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Johns Hopkins SAIS International Development Roundtable: A Conversation with James Robinson

October 3, 2019

James Robinson
, Professor of Global Conflict and Institute Director of the Pearson Institute for the Study and Resolution of Global Conflicts at the University of Chicago
Moderated by Yascha Mounk, Senior Fellow, SNF Agora Institute & Associate Professor of the Practice at Johns Hopkins SAIS

The school welcomed James Robinson of the University of Chicago to share insights from his new book, The Narrow Corridor: States, Societies, and the Fate of Liberty in conversation with Professor Yascha Mounk. During the discussion, Robinson defined the idea of the narrow corridor and its relationship to liberty in society. According to Robinson, the narrow corridor is a place society has to reach if it wishes to achieve liberty for all its citizens.

Robinson discussed the fundamental competition between the state and society in which the state struggles for control and society struggles against being controlled. He noted that when a balance is reached between these competing actors, liberty is achieved. Robinson stressed that although an extremely powerful state may be a threat to liberty, it is unlikely that the balance of power between actors can be reached with a weak state. This is mainly because state capacity and provision of public goods are prerequisites for liberty in society, and these are typically associated with a strong state. Robinson also discussed the possibility of moving out of the corridor remarking that pressure can come from either direction. Elites can capture the state and then engineer it to their benefit, otherwise citizens may become disillusioned with the state’s performance and seek to overthrow the state.

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