The Narrow Corridor: States, Societies, and the Fate of Liberty

Penguin Pr. Sept. 2019. 576p. notes. bibliog. index. ISBN 9780735224384. $32; ebk. ISBN 9780735224391. POL SCI
Following 2012’s Why Nations Fail, this third book by economist Acemoglu (Massachusetts Inst. of Technology) and political scientist and economist Robinson (Univ. of Chicago) addresses the preconditions for democracy’s, and freedom’s, success or failure in states. The coauthors champion the primacy of political and economic institutions over other determinants of state success in a way that is similar to Jared Diamond’s argument for the pivotal role of geography. They ask: How does a nation get in the “Corridor” to promote and protect liberty in a “Shackled Leviathan” (shackled in the sense that the state cannot ride roughshod over subjects)? Why do some states never even make it there? The authors muster an admirable wealth of examples, then simplify the analysis with diagrams and easily remembered labels: “Shackled, Absent, Despotic Leviathans,” “Corridor” (the social and political space within which democracy maintains itself), “Red Queen Effect” (opposing forces adjust to stay in balance so it seem like you’ve not moved at all). There is a good deal of repetition in this work whose thesis is simple yet examples are complicated, but it doesn’t affect a well-written and argued treatise.
VERDICT Indispensable reading for political scientists but also accessible enough to appeal to all educated readers.

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