The ideas of a non-patrimonial state and bureaucratic institutions developed in China in the 4th century B.C but did not spread to Rome or Greece. The impediment to mass social mobilisation of ideas and people present some centuries ago is absent in today’s age of digital social platforms. What then, one may ask, restricts the formation of perfect political structures in societies or forms the basis of our inability to form such structures. The ideas of democracy and republic have existed for centuries and yet most of the nations today do not find common grounds in determining the best political structure for them. This is the first of the two article series that I will be posting. In this article, I will explore the selective factors that have determined diverging political factions and helped failed European state transform themselves. In the next article, I will give some solutions that I think can be employed to help ailing states today.
There are some important statements to be mentioned before we start our exploration. The Third Wave of Democracy, a phenomenon defined by Samuel P. Huntington [in his eponymous book] as the increase in the number of democracies from 35 to nearly 120 (almost 65% of the world’s countries) between 1971-2010 failed. I have outlined three specific reasons for this — lack of a central, accountable, authority exercising a monopoly of legitimate force over their territory to keep peace and enforce law, inability of existing political institutions to accommodate demands of emerging social classes and the belief that the odds to reach the top are skewed in favour of the elite.
Due to a systematic combination of the three factors mentioned in p.2, the recent years have seen a widespread rise of conservative sentiment and politics. Global economic development in recent years has led to capital concentration dividing the world into the elite and the masses. I believe that, unless rectified, saturated markets will fail to spread the economic benefits created by world trade evenly to a majority in the masses, leading to a breakdown of present political institutions. A mass belief that free trade is a universal doctrine that supports the interests of capitalists will lead to a rise in extreme right-wing political actors throughout countries that currently breed massive capitalisation and foster stagnant or declining real incomes and productivity.
It also falls upon me to see where this system of politics and economics will lead the states. An increase in extremist conservative politics in the future will also create a glut in global markets; sucking in states that are not replete, but booming towards massive capitalism. Much like 19th century colonial expansions, spread of these selective states into new markets will increase their economic might compared to their protectionist peers. Since the important form of capital today, unlike 19th century, is human capital, these select states will emerge in Asia, creating a three-way superpower structure combating the currently receding western superpower and changing the status-quo in place since World War I. Although the two events above include anti-globalisation sentiments and violence in certain cases, I believe that their effects can be mitigated by creation of an effective global order that acts as an accountable enforcer of rights and law for individual states and defeats Thucydides theory about inter-state political interaction.
In the remaining article, I will focus on what factors helped European countries develop a concrete state and law system and why can current conflict hit states not use the same factors.
Charles Tilly said, “War made the state and the state made war,” and rightly so for wars and conflicts have been an integral part of development of states and societies since the early Middle Ages. While no conflict can be beneficial for all segments of society, history stands testament that warfare, being a zero-sum game, benefits some players exponentially more than others. While internal conflict has a tendency to weaken domestic institutions and obliterate economic infrastructure, we know that external conflicts through the Middle Ages helped various states develop efficient systems of taxation, hierarchy and military expertise. Conflicts have led to formations of important law systems around the world. In fact, law and religion have played major parts in determining politics in Europe (for instance, The Westphalian Treaty). The Roman Catholic Church established law order way before the emergence of the state and the French Revolution, also marked as the “Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen”, resulted in Code Napoleon in 1804.
Is it then possible that continued conflicts can help our failed states achieve a balanced political order in today’s day and order. The answer is no. The most fundamental difference between the European states that achieved Common Law and Civil Law systems due to warfare and states today is the presence of a global economic order. Tightly integrated economies result in fluctuation of financial markets at the slightest possible chance of uncertainty. While globalisation was not unknown to the European markets in the 18th and 19th century, economic order was more along the colonial, pre-determined lines. Post Bretton Woods era, markets have become more volatile and it is against the interest of any single state of group of states to engage in large-scale conflict. Moreover, problems of current failed states are not the result of misguided nationalism, but that of sovereignty of different ethnic populations that were divided in the interest of the Allies after World War II. The Sykes-Picot agreement could very well be the most crucial example for this.
One might be surprised by the fact that no European state was marked by social equality in the 17th or 18th century. Majority of the states in Europe practiced the Feudal system; India, Turkey, China had similar structured agrarian economies. However, over the next two centuries most European countries shifted towards the organised French state system. This was due to renewed rigour of nationalism, where European political map was redrawn from ethnolinguistics solidarity instead of marriage and feudal obligations. This form of nationalism was very much unlike the aggressive nationalism that we are witnessing in some failed states today. On the contrary, it was a result of the Treaty of Westphalia in 1648 which marked the end of the thirty years war and put an end to bloody warfare. European states moved out of ethnic conflicts by engaging in outreach colonial missions and increasing economic production and opportunities for their citizens. Majority of the conflict hit regions today such as the Middle East, Nigeria, Sudan, West Bank are engaged in ethnic confrontations.
Is it possible for us to adapt a similar strategy to move today’s conflict hit regions out of their misery. The answer again is a simple no. Democracy is desired by the middle class in the sense because the elite, landowners and the aristocrats would want authoritarian form of government while the poor class would want redistribution of resources. This means that while the earlier European states probably still followed the Pareto Law [80% of wealth is held by 20% of population], colonialism gave them the opportunity to accommodate the needs of the growing middle class and develop their states economically and politically. Today, leaders of the conflict hit states see no such opportunity. It is crystal clear to them that political reformation and meritocratic institutions will directly cut into their funds and they will be better off without democratic ideals.
Getting to Denmark
After tackling two fundamental methods which helped European states to get out their conflict period in the previous question, we come back to the same question: Why have we not been able to achieve efficiency in our political systems after thousands of years of warfare and what forces are responsible for pushing us away from a peaceful equilibrium? Rousseau and Kant initially argued that since wars were waged because of princes to fights for their personal interests and that no wars would be waged under republican form of government. The ‘getting to Denmark’ milestone requires a nation to excel in a solid foundation of three primary categories- the state, accountable government and the rule of law. Political theorist Francis Fukuyama says that “Fundamental problem in conflict regions is that they lack a state- that is, a central authority that can exercise a monopoly of legitimate force over its territory to keep the peace and enforce the law.” This is true for most nations in Africa that are paper democracies with no actual jurisdiction in most of their territories.
The second important factor stems from the industrial revolutions. It is the ability of the state to accommodate and adjust to the growing financial and economic needs of the middle classes. The latter half of the 19th century was marked by aggressive Industrialisation where the colonies became essential markets of colonial powers. This led to massive concentration of capital and aggravated the formation of classes clearly segregating populations economically and politically. In fact, political theorist Carr argues that the doctrine of laissez faire created by Adam Smith was created for a model not suited for the real world. The theory depended heavily on the assumptions of a small society where production wasn’t highly specialised, capital was perfectly mobile, and the segment of people who were interested in equitable distribution was marginal.
Publication of Wealth of Nations was, ironically, accompanied with introduction of the steam engine on an industrial scale. One does not need to look far to see that the assumption of a marginal population interested in equitable distribution was undermined by the very capitalists of the age. Economies where production was able to keep up with the speed of growing proletariat flourished. In fact, Samuel Huntington’s 1968 book says —‘Economic development bred social mobilisation, and when the rate of social mobilisation exceeded the capacity of existing institutions to accommodate new demands for participation, political order breaks down.’ Stalling incomes and decreasing standards of living and opportunities have laid seeds to failed democratic processes and fuelled the rise of populist leaders in recent years.
Political instability and conflict have led to rise in sentiments against the established nomenclature. People who have not benefitted equally from the present financial and economics systems have reasons and theories to blame the system. Political theorists like List have long based their line of arguments along Darwinian principles. He argues that free trade has no universal doctrine but is a body of ideas developed to suit a specific country at a certain point in time. List argues that a country reaches a threshold in industry and commerce after a point which the local manufacturers find themselves in competition with cheap imports.
Fukuyama has long argued that inequality is not the actual factor leading to populism. Populism actually arises because of the inherent belief amongst people that people who reach the top reach there because of lineage or political favours.
We have seen some of the major factors that helped most Western states escape the developmental stage and form established state systems. It is also clear that similar methods cannot be employed by failed states today for they either no longer viable or in the interest of the population withal. It remains to be seen what factors can we employ to aid the development and political process in failed states today. In the next article, I will explore some of the basic and complex methods that can be employed to solve major conflicts between and within states.
Fukuyama, Francis. Political Order and Political Decay. 2013]
Carr, Edward Hallett. The twenty years’ crisis: 1919-1939 ; an introduction to the study of international relations. Basingstoke: Palgrave, n.d.
Samuel P. Huntington, and Samuel P. Huntington. Political order in changing societies. New Haven, CT: Yale U Press, 1968. Print.
Fukuyama, Francis. Political order and political decay from the industrial revolution to the globalization of democracy. N.p.: n.p., 2015. Print.
- A History of International Relations Theory by Torbjørn L. Knutsen
- The political philosophy of Niccolò Machiavelli by Filippo Del Lucchese