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A Savage Order

by Rachael Kleinfeld, published by Pantheon Books

The publisher describes Dr Kleinfeld as the founding CEO of the Truman National Security Project. "From 2011 to 2014 she served on the U.S. State Department's Foreign Affairs Policy Board and regularly advises officials in the United States, the United Kingdom, and other allied governments. Steven Pinker describes her book as "a brilliant analysis of societies" and as "original, penetrating, and filled with gripping history and reporting."

She writes:

With a handful of exceptions, the most violent countries in the world today are not at war but are buckling under a maelstrom of gang warfare, organized crime, state brutality, and murders by paramilitaries, death squads and ordinary people...Violence devastates lives and destroys countries... Its effects can last for generations.

There have been recoveries, in places like Colombia, the Republic of Georga, India's Bihar province, and in Sicily. Her book The Savage Order journeys through crumbling, corrupt countries that have faced some of the most crushing violence in the world and were then reborn.

Part 1 of her book describes "what makes some democracies so violent, why current explanations are wanting, and why common 'solutions' backfire." Part 2 makes up the bulk of her book and describes "the steps that successful democracies followed to achieve greater security.

Briefly, Kleinfeld describes the making of the US Constitution's Second Amendment. She writes of the United States as having emerged from its war for independence in a rather unique position. There were authoritarian monarchies somewhat centralized and holding to a monopoly on violence in order to enforce loyalty and a rule of law. The colonies that were to form the United States emerged from their war for independence with elements of democracy (representative government) before there was a strong centralized government. Later, democratic societies were to emerge where politics and government were both strong and centralized. But in the US, citizen militiamen who helped win the war for independence weren't interested in disarming, and rising stars in politics were little interested in forced disarmament. The thirteen colonies, now states, were not offering their populations enough protection to make disarmament a reasonable proposition — especially on the frontier. In place of a strong centralized government establishing citizen protection and a rule of law, a population armed to protect itself became embedded in the American psyche.

Rachel Kleinfeld analyzes the South following the Civil War and describes the Wild West as an example of a weak state's contribution to violence (with drifters from the South and sheriffs who were with the Union. She connects the rise of violence in Mexico with its leftist political party's corruption and drug trafficking (pages 40-42). And, of course, she discusses Honduras, Guatemala, and El Salvador.

Reviewers at Amazon.com found the book fascinating, one of whom describes it as the best book on state violence against citizens to date. Another calls it "brilliant and jaw droppingly good." Another describes her as addressing the question of "how a failed state, one that has become decivilized, can change course and come to serve its citizens with order, justice and equity." and describes here as having done "an extraordinarily thorough job of research and synthesis.


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