Lords and Order: Credible Rulers and the Causes of State Failure

Rationality & Society, Vol. 26 (2):161-194, 2009

44 Pages Posted: 18 Jun 2009 Last revised: 8 Feb 2016

See all articles by Matthew Dimick

Matthew Dimick

University at Buffalo School of Law

Date Written: February 27, 2009


Why do states fail? Why do failed states persist without collapsing into complete anarchy? This paper argues that given insurgency or weakened state capacity, rulers may find it best, paradoxically, to reduce the amount of political good it provides as a means of sustaining some amount of their rule. Moreover, although the consequence is political fragmentation and increasing levels of violence, this is not inconsistent with the continuation of attenuated central governance. To evaluate this argument, I select the case of King Stephen’s reign in medieval England. Although far removed historically from contemporary cases of state failure, the reign of King Stephen exhibits just those characteristics of modern, failed states: insurgency, civil war, territorial fragmentation, increasing disorder and violence (even between adherents to the same side of the civil conflict), and yet the persistence of some amount of centralized rule.

Keywords: Political order, civil war, domestic conflict

Suggested Citation

Dimick, Matthew, Lords and Order: Credible Rulers and the Causes of State Failure (February 27, 2009). Rationality & Society, Vol. 26 (2):161-194, 2009. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=1421459 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.1421459

Matthew Dimick (Contact Author)

University at Buffalo School of Law ( email )

618 John Lord O'Brian Hall
Buffalo, NY 14260-1100
United States
716-645-7968 (Phone)

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