This paper provides a beginning toward explaining why humanitarian emergencies have been so substantial in the post-cold war era, a period expected to be less violent. The humanitarian emergencies of the contemporary period tend to be state-centred, focus on identity claims, and occur in developing countries facing the contradictions of capitalist modernity. State-making in developing countries is the political equivalent of primitive accumulation in a capitalist economy; to create a state requires conquest and subjugation though the appropriation and monopoly of the means of violence. State building involves both vertical (hierarchical) and horizontal (ethnic) articulations. Civil society can aid in preventing humanitarian emergencies, but only when civil society is associated with democratization. Indeed democratization is the most salient factor for addressing humanitarian emergencies. In a truly democratic society where there is the rule of law, equal opportunity, accountability of power, and a leadership sensitive to social needs, primary group identities will be less appealing. In such circumstances, humanitarian emergencies are less likely to occur.