals more insight into the shifts and turns of history than any of Fukuyama’s prognostications. To order this book for £20, see LR bookshop on page 22
many of its former executives have held senior positions in successive Washington administrations – Hank Paulson, the hyperactive bald-eagle Treasury secretary during the 2008 banking crisis, being the most recent. And it has often been accused of ruthlessly playing all
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LITERARY REVIEW May 2011