2BA Group B Seminar: How the state became?

Did the state by making war, really make the modern state?

Open source image from: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Schlacht_am_Weißen_Berg_C-K_063.jpg

The reading for today’s seminar is by Gianfranco Poggi*, and the essay question set is: What are the essential features of the modern state and how can we explain its emergence as a form of political organisation? (note the bit as well about using Michael Mann’s work).

The article is important is that it forces us to think over something we take as a given in modern politics: the state, or specifically the idea of an all powerful encompassing state which is the primary venue through which politics was mediated.

It wasn’t always thus. In medieval times politics was more based on conceptions of familial, fuedal or tribal authority. The idea of a state standing apart and above society was probably quite abstract-and still is. Moreover, perhaps what is interesting to speculate on is that the modern state did not have to emerge the way it did……it could have looked quite different.

Poggi reminds us there were rival organizational structures to the state; religious orders or theocratic systems were an obvious rival, but so to were early companies or corporate structures. Both of these entities had the capacity to borrow money, impose and collect taxes, and raise and field military forces-things which we think now only states do. Of course there are many non-state actors who can do these things today (think of Hamas or Hezbollah)….but the very idea of the modern state’s origins were contested…..that is Poggi’s main point.

As usual I think its most helpful if I frame the discussion here in a series of questions?

What does Poggi mean by the term Statualization?

What did that process often entail or look like?

Poggi provides three perspectives or really three somehwhat rival explanations for how modern states emerged. These are: the managerial, military, and Economic (or Marxist) perspective.

The first perspective focuses on how administrative practices evolved slowly over time. It is in ways an evolutionary account. In particular he relies on the work of the historians Strayer and Berman who argued that religious structures which were trans-national or at least beyond the local, and that they helped to provide a template for centralised government and leadership. But how did they do that…how could an essentially religious structure-the Roman papacy-help create modern states?

The military perspective can be summed up in Chales Tilly’s** famous quote: “war made the State, and the State made war”. But the question this begs is HOW exactly does military activity create a modern state? Given that modern states are welfare states what link is there with older warfare states? Moreover, as military technology changed….how did this change states as well?

The last one is the economic or Marxist perspective. Central to this is also a historic account of a shift from a feudal world to a capitalist system. The economic system of fedualism was centred on land and food production, and Marx implies it did not need much by way of a state to manage this. However, industrial capitalism was very different, and for economic reasons control over production required a different type of state from the weak feudal proto-state.  The question is what exactly was this larger and stronger state needed for in such a capitalist system? How was it different?

Poggi also mentioned a second leg to the Marxist interpretation of the state which derives from Marxist class analysis. The new capitalism created and indeed required sharp class antagonisms. If this was true, how would this type of capitalism impact on the nature of the state…who would the state be for?

Finally, you should probably decide which one of Poggi’s perspectives you find more convincing than the others. NOTE, that does not mean one you find more appealing or simpler, rather which one is basically right? If you have difficulty figuring that out maybe try and fit these three competing explanations with your knowledge of how the English, Scottish and Irish states emerged, disappeared, and remerged in these islands over the last few hundred years? Was the a process of state-making and breaking driven more by religious-administration, state-led warfare, or economic change?

Very finally, what does Michael Mann’s account add to all this?


*Poggi, Gianfranco (20040) ‘Theories of State Formation’, pp.95-106 in Nash, K. and A. Scott (eds.) The Blackwell Companion to Political Sociology. Oxford. Blackwell.

**Tilly, Charles (1975) The Formation of Nation States in Western Europe. Princeton: PUP


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