It may be pointless to say that had Vladimir Putin read this book he would have done a better job of building the strong state he desired while serving the broader public good. Yet it is not too much to suggest that readers would be hard-pressed to find a more subtle and lucid account of why his effort to strengthen the state’s coercive arm failed to dent corruption, protect property rights, or advance the rule of law. This is by far the most thorough and systematic study of Russia’s so-called power ministries, charged with administering the state’s monopoly over the legitimate use of force. The basic fact that scarcely a quarter of the Russian population thinks the police protect the public interest, rather than their own self-interests or those of their masters, and a trove of similar facts reflect the surface detritus of the Russian leadership’s effort to build state capacity without considering the factors rendering the effort ineffective and, indeed, counterproductive. The idea of a state that works -- Taylor calls it “state quality” -- flows from Taylor’s remarkably rich and productive tour through the best of the theoretical work on the state, which he refines even further. This lends great depth to his detailed probing of Russian agencies’ inner workings, performance, and impact.
Get the best of Foreign Affairs' book reviews delivered to you.
More Reviews on Eastern Europe and Former Soviet Republics From This Issue