Undermining the State from Within: The Institutional Legacies of Civil War in Central America, Rachel A. Schwartz

Reviewed by Lindsay Mayka

After civil wars, many states struggle to provide the basic functions of governance. Violence persists even though formal peace has been declared. State agencies fall short in providing the basic goods and services seen as vital for peace-making, while also failing to generate the tax revenue needed to fund these initiatives. According to the conventional wisdom, civil wars destroy beleaguered state institutions, and thus attaining peace requires massive investments to rebuild the state. Rachel Schwartz’s masterful new book, Undermining the State from Within, rejects this depiction of the victimized state. Instead, Schwartz argues that civil war creates opportunities for insulated state actors to transform institutions to take on new, predatory functions that contravene the public interest. By extension, achieving peace does not require expanding the state but rather rewriting the rules of the game to ensure that state institutions can serve the needs of the public.

Undermining the State from Within examines how civil wars transform state institutions during periods of conflict and why those changes may persist after war ends. Schwartz analyzes what she calls undermining rules, which are layered onto formal institutions and “diverge and produce substantively different outcomes from a given state function” (39). Undermining ru

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