Summary of State-Building

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State-Building book summary

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Weak or failed states like Somalia and Afghanistan are quietly causing some of the world’s most pressing problems and will continue to do so, according to political analyst Francis Fukuyama. In this elegant, sobering critique based on his 2003 Messenger Lectures at Cornell University, Fukuyama uses a simple, two-dimensional model of "stateness" to analyze why states fail. He focuses on what countries can do, rather than using some theoretical model of what they ought to do. Fukuyama describes the supply of and demand for government institutions, why states often don’t deliver what their "customers" want and the organizational pathologies that prevent developing nations from "getting to Denmark," development theory parlance for achieving an efficient, transparent and legitimate government. Overall, the book is a mixed bag, mostly filled with solid diagnoses, but sometimes merely providing gooey think tank truisms. Nevertheless, getAbstract recommends this brief, skeptical examination to anyone who wants to understand one of the huge challenges of twenty-first century statecraft: how to prevent weak states from exacerbating such problems as AIDS, famine, poverty, nuclear proliferation and terrorism.

About the Author

Francis Fukuyama is the Bernard L. Schwartz Professor of International Political Economy at the Paul H. Nitze School of Advanced International Studies, Johns Hopkins University. He is the author of several books, including The End of History and The Last Man.


Strength, Not Scope

The twentieth century witnessed many experiments with state power. At one extreme, totalitarian states took over the "commanding heights" of the economy, as well as much of civil society. At the other extreme, states deregulated with a vengeance, following the patterns of Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan. By 2000, "neoliberalism" was in fashion. This view, known as the "Washington Consensus," urged states to minimize government intervention and let market forces work their putative magic, even in areas that traditionally came under state control. Now, the Consensus has fallen out of favor, partly because global institutions, such as the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank, tried market-based solutions in developing countries without much success. But nothing is inherently wrong with the Washington Consensus. It is simply incomplete: economic development requires a state with limited "scope" but significant "strength," and the Consensus focuses only on reducing scope. Here’s the distinction:

  • Scope - A state’s scope depends on the kind of functions it tries to accomplish. These functions can be arrayed along a continuum. At one ...

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