Failed States Book Summary - Failed States Book explained in key points
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Failed States summary

Noam Chomsky

The Abuse of Power and the Assault on Democracy

3.9 (137 ratings)
21 mins

Brief summary

Failed States by Noam Chomsky examines the role of powerful nations in creating and maintaining failed states around the world. He argues that the actions of global superpowers perpetuate instability and poverty in vulnerable countries.

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    Failed States
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    The United States claims a special status that allows it to ignore international law.

    People often think of the United Nations (UN) as an international democratic body in which all the nations of the world get to have a say, more or less equally.

    This is hardly the case. In fact, some aspects of democratic procedures at the United Nations are hardly democratic at all. Certain countries, most notably the United States, have a much larger say in this international organization than any other country.

    This is due partly to the United States’ role as a permanent member on the United Nations Security Council, a special group of nations responsible for keeping conflict at bay in the world.

    There are five permanent council members – France, Russia, China, the United Kingdom and the United States – and this permanent membership allows these countries to sometimes ignore international law.

    Such freedom can easily lead to corruption, as was seen in the council’s Oil-for-Food Program. The program was designed to allow Iraq to sell the country’s oil on the world market in exchange for food, medicine and other humanitarian necessities – but that’s not all it did.

    An investigation in 2005 found that former Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein had received an astounding $1.8 billion in kickbacks under the program. Many US corporations were involved in these kickbacks, and there is no doubt that the US government knew what was happening.

    Despite this, the United States’ powerful position at the United Nations meant that it could use its influence to avoid sanctions.

    The United States enjoys special treatment even when it comes to how the United Nations defines words – like “torture.”

    According to the US Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel, “torture” describes only acts that are analogous with the physical pain resulting from organ failure or even death. Anything less intense, therefore, is not considered torture.

    Contrast this with the definition codified by the Geneva Convention, which states: “Torture means any act by which severe pain or suffering, whether physical or mental, is intentionally inflicted on a person“ in order to extract information or confession, or intimidate others.

    The discrepancy here is glaring – and frightening.

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    What is Failed States about?

    In Failed States, author Noam Chomsky details the ways in which the United States has used its power to relentlessly pursue its own geopolitical and economic interests. The book cites examples from throughout history to demonstrate why the United States’ stated goal of promoting democracy is inconsistent with its own actions, at home and abroad.

    Failed States Review

    Failed States (2006) by Noam Chomsky offers a thought-provoking analysis of the declining power and legitimacy of nation-states in the modern world. Here's why this book is worth reading:

    • Chomsky's incisive critique of global politics provides valuable insights into the challenges faced by states and their impact on international relations.
    • The book emphasizes the importance of public awareness and citizen engagement in shaping a more just and democratic global order.
    • Through rigorous research and evidence-based arguments, Chomsky presents a comprehensive examination of the systemic issues plaguing nation-states today.

    Best quote from Failed States

    Treaties are not legal obligations for the United States, but at most political commitments.

    —Noam Chomsky
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    Who should read Failed States?

    • Anyone critical of US foreign policy
    • Anyone interested in international politics
    • Anyone interested in history

    About the Author

    A prominent cultural figure and political thinker, Noam Chomsky is a world-renowned American linguist who is also Professor Emeritus at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. He has authored over 100 books, and was voted the “world’s top public intellectual” in a 2005 poll.

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    Failed States FAQs 

    What is the main message of Failed States?

    The main message of Failed States is the impact of US policies on global stability and the erosion of democracy.

    How long does it take to read Failed States?

    The reading time for Failed States varies depending on the reader's speed, but it typically takes several hours. The Blinkist summary can be read in just 15 minutes.

    Is Failed States a good book? Is it worth reading?

    Failed States is worth reading for its critical analysis of international politics and thought-provoking insights into the failures of nation-states.

    Who is the author of Failed States?

    Noam Chomsky is the author of Failed States.

    What to read after Failed States?

    If you're wondering what to read next after Failed States, here are some recommendations we suggest:
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    • Understanding Power by Noam Chomsky
    • The Hundred Years' War on Palestine by Rashid Khalidi
    • Jerusalem by Simon Sebag Montefiore
    • A Peace to End All Peace by David Fromkin
    • A Theory of Justice by John Rawls
    • Propaganda by Edward Bernays
    • The Nicomachean Ethics by Aristotle