An argument for the ways in which countries can emerge from political polarization, corruption, violence, and chaos.
Kleinfeld, who advised the State Department under Hillary Clinton and now is a senior associate at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace and founding CEO of the Truman National Security Project, offers a book that is simultaneously grim and hopeful. Richly researched—there are more than 100 pages of endnotes, 50 of bibliography—the text is both highly organized and easily accessible. She begins with the murder of a Honduran teen and ends with a consideration of ways that failing states can begin the process of moving toward better circumstances. Throughout, the author uses as exemplars a few places that have successfully emerged (places she has visited and researched)—e.g., Colombia and Georgia, the former Soviet republic. Both, writes Kleinfeld, were once in full collapse; both have rescued themselves. She also discusses other places, including the United States (especially the post–Civil War Deep South), to flesh out the body of her argument. Along the way, she introduces us to key terms and concepts, such as “privilege violence” (e.g., whites vs. blacks in the American South) and “dirty deals,” arrangements that governments sometimes make with criminal or violent elements to begin to restore order and confidence. The key to recovery, Kleinfeld argues cogently, is the stability, involvement, and solidarity of the middle class. If they remain aloof or disengaged, positive change is not really possible; if they are polarized, hope is more fragile and progress far more difficult. The author also writes about the importance of talented and dedicated politicians—rare birds that are key to the political and social recovery and survival of fractured states—to what she calls “recivilization.” If we denigrate and demonize all politicians, we have little hope.
A solid, convincing argument based on experience, research, travel, and intelligence.