State Making Quotations

This term I have been teaching a new seminar entitled, “State Making and State Breaking.” It’s basically about state formation and capacity building from medieval Europe to contemporary Africa (“state making”) plus secessionism, irredentism, de facto statehood, and other challenges to sovereignty (“state breaking”). We’ve now reached about the halfway point, having dealt with the “state making” component of the class.

Here are a few evocative quotations from the authors we have read on state making.

“Like the political institutions historically preceding it, the state is a relation of men dominating men, a relation supported by means of legitimate (i.e. considered to be legitimate) violence. If the state is to exist, the dominated must obey the authority claimed by the powers that be.” – Max Weber, “Politics as a Vocation” (1919)

“The larger the state and the greater the discrepancy between the [geographic] distribution of coercion and that of capital, however, the stronger the incentives to resist central control.” – Charles Tilly, Coercion, Capital, and European States, AD 990-1992, p. 24.

“The transition to direct rule [after the French Revolution] gave rulers access to citizens and the resources they controlled through household taxation, mass conscription, censuses, police systems, and many other invasions of small-scale social life. But it did so at the cost of widespread resistance, extensive bargaining, and the creation of rights and perquisites for citizens. Both the penetration and the bargaining laid down new state structures, inflating the government’s budgets, personnel, and organizational diagrams.” – Tilly, p. 25.

“Except for the relative urbanization of Muslim lands, the correlation between size of states and density of cities was negative [in the Middle Ages]: where cities swarmed, sovereignty crumbled.” – Tilly, p. 40

“[K]ings generally sought to limit the independent armed force at the disposition of townsmen, for the very good reason that townsmen were quite likely to use force in their own interest, including resistance to royal demands. . . By the nineteenth century, states had succeeded in arming themselves impressively, and in almost disarming their civilian populations.” – Tilly, pp. 55-56

“Europe’s bottom-up [commercial] hierarchies long remained more complete, connected, and extensive than its top-down structures of political control. That was a major reason for the failure of the many post-Roman attempts to build empires spanning the continent.” – Tilly, p. 129

“[In the eighteenth century,] the British state governed by means of a relatively small central apparatus, supplemented by a vast system of patronage and local powerholding. . . [B]efore the Napoleonic Wars, only customs and excise had substantial numbers of regularly appointed officials. Until then, Britain did not maintain a standing army. . . While Britain maintained local authorities to a larger degree than many of its continental neighbors, during the nineteenth century national officials involved themselves as never before in policing, education, factory inspection, industrial conflict, housing, public health, and a wide range of other affairs. Incrementally but decisively, the British state moved toward direct rule.” – Tilly, pp. 157-8

“Bishops, kings, lords, and towns all signed treaties and waged war [in medieval Europe]. There was no one actor with a monopoly over the means of coercive force. The distinction between public and private actors was yet to be articulated.” – Hendrik Spruyt, The Sovereign State and Its Competitors, p. 12

“[T]here are three main reasons why states survived and displaced other forms of organization. First, the internal logic of organization of the sovereign state had less [sic] deficiencies than its rivals. Sovereign, territorial states were better at rationalizing their economies and mobilizing the resources of their societies. Second, state sovereignty proved to be an effective and efficient means of organizing external, interunit behavior. Sovereign states could more easily make credible commitments than their nonsovereign counterparts. Third, sovereign states selected out and delegitimized actors who did not fit a system of territorially demarcated and internally hierarchical authorities.” – Spruyt, p. 28

“[T]he issue of relative efficiency and effectiveness is actually one of efficiency of institutional makeup rather than size. For example, the revenues of some Italian city-states were equivalent if not higher than those of rival states. The Netherlands and England managed to defeat far larger and more populated enemies by virtue of their ability to raise revenue, stemming from well-defined property rights, and their overall economic strength. Size is an imperfect predictor of success in military competition.” – Spruyt, p. 84

“Aside from having to pay the taille, rural laborers [in France] were also subject to other taxes and feudal exactions. The ability to evade such forms of taxation, by moving to a chartered town and by paying a fixed taille to the chartering king or lord, must have seemed attractive. . . The towns were eager to capitalize on this newfound opportunity for freedom. Because of their growing importance and because of the competition between rival lords, they could make considerable demands. They often formed communes, sworn associations of equals. One of the most important demands of the communes was the decrease in burdensome taxes and exactions. The privileges granted in the Charter of Lorris by King Louis VII in 1155 were imitated throughout northern France. . . The [taille] became a fixed incidence rather than an irregular levy. . . [T]owns would negotiate for the right of self-assessment. The distribution of the tax burden would lie with the town leadership.” – Spruyt, pp. 90-1

“Since German towns were of intermediate size and wealth — Lubeck and Cologne to some extent being the exceptions — they could not survive on their own. They needed some form of authority to help pool their resources. And indeed, we will see that one of the main objectives of the city-leagues was mutual defense.” – Spruyt, p. 112

“French towns sacrificed full independence because sovereign kingship provided them with many benefits. The German towns, by contrast, had no such incentive to sacrifice their liberties.” – Spruyt, p. 120

“The development of [Italian] cities toward oligarchical republics or despotism proved [in the late Middle Ages] another barrier to league formation [in Italy]. . . The turn to more despotic regimes reflected a move toward a greater reliance on landed interests as compared to the mercantile interests of the republics, such as Lucca, Siena, Florence, Genoa, and Venice. Among the towns of the Hansa, by contrast, there was a stronger political and social homogeneity. In all towns a mercantile patriciate dominated.” – Spruyt, p. 144

“[T]he Hansa proved to be less efficient in reducing transaction costs and providing collective goods than the sovereign state. It did not manage to provide standardization of weights and measurements, enforce centralized justice, establish a general system of coinage, or establish a regular means of raising revenue for a general fund. The confederated nature of the Hansa led to continuous freeriding and defection. . . Defection from international agreements, for example, by engaging in piracy, led to deterioration of relations with trading partners such as England.” – Spruyt, p. 163

“Due to low population densities and the large amount of open land in Africa, wars of territorial conquest. . .have seldom been a significant aspect of the continent’s history. In precolonial Africa, the primary object of warfare, which was continual in many places, was to capture people and treasure, not land which was available to all. In contrast to European states that, at least at some points in their histories, needed to mobilize tremendous resources from their own populations to fight wars and were therefore forced to develop profound ties with their own hinterlands, precolonial African leaders mainly exploited people outside their own polity because the point of war was to take women, cattle, and slaves.” – Jeffrey Herbst, States and Power in Africa: Comparative Lessons in Authority and Control, p. 20

“Migration to escape from social or political problems was also common among the Yoruba, the Edo, the Fon, and many others. A.I. Asiwaju notes, for example, that the reign of Oba Ewuare of Benin, in the mid-fifteenth century, was so unpopular that it generated, ‘waves of protest migrations which ostensibly led to the foundation of many communities of closely related groups.’ Similarly, Thomas J. Barfield notes, ‘the powers of the Dinka chief were weak. . .because rather than submit to his authority, dissident groups could move to a new territory if they were dissatisfied.'” – Herbst, p. 39

“[R]oads were vital to the exercise of formal authority because they allowed for the quick movement of troops and bound the territory into a relatively coherent economy.” – Herbst, pp. 41-2

“The common colonial failure to extend the infrastructure of power probably outweighs whatever differences in colonial practice suggested by the different theories when it comes to the spatial reach of the state.” – Herbst, p. 87

“Africans continued to subvert the [colonial] state for many years by simply moving. . . [T]he presence of open land and weak administrative structures outside the cities made it only natural that many Africans responded to abuses by simply escaping to an area that was not under the direct control of the European power.” – Herbst, p. 88

“Domestic security threats, of the type African countries face so often, may force the state to increase revenue; however, civil conflicts result in fragmentation and considerable hostility among different segments of the population.” – Herbst, p. 126

“[T]he presence of a palpable external threat may be the strongest way to generate a common association between the state and the population.” – Herbst, p. 127

“In an extraordinary use of diplomacy, African leaders were able to arrange a state system that reinforced their own biases to retain the states that the colonialists had demarcated. This success in preserving units and boundaries has been phenomenal from the perspective of leaders. . . The international system tolerated, and to a limited degree even encouraged, a particular political economy that was biased in favor of providing revenue for patronage and funded the political perquisites of leaders rather than consolidating the state apparatus.” – Herbst, p. 135

“[T]he type of decline experienced by small countries is different from that of large countries because even in decline, small countries can exercise considerable authority over their populations.” – Herbst, p. 155

“[S]tate consolidation is not necessarily a good thing for the population in the short-term. Rwanda’s exceptionally high road density. . .undoubtedly made the quick killing of almost eight hundred thousand Tutsi in 1994 possible.” – Herbst, p. 169

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