Failed States: The Abuse of Power and the Assault on Democracy

Failed States: The Abuse of Power and the Assault on Democracy

by Noam Chomsky


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"It's hard to imagine any American reading this book and not seeing his country in a new, and deeply troubling, light."—The New York Times Book Review

The United States has repeatedly asserted its right to intervene militarily against "failed states" around the globe. In this much-anticipated follow-up to his international bestseller Hegemony or Survival, Noam Chomsky turns the tables, showing how the United States itself shares features with other failed states—suffering from a severe "democratic deficit," eschewing domestic and international law, and adopting policies that increasingly endanger its own citizens and the world. Exploring the latest developments in U.S. foreign and domestic policy, Chomsky reveals Washington's plans to further militarize the planet, greatly increasing the risks of nuclear war. He also assesses the dangerous consequences of the occupation of Iraq; documents Washington's self-exemption from international norms, including the Geneva conventions and the Kyoto Protocol; and examines how the U.S. electoral system is designed to eliminate genuine political alternatives, impeding any meaningful democracy.

Forceful, lucid, and meticulously documented, Failed States offers a comprehensive analysis of a global superpower that has long claimed the right to reshape other nations while its own democratic institutions are in severe crisis. Systematically dismantling the United States' pretense of being the world's arbiter of democracy, Failed States is Chomsky's most focused—and urgent—critique to date.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780805082845
Publisher: Holt, Henry & Company, Inc.
Publication date: 04/03/2007
Series: American Empire Project Series
Edition description: Reprint
Pages: 320
Sales rank: 494,101
Product dimensions: 5.52(w) x 8.25(h) x 0.86(d)

About the Author

Noam Chomsky is the author of numerous bestselling political works, including Hegemony or Survival, Failed States, Imperial Ambitions and What We Say Goes. A professor of linguistics and philosophy at MIT, he is widely credited with having revolutionized modern linguistics. He lives outside Boston, Massachusetts.

Read an Excerpt


The selection of issues that should rank high on the agenda of concern for human welfare and rights is, naturally, a subjective matter. But there are a few choices that seem unavoidable, because they bear so directly on the prospects for decent survival. Among them are at least these three: nuclear war, environmental disaster, and the fact that the government of the world's leading power is acting in ways that increase the likelihood of these catastrophes. It is important to stress the government, because the population, not surprisingly, does not agree. That brings up a fourth issue that should deeply concern Americans, and the world: the sharp divide between public opinion and public policy, one of the reasons for the fear, which cannot casually be put aside, that "the American 'system' as a whole is in real trouble--that it is heading in a direction that spells the end of its historic values [of] equality, liberty, and meaningful democracy."1

The "system" is coming to have some of the features of failed states, to adopt a currently fashionable notion that is conventionally applied to states regarded as potential threats to our security (like Iraq) or as needing our intervention to rescue the population from severe internal threats (like Haiti). Though the concept is recognized to be "frustratingly imprecise," some of the primary characteristics of failed states can be identified. One is their inability or unwillingness to protect their citizens from violence and perhaps even destruction. Another is their tendency to regard themselves as beyond the reach of domestic or international law, and hence free to carry out aggression and violence. And if they have democratic forms, they suffer from a serious "democratic deficit" that deprives their formal democratic institutions of real substance.2

Among the hardest tasks that anyone can undertake, and one of the most important, is to look honestly in the mirror. If we allow ourselves to do so, we should have little difficulty in finding the characteristics of "failed states" right at home. That recognition of reality should be deeply troubling to those who care about their countries and future generations. "Countries," plural, because of the enormous reach of US power, but also because the threats are not localized in space or time.

The first half of this book is devoted mostly to the increasing threat of destruction caused by US state power, in violation of international law, a topic of particular concern for citizens of the world dominant power, however one assesses the relevant threats. The second half is concerned primarily with democratic institutions, how they are conceived in the elite culture and how they perform in reality, both in "promoting democracy" abroad and shaping it at home.

The issues are closely interlinked, and arise in several contexts. In discussing them, to save excessive footnoting I will omit sources when they can easily be found in recent books of mine.3

Copyright © 2006 by Harry Chomsky, as Trustee of Chomsky Grandchildren Nominee Trust

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Failed States: The Abuse of Power and the Assault on Democracy 3.8 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 17 reviews.
kiacyclic on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This is a great digestion of the frightening state of human rights in the world, from one of the great anarchist (or anti-authoritarian if you prefer) thinkers of our time.If you are familiar with the political work of Noam Chomsky, you are going to find the recycling of some historical examples from some of his other works. As we should expect from someone building their arguments on the shoulders of modern history.What is new is the continued deteriorating state of world affairs.
jcbrunner on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Noam Chomsky polarizes which unfortunately prevents many of his opponents from considering his books on their own merit. His work is backed up by a huge amount of research and documentation. His flaw, if it is one, is to hold the United States of America to an incredibly high moral standard. A standard most humans and active governments are unable to meet. Thus, he sees US failure all around, failures most of his opponents either ignore or dismiss ("stuff happens"). But costly failures they are (especially for the recipients of US support). The Iraqi occupation adds another poster case to Chomsky's (familiar, but nonetheless true) collection of botched US foreign policy (Cuba, Vietnam, Chile, Iran, Nicaragua, ...). The contrast of lofty rhetorics and failed execution is cruel, maddening and disheartening.What I find disconcerting about Chomsky is that he usually does not account for US successes and does not dwell on the negative aspects of US opponents (Most often, he points out their evilness in just a single line.) which in his presentation results in a lopsided balance unfair to overall US global influence (although positive US initiatives lately have become fewer and fewer). I think Chomsky could make his message much more palatable in acknowledging successes.The book is divided into six chapters, five dealing with foreign policy, one with the US itself (unfortunately, the weakest chapter of the book featuring Chomsky's usual lament about corporations). The first chapter deals with the disconnect of proclaimed and actual goals. US representatives idealistic claims result in naked power and control politics - not exactly a new message, but one which undermines US credibility. The second chapter adds the US unwillingness to comply with global treaties and exempt itself from banal to crucial commitments. Some are obviously more equal. The US government positions itself alongside Russia, China and other non-complying states instead of the group of democracies. The practice further erodes US credibility. The third chapter destroys (if it ever needed destroying) the respectability of the notion of preemptive war. The value of this book lies in the discussion of the "illegal but legitimate" bombing of Serbia where Chomsky can convincingly (but thanks to hindsight) show that last-minute diplomacy could have achieved most of the good elements of the intervention without the (Serbian) human rights abuses which followed US intervention. Overall, "illegal but legitimate" actions have a bad track record and should only be undertaken with extreme caution. The fourth chapter shows that much what US governments call democracy promotion ends up supporting the opposite (creating nasty side effects, such as the Iranian Revolution). The fifth chapter is a valuable case-study in the well-intentioned but contra-productive support for Israel which discourages a reasonable conflict resolution. The sixth chapter deals with the US itself and lacks analytical sharpness. It is Chomsky's familiar lamentation about the corporate control and skewed playing field of US politics which while certainly accurate does not offer any solutions or improvements. Tacked on as an afterword is a list of (sensible) good global citizen measures the US should adopt.Chomsky meticulously documents the transgressions the Americans overtly and covertly made in South America, Asia and the Middle East usually supporting the wrong guy for the wrong reasons. Sometimes, this results in Orwellian flip-flops ("Eurasia has always been at war with Oceania.") when formerly allied thugs (Saddam, Noriega, ...) become public enemies which have to be evicted by force. Chomsky is at his best in exposing the rhetoric contortions and inconsistencies of US government positions. The main problem is that the US allies itself to the local (undemocratic) rulers and supports them against their own people. Preaching democracy and supporting oligarchy (if not worse) is a double game the rest of t
addict on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Forget Iraq and Sudan--America is the foremost failed state, argues the latest polemic from America's most controversial Left intellectual. Chomsky (Imperial Ambitions) contends the U.S. government wallows in lawless military aggression (the Iraq war is merely the latest example); ignores public opinion on everything from global warming to social spending and foreign policy; and jeopardizes domestic security by under-funding homeland defense in favor of tax cuts for the rich and by provoking hatred and instability abroad that may lead to terrorist blowback or nuclear conflict. Ranging haphazardly from the Seminole War forward, Chomsky's jeremiad views American interventionism as a pageant of imperialist power-plays motivated by crass business interests. Disdaining euphemisms, he denounces American "terror" and "war crimes," castigates the public-bamboozling "government-media propaganda campaign" and floats comparisons to Mongols and Nazis. Chomsky's fans will love it, but even mainstream critics are catching up to the substance of his take on Bush Administration policies; meanwhile his uncompromising moral sensibility, icy logic and withering sarcasm remain in a class by themselves. Required reading for every thoughtful citizen.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
With cold hard facts and revealing insights, Chomsky destoys the illusion and sophistry of the corporate media and the ruling elite while casting the US as the most "failed" state on earth. A must-read for any person of conscience.
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Guest More than 1 year ago
Chomsky delivers another sobering insight to US Foreign Policy of yesteryear and the continuing path we stray. He delivers it eloquently and concise and engulfs the reader with factual accounts of global injustice suffered at the hands of the worlds most dominate rouge state. Chomsky accounts details of social injustice and highlights inconsistencies with great mastery. I found this read to be rather insightful and alarming, and I appreciate the great efforts put forth by Chomsky to create such a forthright and honest portrayal of American Foreign policy.
Guest More than 1 year ago
In this brilliant new book, Chomsky examines the US state and its credentials as a democracy. He concludes that it abuses its power and assaults democracy at home and abroad. He shows how it regards itself as `beyond the reach of domestic or international law, and hence free to carry out aggression and violence¿. He looks at `the increasing threat of destruction caused by US state power¿, when it opposes a Palestinian state, supports Israel¿s illegal occupation and settlements, illegally attacks Yugoslavia, Afghanistan and Iraq, and threatens Iran and the DPRK. The US state asserts that it alone has the right to attack whoever it wants. In response, the UN High-level Panel on Threats, Challenges and Change concluded in 2004, ¿the risk to the global order and the norm of nonintervention on which it continues to be based is simply too great for the legality of unilateral preventive action, as distinct from collectively endorsed action, to be accepted.¿ The US state also insists that it alone has the right to develop nuclear weapons. So in November 2004, it cast the sole vote against the proposed Fission Material Cutoff Treaty. 147 states voted for it and two abstained, Israel and Britain. Blair¿s representative ludicrously claimed that the resolution ¿divided the international community at a time when progress should be a prime objective.¿ Chomsky quotes some surprising people who recognise that other nations have the right to develop nuclear power and nuclear deterrents. Henry Kissinger, when his friend the Shah was misruling Iran, said, the ¿introduction of nuclear power will both provide for the growing needs of Iran¿s economy and free remaining oil reserves for export or conversion to petrochemicals.¿ South Korea¿s President Roh Moo-hyun said, ¿North Korea professes that nuclear capabilities are a deterrent for defending itself from external aggression. In this particular case it is true and undeniable that there is a considerable element of rationality in North Korea¿s claim.¿ As in all Chomsky¿s best books, he deploys an extraordinary range of references, brilliantly exposing official lies. Once again, he has produced a timely and useful book.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Noam Chomsky is considered the world's leading intellectual for good reason: he's incredibly well-informed, utilizes logic and strong analysis to make arguments, uses evidence to support his claims, and is not dogmatic in his views. His latest book, 'Failed States', only solidifies even further his solid reputation in the world of academia. 'Failed States' effectively makes the argument that judging by the criteria of failed states, the United States seems to fit the bill. Chomsky makes three primary claims: U.S. foreign policy increases the threat of global terrorism through acts of imperialism and hegemony, the U.S. exempts itself from international law and treaties and treats the UN with utter contempt, and undermines democratic institutions domestically through the corporatization of the media. My only complaint lies with Chomsky's writing style. Sometimes he's hard to follow and at times a little dense. This is only a minor quibble in an otherwise great (and important) read. For those looking for a comprehensive anaylsis on U.S. foreign policy, 'Failed States' will certainly satisfy. Chomsky's views are only outside of the mainstream among America's political elite: many (possibly a majority) around the world share his perspective on U.S. policy. Highly recommended!
Guest More than 1 year ago
Fact based reflection on US foreign policy. As with all his works, Chomsky once again, bases his work on facts not widely reported, but not too difficult to verify, hence making him one of the few people who cant be labeled a conspiracy theorist. His reflections on American democracy and the dangers it poses to others and more so it self are a fresh and welcome contradiction to what the TV will tell you. Read this and whether you agree or disagree with him, you will admire his critical view on facts and fiction.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Failed States: The Abuse Of Power And The Assault On Democracy is a stinging criticism of American arrogance and its failures to live up to the spirit of democracy by esteemed linguistics and philosophy president Noam Chomsky. In an era where the United States repeatedly asserts its right to use military might against 'failed states' around the globe, Noam Chomsky reveals the dangerous features that the United States shares with other failed states - nations that are unable or unwilling 'to protect their citizens from violence and perhaps even destruction' and 'regard themselves as beyond the reach of domestic or international law.' Failed states, Chomsky observes, are characterized by a 'democratic deficit' that leeches any real democratic substance from their governmental institutions. Chomsky then scrutinizes how the United States electoral system is designed to eliminate genuine political alternatives, crippling meaningful democracy how Washington increasingly exempts itself from international norms how American efforts to militarize the planet increase the risk of nuclear war and how repeated sound bites, so effective to the jaded American public, are much less useful when repeated to Iraqi citizens who belong to a society that is more demanding of open and thorough discussion. Highly recommended.
Guest More than 1 year ago
'A Literary Disaster' and 'This Book is Garbage' (Yes, those have become your names) clearly are not well-read and don't have the slightest notion of critical literary or political analysis. You gave no response, merely simplistic, uninformed opinion on defensive terms. It saddens me that I live amongst such people. Check that data on liberals(whatever that means) being a minority - you are mistaken...
Guest More than 1 year ago
More liberal drek. Another book from a so-called intellectual that claims everything the US does is wrong, and will eventually lead to our downfall. Its interesting how everyone can condemn our actions, but cannot live without our money and support. Remember liberals, you are the minority for a good reason. If you don't like it, you can leave. How one can say America is a failed state is an absurd statement. Sometimes, we are not the ones to blame...why is that so hard to accept?
Guest More than 1 year ago
Is America a failed state? It sure is hard to make that argument! Why do we try to exert our influence on so-called failed states? Its simply in our interest of preservation and prosperity. Show me another nation that goes to the lengths as this country to protect its citizens. Its hard for some left-wing citizens to understand that there are organizations and nations that want to kill Americans. It is within our right to exert our influence in whatever manner will ensure our safety, security, and prosperity and prevent this from happening. Ol Norm forgot to mention religious extremism as a characteristic of a failed if you are into bashing your own country, then this garbage is for you.