The Relationship between State Autonomy and State Capacity

Amongst the various dimensions of state power are state autonomy and state capacity. It is important to remember that they are distinct concepts and there is no obvious relationship beween the two. As the chart below (taken from Chapter 3 of O’Neil) demonstrates, a state can have high capacity and low autonomy (or vice versa) or high (or low) levels of both. Can you think of a country that would fit in each cell of the 2X2 matrix below?

High

Autonomy

Low

Autonomy

High

Capacity

State is able to fulfill basic tasks, with a minimum of public intervention; power highly centralized; strong state.

Danger: Too high a level of capacity and autonomy may prevent or undermine democracy.

State is able to fulfill basic tasks but public plays a direct role in determining policy and is able to limit state power and scope of activity.Danger: State may be unable to develop new policies or respond to new challenges owing to the power of organized opposition.
Low

Capacity

State is able to function with a minimum of public interference of direct control, but its capacity to fulfill basic tasks is limited.

Danger: State is ineffectual, limiting development and slow development may provoke public unrest.

State lacks the ability to fulfill basic tasks and is subject to direct public control and interference—power highly decentralized among state and nonstate actors; weak stateDanger: too low a level of capacity and autonomy may lead to internal state failure.
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