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2016 Linowes Lecture

Living With Leviathan: How Political Accountability Shapes the Fate of Nations Worldwide

  • Speaker: Prof. James A RobinsonProf. James A. Robinson
  • Abstract: This talk addressed a fundamental socio-political dilemma: political centralization yields important economic and social benefits, but it risks creating instruments of repression and kleptocracy. Neither Thomas Hobbes’ benevolent Leviathan nor James Scott’s vision of peaceful anarchic communities rejecting state structures explains how communities overcome this impasse. Research suggests that nations thrive when governed by inclusive institutions: a highly capable state constrained by a broad distribution of political power. When social norms or infighting inhibit the formation of viable state institutions — as in the case of Nigeria’s pre-colonial Tiv and modern-day Colombia — societies may suffer under the chaotic rule of a 'Paper Leviathan.' When peoples embrace state-building but not accountability, 'Real Leviathans' may result — an outcome we see in contemporary Rwanda. Both Real and Paper Leviathans become barriers to peace and prosperity. Successes like Ancient Greece and Early Modern England illustrate the socio-economic factors and decisions that enable a society to navigate the risks and benefits of governance by carefully balancing enhanced state strength with the rule of law and equitable access to power.



  • Keynote Speaker Bio: Prof. James A. Robinson is a University Professor at the University of Chicago’s Harris School of Public Policy. He was formerly the Wilbur A. Cowett Professor of Government at Harvard University. Prof. Robinson’s research focuses on the role of political institutions in long-term economic and social development. With Daron Acemoglu, he is the co-author of the New York Times best-selling book why Nations Fail: The Origins of Power, Prosperity, and Poverty. The American Political Science Association awarded his book, The Economic Origins of Dictatorship and Democracy both the Woodrow Wilson Foundation Prize for the best book “on government, politics or international affairs,” and the Riker Prize, which recognizes the best book on political economy. Currently, he is conducting research in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Sierra Leone, Haiti and Colombia.