External Threat and State Capacity

We addressed the history of state-formation in continental Europe and learned that, as Charles Tilly has noted, war and state-making were interconnected.  The stronger the nascent state, the better it was able to wage war and vice versa.  War-making, of course, required strong coercive and extractive (in the form of taxes and other renumerations) of the state vis-a-vis its domicile population.  Mix in a little bit of nationalism and you’ve got the perfect recipe for a strong state.

A recent article in the Journal of Peace Research [subscription only] by David Lektzian and Brandon Pine, demonstrates the empirical validity of the state-making/war-making nexus.  The argue that the larger the perception of “external threat” the more latitiude do leaders have in increasing the capacity of the state.  Here is the abstract to the paper:

Taming the Leviathan: Examining the Impact of External Threat on State Capacity

This article argues that the systemic security environment influences the structure of domestic political and economic institutions. If states have been primarily created to protect one group from predation by another, then the state may visibly change as external threats rise and fall. The authors argue that political elites respond to threatening environments by enhancing the ability of the state to extract resources from society in order to protect itself. Using data from the Armed Conflict Dataset, Banks’s Cross National Data Archive, and COW data from 1975 to 1995, the authors find evidence that supports the conjectured relationship between threat and state strength. As a response to a more threatening environment, the authors find that states significantly increase their capacity in terms of revenue, government spending, and military spending, but they do not easily relinquish these gains. The authors also observe that nation-state security is heavily influenced by regional regime-type patterns. State capacity increases as the regional neighborhood becomes increasingly autocratic. This suggests political elites not only regard violent conflict in the region as a serious concern to national security, but also appear to consider political change a threat as well.

The State and Democratization

The Polity IV data set code book, has a section entitled Indicators of Democracy and Autocracy (Composite Indicators), the authors write about the development of the state and the evolution of political participation as a corollary.  If you read it in tandem with this post on Max Weber’s view of the state and state legitimacy, you’ll begin to understand the nature of the state and why it has become the dominant contemporary form of political organization.

Three broad processes have reshaped the global landscape of state structures during the last two centuries One is an extraordinary expansion in the absolute and relative power of the state, a process that began i Europe. The new states created by the American and French revolutions marked the threshold between political world dominated by monarchies, whose claims to absolutism were belied by the fact that most social and economic life was autonomous from state control or extraction, and a political world in which state power was based on ever-widening control and mobilization of human and material resources exchange for broadened rights of popular participation. An integral part of this process was the development of bureaucracies with high capacities to regulate, tax, and mobilize people in the service of state policy. 

The second process was the transformation of the structures of political participation and legitimation. This transformation followed one of two paths, toward plural democracy or mass-party autocracy. The popular side of the bargain by which most West European rulers built state power in the nineteenth century was to acknowledge the right of widespread participation in policy making.  That right was given institutional expression in elected assemblies which could review, and sometimes initiate, public policy; in elections direct or indirect, of chief ministers; and in recognition of citizens’ rights to voice and act on political opinions. The concept of bargain is a metaphor for sequences of political crises and reforms in which these rulers granted rights for participation, however limited, to all significant social classes and groups, while simultaneously extending the state’s right and capacity to regulate, tax, and mobilize the human and material bases of state power. 

The process of political democratization had its own logic and dynamic which, in most of Western Europe, eroded all but a few symbolic vestiges of traditional autocracy (see for example Bendix 1978). Nonetheless, pressures to extend democratization have always contended with the self-interested desire of rulers to preserve and enhance their autonomy from political constraints. Theempires of Central and Eastern Europe–Germany, Russia, Austro-Hungary–implemented thetrappings but not the substance of effective democratic participation in the late nineteenth and early

War and the Process of State-making

As we discussed in class on Thursday, there is a close relationship between the war, the state, and state-making.  Thus, violence is at the root of the idea of the modern state, as Weber’s famous definition of the state aptly demonstrates.  Norbert Elias suggested that the state-formation process in Europe was “an elimination contest.”  In addition, Charles Tilly famously wrote* “war made the state and the state made war.”  In a much-read paper** on the topic, Tilly wrote:

What distinguished the violence produced by states from the violence delivered by anyone else? In the long run, enough to make the division between “legitimate” and “illegitimate” force credible. Eventually, the personnel of states purveyed violence on a larger scale, more effectively, more efficiently, with wider assent from their subject populations, and with readier collaboration from neighboring authorities than did the personnel of other organizations.  But it took a long time for that series of distinctions to become established. Early in the state-making process, many parties shared the right to use violence, the practice of using it routinely to accomplish their ends, or both at once. The continuum ran from bandits and pirates to kings via tax collectors, regional power holders, and professional soldiers.

The uncertain, elastic line between “legitimate” and “illegitimate” violence appeared in the upper reaches of power. Early in the state-making process, many parties shared the right to use violence, its actual employment, or both at once. The long love-hate affair between aspiring state makers and pirates or bandits illustrates the division. “Behind piracy on the seas acted cities and city-states,” writes Fernand Braudel of the sixteenth century. “Behind banditry, that terrestrial piracy, appeared the continual aid of lords.”‘ In times of war, indeed, the managers of full-fledged states often commissioned privateers, hired sometime bandits to raid their enemies, and encouraged their regular troops to take booty. In royal service, soldiers and sailors were often expected to provide for themselves by preying on the civilian population: commandeering, raping, looting, taking prizes. When demobilized, they commonly continued the same practices, but without the same royal protection; demobilized ships became pirate vessels, demobilized troops bandits.

It also worked the other way: A king’s best source of armed supporters was sometimes the world of outlaws. Robin Hood’s conversion to royal archer may be a myth, but the myth records a practice. The distinctions between “legitimate” and “illegitimate” users of violence came clear only very slowly, in the process during which the state’s armed forces became relatively unified and permanent.

The process of legitimation of state violence came, as Tilly argues above, slowly.  What, according to Weber, are the different types of legitimacy that attended to this process?

*Charles Tilly, “Reflections on the History of European State-Making,” in Charles Tilly, ed.,  The Formation of National States in Western Europe (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton Univ. Press, 1975), p. 42.

**Tilly, Charles. “War Making and State Making as Organized Crime, ” in Evans, Rueschemeyer and Skocpol, ed., Brining the State Back in (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1985), p.172-173.

***Elias, Norbert. The Civilizing Process  (Oxford: Blackwell), 1993.

Weber’s Theory of Social Action

Weber’s theory of social action is important because it sets out, I believe, more clearly than any other theorist the idea behind social action, and the foundations for explanation in the social sciences.

Andrew Roberts, at the University of Middlesex, has written a critical commentary on Weber’s concept of social action:

Continue reading “Weber’s Theory of Social Action”

The State–Weber’s definition, the role of legitimacy & Iraq

The state is an important concept in politics, and it is often one that is difficult to grasp for many students new to the study of comparative politics. Probably the most studied work on the state is that of German social scientist Max Weber, who in a lecture given in 1918 (which would eventually be published in 1919 under the name “The Politics of Vocation”) set out a formal definition of the state, and demonstrated the link between that and what is called “legitimacy”.

Below the fold, I’ll provide what I consider to be the crucial part of Weber’s lecture, with an assessment of how this relates to the contemporary situation in Iraq below:
Continue reading “The State–Weber’s definition, the role of legitimacy & Iraq”