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The Narrow Corridor

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The Narrow Corridor

States, Societies, and the Fate of Liberty

Penguin Press,

15 Minuten Lesezeit
9 Take-aways
Audio & Text

Was ist drin?

How do societies achieve the unnatural, yet desirable state of political liberty?

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  • Comprehensive
  • Concrete Examples
  • Engaging


People in the West often view political liberty as a state which, once achieved, will remain the status quo. According to economists and best-selling authors James A. Robinson and Daron Acemoglu, however, liberty exists only in the fragile balance between a strong state and a strong society. The pair delve into history – from Ancient Sumer to present-day populism – to illustrate why democratic institutions will not, in themselves, protect against abuse of power. Rather, liberty relies upon an educated citizenry continually and proactively defending its rights against state encroachment.


Society needs the state, but can easily become its victim.

The Enlightenment philosopher John Locke once defined liberty as the individual’s “perfect freedom” to do what they wish with their possessions “without asking leave, or depending upon the will of any other man.” A liberated man is also free of threats or harm to his person and possessions. In short, a man can’t live freely if he is constantly on the defensive. Some degree of safety is required for liberty. 

How is this safety achieved? The best way is through the power of the state – or, as 17th-century philosopher Hobbes termed it, the Leviathan. The state helps to balance competing interests and provides essential protections to its citizens by creating and enforcing laws against violence and other crimes. Yet the state can abuse its powers. It can subject its citizens to terrors and restrictions roughly equivalent to what might exist in its absence. The state can also take many forms; some types, like monarchies, are more conducive to abuse of power than others.

A strong society is needed to keep the state in check. 

How can you make sure that...

About the Authors

James A. Robinson is a professor of political science and economics at the University of Chicago. His coauthor, Daron Acemoglu, is an economist and professor at MIT. 

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