Much of the debate over stateness in Latin America assumes that states should sustain basic levels of stability, and if they cannot, the question is why not. This article departs from the assumption of stability, by asking how the relationship between states and other actors has evolved over time. This departure requires a shift in focus: from stateness as referring to states and how they should operate, to stateness as referring to the relationships between states and other actors, and how they change over time. The article argues that such relationships can be understood as emergent complex adaptive systems (CAS), and considers three specific CAS mechanisms: networks, arms races, and moral hazards. This conceptual shift in how to think about states is especially challenging in a region historically accustomed to hierarchical governance.