Monday, July 7, 2008

Does Tilly's thesis travel to the third world?

"War made the state, and the state made war." The late Charles Tilly's adage neatly captures some of the dynamics at work in the formation of states in late-medieval and early modern Europe. As Tilly himself recognized, the slogan does not embrace all the complexities involved or the fact that there was no single, unilinear path to sovereign statehood. Still, it points to the synergy that sometimes existed between war-making and state-building in early modern Europe: embryonic "states" -- meaning a variety of polities, including "composite monarchies" and other forms -- that managed to extract resources effectively were able to build armies, often largely composed of mercenaries; the armies often made further extraction of resources easier, with those revenues in turn strengthening nascent bureaucracies. Luck and the quality of leadership, among other things, played a considerable role in determining which "states" succeeded, but Tilly's factors were important.

What about the contemporary 'developing world'? Does Tilly's thesis apply there in the same way as it does to the history of state formation in Europe and elsewhere?
Yes and no, according to Brian Taylor and Roxana Botea in their article "Tilly Tally: War-Making and State-Making in the Contemporary Third World," International Studies Review, March 2008, pp.27-56.

They observe that the quasi-Darwinian logic of competition in early modern Europe, where weak polities were often swallowed up by stronger ones, no longer holds in a world where the norm against conquest is widely observed and "state death" (T. Fazal's phrase) is almost nonexistent. Consequently, weak states persist, and war often weakens them further.

This is what happened in Afghanistan, one of the two main cases the authors examine. Although the article contains some large-N evidence about the relation between state strength and ethnic fractionalization, most of the article is a comparative analysis of Afghanistan and Vietnam, third-world countries that "experienced multiple, lengthy, and deadly armed conflicts with a significant external component" (p.28). Why did decades of war drastically weaken the Afghan state but strengthen the Vietnamese one? The authors argue that there were two elements present in Vietnam that were missing in Afghanistan: (1) ethnic homogeneity and (2) a unifying revolutionary ideology, or more specifically "a revolutionary movement that successfully combined nationalism with communist ideology and state-building strategies" (p.48).

Ethnic homogeneity in Vietnam meant that the problems of national identity and cohesion were already half-solved or three-quarters solved, in contrast to Afghanistan, where ethnic and tribal fragmentation never allowed the formation of a real sense of national identity, and where more than a quarter-century of war (from 1978 to the present) only deepened the divisions. And while the Vietnamese Communists melded nationalism and the transnational ideology of Marxism-Leninism-Maoism in the service of statism, the Taliban's "neo-fundamentalist" Islamic worldview worked against effective state-building (p.48). Moreover, unlike the North Vietnamese and the Vietcong, the Taliban, both before and after their seizure of power in 1996, relied heavily on external funding sources (plus smuggling and the opium trade) for much of their revenue.

In sum, war is apparently no longer an effective path to state-building, except under quite unusual circumstances, e.g. Vietnam. One hopes that this will in turn contribute to a continuing decline in the overall amount of armed violence in the world, as would-be state-builders come to realize that war usually hinders rather than furthers their aims.

p.s. (added 10/25/12): see also this post.


Anonymous said...

Thanks for the summary. Interested in your reactions and viewpoints to the article as well to Tilly's thesis. Maybe you are already writing a piece for publication on this? If you are not doing so, or going to, why not put out your take?

Anonymous said...

I am assuming that they discuss Algeria, India-Pakistan as well? In any event, you have made curious enough to go find the article at some point. I am in the process of collecting materials for my next project: IR, violence, and contemporary imperialism. Hoping to start reading seriously sometime next spring.

LFC said...

I don't recall their mentioning Algeria, and India/Pakistan is referenced only indirectly, by way of reference to Cameron Thies' argument that rivalry (not war) strengthens third world states. They mention Thies' articles on this point and then pretty much let the issue drop. (The end of the article does have a list of 'directions for future research,' which might be worth glancing at.)
As for my own take, I think the article is basically correct that while Tillyian 'mechanisms' still can operate in exceptional cases, war is not usually state-strengthening in the developing world. Rivalry, however, may be a different matter (see the Thies point, above).

Nick said...

Have you read much Mohammed Ayoob? He argues very strongly in defence of Tilly's thesis, but puts the focus on the internal challenges to authority that Third World states face rather than conflicts with external powers.

LFC said...

I have not read much Ayoob; probably should have.