Tag Archives: nation-state

The Nation State as an Agent of War

29 May
Tyler Cowen has a recent post consisting of the abstract to a working paper by Alberto Alesina, Bryony Reich, Alessandro Riboni, “Nation-Building, Nationalism and Wars”. Here’s that abstract:
The increase in army size observed in early modern times changed the way states conducted wars. Starting in the late 18th century, states switched from mercenaries to a mass army by conscription. In order for the population to accept to fight and endure war, the government elites began to provide public goods, reduced rent extraction and adopted policies to homogenize the population with nation-building. This paper explores a variety of ways in which nation-building can be implemented and studies its effects as a function of technological innovation in warfare.
Here’s a link to an ungated version of the paper.

Does this imply that as long as the nation-state is the focal-point of political organization we will be fighting wars? Is that why that United States has managed to engage itself in useless and immoral wars since the end of World War II? Perhaps it’s time we create other ways to organize our political life.

Here’s several opening paragraphs from the paper:

The interplay between war and the fiscal capacity of the state is well known. However, guns are not enough to win wars; one also needs motivated soldiers. In modern times, the need for large armies led to a bargain between the rulers and the population. The elite had to make concessions to induce citizens to comply with war related demands. Rulers promoted nationalism to motivate citizens and extract “ever-expanding means of war – money, men, materiel, and much more – from reluctant subject populations” (Tilly, 1994; see also Levi, 1997).

The “ancient regimes” in Europe used to fight wars with relatively small armies of mercenaries, sometimes foreigners, paid out with the loots of war. As a consequence of the evolution of warfare, countries changed the conduct of war, switching from mercenaries to mass armies recruited or conscripted almost entirely from the national population. Roberts (1956) explained how warfare underwent a “military revolution” starting between 1560 and 1660 and reaching a completion with the “industrialization of war” (McNeill, 1982) that occurred in the nineteenth century. The source of this revolution was due to changes in tactics and weapons, such as, the use of gunpowder technology and the invention of new styles of artillery fortification, higher population growth, changes in communications and transport technology which allowed states to put a large army in the field, and the adoption of techniques of mass weapon production. The electromagnetic telegraph, developed in the 1840s, allowed the deployment and the control of the army at distance. Steamships and railroads moved weapons, men and supplies on an entirely unprecedented scale (Onorato et al., 2014). In the middle of the 19th century, the adoption of semiautomatic machinery to manufacture rifled muskets made it possible, and relatively affordable, to equip a large number of soldiers (McNeill, 1982, p. 253). As a result, the size of armies increased and, as Clausewitz (1832) put it, “war became the business of the people”.

This paper examines nation-building in times of war. Mass warfare favored the transformation from the ancient regimes (based purely on rent extraction) to modern nation states in two ways. First, the state became a provider of mass public goods in order to buy the support of the population. Second, the state developed policies geared towards increasing national identity and nationalism. In particular the states had to hold in distant provinces to avoid the breakdown of the country, which would have interfered with war effort, and to motivate soldiers and civilians located far away from the core of the country. In addition, nation-building in times of war also included aggressive negative propaganda against the enemy and supremacy theories.

When the armies had to increase in size, the elites needed to build tax capacity. This is a well studied point as we argued above, and we return to it at the end to close our argument. We focus here on a different issue, the selection on how to spend fiscal revenues to motivate the population to endure wars. The composition of spending is quite relevant. For instance Aidt et al. (2006) argue that total spending as a fraction of GDP did not increase that much in the 19th century up until WW2. What mostly changed was the composition of the budget: in the 19th century and early 20th century, spending on defense and policing was partly substituted by spending on public services (transport, communication, construction) and later on public provision of public goods (education and health).

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Sometimes David Brooks Makes Sense: After the Women’s March

24 Jan

In the first place, this movement focuses on the wrong issues. Of course, many marchers came with broad anti-Trump agendas, but they were marching under the conventional structure in which the central issues were clear. As The Washington Post reported, they were “reproductive rights, equal pay, affordable health care, action on climate change.”

These are all important matters, and they tend to be voting issues for many upper-middle-class voters in university towns and coastal cities.

Alas and alack:

But this is 2017. Ethnic populism is rising around the world. The crucial problems today concern the way technology and globalization are decimating jobs and tearing the social fabric; the way migration is redefining nation-states; the way the post-World War II order is increasingly being rejected as a means to keep the peace.

All the big things that were once taken for granted are now under assault: globalization, capitalism, adherence to the Constitution, the American-led global order. If you’re not engaging these issues first, you’re not going to be in the main arena of national life.

There it is again, the problems of the nation-state.

Now he gets down to the nitty-gritty:

Without the discipline of party politics, social movements devolve into mere feeling, especially in our age of expressive individualism. People march and feel good and think they have accomplished something. … It’s significant that as marching and movements have risen, the actual power of the parties has collapsed. Marching is a seductive substitute for action in an antipolitical era, and leaves the field open for a rogue like Trump.

Alas, he’s right: “Identity-based political movements always seem to descend into internal rivalries about who is most oppressed and who should get pride of place.” But I’m not at all sure about Brooks’s prescription:

If the anti-Trump forces are to have a chance, they have to offer a better nationalism, with diversity cohering around a central mission, building a nation that balances the dynamism of capitalism with biblical morality.

Can “the nation” be repaired in that way? Color me skeptical.

Trump and the end of the administrative state

19 Jan
Writing in The Wall Street Journal, Daniel Henniger asks the question of the decade, “Will the Trump presidency produce order or merely more disorder?” Correlatively, if it does produce a new order, will that be an improvement? On that question, I suspect Henniger thinks differently than I do. He continues:
It is said that the Trump electorate wanted to blow up the status quo. And so it did. The passed-over truth, however, is that the most destabilizing force in our politics wasn’t Donald Trump. It was that political status quo.
       The belief that Hillary Clinton would have produced a more reliable presidency is wrong. Mrs. Clinton represented an extension of the administrative state, the century-old idea that elites can devise public policies, administered by centralized public bureaucracies, that deliver the greatest good to the greatest number. […]
     Today, that administrative state, like an old dying star, is in destructive decay. Government failures are causing global political instability. This is the real legitimacy problem and is the reason many national populations are in revolt. Some call that populism. Others would call it a democratic awakening. […]
        The idea of placing national purpose in the hands of these elites lasted because it suited the needs of elected politicians. They used the administrative state’s goods to mollify myriad constituencies. So they gave them more. And then more.
          The state’s carrying capacity has been reached.
I’m certainly sympathetic to that. He goes on go assert: “Donald Trump’s nominations of Scott Pruitt for EPA and Betsy DeVos at Education are a brutal recognition that the previous order has reached a point of decline.” Brutal, yes. But I can’t imagine that either or them will improve matters. Henniger seems too satisfied with Trump’s dismal cabinet: “One wonders if the hard, daily work by his colleagues to restore world order or a proper constitutional relationship between governing elites and the governed will be hampered by the turbulence of the Twitter storms.”
           Frankly, the new order Henniger hankers for seems to be one where a corporate elite is allowed to shape the world to its own ends unchecked by any counterforce at all. That’s not an improvement.

The demise of the nation-state in the 21st century

4 Jan
At the moment the nation-state seems to be the right and natural way for humans to govern themselves, and yet we know that it was a historical invention cobbled together and refined over decades and centuries initially in Europe and then elsewhere. Will the nation-state be the dominant form of large-scale governance by the end of this century? I think not. Writing in Eurozine, Robert Menasse sketches a case:
I have looked through the telescope and I have seen: nation-states will die. We now arrive at our topic: the European Union must inevitably lead to the extinction of nation-states. And rightly so. I won’t be able to convince the current political elites of this, nor the columnists of the national press and all the other high priests of national identity and the defence of national interests. Nor will I be able to convince them of the basic reasonableness of a post-national world-view. I may not be able to convince you either. Still, let me tell you: the sooner you understand and accept this fact, and arrange your life accordingly, the better for you and your children. That’s not an opinion. An opinion, as Hegel rightly said, is mine and is something I can just as well keep to myself. No, it is a fact. To be on the safe side, let me say in advance that I don’t believe that history has a goal, nor do I believe that it has a meaning. Historical processes, on the other hand, do exist; human life on this planet can only be conceived as the production of history, just as individual life is the production of biography, and only biography can fully determine who an individual is. To think historically and perspectivally is to establish meaning in the meaningless, to give form to the processes of life, rather than just to undergo them. In the world-view of the overwhelming majority of people today, the belief in the idea of the “nation”, the belief in its rational basis, the belief in the almost ontological and hence inextinguishable longing of human beings for “national identity”, has taken on an almost religious character. The tendencies and movements towards renationalization that we are currently seeing belong to the conflicts of faith and wars of religion that are erupting globally. Despite the historical experience of National Socialism and its bloody trail of death and destruction, the fact that countless people literally believed in it has not yet permanently shaken the faith in the idea of “nation”.
Nations, markets, aggressors:
The formation of nations was merely a historical step made in order to unite provinces and regions, to extend common law jurisdictions and above all to create bigger markets. However, nations have systematically proven to be aggressors, to be a reoccurring threat to peace and human rights – through the violent seizure of land and random drawing of boundaries through cultural spaces that have evolved over time, and above all through the constitution of communities able to define themselves only in terms of their difference to others. In these differences alone, in the construction of the idea of “national identity”, there lies an eternally smouldering potential for aggression, which in times of crises finds an outlet as hatred towards others and the persecution of supposed scapegoats. However dramatically one judges it, it is clear that the formation of nations cannot be the end of the story – as Victor Hugo realized in 1850: “A day will come when you France, you Russia, you Italy, you England, you Germany, you all, nations of the continent, without losing your distinct qualities and your glorious individuality, will be merged closely within a superior unit and you will form a European brotherhood, just as Normandy, Brittany, Burgundy, Lorraine, Alsace, all our provinces are merged together in France.” Victor Hugo was ridiculed back then, but the Franco-German war turned out to be not quite so funny, and when the people of Europe set upon one another in 1914, national arrogance turned into a multi-national tragedy, and Stefan Zweig wrote: “Nationalism has destroyed European civilization”.

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The Economist explains: How Palestine might become a state | The Economist

14 Oct

As a form of territorial governance, the nation-state emerged in Western Europe some time during the last 1000 years. Just when and where depends, of course, on just what you think qualifies as a nation-state. I note, for example that at the time of the French Revolution, most of the people in that territory did not speak French. Was it a nation-state?

The question of Palestine has made the issue an acute one, but:

The Montevideo Convention on the rights and duties of states, signed by 20 countries in North and South America in 1933, sets four criteria for becoming a state: a permanent population, a government, defined borders and the capacity to enter into relations with other states. But these are little more than guidelines. Many places recognised as states do not comply. Libya has more than one government. Many states emerged after national movements declared independence and then sought recognition by other states and admission into the United Nations. Yasser Arafat, the leader of the Palestinian Liberation Organisation (PLO), declared Palestine a state in 1988 in Algiers, and has subsequently secured recognition from over 130 states, or over two-thirds of the UN.

via The Economist explains: How Palestine might become a state | The Economist.

Where’s the World Headed & the Rise of Cities, a Quickie

4 Oct

Scotland recently came close to pulling out of Great Britain. What’s that about? As the day of the vote drew near I’d see stories on the theme: If Scotland goes, what next? Catalonia? Quebec? Vermont? Is the world falling apart?


Is that good or bad?

Interesting question. Perhaps large nation states like the USA, China, India are too be to succeed and too big to fail. At the Federal Level America is approaching a stalemate. If the nation is ungovernable, what happens to national politics? Does is devolve to mere divide and plunder? Is the nation state obsolete? If so, what’s next?

I’ve been seeing books about cities, most prominently Benjamin Barber, If Mayors Ruled the World: Dysfunctional Nations, Rising Cities. Has anyone read it? Here’s the blurb:

In the face of the most perilous challenges of our time—climate change, terrorism, poverty, and trafficking of drugs, guns, and people—the nations of the world seem paralyzed. The problems are too big, too interdependent, too divisive for the nation-state. Is the nation-state, once democracy’s best hope, today democratically dysfunctional? Obsolete? The answer, says Benjamin Barber in this highly provocative and original book, is yes. Cities and the mayors who run them can do and are doing a better job.

Barber cites the unique qualities cities worldwide share: pragmatism, civic trust, participation, indifference to borders and sovereignty, and a democratic penchant for networking, creativity, innovation, and cooperation. He demonstrates how city mayors, singly and jointly, are responding to transnational problems more effectively than nation-states mired in ideological infighting and sovereign rivalries. Featuring profiles of a dozen mayors around the world—courageous, eccentric, or both at once—If Mayors Ruled the World presents a compelling new vision of governance for the coming century. Barber makes a persuasive case that the city is democracy’s best hope in a globalizing world, and great mayors are already proving that this is so.

Sounds good, but is it valid?

Meanwhile I’ve been reading Christopher Goto-Jones, Modern Japan: A Very Short Introduction (2009). Though I know a bit about manga and anime, I’m certainly no expert about Japan; so I can’t judge the book against current scholarly literature. But, taking the book at face value, it tells a fascinating story (I’ve only read 2+ of 5 chapters). I’ve just been through the second chapter, “Imperial revolution: embracing modernity,” which is about the Meiji Restoration. What’s interesting, and compelling, is how drastically Japan was able to remake itself within a generation or two.

When Admiral Perry landed in 1853 the country was ruled by the samurai class. By 1880 the samurai class had dissolved, though The Samurai and its bushidô (way of the warrior) creed had become enshrined as a national myth.To be sure, this was no popular democratic uprising, nothing like it, but still, the change was dramatic. And it was not imposed from the outside (that wouldn’t happen until the late 1940s).

Could something that drastic happen in the United States? Inquiring minds want to know.