2016: An Imperfect World

Social Studies

When States Falter

Introductory Questions

    • How would you define a state? Are nations and states different?
    • What purposes do states serve in the world?
    • How different would your life be if you had been born in a different state?
    • Do “perfect” states exist in the world?
    • What are the “best” and “worst” states you can think of? How are you measuring them?
    • Are democracies better states than non-democracies?
    • What is the difference between a failed state and a fragile state?
    • What do failed (and fragile) states have in common?
    • How much of state failure can be attributed to politics?
    • How much of state failure can be attributed to factors beyond a state’s control?
    • Who should be in charge of measuring a state’s success—its citizens, or other states?
    • If you were the leader of a failed or fragile state, whom would you ask for help?
    • Can there be such a thing as a failed region in a successful state? How about a successful region in a failed state?
    • What happens to a state after it fails? What happens to its people?
    • Has globalization made states stronger or weaker?
    • Do revolutions and uprisings save states, or further doom them?
    • Is a failed state a failed society?
    • Are some states doomed to failure?
    • Is the traditional concept of the state outdated in an age of globalization and the Internet?
    • Do your best to understand the current refugee crisis, also sometimes called the "Syrian" refugee crisis. Should all nations open their borders to people in need - or are nations right to reject any, many, or all of them?

Why Do Bad Things Happen to Good States?

    • Factors in State Failure: Civil War | Foreign War | Economic Collapse | Natural Disasters | Climate Change | Regime Type | Leadership | Colonialism | Disease | Geography   
    • Select Historical Cases: Biafra | Haiti | Weimar Republic | the Roman Empire | Yemen | Libya | Zaire | Colombia | the Soviet Union | Somalia
    • Potential Preventative and Restorative Measures

Total Fail? Tools for Measurement

    • Human Development Index | Gross Domestic Product
    • Polity IV | Freedom House | Social Progress Index
    • Failed States Index | Legatum Prosperity Index  

Additional Terms to Learn (Examples)

    • Weak state | Fragile state | Collapsed state | Catastrophic success
    • Civil Society | Regime Type | Institutions | NGOs
    • Development Agencies | Peacebuilding Commission | Post-Conflict Compacts
    • Democratization | Authoritarianism | Sovereignty | Social Contract

Selected Readings & Speeches

Selected Film: The Lego Movie

Additional Questions & Cases to Discuss (Examples)

    • Study the Fund for Peace's "Fragile States Index" (formerly the "Failed State Index"). Why do you think the index has been renamed? Are its metrics appropriate? Where does your country fall in their rankings – and do the rankings of any states surprise you?
    • How important are institutions to the success or failure of states? Consider the examples of Nogales and of the two Koreas in the book Why Nations Fail, by Daron Acemoglu and James A. Robinson – and then read this assessment of their argument by Jared Diamond.
    • Is it the duty of other states to rescue or save failed states?  
    • Should Colombia serve as a model for other formerly-failed states?
    • Is there a failed state cycle—and, if so, how can a state break out of it?
    • Are hermit states more likely to fail?  
    • Can NGOs prevent state failure—or help restore failed states? If so, what should the focus of their efforts be?
    • What can we learn from fictional failed states such as Gotham and Panem?  
    • Consider the case of Greece. Is economics the most critical factor in state failure?
    • To what degree can we blame the failure of states on climate change?
    • Does terrorism cause states to fail? Or: do failed states spawn terrorism?
    • Consider the recent catastrophic cholera outbreak in Zimbabwe. Was it the main reason for the government’s collapse – and did Ebola have a similar impact on countries in West Africa? 
    • Explore the Rwandan concept of ubudehe. Could it be applied in other failing states?
    • Is Belgium a failed state?
    • Myanmar was until recently an example (for some) of a failing state. Should the recent elections there change this perception?
    • Is it premature (or too pessimistic) to label post-war Iraq a failed state?
    • Consider other recent cases of state failure such as Haiti and the Central African Republic. In rebuilding a failed state, how important are democratic elections?
    • In Silicon Valley (and beyond), a conventional wisdom has emerged that it is good for people and companies to “fail fast” in order to succeed sooner. Does the same apply to states?