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THE POWER OF THE STATE

THEORIES OF STATE FORMATION

State-level societies differ from tribal ones, Fukuyama maintains, in several important respects. First, they possess a centralized source of authority, whether in the form of a king, president or prime minister. Second, that source of authority is backed by a monopoly of legitimate means of coercion, in the form of an army and/or police. Third, the authority of the state is territorial rather than kin based. Fourth, states are far more stratified and unequal than tribal societies, with the ruler and his administrative staff often separating themselves from the rest of society. In some cases they become a hereditary elite. Slavery and serfdom, while not unknown in tribal societies, expand enormously under the aegis of states. Finally, states are legitimated by much more elaborate forms of religious belief, with a separate priestly class as its guardian.

THE STATE AS A VOLUNTARY SOCIAL CONTRACT

Thomas Hobbes lays out the basic "deal" underlying the state: in return for giving up the right to do whatever one pleases, the state (or Leviathan) through its monopoly of force guarantees each citizen basic security. The state can provide other kinds of public goods as well as property rights, roads, currency, uniform weights and measures, and external defence, which citizens cannot obtain on their own. In return, citizens give the state the right to tax, conscript and otherwise demand things of them. Tribal societies can provide some degree of security, but can only provide limited public goods because of their lack of central authority.

Tribal societies are egalitarian and, within the context of close-knit kinship groups, very free. States, by contrast, are coercive, domineering and hierarchical, which is why Nietzsche (11) called the state the "coldest of all cold monsters".

THE STATE AS THE PRODUCT OF CHARISMATIC AUTHORITY

It seems extremely likely, for Fukuyama moreover, that religious ideas were critical to early state formation, since they could effectively legitimate the transition to hierarchy and loss of freedom enjoyed by tribal societies. Max Weber (12) distinguished what he called charismatic authority from either its traditional or modern-rational variants. The Greek word charisma means "touched by God"; a charismatic leader asserts authority not because he is elected by his fellow tribesmen for leadership ability but because he is believed to be a designee of God.

Religious authority and military prowess go hand in hand. Religious authority allows a particular tribal leader to solve the large-scale collective action problem of uniting a group of autonomous tribes. The only problem, however, is that you need a new form of religion, one that can overcome the inherent scale limitations of ancestor worship and other forms of particularist worship. The Prophet Mohammed's polity, as we shall see in Chapter 19 for example, did not yet have all the characteristics of a true state, but it made a break with kinship based systems not on the basis of conquest but through the writing of a social contract underpinned by the properly charismatic authority.

There is no clearer illustration of the importance of ideas to politics than the emergence of an Arab state under the Prophet Mohammed. The Arab tribes played an utterly marginal role in world history until that point; it was only Mohammed's charismatic authority that allowed them to unify and project their power throughout the Middle East and North Africa. The tribes had no economic base to speak of; they gained economic power through the interaction of religious ideas and military organization, and then were able to take over agricultural societies that did produce surpluses. Moreover, the power of tribalism remained so strong that subsequent Arab states were never able to overcome it fully or to create state bureaucracies not heavily influenced by tribal politics. While the founding of the first Arab state is a particularly striking illustration of the political power of religious ideas, virtually every other state, for Fukuyama, has relied on religion to legitimate itself. The founding myths of the Greek, Roman, Hindu and Chinese states all trace the regime's ancestry back to a divinity, or at least to a semi-divine hero.

State formation in fact needs the confluence of several factors. First, there needs to be a sufficient abundance of resources to permit the creation of surpluses above what is necessary for subsistence. Second, the absolute scale of the society has to be sufficiently large to permit the mergence of a rudimentary division of labour and a ruling elite. Third, the population needs to be physically constrained so that it increases in density when technological opportunities present themselves, and in order to make sure that subjects cannot run away when coerced. And finally tribal groups have to be motivated to give up their freedom to the authority of the state. This can come about through the threat of physical extinction by the other, increasingly well-organized groups. Or it can result from the charismatic authority of a religious leader. Taken together, there appear to be plausible factors leading to the emergence of a state in places like the Nile valley.

Understanding the conditions under which pristine state formation occurred is interesting because it helps define some of the material conditions under which states emerge. But in the end, there are too many interacting factors to be able to develop one string, predictive theory of when and how states formed. The Chinese state, for example, was centralized, bureaucratic and enormously despotic. Marx and Wittfogel (13) recognized this characteristic of Chinese politics by use of their terms like "the Asiatic mode of production" or "Oriental despotism". What Fukuyama argues is that such despotism is the precocious emergence of the politically modern state. In China the state was consolidated before other social actors could institutionalize themselves, actors like a hereditary, territorially based aristocracy, an organized peasantry, cities based on a merchant class, churches, or other autonomous groups. This initial skewing of the balance of power was then locked in for a long period, in China, since the mighty state could act to prevent the emergence of alternative sources of power, both political and economic. No dynamic modern economy emerged until the 20th century that could upset this distribution of power. Not until the arrival of the Europeans in the 19th century did China really have to contend with foreign models that really challenged its state-centred path of development.

The Chinese patterns of political development differ from that of the West insofar as the development of a precociously modern state was not offset by other institutionalized centres of power that could force on it something like a rule of law. But in this respect it also differed fundamentally from India. One of Marx's biggest mistakes, for Fukuyama, was to lump the two together under a single "Asiatic" paradigm. Unlike China but like Europe, India's institutionalization of countervailing social actors – an organized priestly class and the transformation of kinship systems into a caste system – acted as a break on the accumulation of power by the state. The result was that over the past 2,200 years, China's default political mode was a unified empire, punctuated by periods of civil war and breakdown, while India's default mode was a disunited system of petty political units, punctuated by brief periods of unity and empire.

Fukuyama then turns to the rule of law.

 
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