Tag: state formation

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


National Security and Civil Liberties meet Securitization and State Formation

Knight DucksCorey Robin’s Jacobin essay is getting a lot of attention, including from Jon Western at the Duck and Scott Lemieux at Lawyers, Guns & Money. I don’t think that it detracts from Robin’s essay to note that the argument he’s making is long-standing in international-relations scholarship. It appears in David Campbell’s seminal Writing Security and, more recently, in the form of “securitization theory” (PDF), complete with similar invocations of Thomas Hobbes. 

Scott’s criticisms of Robin gets at an ongoing issue with securitization theory. Scott notes that security threats, particularly in the context of warfare, have also led to the expansion of rights:

To bring Klinkner and SmithDudziak, and Graber into the discussion security has not only been the most powerful justification for the suppression of rights; it’s been the most powerful justification for the expansion of rights.   The two major expansions of civil rights in American history were the result of an incredibly bloody civil war and the Cold War.

Indeed, securitization theory often suffers from, among other problems, and overly simplistic story. Speech acts by powerful actors–or some similar processes–render an object an existential threat to a political community. A state of exception comes into being. Rights suffer. The endless debates about securitization theory have, of course, complicated that story. But what’s interesting about Scott’s quick empirical criticism is that it brings, in essence, work on state formation into the picture. Bellocentric theories of state formation have long held that warfare, and the mobilization for warfare, constitute significant moments for the evolution of the state.

Continue reading


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