Tilly wins Hirschman

by Henry on April 19, 2008

Via Dan Nexon, Charles Tilly has won the SSRC’s 2008 Albert O. Hirschman prize. I’ve blogged occasionally before about his wonderful little essay Warmaking and Statemaking as Organized Crime; now I find that it’s finally available on the WWW in a decent scan (as a working paper, but I think it is pretty well identical to the final version apart from page numbers etc). It’s a piece I can’t recommend highly enough – short, brutal and brilliant (and quite accessible to curious non-academics, I would think).

Also of interest from the SSRC is this roundtable on MLK, Obama and William Kristol.

{ 9 comments }

1

qb 04.19.08 at 6:43 am

links to your previous posts?

2

salient downs 04.19.08 at 6:55 pm

The opening claim to Tilly’s paper is a bit specious and one-dimensional: “To the extent that the threats against which a given government protects its citizens are imaginary, or are consequences of its own activities, the government has organized a protection racket.”

In that mode, if the Ukraine attempts to join NATO, and this angers Russia enough to encourage Russia to invade the Ukraine unilaterally, then the Ukraine is engaging in racketeering. The Russian invasion would be a consequence of the Ukraine’s own activities.

State A engages State B for mutual benefit, and State C takes the engagement as an impetus to challenge State A’s sovereignty and invade – is State A really guilty of racketeering?

Perhaps the modifier “intended consequence” would resolve this difficulty, but this limits Tilly’s thesis considerably.

3

thompsaj 04.20.08 at 8:06 am

In a sense, though, a Russian invasion clearly would be partially a result of the Ukranian state’s actions, though not the only likely one. And a counter-argument might be that the brinksmanship, though not an invasion, furthers the state-building interests of Ukraine. I’m not sure the intended consequence qualification limits the thesis that much, since states make decisions based on their information about the likely consequences of their actions. It’s just a small-time hustler sparking a war with the regional don.

4

DC 04.20.08 at 4:24 pm

“The Russian invasion would be a consequence of the Ukraine’s own activities.”

That would surely be debatable, no?

5

bert 04.20.08 at 9:53 pm

Like #1, I’d be interested in your previous discussions of this.

Seems like there’s a lot of Hobbes in what this guy’s saying. Unlike in Hobbes, however, he sees nothing particularly special about the sovereign that ought to command our loyalty. Tilly didn’t live through a civil war, so he puts less emphasis on the advantages that come through having shared institutions. Essentially, he junks the idea of ‘legitimacy’.

This means he avoids one of Hobbes’ problems: if there’s some special magic about sovereign government, how could you ever ditch a failing sovereign to support a rival claimant? Tilly, giving no role to the notion of legitimacy, can make this a pragmatic calculation. (Indeed, without Hobbes’ horrible state of nature as a motivating threat, he narrows it to a self-interested economic calculation.)

I can see the attraction of this kind of cynicism, and in looking at the last 8 years a cynical explanation seems the best fit. Truthy, you might say. But it strikes me that if you abandon legitimacy, you end in the same sort of place as the bleakest cynics on the right. They’re busy beating a path to the Dark Side; you’re left with the moral superiority of the critic, but not much else.

For Hobbes, government’s monopolisation of violence and the means of compulsion saved us from the abyss, which gave its claims moral force. For modern leftish types of the sort that might read CT, you might want to cast legitimacy in more positive terms, along the lines of achieving social goals, etc.

In short, I’d like Tilly more if there was a bit of Joseph Nye mixed in.

6

Dan Nexon 04.20.08 at 11:48 pm

The essay in question is an over a quarter-of-a-century old entry in Tilly’s now very extensive corpus on state formation, popular contention, resistance, rule, and the like. Trust me: there’s a fare amount on legitimacy and legitimation in there….

7

bert 04.21.08 at 1:36 am

Yeah, not having heard of him, I was responding purely to Henry’s linked pdf. (Sounds like “Trust and Rule” might be the one to fill me in.)
Predatory government seems a constant theme, though.

8

bert 04.21.08 at 1:41 am

Thanks, by the way, for posting this

9

Dan Nexon 04.21.08 at 1:58 pm

Bert: you’re welcome :-)

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