Daron Acemoglu and James Robinson are doing a series of posts about Balinese politics in the 18th – 20th centuries, and make an counterpoint to Charles Tilly’s famous phrase “war made the state and the state made war” in their latest:
The truth of the matter is that all polities fight wars, and some centralize while others do not.
Looking at centralized ones and observing that they fight wars, therefore warfare creates states does not seem very sensible empirically.
It’s a very interesting point. Under what conditions does the threat of war lead polities (not just states) to centralize? Is the bias here that only polities which have survived an initial war are around to centralize later, while losing groups, who faced exactly the same risk of war, get swallowed up by their opponents and never build a centralized administrative structure? In which case war would be expected to create and destroy in roughly equal measure. (Granted, I haven’t read Tilly’s original paper in detail, so if these questions are addressed there or in his other work I’d be happy to hear about it.)
Kudos to Acemoglu & Robinson as well for the use of the word “polities” instead of “states” in the first sentence quoted here. It’s a small thing, but a good step towards moving away from ideas of power and governance as the exclusive province of the state.