The Narrow Corridor Book Summary - The Narrow Corridor Book explained in key points
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The Narrow Corridor summary

Daron Acemoglu and James A. Robinson

States, Societies, and the Fate of Liberty

4.3 (147 ratings)
32 mins
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    The Narrow Corridor
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    The path to liberty is a narrow corridor, requiring a balance between state and society.

    One of the world’s oldest surviving pieces of text is the Epic of Gilgamesh. Etched upon a series of Sumerian tablets some 4,200 years old, it tells the story of Gilgamesh, king of the ancient city of Uruk. 

    In the epic, we witness Gilgamesh presiding over a flourishing Uruk. The city is remarkable, home to glorious palaces and temples, bustling markets, and gleaming ramparts.

    But not all is well. King Gilgamesh is proud, vainglorious, and tyrannical. He arrogantly struts around the city, tearing sons and daughters away from their parents in order to murder or rape them. The people of Uruk plead with Anu, the god of the sky, to save them from Gilgamesh’s tyranny and restore some semblance of liberty.

    The key message here is: The path to liberty is a narrow corridor, requiring a balance between state and society.

    The god Anu hears the people’s pleas and comes up with a solution to what the authors call the Gilgamesh problem. It is the question of how to control the power and authority of the state so it benefits rather than oppresses society.

    Anu’s solution? To have the creation goddess Aruru create a counterpart for Gilgamesh – a man equal to him in strength and power, who could balance him out. His name was Enkidu.

    At first, Enkidu succeeded in pushing back against Gilgamesh’s tyranny. But soon, the two struck up a friendship and began to conspire together. With their combined strength, the possibility for checks and balances completely disappeared. Despotic power was there to stay. 

    So why didn’t liberty emerge in Uruk? In short, because society wasn’t mobilized and therefore had no political might. As a result, elites –⁠ in this case, Gilgamesh and Enkidu –⁠ had no reason to remain benevolent. 

    Liberty requires a balance between state and society. Too strong a state, and you’re left with despotism. Too weak a state, and violence and lawlessness emerge. The space between these two extremes is a narrow corridor to liberty. 

    Why a corridor and not a door? Well, because traveling in the corridor is a long, drawn out process –⁠ governments and institutions aren’t forged overnight. And the corridor is narrow because it’s not easy to restrain a powerful state –⁠ nor to keep members of society working together rather than tearing each other apart. 

    When a society fails to enter the corridor, the consequences can be dire.

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    What is The Narrow Corridor about?

    The Narrow Corridor (2019) weaves together a rich tapestry from disparate parts of history to answer the question: Why do some countries achieve liberty while others do not? From the ancient city of Uruk to Revolutionary America, from 1950s China to modern-day Argentina, it examines the conditions that enable governments and citizens to thrive as one –⁠ and the consequences when this fails to occur.

    Who should read The Narrow Corridor?

    • Fans of world history, philosophy, economics, and political science
    • Citizens concerned about the fate of liberty in their countries
    • Anyone fascinated by a gripping historical tale

    About the Author

    Daron Acemoglu is a multi-award-winning economist and an Institute Professor –⁠ the highest title a faculty member can achieve –⁠ at MIT. In 2015, the Research Papers in Economics database named him the most-cited economist of the previous decade. Along with James A. Robinson, he is the coauthor of the best-selling book Why Nations Fail.

    James A. Robinson is a political scientist who previously taught at Harvard and now serves as one of nine University Professors at the University of Chicago. His major areas of interest are Africa and Latin America, where he continues to conduct extensive research.

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