The Slippery Road: The Imperative for State Formation

By Hesselbein, Gabi | Harvard International Review, Winter 2008 | Go to article overview

The Slippery Road: The Imperative for State Formation


Hesselbein, Gabi, Harvard International Review


In a perfect world, people would live in prosperity and peace, enjoying everything a perfect market and a perfect state have to offer. Unfortunately, this is a far cry from today's reality, even in the industrialized world. A large number of countries face deteriorating living conditions and serious setbacks in human development.

[ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]

"State failure" is the term used by scholars, development agencies, and politicians to describe a very complex situation in which such degeneration occurs. While some argue that this failure translates into a threat to Western societies, the empirical evidence shows that the threat to life and limb is mostly directed toward the inhabitants of the affected countries. Typically, there is or was internal war, in which external participants, malnutrition, lack of medical services, warlords, child soldiers, refugees and internally displaced people, and impunity for all sorts of war crimes make matters very problematic in the future.

At the Crisis States Research Centre, we define a "failed state" as a condition of "state collapse"--e.g., a state that can no longer perform its basic security and development functions and no longer has effective control over its territory and borders. A failed state is one that can no longer reproduce the structures and capacities for its own existence--such as present day Somalia and Iraq after the US-led invasion. This term is used in very contradictory ways in the policy community. For instance, there is a tendency to label a "poorly performing" state as "failed"--a tendency we reject. The opposite of a "failed state" is an "enduring state," and the absolute dividing line between these two conditions is difficult to ascertain. Even in a failed state, some elements of the state, such as local state organizations, might still exist. What is clear is that a failed state has gone through severe conditions of crisis and fragility, caused both by internal and external factors.

Why do states collapse and cease to exist in the sense that they cannot function for their own populations or in the global community? In our view, if the modern nation-state collapses, structures of authority continue to exercise personalized power over populations on a sub-national level. Ultimately, this happens because political coalitions at the center of the state break down under the pressure of a crisis, lack of resources, and lack of economic growth in general. It is crucial to first examine the most prevalent explanations of failed states to show that international intervention is best justified by the patrimonialism explanation of failed states.

The Role of Corruption

Perhaps the most powerful contemporary explanation for state failure, in terms of its political impact, is the argument that a powerful elite or "state bourgeoisie" manages to institutionalize theft and corruption, thus destroying the economy, social fabric, and state infrastructure. This is the perception underlying the promotion and institutionalization of the "good governance" agenda (transparency, accountability and democracy) advocated and financed by the United Nations, the Bretton Woods twins, and the donor community, with the aid of numerous NGOs.

This argument rests theoretically on Hartmut Elsenhans' "state class" construct. Since classes such as landlords, workers, and bourgeoisie were generally absent in the agrarian societies that became independent countries during the 1960s, he identified the upper and middle echelons of the state bureaucracy to be the central political and economic actors: the "state class." He described them as "kleptocratic";--that is, they had an urge to steal. According to Elsenhans, the resources of the state, as well as the few islands of economic surplus production, were privately appropriated. The "kleptocracy" was safeguarded by repression and by the cooptation of an aspiring bourgeoisie. It formed an economic, social, and political system that was characterized by corruption and a waste of resources.

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

The Slippery Road: The Imperative for State Formation
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Full screen

matching results for page

Cited passage

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited passage

Welcome to the new Questia Reader

The Questia Reader has been updated to provide you with an even better online reading experience.  It is now 100% Responsive, which means you can read our books and articles on any sized device you wish.  All of your favorite tools like notes, highlights, and citations are still here, but the way you select text has been updated to be easier to use, especially on touchscreen devices.  Here's how:

1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
2. Click or tap the last word you want to select.

OK, got it!

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.