Tag: Charles Tilly

Moving Beyond Tilly

Swiss Pike SquaresEditor’s Note: This is a guest post by Michael Martoccio, who is a PhD candidate of Early Modern History with a minor specialization in IR Theory at Northwestern University. His research broadly examines the role of cooperation in shaping political change in Europe, c. 1300-1700. His projects include a study of cooperation-building institutions in Central Italy, the late medieval market for sovereign rights, and a comparative analysis of city-leagues on both sides of the Alps. tl;dr notice: ~1800 words.

Tilly’s war-making/state-making thesis has taken a number of knocks recently. The turn from a geographically/historically-specific thesis to a global/ahistorical axiom caused much damage. Cultural explanations of state emergence also short changed those normative elements (the “claims-making, resistance, bargaining, and legitimation” components Dan mentions) of Tilly’s thesis. Dan’s post corrects many of these misinterpretations and recovers critical elements of Tilly’s legacy.

However, a number of unresolved issues remain in both Tilly’s original work and Dan’s revision. Tilly made two errors: (1) he over-calculated the coercive power of early modern sovereigns and undervalued the critical role of coordination dilemmas; and (2) he mislabeled the objects of analysis “states” and ignored the powerful effects of interwoven early modern hierarchies in preference for an anarchic state system of international interaction. Relationalism partially corrects these faults, but adds a few ahistorical categories that need to be unknotted. Continue reading


“War Made the State and the State Made War”

coercion-capital-and-european-states-ad-990-1tl;dr notice: ~1800 words.

A few unconnected recent happenings have reminded me that I’ve meant to do a short post on Charles Tilly, bellocentric (or “bellicist”) theories of state formation, and where all of this stands in 2013.

If you mention “Charles Tilly” and “state formation” to knowledgeable social scientists, their first association is almost always his famous line “war made the state and the state made war” (PDF). Scholars most frequently cite his work on state formation in the service of this line of argument.* Indeed, Tilly’s argument also invariably gets translated into “more war, more state.”

This strikes me as a plausible reading of Tilly’s early work on the subject, but not of Coercion, Capital, and European States, AD 990-1990 — let alone his later scholarship. Moreover, I contend that even if Tilly does make something akin to that argument, it isn’t what we should take away from it. Continue reading


A Short (and Hasty) Note on the Current Wave of Attacks

Tunisia Protests, AP

Readers probably already know that anti-western attacks are spreading beyond Egypt and Libya, and to non-US facilities. In Sudan, the German embassy is “in flames.”And so on.

How would someone committed to relational social analysis understand what’s happening? Here’s an ‘analytical snap judgment’:

  • We have an event — the emergence of the anti-Muslim film — that fits a particular pre-existing script concerning identity relations: “Americans/Westerners hate/disrespect Islam/Muslims.”
  • We have a script about what happens next: ‘Believers protest.’
  • We have pre-existing scripts and repertoires for how to engage in protest at various levels of specificity ‘attack institutions representing and/or affiliated with Americans/westerners,’ ‘set them ablaze,’ ‘raise Islam-oriented flags,’ etc.
  • Actors attempt to mobilize/channel/co-opt/suppress responses to the event by issuing proclamations, directing core supporters to act our those scripts/repertoires, deploying the infrastructure of the state, and so forth. 
  • Demonstration effects operate at the level of regimes, entrepreneurs, and ordinary people.
  • In this case, the trigger has the potential to activate and polarize specific identity boundaries: Islam/West, Muslim/Christian, Radicals/Moderates, Religious/Secular, and so forth.” The dynamics at stake involve broader wars of position and maneuver within specific countries, in transnational religious politics, and in interstate relations.

Fragile regimes worry about becoming included in the “affiliated with American/westerners” category; moderate and establishment Islamists worry about being outbid — losing their positions of leadership and cross-boundary brokers to more radical elements — and also about irreparably harming their relations with the United States and Europe; radicals hope to make such a balancing act impossible. Transnational jihadist hope to expand their core supporters, sway the opinions of fence-sitters, and cow their opponents. Action-reaction dynamics in one country impact those in others.

That being said, I expect that the immediate effect of the protests, attacks, and riots to be relatively small. We’ve seen this story before — albeit with two major differences: after the Arab Awakening (1) the stability of many Middle Eastern regimes is much more precarious and (2) Islamist parties have a stake — sometimes a dominant one — in a number of governments. Still, my gut instinct is that these differences won’t change the underlying trajectory: one of an ephemeral trigger for mobilization in the context of movements that lack sufficiently broad networks or support to sustain mass protest and large-scale violent action. If that diagnoses is correct, then what we’re looking at is another series of episodes in a much longer-term struggle — one in which the local, regional, and international stakes are very high indeed. [ed note: I should note that these two differences are rather significant… and that they raise serious questions about my ‘snap’ prognosis. I also don’t want to sound like I am minimizing the ongoing violence, loss of life, and property damage. This is serious stuff.]

*Note that these dynamics also operate outside of the Muslim and Arab worlds: consider the partisan political dimensions of the debate in the United States over these attacks, as well as the aims of specific right-wing groups in the United States and Europe.


What to watch for

As the incredible events in Iran unfold–in the streets of Tehran and on Twitter–the obvious question is: is this the ‘Green Revolution’ or something else for which we don’t have a pre-fab category.

I would call your attention to two outstanding posts that give a very good insight into what to watch for. The unifying theme was perhaps best articulated by an anonymous Iranian commentator at Salon: “Legitimacy, much debated by social scientists, actually turns out to matter. It’s not just force that rules…” (h/t). In short, this is a moment of contentious politics* where the legitimacy of the Revolution, Islamic Republic, Supreme Leader and a few other major social institutions in Iran is in flux.

1. Rob Farley at LGM notes that the most important actors in the entire process aren’t the protesters, but the police. Farley’s review of the Tilly-esque story of the development of the state reminds us of the central function of the modern bureaucratic state is, as Weber noted so long ago, to maintain the legitimacy that allows rules to rule. States exercise the monopoly on the legitimate use of violence. When the security forces no longer feel compelled by the erstwhile legitimacy of the state, the state ceases to exist as we currently understand it. If you see the police, revolutionary guards, and others standing by, or even supporting the resistance, the game is up.

Now, I’m not an Iran expert, and as Dan has noted, you should take all our analysis with that major caveat in mind. So, I don’t have an intimate knowledge of the institutional structure of the regime. That said, two points. First, the gangs of pro-regime thugs beating up protesters should not be seen to be the same as the State going after protesters. These groups may be encouraged by the ruling elite, but they are not the official actors of the state. They are thugs who wouldn’t be able to use force in normal times. Its those legitimated to use force who matter. Second, given the unique nature religion plays in the Islamic Republic, one might argue that some senior clerics might exercise the legitimate use of rhetorical force, so they bear watching as well.

2. orgtheory reminds us that revolutions are actually social movements that must have a social and organizational structure. These social resources–social networks, leadership, organizers, mobilizers, and experts–require time and effort to build and deploy. Its important to see if the protesters can wield any other levers of power against the regime beyond sheer numbers of people. It matters how many people come out– as Dan noted, thousands can be dealt with by the repressive institutions of the state, millions not so much. Its possible that the ability to conduct offensive cyber-war against the regime is a step in this direction. The potential for success comes when an alternative power structure emerges that could replace the existing regime in running the state. If the Supreme Leader falls, someone else needs to be ready to step in and take his (metaphorical) place.

More to the point, orgtheory offers a very powerful reminder:

I’ll be a bit incendiary to justify these questions by pointing toward the invasion of Iraq: The kind of thinking which suggests that a large, loud, outburst topples governments and then magically leads toward the emergence of a new order which “makes more sense” was, in the end, what undid our efforts in Iraq. It was naive – of us then and perhaps of protesters today – to think that opposition and even toppling a regime is enough. It’s what comes next—the alternative power structures and institutions that will step into the void—which require our attention now. Because it will be a power struggle–just as it became in Iraq. Educating ourselves on the underlying layers of Iranian society is vital because understanding this is how the US and supporters of Iranians’ freedom can best lend target support. Now is the time to educate ourselves.

Meaning, we need to be paying much more attention to what Gary Sick is saying, and not go overboard with the idea that we can fight the war with the right twitter-feed.

*h/t PTJ who said this to me earlier today.


Charles Tilly, 1929-2008

Some of our readers may have been wondering about the small flurry of Chuck Tilly posts in the last few weeks. Not long before then, many of his friends, colleagues, and former advisees learned for the first time that he was, once again, facing severe medical problems related to his lymphoma. Chuck subsequently moved to a hospice so as to maximize his comfort. He died yesterday morning.

A few academic bloggers have begun to write memorial posts. Kieran has a nice summary of the breadth of Chuck’s work at Crooked Timber,and more detail on his methodological writings can be found at Johann Peter Murman’s weblog (via Mary L. Dudziak). Kieran’s post also reminded me to put up a picture.

We are still waiting for Columbia’s official announcement Lee Bolinger issued a statement on Chuck’s passing; the official Columbia obituary has circulated on amsoc, but I can’t find it online yet appeared (thanks Laleh); a number of those whose lives he attended conducted a vigil outside his office yesterday evening, and word just went out over the contentious politics listerv that the vigil will continue tonight.

Please do not extend condolences to me in comments; I only knew him for a brief time, and, in my view, such remarks should only really be directed towards his family and closest friends. He had literally hundreds of advisees.

I’m not quite ready to write an in memoriam post, and I’m not yet sure I will. So in lieu of that, I’m going to post an excerpt from the acknowledgments section of my forthcoming book. It is written in the present tense; obviously, that will have to change.

I find it difficult to express the scope of my gratitude to the Ira Katznelson, Jack Snyder, Wayne te Brake, and Chuck Tilly. Each, as the phrase goes, is a real mensch.


What can I possibly say about Chuck Tilly that an endless number of his students and peers have not already written in their prefaces? I hope the others I thank will take no offense if I describe him as the most powerful intellect I have ever encountered in the social sciences. I expect that people will still be reading and debating his enormous and varied corpus of work for decades to come. Yet Chuck treats all of his students as members of an intellectual community of equals. He seeks out their opinions; he discusses his own views with humility and an open mind.

Chuck carefully and quickly read everything I sent him—his rapid turnaround of others’ work, like Jack’s, is legendary—and never imposed his views upon me. Instead, Chuck would make subtle suggestions that, once I worked through them, had profound implications for my research. If he sensed a contradiction or tension in my arguments, he would never tell me how to resolve it. Instead, he’d alert me to it and explain that I needed to make a decision about which interpretation I wanted to pursue. I know that my penchant for endless discussion—of ideas, of personal challenges, and just about everything else—must have repeatedly strained his tolerance, but he never turned me away. I could not have hoped for a better mentor.


Charles Tilly wins Albert O. Hirschman Prize

Charles Tilly has won the 2008 Albert O. Hirschman Prize.

From the announcement:

“Charles Tilly is one of the most distinguished of all contemporary social scientists,” said Craig Calhoun, president of the SSRC. “He is the most influential analyst of social movements and contentious politics, a pathbreaker in the historical sociology of the state, a pivotal theorist of social inequality. Among the most eminent of sociologists, he is also a leading voice in history and political science and has played a hugely important role in integrating these fields. His 1975 book, The Formation of National States in Western Europe, capped a major SSRC project on comparative politics. Since then, he has gone on to be the leading voice in the historical social science that project helped to create.”

Tilly was the choice of a selection committee chaired by Albert Fishlow, a former SSRC Board member and a professor of international and public affairs at Columbia University, where he also directs the Institute of Latin American Studies and the Center for the Study of Brazil. Serving along with Fishlow were Peter Gourevitch, a professor of political science at the University of California, San Diego, and Doug McAdam, a professor of sociology at Stanford University.

“We selected Charles Tilly as the recipient of the 2008 Albert Hirschman Prize in honor of his extensive career spanning the social sciences,” said Fishlow. “Through extraordinary and numerous scholarly contributions, he has pioneered research into a whole array of fields fundamental to the process of economic development over centuries. Tilly, like Hirschman, is an exceptional scholar.”

“I am a long-time admirer of Albert Hirschman which makes this a great honor,” said Tilly upon learning of the committee’s decision.

In the world of academia, the news of Tilly’s award has been greeted with interest and applause.

One of many reasons to watch the interview I posted about earlier.

More later.


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