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Capsule Review

The Myth of International Order: Why Weak States Persist and Alternatives to the State Fade Away

In This Review

The Myth of International Order: Why Weak States Persist and Alternatives to the State Fade Away
The Myth of International Order: Why Weak States Persist and Alternatives to the State Fade Away
By Arjun Chowdhury
Oxford University Press, 2018, 272 pp. Purchase

The title of this book is exactly backward. Chowdhury makes a convincing case for the reality, not the myth, of international order. He notes that most countries in the world are weak, with wobbly central governments that fail to provide basic economic and social services—and yet they muddle through, thanks to an international order that protects all sovereign territorial states against their rivals. The myth that Chowdhury exposes is the realist narrative in which countries compete for survival in a state of Hobbesian anarchy. As Chowdhury shows, this classic model fits the European experience but little else. He argues that the wars of modern Europe convinced citizens to support centralized power and pay high taxes, whereas states outside the West, because they developed later, did not go through this cycle of war making and state building. That means the modern international order hits young countries with a double whammy: by dampening conflict, it makes it harder for them to grow strong while also raising the expectations for what governments must do when it comes to education, health care, and other social services. Chowdhury is surely correct that state building is harder now than a century ago. The challenge is to find peaceful incentives for effective governance.

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