the article shows an historical character of the academic narratives that qualify the existence of the state as absent, weak or failed. using the methodology of discourse analysis, the article aims to compare the regenerative narrative about the disaster in the state with contemporary academic discourses built around the pathology of the public apparatus and the failure of the state. despite their apparent differences in ideology, these political discourses of the nineteenth century and the contemporary academic narrative show surprising coincidences. these convergences can be interpreted as strong reactions to a symbolic absence of authority and public force in the colombian context. the author concludes with a reflection on the historical character of the academic narratives.