The Clash of Civilizations?

The Clash of Civilizations?
Author(s): Samuel P. Huntington
Source: Foreign Affairs, Vol. 72, No. 3 (Summer, 1993), pp. 22-49
Published by: Council on Foreign Relations
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The Clash of Civilizations?
Samuel P. Huntington
World politics is entering a new phase, and intellectuals have
not hesitated to proliferate visions of what it will be?the end of his
tory, the return of traditional rivalries between nation states, and the
decline of the nation state from the conflicting pulls of tribalism and
globalism, among others. Each of these visions catches aspects of the
emerging reality. Yet they all miss a crucial, indeed a central, aspect
of what global politics is likely to be in the coming years.
It is my hypothesis that the fundamental source of conflict in this
new world will not be primarily ideological or primarily economic.
The great divisions among humankind and the dominating source of
conflict will be cultural. Nation states will remain the most powerful
actors in world affairs, but the principal conflicts of global politics will
occur between nations and groups of different civilizations. The clash
of civilizations will dominate global politics. The fault lines between
civilizations will be the battle lines of the future.
Conflict between civilizations will be the latest phase in the evo
lution of conflict in the modern world. For a century and a half after
the emergence of the modern international system with the Peace of
Westphalia, the conflicts of the Western world were largely among
Samuel P. Huntington is the Eaton Professor of the Science of
Government and Director of the John M. Olin Institute for Strategic
Studies at Harvard University. This article is the product of the Olin
Institute’s project on “The Changing Security Environment and
American National Interests.”
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The Clash of Civilizations?
princes?emperors, absolute monarchs and constitutional monarchs
attempting to expand their bureaucracies, their armies, their mer
cantilist economic strength and, most important, the territory they
ruled. In the process they created nation states, and beginning with
the French Revolution the principal lines of conflict were between
nations rather than princes. In 1793, as R. R. Palmer put it, “The wars
of kings were over; the wars of peoples had begun.” This nineteenth
century pattern lasted until the end of World War I. Then, as a result
of the Russian Revolution and the reaction against it, the conflict of
nations yielded to the conflict of ideologies, first among communism,
fascism-Nazism and liberal democracy, and then between commu
nism and liberal democracy. During the Cold War, this latter conflict
became embodied in the struggle between the two superpowers, nei
ther of which was a nation state in the classical European sense and
each of which defined its identity in terms of its ideology.
These conflicts between princes, nation states and ideologies were
primarily conflicts within Western civilization, “Western civil wars,”
as William Lind has labeled them. This was as true of the Cold War
as it was of the world wars and the earlier wars of the seventeenth,
eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. With the end of the Cold War,
international politics moves out of its Western phase, and its center
piece becomes the interaction between the West and non-Western
civilizations and among non-Western civilizations. In the politics of
civilizations, the peoples and governments of non-Western civiliza
tions no longer remain the objects of history as targets of Western
colonialism but join the West as movers and shapers of history.
During the cold war the world was divided into the First,
Second and Third Worlds. Those divisions are no longer relevant. It
is far more meaningful now to group countries not in terms of their
political or economic systems or in terms of their level of economic
development but rather in terms of their culture and civilization.
What do we mean when we talk of a civilization? A civilization is
a cultural entity. Villages, regions, ethnic groups, nationalities, reli
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Samuel P. Huntington
gious groups, all have distinct cultures at different levels of cultural
heterogeneity. The culture of a village in southern Italy may be dif
ferent from that of a village in northern Italy, but both will share in a
common Italian culture that distinguishes them from German vil
lages. European communities, in turn, will share cultural features that
distinguish them from Arab or Chinese communities. Arabs,
Chinese and Westerners, however, are not part of any broader cul
tural entity. They constitute civilizations. A civilization is thus the
highest cultural grouping of people and the broadest level of cultural
identity people have short ofthat which distinguishes humans from
other species. It is defined both by common objective elements, such
as language, history, religion, customs, institutions, and by the sub
jective self-identification of people. People have levels of identity: a
resident of Rome may define himself with varying degrees of inten
sity as a Roman, an Italian, a Catholic, a Christian, a European, a
Westerner. The civilization to which he belongs is the broadest level
of identification with which he intensely identifies. People can and
do redefine their identities and, as a result, the composition and
boundaries of civilizations change.
Civilizations may involve a large number of people, as with China
(“a civilization pretending to be a state,” as Lucian Pye put it), or a
very small number of people, such as the Anglophone Caribbean. A
civilization may include several nation states, as is the case with
Western, Latin American and Arab civilizations, or only one, as is the
case with Japanese civilization. Civilizations obviously blend and
overlap, and may include subcivilizations. Western civilization has
two major variants, European and North American, and Islam has its
Arab, Turkic and Malay subdivisions. Civilizations are nonetheless
meaningful entities, and while the lines between them are seldom
sharp, they are real. Civilizations are dynamic; they rise and fall; they
divide and merge. And, as any student of history knows, civilizations
disappear and are buried in the sands of time.
Westerners tend to think of nation states as the principal actors in
global affairs. They have been that, however, for only a few centuries.
The broader reaches of human history have been the history of civi
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The Clash of Civilizations?
lizations. In A Study of History, Arnold Toynbee identified 21 major
civilizations; only six of them exist in the contemporary world.
Civilization identity will be increasingly important in the
future, and the world will be shaped in large measure by the interac
tions among seven or eight major civilizations. These include
Western, Confucian, Japanese, Islamic, Hindu, Slavic-Orthodox,
Latin American and possibly African civilization. The most impor
tant conflicts of the future will occur along the cultural fault lines sep
arating these civilizations from one another.
Why will this be the case?
First, differences among civilizations are not only real; they are
basic. Civilizations are differentiated from each other by history, Ian
guage, culture, tradition and, most important,
religion. The people of different civilizations
have different views on the relations between
God and man, the individual and the group, the
citizen and the state, parents and children, hus
band and wife, as well as differing views of the
relative importance of rights and responsibili
ties, liberty and authority, equality and hierar
chy. These differences are the product of centuries. They will not
soon disappear. They are far more fundamental than differences
among political ideologies and political regimes. Differences do not
necessarily mean conflict, and conflict does not necessarily mean vio
lence. Over the centuries, however, differences among civilizations
have generated the most prolonged and the most violent conflicts.
Second, the world is becoming a smaller place. The interactions
between peoples of different civilizations are increasing; these
increasing interactions intensify civilization consciousness and
awareness of differences between civilizations and commonalities
within civilizations. North African immigration to France generates
hostility among Frenchmen and at the same time increased receptiv
ity to immigration by “good” European Catholic Poles. Americans
FOREIGN AFFAIRS – Summer 1993 [25]
The conflicts of the
future will occur along
the cultural fault lines
separating civilizations.
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Samuel P. Huntington
react far more negatively to Japanese investment than to larger invest
ments from Canada and European countries. Similarly, as Donald
Horowitz has pointed out, “An Ibo may be … an Owerri Ibo or an
Onitsha Ibo in what was the Eastern region of Nigeria. In Lagos, he
is simply an Ibo. In London, he is a Nigerian. In New York, he is an
African.” The interactions among peoples of different civilizations
enhance the civilization-consciousness of people that, in turn, invig
orates differences and animosities stretching or thought to stretch
back deep into history.
Third, the processes of economic modernization and social change
throughout the world are separating people from longstanding local
identities. They also weaken the nation state as a source of identity.
In much of the world religion has moved in to fill this gap, often in
the form of movements that are labeled “fundamentalist.” Such
movements are found in Western Christianity, Judaism, Buddhism
and Hinduism, as well as in Islam. In most countries and most reli
gions the people active in fundamentalist movements are young, col
lege-educated, middle-class technicians, professionals and business
persons. The “unsecularization of the world,” George Weigel has
remarked, “is one of the dominant social facts of life in the late twen
tieth century.” The revival of religion, “la revanche de Dieu,” as Gilles
Kepel labeled it, provides a basis for identity and commitment that
transcends national boundaries and unites civilizations.
Fourth, the growth of civilization-consciousness is enhanced by
the dual role of the West. On the one hand, the West is at a peak of
power. At the same time, however, and perhaps as a result, a return
to the roots phenomenon is occurring among non-Western civiliza
tions. Increasingly one hears references to trends toward a turning
inward and “Asianization” in Japan, the end of the Nehru legacy and
the “Hinduization” of India, the failure of Western ideas of socialism
and nationalism and hence “re-Islamization” of the Middle East, and
now a debate over Westernization versus Russianization in Boris
Yeltsin s country. A West at the peak of its power confronts non
Wests that increasingly have the desire, the will and the resources to
shape the world in non-Western ways.
In the past, the elites of non-Western societies were usually the
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The Clash of Civilizations?
people who were most involved with the West, had been educated at
Oxford, the Sorbonne or Sandhurst, and had absorbed Western atti
tudes and values. At the same time, the populace in non-Western
countries often remained deeply imbued with the indigenous culture.
Now, however, these relationships are being reversed. A de
Westernization and indigenization of elites is occurring in many non
Western countries at the same time that Western, usually American,
cultures, styles and habits become more popular among the mass of
the people.
Fifth, cultural characteristics and differences are less mutable and
hence less easily compromised and resolved than political and eco
nomic ones. In the former Soviet Union, communists can become
democrats, the rich can become poor and the poor rich, but Russians
cannot become Estonians and Az?ris cannot become Armenians. In
class and ideological conflicts, the key question was “Which side are
you on?” and people could and did choose sides and change sides. In
conflicts between civilizations, the question is “What are you?” That
is a given that cannot be changed. And as we know, from Bosnia to
the Caucasus to the Sudan, the wrong answer to that question can
mean a bullet in the head. Even more than ethnicity, religion dis
criminates sharply and exclusively among people. A person can be
half-French and half-Arab and simultaneously even a citizen of two
countries. It is more difficult to be half-Catholic and half-Muslim.
Finally, economic regionalism is increasing. The proportions of
total trade that were intraregional rose between 1980 and 1989 from
51 percent to 59 percent in Europe, 33 percent to 37 percent in East
Asia, and 32 percent to 36 percent in North America. The importance
of regional economic blocs is likely to continue to increase in the
future. On the one hand, successful economic regionalism will rein
force civilization-consciousness. On the other hand, economic
regionalism may succeed only when it is rooted in a common civi
lization. The European Community rests on the shared foundation
of European culture and Western Christianity. The success of the
North American Free Trade Area depends on the convergence now
underway of Mexican, Canadian and American cultures. Japan, in
contrast, faces difficulties in creating a comparable economic entity
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Samuel P Huntington
in East Asia because Japan is a society and civilization unique to itself.
However strong the trade and investment links Japan may develop
with other East Asian countries, its cultural differences with those
countries inhibit and perhaps preclude its promoting regional eco
nomic integration like that in Europe and North America.
Common culture, in contrast, is clearly facilitating the rapid
expansion of the economic relations between the People s Republic of
China and Hong Kong, Taiwan, Singapore and the overseas Chinese
communities in other Asian countries. With the Cold War over, cul
tural commonalities increasingly overcome ideological differences,
and mainland China and Taiwan move closer together. If cultural
commonality is a prerequisite for economic integration, the principal
East Asian economic bloc of the future is likely to be centered on
China. This bloc is, in fact, already coming into existence. As Murray
Weidenbaum has observed,
Despite the current Japanese dominance of the region, the Chinese-based
economy of Asia is rapidly emerging as a new epicenter for industry, com
merce and finance. This strategic area contains substantial amounts of tech
nology and manufacturing capability (Taiwan), outstanding entrepreneurial,
marketing and services acumen (Hong Kong), a fine communications net
work (Singapore), a tremendous pool of financial capital (all three), and very
large endowments of land, resources and labor (mainland China)…. From
Guangzhou to Singapore, from Kuala Lumpur to Manila, this influential net
work?often based on extensions of the traditional clans?has been described
as the backbone of the East Asian economy.1
Culture and religion also form the basis of the Economic
Cooperation Organization, which brings together ten non-Arab
Muslim countries: Iran, Pakistan, Turkey, Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan,
Kyrgyzstan, Turkmenistan, Tadjikistan, Uzbekistan and Afghan
istan. One impetus to the revival and expansion of this organization,
founded originally in the 1960s by Turkey, Pakistan and Iran, is the
realization by the leaders of several of these countries that they had
no chance of admission to the European Community. Similarly,
Caricom, the Central American Common Market and Mercosur rest
1Murray Weidenbaum, Greater China: The Next Economic Superpower?, St. Louis:
Washington University Center for the Study of American Business, Contemporary
Issues, Series 57, February 1993, pp. 2-3.
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on common cultural foundations. Efforts to build a broader
Caribbean-Central American economic entity bridging the Anglo
Latin divide, however, have to date failed.
As people define their identity in ethnic and religious terms, they
are likely to see an “us” versus “them” relation existing between them
selves and people of different ethnicity or religion. The end of ideo
logically defined states in Eastern Europe and the former Soviet
Union permits traditional ethnic identities and animosities to come
to the fore. Differences in culture and religion create differences over
policy issues, ranging from human rights to immigration to trade and
commerce to the environment. Geographical propinquity gives rise
to conflicting territorial claims from Bosnia to Mindanao. Most
important, the efforts of the West to promote its values of democra
cy and liberalism as universal values, to maintain its military pre
dominance and to advance its economic interests engender
countering responses from other civilizations. Decreasingly able to
mobilize support and form coalitions on the basis of ideology, gov
ernments and groups will increasingly attempt to mobilize support by
appealing to common religion and civilization identity.
The clash of civilizations thus occurs at two levels. At the micro
level, adjacent groups along the fault lines between civilizations
struggle, often violently, over the control of territory and each other.
At the macro-level, states from different civilizations compete for rel
ative military and economic power, struggle over the control of inter
national institutions and third parties, and competitively promote
their particular political and religious values.
The fault lines between civilizations are replacing the political
and ideological boundaries of the Cold War as the flash points for cri
sis and bloodshed. The Cold War began when the Iron Curtain
divided Europe politically and ideologically. The Cold War ended
with the end of the Iron Curtain. As the ideological division of
Europe has disappeared, the cultural division of Europe between
Western Christianity, on the one hand, and Orthodox Christianity
FOREIGN AFFAIRS Summer 1993 [29]
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circa icoo
and Islam
WESTERN EirROPE. London: Pinter, 1990.
Map by lb Ohlsson for FOREIGN AFFAIRS.
Samuel P. Huntington
and Islam, on the other, has reemerged.
The most significant dividing line in
Europe, as William Wallace has suggested,
may well be the eastern boundary of
Western Christianity in the year 1500. This
line runs along what are now the boundaries
between Finland and Russia and between
the Baltic states and Russia, cuts through
Belarus and Ukraine separating the more
Catholic western Ukraine from Orthodox
eastern Ukraine, swings westward separat
ing Transylvania from the rest of Romania,
and then goes through Yugoslavia almost
exactly along the line now separating
Croatia and Slovenia from the rest of
Yugoslavia. In the Balkans this line, of
course, coincides with the historic bound
ary between the Hapsburg and Ottoman
empires. The peoples to the north and west
of this line are Protestant or Catholic; they
shared the common experiences of Euro
pean history?feudalism, the Renaissance,
the Reformation, the Enlightenment, the
French Revolution, the Industrial Revo
lution; they are generally economically bet
ter off than the peoples to the east; and they
may now look forward to increasing
involvement in a common European econ
omy and to the consolidation of democrat
ic political systems. The peoples to the east
and south of this line are Orthodox or
Muslim; they historically belonged to the
Ottoman or Tsarist empires and were only
lightly touched by the shaping events in the
rest of Europe; they are generally less
advanced economically; they seem much
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less likely to develop stable democratic political systems. The Velvet
Curtain of culture has replaced the Iron Curtain of ideology as the
most significant dividing line in Europe. As the events in Yugoslavia
show, it is not only a line of difference; it is also at times a line of
bloody conflict.
Conflict along the fault line between Western and Islamic civi
lizations has been going on for 1,300 years. After the founding of
Islam, the Arab and Moorish surge west and north only ended at
Tours in 732. From the eleventh to the thirteenth century the
Crusaders attempted with temporary success to bring Christianity
and Christian rule to the Holy Land. From the fourteenth to the sev
enteenth century, the Ottoman Turks reversed the balance, extended
their sway over the Middle East and the Balkans, captured
Constantinople, and twice laid siege to Vienna. In the nineteenth and
early twentieth centuries as Ottoman power declined Britain, France,
and Italy established Western control over most of North Africa and
the Middle East.
After World War II, the West, in turn, began to retreat; the colo
nial empires disappeared; first Arab nationalism and then Islamic
fundamentalism manifested themselves; the West became heavily
dependent on the Persian Gulf countries for its energy; the oil-rich
Muslim countries became money-rich and, when they wished to,
weapons-rich. Several wars occurred between Arabs and Israel (cre
ated by the West). France fought a bloody and ruthless war in Algeria
for most of the 1950s; British and French forces invaded Egypt in
1956; American forces went into Lebanon in 1958; subsequently
American forces returned to Lebanon, attacked Libya, and engaged
in various military encounters with Iran; Arab and Islamic terrorists,
supported by at least three Middle Eastern governments, employed
the weapon of the weak and bombed Western planes and installations
and seized Western hostages. This warfare between Arabs and the
West culminated in 1990, when the United States sent a massive army
to the Persian Gulf to defend some Arab countries against aggression
by another. In its aftermath nato planning is increasingly directed to
potential threats and instability along its “southern tier.”
This centuries-old military interaction between the West and
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Islam is unlikely to decline. It could become more virulent. The Gulf
War left some Arabs feeling proud that Saddam Hussein had
attacked Israel and stood up to the West. It also left many feeling
humiliated and resentful of the West’s military presence in the
Persian Gulf, the West’s overwhelming military dominance, and
their apparent inability to shape their own destiny. Many Arab coun
tries, in addition to the oil exporters, are reaching levels of economic
and social development where autocratic forms of government
become inappropriate and efforts to introduce democracy become
stronger. Some openings in Arab political systems have already
occurred. The principal beneficiaries of these openings have been
Islamist movements. In the Arab world, in short, Western democra
cy strengthens anti-Western political forces. This may be a passing
phenomenon, but it surely complicates relations between Islamic
countries and the West.
Those relations are also complicated by demography. The spec
tacular population growth in Arab countries, particularly in North
Africa, has led to increased migration to Western Europe. The move
ment within Western Europe toward minimizing internal bound
aries has sharpened political sensitivities with respect to this
development. In Italy, France and Germany, racism is increasingly
open, and political reactions and violence against Arab and Turkish
migrants have become more intense and more widespread since 1990.
On both sides the interaction between Islam and the West is seen
as a clash of civilizations. The West s “next confrontation,” observes
M. J. Akbar, an Indian Muslim author, “is definitely going to come
from the Muslim world. It is in the sweep of the Islamic nations from
the Maghreb to Pakistan that the struggle for a new world order will
begin.” Bernard Lewis comes to a similar conclusion:
We are facing a mood and a movement far transcending the level of issues and
policies and the governments that pursue them. This is no less than a clash of
civilizations?the perhaps irrational but surely historic reaction of an ancient
rival against our Judeo-Christian heritage, our secular present, and the world
wide expansion of both.2
2Bernard Lewis, “The Roots of Muslim Rage,” The Atlantic Monthly, vol. 266,
September 1990, p. 60; Time, June 15,1992, pp. 24-28.
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Historically, the other great antagonistic interaction of Arab
Islamic civilization has been with the pagan, animist, and now
increasingly Christian black peoples to the south. In the past, this
antagonism was epitomized in the image of Arab slave dealers and
black slaves. It has been reflected in the on-going civil war in the
Sudan between Arabs and blacks, the fighting in Chad between
Libyan-supported insurgents and the government, the tensions
between Orthodox Christians and Muslims in the Horn of Africa,
and the political conflicts, recurring riots and communal violence
between Muslims and Christians in Nigeria. The modernization of
Africa and the spread of Christianity are likely to enhance the prob
ability of violence along this fault line. Symptomatic of the inten
sification of this conflict was the Pope John Paul IPs speech in
Khartoum in February 1993 attacking the actions of the Sudans
Islamist government against the Christian minority there.
On the northern border of Islam, conflict has increasingly erupt
ed between Orthodox and Muslim peoples, including the carnage of
Bosnia and Sarajevo, the simmering violence between Serb and
Albanian, the tenuous relations between Bulgarians and their
Turkish minority, the violence between Ossetians and Ingush, the
unremitting slaughter of each other by Armenians and Az?ris, the
tense relations between Russians and Muslims in Central Asia, and
the deployment of Russian troops to protect Russian interests in the
Caucasus and Central Asia. Religion reinforces the revival of ethnic
identities and restimulates Russian fears about the security of their
southern borders. This concern is well captured by Archie Roosevelt:
Much of Russian history concerns the struggle between the Slavs and the
Turkic peoples on their borders, which dates back to the foundation of the
Russian state more than a thousand years ago. In the Slavs* millennium-long
confrontation with their eastern neighbors lies the key to an understanding
not only of Russian history, but Russian character. To understand Russian
realities today one has to have a concept of the great Turkic ethnic group that
has preoccupied Russians through the centuries.3
The conflict of civilizations is deeply rooted elsewhere in Asia.
The historic clash between Muslim and Hindu in the subcontinent
3Archie Roosevelt, For Lust of Knowing, Boston: Little, Brown, 1988, pp. 332-333.
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manifests itself now not only in the rivalry between Pakistan and
India but also in intensifying religious strife within India between
increasingly militant Hindu groups and Indias substantial Muslim
minority. The destruction of the Ayodhya mosque in December 1992
brought to the fore the issue of whether India will remain a secular
democratic state or become a Hindu one. In East Asia, China has
_ outstanding territorial disputes with most of its
neighbors. It has pursued a ruthless policy
toward the Buddhist people of Tibet, and it is
pursuing an increasingly ruthless policy toward
its Turkic-Muslim minority. With the Cold
War over, the underlying differences between
China and th? United States have reasserted
themselves in areas such as human rights, trade
and weapons proliferation. These differences
are unlikely to moderate. A “new cold war,” Deng Xaioping report
edly asserted in 1991, is under way between China and America.
The same phrase has been applied to the increasingly difficult rela
tions between Japan and the United States. Here cultural difference
exacerbates economic conflict. People on each side allege racism on
the other, but at least on the American side the antipathies are not
racial but cultural. The basic values, attitudes, behavioral patterns of
the two societies could hardly be more different. The economic issues
between the United States and Europe are no less serious than those
between the United States and Japan, but they do not have the same
political salience and emotional intensity because the differences
between American culture and European culture are so much less
than those between American civilization and Japanese civilization.
The interactions between civilizations vary greatly in the extent to
which they are likely to be characterized by violence. Economic com
petition clearly predominates between the American and European
subcivilizations of the West and between both of them and Japan. On
the Eurasian continent, however, the proliferation of ethnic conflict,
epitomized at the extreme in “ethnic cleansing,” has not been totally
random. It has been most frequent and most violent between groups
belonging to different civilizations. In Eurasia the great historic fault
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The crescent-shaped
Islamic bloc, from the
bulge of Africa to
central Asia, has
bloody borders.
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The Clash of Civilizations?
lines between civilizations are once more aflame. This is particularly
true along the boundaries of the crescent-shaped Islamic bloc of
nations from the bulge of Africa to central Asia. Violence also occurs
between Muslims, on the one hand, and Orthodox Serbs in the
Balkans, Jews in Israel, Hindus in India, Buddhists in Burma and
Catholics in the Philippines. Islam has bloody borders.
civilization rallying: the kin-country syndrome
Groups or states belonging to one civilization that become in
volved in war with people from a different civilization naturally try to
rally support from other members of their own civilization. As the
post-Cold War world evolves, civilization commonality, what H. D.
S. Greenway has termed the “kin-country” syndrome, is replacing
political ideology and traditional balance of power considerations as
the principal basis for cooperation and coalitions. It can be seen grad
ually emerging in the post-Cold War conflicts in the Persian Gulf,
the Caucasus and Bosnia. None of these was a full-scale war between
civilizations, but each involved some elements of civilizational rally
ing, which seemed to become more important as the conflict contin
ued and which may provide a foretaste of the future.
First, in the Gulf War one Arab state invaded another and then
fought a coalition of Arab, Western and other states. While only a
few Muslim governments overtly supported Saddam Hussein, many
Arab elites privately cheered him on, and he was highly popular
among large sections of the Arab publics. Islamic fundamentalist
movements universally supported Iraq rather than the Western
backed governments of Kuwait and Saudi Arabia. Forswearing Arab
nationalism, Saddam Hussein explicitly invoked an Islamic appeal.
He and his supporters attempted to define the war as a war between
civilizations. “It is not the world against Iraq,” as Safar Al-Hawali,
dean of Islamic Studies at the Umm Al-Qura University in Mecca,
put it in a widely circulated tape. “It is the West against Islam.”
Ignoring the rivalry between Iran and Iraq, the chief Iranian religious
leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, called for a holy war against the
West: “The struggle against American aggression, greed, plans and
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policies will be counted as a jihad, and anybody who is killed on that
path is a martyr.” “This is a war,” King Hussein of Jordan argued,
“against all Arabs and all Muslims and not against Iraq alone.”
The rallying of substantial sections of Arab elites and publics
behind Saddam Hussein caused those Arab governments in the anti
Iraq coalition to moderate their activities and temper their public
statements. Arab governments opposed or distanced themselves from
subsequent Western efforts to apply pressure on Iraq, including
enforcement of a no-fly zone in the summer of 1992 and the bomb
ing of Iraq in January 1993. The Western-Soviet-Turkish-Arab anti
Iraq coalition of 1990 had by 1993 become a coalition of almost only
the West and Kuwait against Iraq.
Muslims contrasted Western actions against Iraq with the West’s
failure to protect Bosnians against Serbs and to impose sanctions on
Israel for violating U.N. resolutions. The West, they alleged, was
using a double standard. A world of clashing civilizations, however,
is inevitably a world of double standards: people apply one standard
to their kin-countries and a different standard to others.
Second, the kin-country syndrome also appeared in conflicts in
the former Soviet Union. Armenian military successes in 1992 and
1993 stimulated Turkey to become increasingly supportive of its reli
gious, ethnic and linguistic brethren in Azerbaijan. “We have a
Turkish nation feeling the same sentiments as the Azerbaijanis,” said
one Turkish official in 1992. “We are under pressure. Our newspapers
are full of the photos of atrocities and are asking us if we are still seri
ous about pursuing our neutral policy. Maybe we should show
Armenia that there’s a big Turkey in the region.” President Turgut
Ozal agreed, remarking that Turkey should at least “scare the
Armenians a little bit.” Turkey, Ozal threatened again in 1993, would
“show its fangs.” Turkish Air Force jets flew reconnaissance flights
along the Armenian border; Turkey suspended food shipments and
air flights to Armenia; and Turkey and Iran announced they would
not accept dismemberment of Azerbaijan. In the last years of its exis
tence, the Soviet government supported Azerbaijan because its gov
ernment was dominated by former communists. With the end of the
Soviet Union, however, political considerations gave way to religious
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ones. Russian troops fought on the side of the Armenians, and
Azerbaijan accused the “Russian government of turning 180 degrees”
toward support for Christian Armenia.
Third, with respect to the fighting in the former Yugoslavia,
Western publics manifested sympathy and support for the Bosnian
Muslims and the horrors they suffered at the hands of the Serbs.
Relatively little concern was expressed, however, over Croatian
attacks on Muslims and participation in the dismemberment of
Bosnia-Herzegovina. In the early stages of the Yugoslav breakup,
Germany, in an unusual display of diplomatic initiative and muscle,
induced the other n members of the European Community to follow
its lead in recognizing Slovenia and Croatia. As a result of the pope s
determination to provide strong backing to the two Catholic coun
tries, the Vatican extended recognition even before the Community
did. The United States followed the European lead. Thus the lead
ing actors in Western civilization rallied behind their coreligionists.
Subsequently Croatia was reported to be receiving substantial quan
tities of arms from Central European and other Western countries.
Boris Yeltsin s government, on the other hand, attempted to pursue a
middle course that would be sympathetic to the Orthodox Serbs but
not alienate Russia from the West. Russian conservative and nation
alist groups, however, including many legislators, attacked the gov
ernment for not being more forthcoming in its support for the Serbs.
By early 1993 several hundred Russians apparently were serving with
the Serbian forces, and reports circulated of Russian arms being sup
plied to Serbia.
Islamic governments and groups, on the other hand, castigated the
West for not coming to the defense of the Bosnians. Iranian leaders
urged Muslims from all countries to provide help to Bosnia; in viola
tion of the U.N. arms embargo, Iran supplied weapons and men for
the Bosnians; Iranian-supported Lebanese groups sent guerrillas to
train and organize the Bosnian forces. In 1993 up to 4,000 Muslims
from over two dozen Islamic countries were reported to be fighting
in Bosnia. The governments of Saudi Arabia and other countries felt
under increasing pressure from fundamentalist groups in their own
societies to provide more vigorous support for the Bosnians. By the
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end of 1992, Saudi Arabia had reportedly supplied substantial fund
ing for weapons and supplies for the Bosnians, which significantly
increased their military capabilities vis-?-vis the Serbs.
In the 1930s the Spanish Civil War provoked intervention from
countries that politically were fascist, communist and democratic. In
the 1990s the Yugoslav conflict is provoking intervention from coun
tries that are Muslim, Orthodox and Western Christian. The paral
lel has not gone unnoticed. “The war in Bosnia-Herzegovina has
become the emotional equivalent of the fight against fascism in the
Spanish Civil War,” one Saudi editor observed. “Those who died
there are regarded as martyrs who tried to save their fellow Muslims.”
Conflicts and violence will also occur between states and groups
within the same civilization. Such conflicts, however, are likely to be
less intense and less likely to expand than conflicts between civiliza
tions. Common membership in a civilization reduces the probability
of violence in situations where it might otherwise occur. In 1991 and
1992 many people were alarmed by the possibility of violent conflict
between Russia and Ukraine over territory, particularly Crimea, the
Black Sea fleet, nuclear weapons and economic issues. If civilization
is what counts, however, the likelihood of violence between
Ukrainians and Russians should be low. They are two Slavic, pri
marily Orthodox peoples who have had close relationships with each
other for centuries. As of early 1993, despite all the reasons for
conflict, the leaders of the two countries were effectively negotiating
and defusing the issues between the two countries. While there has
been serious fighting between Muslims and Christians elsewhere in
the former Soviet Union and much tension and some fighting
between Western and Orthodox Christians in the Baltic states, there
has been virtually no violence between Russians and Ukrainians.
Civilization rallying to date has been limited, but it has been grow
ing, and it clearly has the potential to spread much further. As the
conflicts in the Persian Gulf, the Caucasus and Bosnia continued, the
positions of nations and the cleavages between them increasingly
were along civilizational lines. Populist politicians, religious leaders
and the media have found it a potent means of arousing mass support
and of pressuring hesitant governments. In the coming years, the
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local conflicts most likely to escalate into major wars will be those, as
in Bosnia and the Caucasus, along the fault lines between civiliza
tions. The next world war, if there is one, will be a war between civ
The west is now at an extraordinary peak of power in relation
to other civilizations. Its superpower opponent has disappeared from
the map. Military conflict among Western states is unthinkable, and
Western military power is unrivaled. Apart from Japan, the West
faces no economic challenge. It dominates international political and
security institutions and with Japan international economic institu
tions. Global political and security issues are effectively settled by a
directorate of the United States, Britain and France, world econom
ic issues by a directorate of the United States, Germany and Japan,
all of which maintain extraordinarily close relations with each other
to the exclusion of lesser and largely non-Western countries.
Decisions made at the U.N. Security Council or in the International
Monetary Fund that reflect the interests of the West are presented to
the world as reflecting the desires of the world community. The very
phrase “the world community” has become the euphemistic collec
tive noun (replacing “the Free World”) to give global legitimacy to
actions reflecting the interests of the United States and other Western
powers.4 Through the imf and other international economic institu
tions, the West promotes its economic interests and imposes on other
nations the economic policies it thinks appropriate. In any poll of
non-Western peoples, the imf undoubtedly would win the support
of finance ministers and a few others, but get an overwhelmingly
unfavorable rating from just about everyone else, who would agree
4Almost invariably Western leaders claim they are acting on behalf of “the world com
munity.” One minor lapse occurred during the run-up to the Gulf War. In an interview
on “Good Morning America,” Dec. 21,1990, British Prime Minister John Major referred
to the actions “the West” was taking against Saddam Hussein. He quickly corrected him
self and subsequendy referred to “the world community.” He was, however, right when
he erred.
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Samuel P. Huntington
with Georgy Arbatovs characterization of imf officials as “neo
Bolsheviks who love expropriating other people s money, imposing
undemocratic and alien rules of economic and political conduct and
stifling economic freedom.”
Western domination of the U.N. Security Council and its deci
sions, tempered only by occasional abstention by China, produced
U.N. legitimation of the West s use of force to drive Iraq out of
Kuwait and its elimination of Iraq s sophisticated weapons and capac
The very phrase “world
community” has
become a euphemism to
give legitimacy to the
actions of the West.
ity to produce such weapons. It also produced
the quite unprecedented action by the United
States, Britain and France in getting the
Security Council to demand that Libya hand
over the Pan Am 103 bombing suspects and
then to impose sanctions when Libya refused.
After defeating the largest Arab army, the
West did not hesitate to throw its weight
around in the Arab world. The West in effect
is using international institutions, military power and economic
resources to run the world in ways that will maintain Western pre
dominance, protect Western interests and promote Western political
and economic values.
That at least is the way in which non-Westerners see the new
world, and there is a significant element of truth in their view.
Differences in power and struggles for military, economic and insti
tutional power are thus one source of conflict between the West and
other civilizations. Differences in culture, that is basic values and
beliefs, are a second source of conflict. V. S. Naipaul has argued that
Western civilization is the “universal civilization” that “fits all men.”
At a superficial level much of Western culture has indeed permeated
the rest of the world. At a more basic level, however, Western con
cepts differ fundamentally from those prevalent in other civilizations.
Western ideas of individualism, liberalism, constitutionalism, human
rights, equality, liberty, the rule of law, democracy, free markets, the
separation of church and state, often have little resonance in Islamic,
Confucian, Japanese, Hindu, Buddhist or Orthodox cultures.
Western efforts to propagate such ideas produce instead a reaction
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against “human rights imperialism” and a reaffirmation of indigenous
values, as can be seen in the support for religious fundamentalism by
the younger generation in non-Western cultures. The very notion
that there could be a “universal civilization” is a Western idea, direct
ly at odds with the particularism of most Asian societies and their
emphasis on what distinguishes one people from another. Indeed, the
author of a review of ioo comparative studies of values in different
societies concluded that “the values that are most important in the
West are least important worldwide.”5 In the political realm, of
course, these differences are most manifest in the efforts of the
United States and other Western powers to induce other peoples to
adopt Western ideas concerning democracy and human rights.
Modern democratic government originated in the West. When it has
developed in non-Western societies it has usually been the product of
Western colonialism or imposition.
The central axis of world politics in the future is likely to be, in
Kishore Mahbubani s phrase, the conflict between “the West and the
Rest” and the responses of non-Western civilizations to Western
power and values.6 Those responses generally take one or a combina
tion of three forms. At one extreme, non-Western states can, like
Burma and North Korea, attempt to pursue a course of isolation, to
insulate their societies from penetration or “corruption” by the West,
and, in effect, to opt out of participation in the Western-dominated
global community. The costs of this course, however, are high, and
few states have pursued it exclusively. A second alternative, the equiv
alent of “band-wagoning” in international relations theory, is to
attempt to join the West and accept its values and institutions. The
third alternative is to attempt to “balance” the West by developing
economic and military power and cooperating with other non
Western societies against the West, while preserving indigenous val
ues and institutions; in short, to modernize but not to Westernize.
5Hany C. Triandis, The New York Times, Dec. 25,1990, p. 41, and “Cross-Cultural
Studies of Individualism and Collectivism,” Nebraska Symposium on Motivation, vol.
37> ?989, PP- 41-133
6Kishore Mahbubani, “The West and the Rest,” The National Interest, Summer 1992,
PP- 3-*3
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Samuel P. Huntington
In the future, as people differentiate themselves by civilization,
countries with large numbers of peoples of different civilizations,
such as the Soviet Union and Yugoslavia, are candidates for dismem
berment. Some other countries have a fair degree of cultural homo
geneity but are divided over whether their society belongs to one
civilization or another. These are torn countries. Their leaders typi
cally wish to pursue a bandwagoning strategy and to make their coun
tries members of the West, but the history, culture and traditions of
their countries are non-Western. The most obvious and prototypical
torn country is Turkey. The late twentieth-century leaders of Turkey
have followed in the Attat?rk tradition and defined Turkey as a mod
ern, secular, Western nation state. They allied Turkey with the West
in nato and in the Gulf War; they applied for membership in the
European Community. At the same time, however, elements in
Turkish society have supported an Islamic revival and have argued
that Turkey is basically a Middle Eastern Muslim society. In addi
tion, while the elite of Turkey has defined Turkey as a Western soci
ety, the elite of the West refuses to accept Turkey as such. Turkey will
not become a member of the European Community, and the real rea
son, as President Ozal said, “is that we are Muslim and they are
Christian and they dont say that.” Having rejected Mecca, and then
being rejected by Brussels, where does Turkey look? Tashkent may be
the answer. The end of the Soviet Union gives Turkey the opportu
nity to become the leader of a revived Turkic civilization involving
seven countries from the borders of Greece to those of China.
Encouraged by the West, Turkey is making strenuous efforts to carve
out this new identity for itself.
During the past decade Mexico has assumed a position somewhat
similar to that of Turkey. Just as Turkey abandoned its historic oppo
sition to Europe and attempted to join Europe, Mexico has stopped
defining itself by its opposition to the United States and is instead
attempting to imitate the United States and to join it in the North
American Free Trade Area. Mexican leaders are engaged in the great
task of redefining Mexican identity and have introduced fiindamen
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tal economic reforms that eventually will lead to fundamental politi
cal change. In 1991 a top adviser to President Carlos Salinas de
Gortari described at length to me all the changes the Salinas govern
ment was making. When he finished, I remarked: “That’s most
impressive. It seems to me that basically you want to change Mexico
from a Latin American country into a North American country.” He
looked at me with surprise and exclaimed: “Exactly! That’s precisely
what we are trying to do, but of course we could never say so pub
licly.” As his remark indicates, in Mexico as in Turkey, significant ele
ments in society resist the redefinition of their country’s identity. In
Turkey, European-oriented leaders have to make gestures to Islam
(Ozal s pilgrimage to Mecca); so also Mexico’s North American-ori
ented leaders have to make gestures to those who hold Mexico to be
a Latin American country (Salinas’ Ibero-American Guadalajara
Historically Turkey has been the most profoundly torn country.
For the United States, Mexico is the most immediate torn country.
Globally the most important torn country is Russia. The question of
whether Russia is part of the West or the leader of a distinct Slavic
Orthodox civilization has been a recurring one in Russian history.
That issue was obscured by the communist victory in Russia, which
imported a Western ideology, adapted it to Russian conditions and
then challenged the West in the name of that ideology. The domi
nance of communism shut off the historic debate over
Westernization versus Russification. With communism discredited
Russians once again face that question.
President Yeltsin is adopting Western principles and goals and
seeking to make Russia a “normal” country and a part of the West.
Yet both the Russian elite and the Russian public are divided on this
issue. Among the more moderate dissenters, Sergei Stankevich
argues that Russia should reject the “Atlanticist” course, which would
lead it “to become European, to become a part of the world economy
in rapid and organized fashion, to become the eighth member of the
Seven, and to put particular emphasis on Germany and the United
States as the two dominant members of the Atlantic alliance.” While
also rejecting an exclusively Eurasian policy, Stankevich nonetheless
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argues that Russia should give priority to the protection of Russians
in other countries, emphasize its Turkic and Muslim connections,
and promote “an appreciable redistribution of our resources, our
options, our ties, and our interests in favor of Asia, of the eastern
direction.” People of this persuasion criticize Yeltsin for subordinat
ing Russia’s interests to those of the West, for reducing Russian mil
itary strength, for failing to support traditional friends such as Serbia,
and for pushing economic and political reform in ways injurious to
the Russian people. Indicative of this trend is the new popularity of
the ideas of Petr Savitsky, who in the 1920s argued that Russia was a
unique Eurasian civilization.7 More extreme dissidents voice much
more blatantly nationalist, anti-Western and anti-Semitic views, and
urge Russia to redevelop its military strength and to establish closer
ties with China and Muslim countries. The people of Russia are as
divided as the elite. An opinion survey in European Russia in the
spring of 1992 revealed that 40 percent of the public had positive atti
tudes toward the West and 36 percent had negative attitudes. As it
has been for much of its history, Russia in the early 1990s is truly a
torn country.
To redefine its civilization identity, a torn country must meet three
requirements. First, its political and economic elite has to be gener
ally supportive of and enthusiastic about this move. Second, its pub
lic has to be willing to acquiesce in the redefinition. Third, the
dominant groups in the recipient civilization have to be willing to
embrace the convert. All three requirements in large part exist with
respect to Mexico. The first two in large part exist with respect to
Turkey. It is not clear that any of them exist with respect to Russia’s
joining the West. The conflict between liberal democracy and
Marxism-Leninism was between ideologies which, despite their
major differences, ostensibly shared ultimate goals of freedom, equal
ity and prosperity. A traditional, authoritarian, nationalist Russia
could have quite different goals. A Western democrat could carry on
an intellectual debate with a Soviet Marxist. It would be virtually
7Sergei Stankevich, “Russia in Search of Itself,” The National Interest, Summer 1992,
pp. 47-51; Daniel Schneider, “A Russian Movement Rejects Western Tilt,” Christian
Science Monitor, Feb. 5,1993, pp. 5-7.
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impossible for him to do that with a Russian traditionalist. If, as the
Russians stop behaving like Marxists, they reject liberal democracy
and begin behaving like Russians but not like Westerners, the rela
tions between Russia and the West could again become distant and
The obstacles to non-Western countries joining the West vary
considerably. They are least for Latin American and East European
countries. They are greater for the Orthodox countries of the former
Soviet Union. They are still greater for Muslim, Confucian, Hindu
and Buddhist societies. Japan has established a unique position for
itself as an associate member of the West: it is in the West in some
respects but clearly not of the West in important dimensions. Those
countries that for reason of culture and power do not wish to, or can
not, join the West compete with the West by developing their own
economic, military and political power. They do this by promoting
their internal development and by cooperating with other non
Western countries. The most prominent form of this cooperation is
the Confucian-Islamic connection that has emerged to challenge
Western interests, values and power.
Almost without exception, Western countries are reducing their
military power; under Yeltsin’s leadership so also is Russia. China,
North Korea and several Middle Eastern states, however, are
significantly expanding their military capabilities. They are doing
this by the import of arms from Western and non-Western sources
and by the development of indigenous arms industries. One result is
the emergence of what Charles Krauthammer has called “Weapon
8Owen Harries has pointed out that Australia is trying (unwisely in his view) to
become a torn country in reverse. Although it has been a full member not only of the
West but also of the ABC A military and intelligence core of the West, its current lead
ers are in effect proposing that it defect from the West, redefine itself as an Asian coun
try and cultivate close ties with its neighbors. Australia’s future, they argue, is with the
dynamic economies of East Asia. But, as I have suggested, close economic cooperation
normally requires a common cultural base. In addition, none of the three conditions nec
essary for a torn country to join another civilization is likely to exist in Australia’s case.
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States,” and the Weapon States are not Western states. Another
result is the redefinition of arms control, which is a Western concept
and a Western goal. During the Cold War the primary purpose of
arms control was to establish a stable military balance between the
United States and its allies and the Soviet Union and its allies. In the
post-Cold War world the primary objective of arms control is to pre
vent the development by non-Western societies of military capabili
ties that could threaten Western interests. The West attempts to do
this through international agreements, economic pressure and con
trols on the transfer of arms and weapons technologies.
The conflict between the West and the Confucian-Islamic states
focuses largely, although not exclusively, on nuclear, chemical and
biological weapons, ballistic missiles and other sophisticated means
for delivering them, and the guidance, intelligence and other elec
tronic capabilities for achieving that goal. The West promotes non
proliferation as a universal norm and nonproliferation treaties and
inspections as means of realizing that norm. It
also threatens a variety of sanctions against
those who promote the spread of sophisticated
weapons and proposes some benefits for those
who do not. The attention of the West focus
es, naturally, on nations that are actually or
potentially hostile to the West.
The non-Western nations, on the other
hand, assert their right to acquire and to deploy
whatever weapons they think necessary for their security. They also
have absorbed, to the full, the truth of the response of the Indian
defense minister when asked what lesson he learned from the Gulf
War: “Don’t fight the United States unless you have nuclear
weapons.” Nuclear weapons, chemical weapons and missiles are
viewed, probably erroneously, as the potential equalizer of superior
Western conventional power. China, of course, already has nuclear
weapons; Pakistan and India have the capability to deploy them.
North Korea, Iran, Iraq, Libya and Algeria appear to be attempting
to acquire them. A top Iranian official has declared that all Muslim
states should acquire nuclear weapons, and in 1988 the president of
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A Confucian-Islamic
connection has
emerged to challenge
Western interests,
values and power.
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Iran reportedly issued a directive calling for development of “offen
sive and defensive chemical, biological and radiological weapons.”
Centrally important to the development of counter-West military
capabilities is the sustained expansion of Chinas military power and
its means to create military power. Buoyed by spectacular economic
development, China is rapidly increasing its military spending and
vigorously moving forward with the modernization of its armed
forces. It is purchasing weapons from the former Soviet states; it is
developing long-range missiles; in 1992 it tested a one-megaton
nuclear device. It is developing power-projection capabilities, acquir
ing aerial refueling technology, and trying to purchase an aircraft car
rier. Its military buildup and assertion of sovereignty over the South
China Sea are provoking a multilateral regional arms race in East
Asia. China is also a major exporter of arms and weapons technolo
gy. It has exported materials to Libya and Iraq that could be used to
manufacture nuclear weapons and nerve gas. It has helped Algeria
build a reactor suitable for nuclear weapons research and production.
China has sold to Iran nuclear technology that American officials
believe could only be used to create weapons and apparently has
shipped components of 300-mile-range missiles to Pakistan. North
Korea has had a nuclear weapons program under way for some while
and has sold advanced missiles and missile technology to Syria and
Iran. The flow of weapons and weapons technology is generally from
East Asia to the Middle East. There is, however, some movement in
the reverse direction; China has received Stinger missiles from
A Confucian-Islamic military connection has thus come into
being, designed to promote acquisition by its members of the
weapons and weapons technologies needed to counter the military
power of the West. It may or may not last. At present, however, it is,
as Dave McCurdy has said, “a renegades’ mutual support pact, run by
the proliferators and their backers.” A new form of arms competition
is thus occurring between Islamic-Confucian states and the West. In
an old-fashioned arms race, each side developed its own arms to bal
ance or to achieve superiority against the other side. In this new form
of arms competition, one side is developing its arms and the other
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side is attempting not to balance but to limit and prevent that arms
build-up while at the same time reducing its own military capabili
This article does not argue that civilization identities will
replace all other identities, that nation states will disappear, that each
civilization will become a single coherent political entity, that groups
within a civilization will not conflict with and even fight each other.
This paper does set forth the hypotheses that differences between civ
ilizations are real and important; civilization-consciousness is
increasing; conflict between civilizations will supplant ideological
and other forms of conflict as the dominant global form of conflict;
international relations, historically a game played out within Western
civilization, will increasingly be de-Westernized and become a game
in which non-Western civilizations are actors and not simply objects;
successful political, security and economic international institutions
are more likely to develop within civilizations than across civiliza
tions; conflicts between groups in different civilizations will be more
frequent, more sustained and more violent than conflicts between
groups in the same civilization; violent conflicts between groups in
different civilizations are the most likely and most dangerous source
of escalation that could lead to global wars; the paramount axis of
world politics will be the relations between “the West and the Rest”;
the elites in some torn non-Western countries will try to make their
countries part of the West, but in most cases face major obstacles to
accomplishing this; a central focus of conflict for the immediate
future will be between the West and several Islamic-Confucian states.
This is not to advocate the desirability of conflicts between civi
lizations. It is to set forth descriptive hypotheses as to what the future
maybe like. If these are plausible hypotheses, however, it is necessary
to consider their implications for Western policy. These implications
should be divided between short-term advantage and long-term
accommodation. In the short term it is clearly in the interest of the
West to promote greater cooperation and unity within its own civi
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lization, particularly between its European and North American
components; to incorporate into the West societies in Eastern
Europe and Latin America whose cultures are close to those of the
West; to promote and maintain cooperative relations with Russia and
Japan; to prevent escalation of local inter-civilization conflicts into
major inter-civilization wars; to limit the expansion of the military
strength of Confucian and Islamic states; to moderate the reduction
of Western military capabilities and maintain military superiority in
East and Southwest Asia; to exploit differences and conflicts among
Confucian and Islamic states; to support in other civilizations groups
sympathetic to Western values and interests; to strengthen interna
tional institutions that reflect and legitimate Western interests and
values and to promote the involvement of non-Western states in
those institutions.
In the longer term other measures would be called for. Western
civilization is both Western and modern. Non-Western civilizations
have attempted to become modern without becoming Western. To
date only Japan has fully succeeded in this quest. Non-Western civi
lizations will continue to attempt to acquire the wealth, technology,
skills, machines and weapons that are part of being modern. They
will also attempt to reconcile this modernity with their traditional
culture and values. Their economic and military strength relative to
the West will increase. Hence the West will increasingly have to
accommodate these non-Western modern civilizations whose power
approaches that of the West but whose values and interests differ
significantly from those of the West. This will require the West to
maintain the economic and military power necessary to protect its
interests in relation to these civilizations. It will also, however, require
the West to develop a more profound understanding of the basic reli
gious and philosophical assumptions underlying other civilizations
and the ways in which people in those civilizations see their interests.
It will require an effort to identify elements of commonality between
Western and other civilizations. For the relevant future, there will be
no universal civilization, but instead a world of different civilizations,
each of which will have to learn to coexist with the others. ?
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Jihad vs. McWorld
The two axial principles of our age—tribalism and globalism—clash at every point except one:
they may both be threatening to democracy
By Benjamin R. Barber
Just beyond the horizon of current events lie two possible political futures—both bleak, neither
democratic. The first is a retribalization of large swaths of humankind by war and bloodshed: a
threatened Lebanonization of national states in which culture is pitted against culture, people
against people, tribe against tribe—a Jihad in the name of a hundred narrowly conceived faiths
against every kind of interdependence, every kind of artificial social cooperation and civic
mutuality. The second is being borne in on us by the onrush of economic and ecological forces
that demand integration and uniformity and that mesmerize the world with fast music, fast
computers, and fast food—with MTV, Macintosh, and McDonald’s, pressing nations into one
commercially homogenous global network: one McWorld tied together by technology, ecology,
communications, and commerce. The planet is falling precipitantly apart AND coming
reluctantly together at the very same moment.
These two tendencies are sometimes visible in the same countries at the same instant: thus
Yugoslavia, clamoring just recently to join the New Europe, is exploding into fragments; India is
trying to live up to its reputation as the world’s largest integral democracy while powerful new
fundamentalist parties like the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party, along with nationalist
assassins, are imperiling its hard-won unity. States are breaking up or joining up: the Soviet
Union has disappeared almost overnight, its parts forming new unions with one another or with
like-minded nationalities in neighboring states. The old interwar national state based on territory
and political sovereignty looks to be a mere transitional development.
The tendencies of what I am here calling the forces of Jihad and the forces of McWorld operate
with equal strength in opposite directions, the one driven by parochial hatreds, the other by
universalizing markets, the one re-creating ancient subnational and ethnic borders from within,
the other making national borders porous from without. They have one thing in common: neither
offers much hope to citizens looking for practical ways to govern themselves democratically. If
the global future is to pit Jihad’s centrifugal whirlwind against McWorld’s centripetal black hole,
the outcome is unlikely to be democratic—or so I will argue.
McWorld, or the Globalization of Politics
Four imperatives make up the dynamic of McWorld: a market imperative, a resource imperative,
an information-technology imperative, and an ecological imperative. By shrinking the world and
diminishing the salience of national borders, these imperatives have in combination achieved a
considerable victory over factiousness and particularism, and not least of all over their most
virulent traditional form—nationalism. It is the realists who are now Europeans, the utopians
who dream nostalgically of a resurgent England or Germany, perhaps even a resurgent Wales or
Saxony. Yesterday’s wishful cry for one world has yielded to the reality of McWorld.
THE MARKET IMPERATIVE. Marxist and Leninist theories of imperialism assumed that the
quest for ever-expanding markets would in time compel nation-based capitalist economies to
push against national boundaries in search of an international economic imperium. Whatever else
has happened to the scientistic predictions of Marxism, in this domain they have proved
farsighted. All national economies are now vulnerable to the inroads of larger, transnational
markets within which trade is free, currencies are convertible, access to banking is open, and
contracts are enforceable under law. In Europe, Asia, Africa, the South Pacific, and the Americas
such markets are eroding national sovereignty and giving rise to entities—international banks,
trade associations, transnational lobbies like OPEC and Greenpeace, world news services like
CNN and the BBC, and multinational corporations that increasingly lack a meaningful national
identity—that neither reflect nor respect nationhood as an organizing or regulative principle.
The market imperative has also reinforced the quest for international peace and stability,
requisites of an efficient international economy. Markets are enemies of parochialism, isolation,
fractiousness, war. Market psychology attenuates the psychology of ideological and religious
cleavages and assumes a concord among producers and consumers—categories that ill fit
narrowly conceived national or religious cultures. Shopping has little tolerance for blue laws,
whether dictated by pub-closing British paternalism, Sabbath-observing Jewish Orthodox
fundamentalism, or no-Sunday-liquor-sales Massachusetts puritanism. In the context of common
markets, international law ceases to be a vision of justice and becomes a workaday framework
for getting things done—enforcing contracts, ensuring that governments abide by deals,
regulating trade and currency relations, and so forth.
Common markets demand a common language, as well as a common currency, and they produce
common behaviors of the kind bred by cosmopolitan city life everywhere. Commercial pilots,
computer programmers, international bankers, media specialists, oil riggers, entertainment
celebrities, ecology experts, demographers, accountants, professors, athletes—these compose a
new breed of men and women for whom religion, culture, and nationality can seem only
marginal elements in a working identity. Although sociologists of everyday life will no doubt
continue to distinguish a Japanese from an American mode, shopping has a common signature
throughout the world. Cynics might even say that some of the recent revolutions in Eastern
Europe have had as their true goal not liberty and the right to vote but well-paying jobs and the
right to shop (although the vote is proving easier to acquire than consumer goods). The market
imperative is, then, plenty powerful; but, notwithstanding some of the claims made for
“democratic capitalism,” it is not identical with the democratic imperative.
THE RESOURCE IMPERATIVE. Democrats once dreamed of societies whose political
autonomy rested firmly on economic independence. The Athenians idealized what they called
autarky, and tried for a while to create a way of life simple and austere enough to make the polis
genuinely self-sufficient. To be free meant to be independent of any other community or polis.
Not even the Athenians were able to achieve autarky, however: human nature, it turns out, is
dependency. By the time of Pericles, Athenian politics was inextricably bound up with a
flowering empire held together by naval power and commerce—an empire that, even as it
appeared to enhance Athenian might, ate away at Athenian independence and autarky. Master
and slave, it turned out, were bound together by mutual insufficiency.
The dream of autarky briefly engrossed nineteenth-century America as well, for the
underpopulated, endlessly bountiful land, the cornucopia of natural resources, and the natural
barriers of a continent walled in by two great seas led many to believe that America could be a
world unto itself. Given this past, it has been harder for Americans than for most to accept the
inevitability of interdependence. But the rapid depletion of resources even in a country like ours,
where they once seemed inexhaustible, and the maldistribution of arable soil and mineral
resources on the planet, leave even the wealthiest societies ever more resource-dependent and
many other nations in permanently desperate straits.
Every nation, it turns out, needs something another nation has; some nations have almost nothing
they need.
technologies derived from it are inherently universalizing. They entail a quest for descriptive
principles of general application, a search for universal solutions to particular problems, and an
unswerving embrace of objectivity and impartiality.
Scientific progress embodies and depends on open communication, a common discourse rooted
in rationality, collaboration, and an easy and regular flow and exchange of information. Such
ideals can be hypocritical covers for power-mongering by elites, and they may be shown to be
wanting in many other ways, but they are entailed by the very idea of science and they make
science and globalization practical allies.
Business, banking, and commerce all depend on information flow and are facilitated by new
communication technologies. The hardware of these technologies tends to be systemic and
integrated—computer, television, cable, satellite, laser, fiber-optic, and microchip technologies
combining to create a vast interactive communications and information network that can
potentially give every person on earth access to every other person, and make every datum, every
byte, available to every set of eyes. If the automobile was, as George Ball once said (when he
gave his blessing to a Fiat factory in the Soviet Union during the Cold War), “an ideology on
four wheels,” then electronic telecommunication and information systems are an ideology at
186,000 miles per second—which makes for a very small planet in a very big hurry. Individual
cultures speak particular languages; commerce and science increasingly speak English; the
whole world speaks logarithms and binary mathematics.
Moreover, the pursuit of science and technology asks for, even compels, open societies. Satellite
footprints do not respect national borders; telephone wires penetrate the most closed societies.
With photocopying and then fax machines having infiltrated Soviet universities and samizdat
literary circles in the eighties, and computer modems having multiplied like rabbits in
communism’s bureaucratic warrens thereafter, glasnost could not be far behind. In their social
requisites, secrecy and science are enemies.
The new technology’s software is perhaps even more globalizing than its hardware. The
information arm of international commerce’s sprawling body reaches out and touches distinct
nations and parochial cultures, and gives them a common face chiseled in Hollywood, on
Madison Avenue, and in Silicon Valley. Throughout the 1980s one of the most-watched
television programs in South Africa was The Cosby Show. The demise of apartheid was already
in production. Exhibitors at the 1991 Cannes film festival expressed growing anxiety over the
“homogenization” and “Americanization” of the global film industry when, for the third year
running, American films dominated the awards ceremonies. America has dominated the world’s
popular culture for much longer, and much more decisively. In November of 1991 Switzerland’s
once insular culture boasted best-seller lists featuring Terminator 2 as the No. 1 movie, Scarlett
as the No. 1 book, and Prince’s Diamonds and Pearls as the No. 1 record album. No wonder the
Japanese are buying Hollywood film studios even faster than Americans are buying Japanese
television sets. This kind of software supremacy may in the long term be far more important than
hardware superiority, because culture has become more potent than armaments. What is the
power of the Pentagon compared with Disneyland? Can the Sixth Fleet keep up with CNN?
McDonald’s in Moscow and Coke in China will do more to create a global culture than military
colonization ever could. It is less the goods than the brand names that do the work, for they
convey life-style images that alter perception and challenge behavior. They make up the
seductive software of McWorld’s common (at times much too common) soul.
Yet in all this high-tech commercial world there is nothing that looks particularly democratic. It
lends itself to surveillance as well as liberty, to new forms of manipulation and covert control as
well as new kinds of participation, to skewed, unjust market outcomes as well as greater
productivity. The consumer society and the open society are not quite synonymous. Capitalism
and democracy have a relationship, but it is something less than a marriage. An efficient free
market after all requires that consumers be free to vote their dollars on competing goods, not that
citizens be free to vote their values and beliefs on competing political candidates and programs.
The free market flourished in junta-run Chile, in military-governed Taiwan and Korea, and,
earlier, in a variety of autocratic European empires as well as their colonial possessions.
THE ECOLOGICAL IMPERATIVE. The impact of globalization on ecology is a cliche even to
world leaders who ignore it. We know well enough that the German forests can be destroyed by
Swiss and Italians driving gas-guzzlers fueled by leaded gas. We also know that the planet can
be asphyxiated by greenhouse gases because Brazilian farmers want to be part of the twentieth
century and are burning down tropical rain forests to clear a little land to plough, and because
Indonesians make a living out of converting their lush jungle into toothpicks for fastidious
Japanese diners, upsetting the delicate oxygen balance and in effect puncturing our global lungs.
Yet this ecological consciousness has meant not only greater awareness but also greater
inequality, as modernized nations try to slam the door behind them, saying to developing nations,
“The world cannot afford your modernization; ours has wrung it dry!”
Each of the four imperatives just cited is transnational, transideological, and transcultural. Each
applies impartially to Catholics, Jews, Muslims, Hindus, and Buddhists; to democrats and
totalitarians; to capitalists and socialists. The Enlightenment dream of a universal rational society
has to a remarkable degree been realized—but in a form that is commercialized, homogenized,
depoliticized, bureaucratized, and, of course, radically incomplete, for the movement toward
McWorld is in competition with forces of global breakdown, national dissolution, and centrifugal
corruption. These forces, working in the opposite direction, are the essence of what I call Jihad.
Jihad, or the Lebanonization of the World
OPEC, the World Bank, the United Nations, the International Red Cross, the multinational
corporation…there are scores of institutions that reflect globalization. But they often appear as
ineffective reactors to the world’s real actors: national states and, to an ever greater degree,
subnational factions in permanent rebellion against uniformity and integration—even the kind
represented by universal law and justice. The headlines feature these players regularly: they are
cultures, not countries; parts, not wholes; sects, not religions; rebellious factions and dissenting
minorities at war not just with globalism but with the traditional nation-state. Kurds, Basques,
Puerto Ricans, Ossetians, East Timoreans, Quebecois, the Catholics of Northern Ireland,
Abkhasians, Kurile Islander Japanese, the Zulus of Inkatha, Catalonians, Tamils, and, of course,
Palestinians—people without countries, inhabiting nations not their own, seeking smaller worlds
within borders that will seal them off from modernity.
A powerful irony is at work here. Nationalism was once a force of integration and unification, a
movement aimed at bringing together disparate clans, tribes, and cultural fragments under new,
assimilationist flags. But as Ortega y Gasset noted more than sixty years ago, having won its
victories, nationalism changed its strategy. In the 1920s, and again today, it is more often a
reactionary and divisive force, pulverizing the very nations it once helped cement together. The
force that creates nations is “inclusive,” Ortega wrote in The Revolt of the Masses. “In periods of
consolidation, nationalism has a positive value, and is a lofty standard. But in Europe everything
is more than consolidated, and nationalism is nothing but a mania…”
This mania has left the post-Cold War world smoldering with hot wars; the international scene is
little more unified than it was at the end of the Great War, in Ortega’s own time. There were
more than thirty wars in progress last year, most of them ethnic, racial, tribal, or religious in
character, and the list of unsafe regions doesn’t seem to be getting any shorter. Some new world
The aim of many of these small-scale wars is to redraw boundaries, to implode states and
resecure parochial identities: to escape McWorld’s dully insistent imperatives. The mood is that
of Jihad: war not as an instrument of policy but as an emblem of identity, an expression of
community, an end in itself. Even where there is no shooting war, there is fractiousness,
secession, and the quest for ever smaller communities. Add to the list of dangerous countries
those at risk: In Switzerland and Spain, Jurassian and Basque separatists still argue the virtues of
ancient identities, sometimes in the language of bombs. Hyperdisintegration in the former Soviet
Union may well continue unabated—not just a Ukraine independent from the Soviet Union but a
Bessarabian Ukraine independent from the Ukrainian republic; not just Russia severed from the
defunct union but Tatarstan severed from Russia. Yugoslavia makes even the disunited, exSoviet,
nonsocialist republics that were once the Soviet Union look integrated, its sectarian
fatherlands springing up within factional motherlands like weeds within weeds within weeds.
Kurdish independence would threaten the territorial integrity of four Middle Eastern nations.
Well before the current cataclysm Soviet Georgia made a claim for autonomy from the Soviet
Union, only to be faced with its Ossetians (164,000 in a republic of 5.5 million) demanding their
own self-determination within Georgia. The Abkhasian minority in Georgia has followed suit.
Even the good will established by Canada’s once promising Meech Lake protocols is in danger,
with Francophone Quebec again threatening the dissolution of the federation. In South Africa the
emergence from apartheid was hardly achieved when friction between Inkatha’s Zulus and the
African National Congress’s tribally identified members threatened to replace Europeans’ racism
with an indigenous tribal war. After thirty years of attempted integration using the colonial
language (English) as a unifier, Nigeria is now playing with the idea of linguistic
multiculturalism—which could mean the cultural breakup of the nation into hundreds of tribal
fragments. Even Saddam Hussein has benefited from the threat of internal Jihad, having used
renewed tribal and religious warfare to turn last season’s mortal enemies into reluctant allies of
an Iraqi nationhood that he nearly destroyed.
The passing of communism has torn away the thin veneer of internationalism (workers of the
world unite!) to reveal ethnic prejudices that are not only ugly and deep-seated but increasingly
murderous. Europe’s old scourge, anti-Semitism, is back with a vengeance, but it is only one of
many antagonisms. It appears all too easy to throw the historical gears into reverse and pass from
a Communist dictatorship back into a tribal state.
Among the tribes, religion is also a battlefield. (“Jihad” is a rich word whose generic meaning is
“struggle”—usually the struggle of the soul to avert evil. Strictly applied to religious war, it is
used only in reference to battles where the faith is under assault, or battles against a government
that denies the practice of Islam. My use here is rhetorical, but does follow both journalistic
practice and history.) Remember the Thirty Years War? Whatever forms of Enlightenment
universalism might once have come to grace such historically related forms of monotheism as
Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, in many of their modern incarnations they are parochial rather
than cosmopolitan, angry rather than loving, proselytizing rather than ecumenical, zealous rather
than rationalist, sectarian rather than deistic, ethnocentric rather than universalizing. As a result,
like the new forms of hypernationalism, the new expressions of religious fundamentalism are
fractious and pulverizing, never integrating. This is religion as the Crusaders knew it: a battle to
the death for souls that if not saved will be forever lost.
The atmospherics of Jihad have resulted in a breakdown of civility in the name of identity, of
comity in the name of community. International relations have sometimes taken on the aspect of
gang war—cultural turf battles featuring tribal factions that were supposed to be sublimated as
integral parts of large national, economic, postcolonial, and constitutional entities.
The Darkening Future of Democracy
These rather melodramatic tableaux vivants do not tell the whole story, however. For all their
defects, Jihad and McWorld have their attractions. Yet, to repeat and insist, the attractions are
unrelated to democracy. Neither McWorld nor Jihad is remotely democratic in impulse. Neither
needs democracy; neither promotes democracy.
McWorld does manage to look pretty seductive in a world obsessed with Jihad. It delivers peace,
prosperity, and relative unity—if at the cost of independence, community, and identity (which is
generally based on difference). The primary political values required by the global market are
order and tranquillity, and freedom—as in the phrases “free trade,” “free press,” and “free love.”
Human rights are needed to a degree, but not citizenship or participation—and no more social
justice and equality than are necessary to promote efficient economic production and
consumption. Multinational corporations sometimes seem to prefer doing business with local
oligarchs, inasmuch as they can take confidence from dealing with the boss on all crucial
matters. Despots who slaughter their own populations are no problem, so long as they leave
markets in place and refrain from making war on their neighbors (Saddam Hussein’s fatal
mistake). In trading partners, predictability is of more value than justice.
The Eastern European revolutions that seemed to arise out of concern for global democratic
values quickly deteriorated into a stampede in the general direction of free markets and their
ubiquitous, television-promoted shopping malls. East Germany’s Neues Forum, that courageous
gathering of intellectuals, students, and workers which overturned the Stalinist regime in Berlin
in 1989, lasted only six months in Germany’s mini-version of McWorld. Then it gave way to
money and markets and monopolies from the West. By the time of the first all-German elections,
it could scarcely manage to secure three percent of the vote. Elsewhere there is growing evidence
that glasnost will go and perestroika—defined as privatization and an opening of markets to
Western bidders—will stay. So understandably anxious are the new rulers of Eastern Europe and
whatever entities are forged from the residues of the Soviet Union to gain access to credit and
markets and technology—McWorld’s flourishing new currencies—that they have shown
themselves willing to trade away democratic prospects in pursuit of them: not just old totalitarian
ideologies and command-economy production models but some possible indigenous experiments
with a third way between capitalism and socialism, such as economic cooperatives and employee
stock-ownership plans, both of which have their ardent supporters in the East.
Jihad delivers a different set of virtues: a vibrant local identity, a sense of community, solidarity
among kinsmen, neighbors, and countrymen, narrowly conceived. But it also guarantees
parochialism and is grounded in exclusion. Solidarity is secured through war against outsiders.
And solidarity often means obedience to a hierarchy in governance, fanaticism in beliefs, and the
obliteration of individual selves in the name of the group. Deference to leaders and intolerance
toward outsiders (and toward “enemies within”) are hallmarks of tribalism—hardly the attitudes
required for the cultivation of new democratic women and men capable of governing themselves.
Where new democratic experiments have been conducted in retribalizing societies, in both
Europe and the Third World, the result has often been anarchy, repression, persecution, and the
coming of new, noncommunist forms of very old kinds of despotism. During the past year,
Havel’s velvet revolution in Czechoslovakia was imperiled by partisans of “Czechland” and of
Slovakia as independent entities. India seemed little less rent by Sikh, Hindu, Muslim, and Tamil
infighting than it was immediately after the British pulled out, more than forty years ago.
To the extent that either McWorld or Jihad has a NATURAL politics, it has turned out to be more
of an antipolitics. For McWorld, it is the antipolitics of globalism: bureaucratic, technocratic, and
meritocratic, focused (as Marx predicted it would be) on the administration of things—with
people, however, among the chief things to be administered. In its politico-economic imperatives
McWorld has been guided by laissez-faire market principles that privilege efficiency,
productivity, and beneficence at the expense of civic liberty and self-government.
For Jihad, the antipolitics of tribalization has been explicitly antidemocratic: one-party
dictatorship, government by military junta, theocratic fundamentalism—often associated with a
version of the Fuhrerprinzip that empowers an individual to rule on behalf of a people. Even the
government of India, struggling for decades to model democracy for a people who will soon
number a billion, longs for great leaders; and for every Mahatma Gandhi, Indira Gandhi, or Rajiv
Gandhi taken from them by zealous assassins, the Indians appear to seek a replacement who will
deliver them from the lengthy travail of their freedom.
The Confederal Option
How can democracy be secured and spread in a world whose primary tendencies are at best
indifferent to it (McWorld) and at worst deeply antithetical to it (Jihad)? My guess is that
globalization will eventually vanquish retribalization. The ethos of material “civilization” has not
yet encountered an obstacle it has been unable to thrust aside. Ortega may have grasped in the
1920s a clue to our own future in the coming millennium.
“Everyone sees the need of a new principle of life. But as always happens in similar crises—
some people attempt to save the situation by an artificial intensification of the very principle
which has led to decay. This is the meaning of the ‘nationalist’ outburst of recent years….things
have always gone that way. The last flare, the longest; the last sigh, the deepest. On the very eve
of their disappearance there is an intensification of frontiers—military and economic.”
Jihad may be a last deep sigh before the eternal yawn of McWorld. On the other hand, Ortega
was not exactly prescient; his prophecy of peace and internationalism came just before blitzkrieg,
world war, and the Holocaust tore the old order to bits. Yet democracy is how we remonstrate
with reality, the rebuke our aspirations offer to history. And if retribalization is inhospitable to
democracy, there is nonetheless a form of democratic government that can accommodate
parochialism and communitarianism, one that can even save them from their defects and make
them more tolerant and participatory: decentralized participatory democracy. And if McWorld is
indifferent to democracy, there is nonetheless a form of democratic government that suits global
markets passably well—representative government in its federal or, better still, confederal
With its concern for accountability, the protection of minorities, and the universal rule of law, a
confederalized representative system would serve the political needs of McWorld as well as
oligarchic bureaucratism or meritocratic elitism is currently doing. As we are already beginning
to see, many nations may survive in the long term only as confederations that afford local
regions smaller than “nations” extensive jurisdiction. Recommended reading for democrats of the
twenty-first century is not the U.S. Constitution or the French Declaration of Rights of Man and
Citizen but the Articles of Confederation, that suddenly pertinent document that stitched together
the thirteen American colonies into what then seemed a too loose confederation of independent
states but now appears a new form of political realism, as veterans of Yeltsin’s new Russia and
the new Europe created at Maastricht will attest.
By the same token, the participatory and direct form of democracy that engages citizens in civic
activity and civic judgment and goes well beyond just voting and accountability—the system I
have called “strong democracy”—suits the political needs of decentralized communities as well
as theocratic and nationalist party dictatorships have done. Local neighborhoods need not be
democratic, but they can be. Real democracy has flourished in diminutive settings: the spirit of
liberty, Tocqueville said, is local. Participatory democracy, if not naturally apposite to tribalism,
has an undeniable attractiveness under conditions of parochialism.
Democracy in any of these variations will, however, continue to be obstructed by the
undemocratic and antidemocratic trends toward uniformitarian globalism and intolerant
retribalization which I have portrayed here. For democracy to persist in our brave new McWorld,
we will have to commit acts of conscious political will—a possibility, but hardly a probability,
under these conditions. Political will requires much more than the quick fix of the transfer of
institutions. Like technology transfer, institution transfer rests on foolish assumptions about a
uniform world of the kind that once fired the imagination of colonial administrators. Spread
English justice to the colonies by exporting wigs. Let an East Indian trading company act as the
vanguard to Britain’s free parliamentary institutions. Today’s well-intentioned quick-fixers in the
National Endowment for Democracy and the Kennedy School of Government, in the unions and
foundations and universities zealously nurturing contacts in Eastern Europe and the Third World,
are hoping to democratize by long distance. Post Bulgaria a parliament by first-class mail. Fed
Ex the Bill of Rights to Sri Lanka. Cable Cambodia some common law.
Yet Eastern Europe has already demonstrated that importing free political parties, parliaments,
and presses cannot establish a democratic civil society; imposing a free market may even have
the opposite effect. Democracy grows from the bottom up and cannot be imposed from the top
down. Civil society has to be built from the inside out. The institutional superstructure comes
last. Poland may become democratic, but then again it may heed the Pope, and prefer to found its
politics on its Catholicism, with uncertain consequences for democracy. Bulgaria may become
democratic, but it may prefer tribal war. The former Soviet Union may become a democratic
confederation, or it may just grow into an anarchic and weak conglomeration of markets for
other nations’ goods and services.
Democrats need to seek out indigenous democratic impulses. There is always a desire for selfgovernment,
always some expression of participation, accountability, consent, and
representation, even in traditional hierarchical societies. These need to be identified, tapped,
modified, and incorporated into new democratic practices with an indigenous flavor. The
tortoises among the democratizers may ultimately outlive or outpace the hares, for they will have
the time and patience to explore conditions along the way, and to adapt their gait to changing
circumstances. Tragically, democracy in a hurry often looks something like France in 1794 or
China in 1989.
It certainly seems possible that the most attractive democratic ideal in the face of the brutal
realities of Jihad and the dull realities of McWorld will be a confederal union of semiautonomous
communities smaller than nation-states, tied together into regional economic
associations and markets larger than nation-states—participatory and self-determining in local
matters at the bottom, representative and accountable at the top. The nation-state would play a
diminished role, and sovereignty would lose some of its political potency. The Green movement
adage “Think globally, act locally” would actually come to describe the conduct of politics.
This vision reflects only an ideal, however—one that is not terribly likely to be realized.
Freedom, Jean-Jacques Rousseau once wrote, is a food easy to eat but hard to digest. Still,
democracy has always played itself out against the odds. And democracy remains both a form of
coherence as binding as McWorld and a secular faith potentially as inspiriting as Jihad.
Wilson’s War Message to Congress 2 April, 1917 Woodrow Wilson, War Messages, 65th Cong., 1st Sess. Senate Doc. No. 5, Serial No. 7264, Washington, D.C., 1917; pp. 3-8, passim. On 3 February 1917, President Wilson addressed Congress to announce that diplomatic relations with Germany were severed. In a Special Session of Congress held on 2 April 1917, President Wilson delivered this ‘War Message.’ Four days later, Congress overwhelmingly passed the War Resolution which brought the United States into the Great War. Gentlemen of the Congress: I have called the Congress into extraordinary session because there are serious, very serious, choices of policy to be made, and made immediately, which it was neither right nor constitutionally permissible that I should assume the responsibility of making. On the 3d of February last I officially laid before you the extraordinary announcement of the Imperial German Government that on and after the 1st day of February it was its purpose to put aside all restraints of law or of humanity and use its submarines to sink every vessel that sought to approach either the ports of Great Britain and Ireland or the western coasts of Europe or any of the ports controlled by the enemies of Germany within the Mediterranean. That had seemed to be the object of the German submarine warfare earlier in the war, but since April of last year the Imperial Government had somewhat restrained the commanders of its undersea craft in conformity with its promise then given to us that passenger boats should not be sunk and that due warning would be given to all other vessels which its submarines might seek to destroy, when no resistance was offered or escape attempted, and care taken that their crews were given at least a fair chance to save their lives in their open boats. The precautions taken were meagre and haphazard enough, as was proved in distressing instance after instance in the progress of the cruel and unmanly business, but a certain degree of restraint was observed The new policy has swept every restriction aside. Vessels of every kind, whatever their flag, their character, their cargo, their destination, their errand, have been ruthlessly sent to the bottom without warning and without thought of help or mercy for those on board, the vessels of friendly neutrals along with those of belligerents. Even hospital ships and ships carrying relief to the sorely bereaved and stricken people of Belgium, though the latter were provided with safe-conduct through the proscribed areas by the German Government itself and were distinguished by unmistakable marks of identity, have been sunk with the same reckless lack of compassion or of principle. I was for a little while unable to believe that such things would in fact be done by any government that had hitherto subscribed to the humane practices of civilized nations. International law had its origin in the at tempt to set up some law which would be respected and observed upon the seas, where no nation had right of dominion and where lay the free highways of the world. By painful stage after stage has that law been built up, with meagre enough results, indeed, after all was accomplished that could be accomplished, but always with a clear view, at least, of what the heart and conscience of mankind demanded. This minimum of right the German Government has swept aside under the plea of retaliation and necessity and because it had no weapons which it could use at sea except these which it is impossible to employ as it is employing them without throwing to the winds all scruples of humanity or of respect for the understandings that were supposed to underlie the intercourse of the world. I am not now thinking of the loss of property involved, immense and serious as that is, but only of the wanton and wholesale destruction of the lives of noncombatants, men, women, and children, engaged in pursuits which have always, even in the darkest periods of modern history, been deemed innocent and legitimate. Property can be paid for; the lives of peaceful and innocent people can not be. The present German submarine warfare against commerce is a warfare against mankind. It is a war against all nations. American ships have been sunk, American lives taken, in ways which it has stirred us very deeply to learn of, but the ships and people of other neutral and friendly nations have been sunk and overwhelmed in the waters in the same way. There has been no discrimination. The challenge is to all mankind. Each nation must decide for itself how it will meet it. The choice we make for ourselves must be made with a moderation of counsel and a temperateness of judgment befitting our character and our motives as a nation. We must put excited feeling away. Our motive will not be revenge or the victorious assertion of the physical might of the nation, but only the vindication of right, of human right, of which we are only a single champion. When I addressed the Congress on the 26th of February last, I thought that it would suffice to assert our neutral rights with arms, our right to use the seas against unlawful interference, our right to keep our people safe against unlawful violence. But armed neutrality, it now appears, is impracticable. Because submarines are in effect outlaws when used as the German submarines have been used against merchant shipping, it is impossible to defend ships against their attacks as the law of nations has assumed that merchantmen would defend themselves against privateers or cruisers, visible craft giving chase upon the open sea. It is common prudence in such circumstances, grim necessity indeed, to endeavour to destroy them before they have shown their own intention. They must be dealt with upon sight, if dealt with at all. The German Government denies the right of neutrals to use arms at all within the areas of the sea which it has proscribed, even in the defense of rights which no modern publicist has ever before questioned their right to defend. The intimation is conveyed that the armed guards which we have placed on our merchant ships will be treated as beyond the pale of law and subject to be dealt with as pirates would be. Armed neutrality is ineffectual enough at best; in such circumstances and in the face of such pretensions it is worse than ineffectual; it is likely only to produce what it was meant to prevent; it is practically certain to draw us into the war without either the rights or the effectiveness of belligerents. There is one choice we can not make, we are incapable of making: we will not choose the path of submission and suffer the most sacred rights of our nation and our people to be ignored or violated. The wrongs against which we now array ourselves are no common wrongs; they cut to the very roots of human life. With a profound sense of the solemn and even tragical character of the step I am taking and of the grave responsibilities which it involves, but in unhesitating obedience to what I deem my constitutional duty, I advise that the Congress declare the recent course of the Imperial German Government to be in fact nothing less than war against the Government and people of the United States; that it formally accept the status of belligerent which has thus been thrust upon it, and that it take immediate steps not only to put the country in a more thorough state of defense but also to exert all its power and employ all its resources to bring the Government of the German Empire to terms and end the war. What this will involve is clear. It will involve the utmost practicable cooperation in counsel and action with the governments now at war with Germany, and, as incident to that, the extension to those governments of the most liberal financial credits, in order that our resources may so far as possible be added to theirs. It will involve the organization and mobilization of all the material resources of the country to supply the materials of war and serve the incidental needs of the nation in the most abundant and yet the most economical and efficient way possible. It will involve the immediate full equipment of the Navy in all respects but particularly in supp
lying it with the best means of dealing with the enemy’s submarines. It will involve the immediate addition to the armed forces of the United States already provided for by law in case of war at least 500,000 men, who should, in my opinion, be chosen upon the principle of universal liability to service, and also the authorization of subsequent additional increments of equal force so soon as they may be needed and can be handled in training. It will involve also, of course, the granting of adequate credits to the Government, sustained, I hope, so far as they can equitably be sustained by the present generation, by well conceived taxation…. While we do these things, these deeply momentous things, let us be very clear, and make very clear to all the world what our motives and our objects are. My own thought has not been driven from its habitual and normal course by the unhappy events of the last two months, and I do not believe that the thought of the nation has been altered or clouded by them I have exactly the same things in mind now that I had in mind when I addressed the Senate on the 22d of January last; the same that I had in mind when I addressed the Congress on the 3d of February and on the 26th of February. Our object now, as then, is to vindicate the principles of peace and justice in the life of the world as against selfish and autocratic power and to set up amongst the really free and self-governed peoples of the world such a concert of purpose and of action as will henceforth ensure the observance of those principles. Neutrality is no longer feasible or desirable where the peace of the world is involved and the freedom of its peoples, and the menace to that peace and freedom lies in the existence of autocratic governments backed by organized force which is controlled wholly by their will, not by the will of their people. We have seen the last of neutrality in such circumstances. We are at the beginning of an age in which it will be insisted that the same standards of conduct and of responsibility for wrong done shall be observed among nations and their governments that are observed among the individual citizens of civilized states. We have no quarrel with the German people. We have no feeling towards them but one of sympathy and friendship. It was not upon their impulse that their Government acted in entering this war. It was not with their previous knowledge or approval. It was a war determined upon as wars used to be determined upon in the old, unhappy days when peoples were nowhere consulted by their rulers and wars were provoked and waged in the interest of dynasties or of little groups of ambitious men who were accustomed to use their fellow men as pawns and tools. Selfgoverned nations do not fill their neighbour states with spies or set the course of intrigue to bring about some critical posture of affairs which will give them an opportunity to strike and make conquest. Such designs can be successfully worked out only under cover and where no one has the right to ask questions. Cunningly contrived plans of deception or aggression, carried, it may be, from generation to generation, can be worked out and kept from the light only within the privacy of courts or behind the carefully guarded confidences of a narrow and privileged class. They are happily impossible where public opinion commands and insists upon full information concerning all the nation’s affairs. A steadfast concert for peace can never be maintained except by a partnership of democratic nations. No autocratic government could be trusted to keep faith within it or observe its covenants. It must be a league of honour, a partnership of opinion. Intrigue would eat its vitals away; the plottings of inner circles who could plan what they would and render account to no one would be a corruption seated at its very heart. Only free peoples can hold their purpose and their honour steady to a common end and prefer the interests of mankind to any narrow interest of their own. Does not every American feel that assurance has been added to our hope for the future peace of the world by the wonderful and heartening things that have been happening within the last few weeks in Russia? Russia was known by those who knew it best to have been always in fact democratic at heart, in all the vital habits of her thought, in all the intimate relationships of her people that spoke their natural instinct, their habitual attitude towards life. The autocracy that crowned the summit of her political structure, long as it had stood and terrible as was the reality of its power, was not in fact Russian in origin, character, or purpose; and now it has been shaken off and the great, generous Russian people have been added in all their naive majesty and might to the forces that are fighting for freedom in the world, for justice, and for peace. Here is a fit partner for a league of honour. One of the things that has served to convince us that the Prussian autocracy was not and could never be our friend is that from the very outset of the present war it has filled our unsuspecting communities and even our offices of government with spies and set criminal intrigues everywhere afoot against our national unity of counsel, our peace within and without our industries and our commerce. Indeed it is now evident that its spies were here even before the war began; and it is unhappily not a matter of conjecture but a fact proved in our courts of justice that the intrigues which have more than once come perilously near to disturbing the peace and dislocating the industries of the country have been carried on at the instigation, with the support, and even under the personal direction of official agents of the Imperial Government accredited to the Government of the United States. Even in checking these things and trying to extirpate them we have sought to put the most generous interpretation possible upon them because we knew that their source lay, not in any hostile feeling or purpose of the German people towards us (who were, no doubt, as ignorant of them as we ourselves were), but only in the selfish designs of a Government that did what it pleased and told its people nothing. But they have played their part in serving to convince us at last that that Government entertains no real friendship for us and means to act against our peace and security at its convenience. That it means to stir up enemies against us at our very doors the intercepted [Zimmermann] note to the German Minister at Mexico City is eloquent evidence. We are accepting this challenge of hostile purpose because we know that in such a government, following such methods, we can never have a friend; and that in the presence of its organized power, always lying in wait to accomplish we know not what purpose, there can be no assured security for the democratic governments of the world. We are now about to accept gage of battle with this natural foe to liberty and shall, if necessary, spend the whole force of the nation to check and nullify its pretensions and its power. We are glad, now that we see the facts with no veil of false pretence about them, to fight thus for the ultimate peace of the world and for the liberation of its peoples, the German peoples included: for the rights of nations great and small and the privilege of men everywhere to choose their way of life and of obedience. The world must be made safe for democracy. Its peace must be planted upon the tested foundations of political liberty. We have no selfish ends to serve. We desire no conquest, no dominion. We seek no indemnities for ourselves, no material compensation for the sacrifices we shall freely make. We are but one of the champions of the rights of mankind. We shall be satisfied when those rights have been made as secure as the faith and the freedom of nations can make them. Just because we fight without rancour and without selfish object, seeking nothing for ourselves but what we shall wish to share with all free peoples, we shall, I feel confident, conduct our operations as belligerents without passion and ourselves observe with proud punct
ilio the principles of right and of fair play we profess to be fighting for. I have said nothing of the governments allied with the Imperial Government of Germany because they have not made war upon us or challenged us to defend our right and our honour. The Austro-Hungarian Government has, indeed, avowed its unqualified endorsement and acceptance of the reckless and lawless submarine warfare adopted now without disguise by the Imperial German Government, and it has therefore not been possible for this Government to receive Count Tarnowski, the Ambassador recently accredited to this Government by the Imperial and Royal Government of Austria-Hungary; but that Government has not actually engaged in warfare against citizens of the United States on the seas, and I take the liberty, for the present at least, of postponing a discussion of our relations with the authorities at Vienna. We enter this war only where we are clearly forced into it because there are no other means of defending our rights. It will be all the easier for us to conduct ourselves as belligerents in a high spirit of right and fairness because we act without animus, not in enmity towards a people or with the desire to bring any injury or disadvantage upon them, but only in armed opposition to an irresponsible government which has thrown aside all considerations of humanity and of right and is running amuck. We are, let me say again, the sincere friends of the German people, and shall desire nothing so much as the early reestablishment of intimate relations of mutual advantage between us — however hard it may be for them, for the time being, to believe that this is spoken from our hearts. We have borne with their present government through all these bitter months because of that friendship — exercising a patience and forbearance which would otherwise have been impossible. We shall, happily, still have an opportunity to prove that friendship in our daily attitude and actions towards the millions of men and women of German birth and native sympathy, who live amongst us and share our life, and we shall be proud to prove it towards all who are in fact loyal to their neighbours and to the Government in the hour of test. They are, most of them, as true and loyal Americans as if they had never known any other fealty or allegiance. They will be prompt to stand with us in rebuking and restraining the few who may be of a different mind and purpose. If there should be disloyalty, it will be dealt with with a firm hand of stern repression; but, if it lifts its head at all, it will lift it only here and there and without countenance except from a lawless and malignant few. It is a distressing and oppressive duty, gentlemen of the Congress, which I have performed in thus addressing you. There are, it may be, many months of fiery trial and sacrifice ahead of us. It is a fearful thing to lead this great peaceful people into war, into the most terrible and disastrous of all wars, civilization itself seeming to be in the balance. But the right is more precious than peace, and we shall fight for the things which we have always carried nearest our hearts — for democracy, for the right of those who submit to authority to have a voice in their own governments, for the rights and liberties of small nations, for a universal dominion of right by such a concert of free peoples as shall bring peace and safety to all nations and make the world itself at last free. To such a task we can dedicate our lives and our fortunes, everything that we are and everything that we have, with the pride of those who know that the day has come when America is privileged to spend her blood and her might for the principles that gave her birth and happiness and the peace which she has treasured. God helping her, she can do no other.
Cambridge University Press
International Organization Foundation
Institutional Selection in International Relations: State Anarchy as Order
Author(s): Hendrik Spruyt
Source: International Organization, Vol. 48, No. 4 (Autumn, 1994), pp. 527-557
Published by: The MIT Press
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Institutional selection in international
relations: state anarchy as order
Hendrik Spruyt
In effect, what this question asks is why, at various times and in differing contexts,
individuals and groups believe one political form rather than another is
best suited to advance their interests.
-Robert Gilpin
At the end of the feudal era, a dramatic economic change occurred. Localized
barter exchange started to give way to monetary exchange and translocal trade.
By the beginning of the fourteenth century, a variety of new institutional forms
had emerged for organizing political and economic life. Sovereign territorial
states, city-leagues, and city-states all tried to tap into the new sources of
economic wealth, particularly long-distance trade. Indeed, the city-based
political organizations initially did very well. In the long run, however, roughly
by the middle of the seventeenth century, city-states and city-leagues had fallen
by the wayside. In this article, I attempt to answer the question of why this was
so and chart how sovereign territorial states displaced their contemporary rivals.
I argue that the sovereign territorial state prevailed because it proved more
effective at preventing defection by its members, reducing internal transaction
costs, and making credible commitments to other units. It did this in three
ways. First, sovereign rulers were better at centralizing jurisdiction and
authority.’ Consequently, they were in a better position to prevent free riding
and to gradually rationalize their economies and standardize coinage and
I thank Deborah Avant, Peter Cowhey, Dan Deudney, Joel Hellman, Arvid Lukauskas, Helen
Milner, John Odell, John Ruggie, Alexander Wendt, and the referees of this journal for their
comments and critiques. The research was supported by the Columbia University Council for
Research in the Social Sciences. The epigraph is from Robert Gilpin, War and Change in World
Politics (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1981), p. 42.
1. In the following pages I sometimes denote “sovereign territorial state” with either the term
“territorial state” or “sovereign state.” These terms all refer to a particular form of government
wherein authority claims internal hierarchy and recognizes no higher authority beyond its borders.
For this definition see Stanley Benn, “Sovereignty,” in The Encyclopedia of Philosophy (New York:
Macmillan, 1967), pp. 501-5.
Intemational Organzation 48,4, Autumn 1994, pp. 527-57
? 1994 by The IO Foundation and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology
528 International Organization
weights and measures. This economic rationalization corresponded with a
greater capacity to wage war. The institutional makeup of sovereign territorial
states thus gave them competitive advantages over other organizational
Second, sovereign territoriality, when confirmed to other actors, was a means
of structuring interunit behavior.2 States, or rather the political and social elites
within sovereign states, preferred similar types of units in their environment
because sovereign rulers could more credibly commit the members of their
organization (through their control of free riding and defection) and because
their authority was exactly specified by territorial parameters.
Third, and as a consequence of the first two conditions, actors from other
institutional arrangements defected to states or copied their institutional
makeup. Displacement of alternative types thus occurred from the bottom up
as well as the top down-actors “voted with their feet” or copied what they
perceived to be the superior organizational type.
The principle of sovereign territorial authority differed from other systems of
rule. Although inherent in the early medieval attempts to reconstruct the
Roman Empire and the attempts of the popes to build a Christian theocracy
was a notion of internal hierarchy, both organizational attempts lacked precise
territorial specifications. The newer institutional types-the city-leagues and
city-states that emerged in the course of the twelfth and thirteenth centuriesalso
differed from sovereign territorial rule. The city-states acknowledged
territorial limits but often lacked clear internal hierarchy. The city-leagues had
neither, lacking both territorial contiguity and fixed borders (that is, they were
not territorially specified). Additionally, they largely were loose confederations
having no clear sovereign.
This article begins with the premise that the possibilities of continued
feudalism, a centralized empire, and theocracy had all waned by the early
fourteenth century.3 The future lay with three new institutional arrangements:
the city-league, the city-state, and the sovereign territorial state. The question
is why did the last system of rule win out. Thus, while we often talk about the
erergence of the state in terms of increased taxing powers, the formation of
public rather than private authority, and the growth of the state in terms of
scale, those are not the features of the state that this essay will examine. In
essence, city-leagues, city-states, and sovereign territorial states were all state
forms, but not all had internal hierarchy or territorial limits.4 Instead, the focus
2. The term “international” semantically prejudges the issue, since it is an anachronism for this
3. For an argumenthat these three institutional arrangements had run their course by 1300, see
Charles Tilly, ed., The Formation of National States in Westem Europe (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton
University Press, 1975), p. 26.
4. For a discussion of the various meanings of the term “state,” see J. P. Nettl, “The State as a
Conceptual Variable,” World Politics 20 (Summer 1968), pp. 559-92.
Institutional selection 529
of this essay is on a critical feature of the modern state: the principle of
sovereignty-the principle that authority is limited by precise spatial terms and
is subject to no other authority. Stated another way, authority is territorial and
exclusive. The origins of that principle, which came to dominate Europe, can be
traced to the late Middle Ages. We need now to explain its dominance.
The next part of this article suggests that two bodies of literature-new
institutional history (NIH) and historical sociology-can be useful in analyzing
the interaction between markets and hierarchies. Both have analyzed how
actors, operating in the absence of higher authority to arbitrate disputes and
enforce agreements, try to overcome that difficulty by favoring certain
institutional solutions. Historical sociology provides for a taxonomy of how
actors in practice have resolved the tensions between markets and hierarchies.
The NIH literature provides a variety of tools to explain why institutional
arrangements historically have taken a particular shape. Moreover, while it is
sometimes claimed that NIH is by definition apost hoc enterprise, I will argue
that this approach provides some a priori criteria to suggest which institutions
will be more viable in the long run.
The following parts of this article comprise the main body of my argument,
beginning with a description of how the old political order-consisting of
crosscutting and overlapping jurisdictions of feudal lords, church, emperor,
and aspiring but weak kings-proved unsuitable for an emerging precapitalist
economic environment.5 The legal climate was unfavorable for trade given the
underdevelopment of written codes, the importance of local customary
proceedings, the lack of instrumentally rational procedures, and the crosscutting
nature of jurisdictions. Economically, commerce suffered from great
variation in coinage and in weights and measures and a lack of clearly defined
property rights. Transaction costs were high.6
Newer forms of organization-sovereign territorial states, city-states, and
city-leagues-were in essence attempts to solve the discrepancy between
emerging translocal markets and existing political arrangements. These forms
of organization were all, to some degree, the result of increasing demands by
the towns to change the existing order to one more conducive to their
preferences and the result of political rulers seeking to expand their revenue
and resources.
5. The literature on emergent capitalism ranges in perspective from a neo-Marxist one to a
liberal economic one, focusing on property rights and individual incentives. For an example of the
former perspective, see Perry Anderson, Lineages of theAbsolutist State (London: Verso, 1974); and
Immanuel Wallerstein, The Modem World System, vol. 1 (New York: Academic Press, 1974). For
the public choice approach, see Douglass North and Robert Thomas, The Rise of the Westem World
(Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1973); Douglass North, Structure and Change in
Economic History (New York: W. W. Norton, 1981); and Margaret Levi, Of Rule and Revenue
(Berkeley: University of California Press, 1988).
6. I define transaction costs as the costs of arranging a contract ex ante and monitoring and
enforcing it ex post. See Thrain Eggertson, Economic Behavior and Institutions (New York:
Cambridge University Press, 1990), p. 14.
530 International Organization
This article does not examine the origins of these organizations. The
literature on state formation is vast and diverse, and no attempt is made to
engage the literature on the emergence of particular systems of rule. There is
no suggestion that the territorial state emerged as an optimal solution to
individual preferences. Rather, I examine why sovereign territorial states
eventually displaced other institutional possibilities in Europe. The emphasis is
thus placed on explaining selection among already existing alternatives.
I then compare the account herein to rival explanations and discuss the
larger implications of this article. The most obvious conclusion is that the
international system can go through dramatic transformations that are distinct
from the less comprehensive changes in ordering principle or the distribution
of power.7
Two perspectives on markets and hierarchies:
new institutionalist theory meets historical sociology
When do individuals who engage in economic transactions seek hierarchy?
When might political elites seek to capitalize on expanding their rule and when
not? Those questions are central to NIH and have a direct bearing on
institutional change in international relations.
But whether or not NIH literature can explain actual political outcomes is a
matter of debate.8 I argue that this approach can indeed fruitfully bebrought to
bear on some of these issues, provided it is sensitive enough to historical cases;
and here, historical sociology comes in.
The deductive perspective of new institutionalism
The NIH approach explains institutions as contractual agreements between
rational individuals. This, of course, need not take the form of a formal
contract, but the premise of this view is that individuals engage in strategic
exchange. Individuals, whether they behave in an optimizing or satisficing way,
pursue the formation of institutional structures that they believe will best meet
7. This lies in contrast to Waltz’s view of international systems. His argument is that such
systems vary only by ordering principle and capabilities. See Kenneth Waltz, Theory of Intemational
Politics (New York: Random House, 1979), pp. 82ff. While both ordering principle and capability
remain critical elements in any understanding of international affairs, they alone do not determine
structure. In other realist understandings, the most fundamental type of change in the international
system is that of unit change. See Robert Gilpin, War and Change in World Politics
(Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1981), pp. 39-42.
8. See Kathleen Thelen and Sven Steinmo, “Historical Institutionalism in Comparative
Politics,” in Sven Steinmo, Kathleen Thelen, and Frank Longstreth, eds., Structuring Politics (New
York: Cambridge University Press, 1992), pp. 1-32; and James Caporaso, “Microeconomics and
International Political Economy: The Neoclassical Approach to Institutions,” in Ernst-Otto
Czempiel and James Rosenau, eds., Global Changes and Theoretical Challenges (Lexington, Mass.:
D. C. Heath, 1989), pp. 135-59.
Institutional selection 531
their interests.9 Traders will prefer institutions that protect them physically and
economically. That is, they will prefer systems of rule that help them to enter
into stable contracts and that do not charge exorbitantaxes or fees. They will
be concerned with ex post reneging and will prefer institutional mechanisms
that diminish that probability.10 From their side, political entrepreneurs will
seek to capitalize on gains from trade and will seek to expand their rule in order
to do so.11 They perform a rough calculus aimed at maintaining or expanding
their own political positions.
Following the classic Coase theorem, market arrangements will suffice to
achieve efficient solutions. However, when transaction and information costs
are not zero, a more hierarchical form of organization is called for. In short,
institutions can be explained by microlevel analysis of individuals’ preferences
and contractual choices. Oliver Williamson thus explains firm organization by
individual choices to reduce transaction and information costs.12 That is, when
transaction costs are high and property rights are ill-defined, then the
contracting actors will benefit from structuring their interactions in a hierarchical
fashion. Vertical integration, that is, hierarchy, will be pursued to the point
that further integration increases marginal costs of expansion over marginal
Individuals engaging in commerce thus will have reasons to prefer more
hierarchy when this reduces information and transaction costs and creates
more certitude in their environment. Political entrepreneurs will prefer to
extend such hierarchy based on a calculation of a variety of factors. This
calculation will depend on their responsiveness to the demands of domestic
actors and on the costs of attempting such a strategy.
NIH literature also forces us to focus on the consequences of institutional
choice. Two facets of institutional arrangements are critical: the ability to
prevent free riding and the ability to credibly commit. The ability to prevent
free riding has an obvious internal component. Collective goods will be
underprovided unless the group is sufficiently small or unless there is a
9. For excellent overviews of the literature, see Terry Moe, “New Economics of Organization,”
American Joumal of Political Science 28 (November 1984), pp. 739-77; and Beth Yarborough and
Robert Yarborough, “International Institutions and the New Economics of Organization,”
Intemational Organization 44 (Spring 1990), pp. 235-59.
10. See, for example, the discussion on reneging by Beth Yarborough and Robert Yarborough,
Cooperation and Govemance in Intemational Trade (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press,
1992), pp. 14ff. For an example of how actors seek to devise institutions to limit expost reneging in
foreign investments,ee Charles Lipson, Standing Guard (Berkeley: University of California Press,
11. For one account that uses such “entrepreneurial logic” see David Friedman, “A Theory of
the Size and Shape of Nations,” Joumal of Political Economy, vol. 85, no. 1, 1977, pp. 59-77.
12. See Oliver Williamson, Markets and Hierarchies (New York: The Free Press, 1975); and
Oliver Williamson, Economic Organization (New York: New York University Press, 1986).
13. For an expansion of this logic to the integration of states, see Beth Yarborough and Robert
Yarborough, “International Contracting and Territorial Control: The Boundary Question,”
Joumal of Theoretical and Institutional Economics, forthcoming.
532 International Organization
dominant actor to prevent such free riding.14 But it also has external
implications: can a particular actor credibly commit? That is, to what extent can
one expect an actor to comply with the terms of an agreement once it has been
concluded?15 I will argue that some types of organization (particularly the
city-leagues) lacked the ability to credibly commit, either because it was not
clear that the negotiating party spoke on behalf of all the members of the
organization or because the rulers of such organizations could not prevent free
riding by their constituents.
In short, NIH literature can be useful in explaining the preferences for
particular institutions. It furthermore contributes to explaining domestic and
international consequences of institutional outcomes.
Some problems with new institutionalism
Despite the elegant and parsimonious explanations made possible by this
theoretical approach, any extension of this theory from economic organization
to political institution building must be made with caution. As NIH proponents
themselves suggest, economic and political organizations differ in some
fundamental respects. Most notably, the absence of a clear medium of
exchange-that is, the absence of profit making as an evaluative mechanism of
the rationale of such association-makes comparisons problematic.16
Second, political associations are based on a variety of individual motives:
military protection, ideological affinities, as well as economic rationale.17
Individual kings, lords, clergy, and merchants will have variant sets of
preferences. The political bargain struck between them need not a priori be
reducible to any particular set of preferences. The resulting organization
cannot be reduced to simple optimal efficiency arguments.
Moreover, NIH proponents, because they assume that institutions are
basically rational, run the risk of committing a similar error to that of
functionalist arguments. Namely, they deduce from the existing institution that
its development had to take this particular course: the post hoc, ergo propter hoc
fallacy. The existence of the institution is imputed to derive from the functions
it performs. NIH assumes a direct connection between the preferences for an
institution that would perform certain functions and the actual existence of a
14. The standard argument is by Mancur Olson, The Logic of Collective Action (Cambridge,
Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1965). See also Russell Hardin, Collective Action (Washington,
D.C.: Resources for the Future, 1982).
15. For a brief discussion of some of the issues involved, see Williamson, Markets and
Hierarchies, pp. 20 and 48.
16. Moe, “New Economics of Organization,” p. 761.
17. For example, Margaret Levi suggests that political associations are based on security
motives; see Levi, Of Rule and Revenue. See also Richard Bean, “War and the Birth of the Nation
State,” Joumal of Economic History 33 (March 1973), pp. 203-21; and Edward Ames and Richard
Rapp, “The Birth and Death of Taxes: A Hypothesis,” Joumal of Economic History 37 (March
1977), pp. 161-78.
Institutional selection 533
given institution. Sometimes preferences are then deduced tautologically from
the functions that the existing institution performs.
Finally, transaction costs are often imputed post hoc, as well. Depending on
whether a particular outcome occurred, transaction costs are suggested to have
been high or low. But as Williamson himself notes, this leads to a tautological
use of transaction costs.18
For these reasons, greater historical and empirical sensitivity is warranted.
Preferences need not be imputed. The fallacy of post hoc rationalization can be
avoided by describing the institutional choices then available to the individuals.19
Rather than deduce preferences from current functions, one can examine
the individual’s actual choices among alternatives. What transaction costs and
credible commitments really mean can be made plausible by empirical data.
They need not be deduced post hoc. Stated another way, new institutionalism
needs history.20
In sum, a microlevel focus on the contractual nature of institutions, which
empirically takes account of the role that transaction and information costs
play in institutional choice, can be useful. It illuminates the reasons for political
entrepreneurs and merchants to strike particular bargains. Moreover, it
provides for hypotheses on whether or not institutional arrangements will be
competitively successful in the long run. Thus one might expect that institutions
will be competitively successful if they can prevent free riding and defection.
This ability will provide the means to rationalize the domestic economy and
reduce transaction and information costs. Additionally, if particular organizational
units can reduce the level of defection and ex post reneging between
themselves, then they can credibly commit to long-term agreements. If an
organization cannot do so, there is good reason to exclude such an actor from
the preferred set of units. Historically, sovereign rulers provided focal points to
regularize transactions.21 They could do so because they could plausibly speak
on behalf of their subjects and commit them. In game-theoretic terms, they
were able to engage in iterative behavior.22
18. Oliver Williamson, The Economic Institutions of Capitalism (New York: The Free Press,
1985), p. 4.
19. For brief and insightful critiques of functionalist explanations, see Robert Keohane, After
Hegemony (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1984), pp. 80-83; Brian Barry, Sociologists,
Economists, and Democracy (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1978), p. 169; and Yarborough
and Yarborough, “International Institutions and the New Economics of Organization,” pp.
20. Many of these points are also raised in Thelen and Steinmo, “Historical Institutionalism in
Comparative Politics.”
21. For a discussion of focal points in enhancing cooperation, see Thomas Schelling, The Strategy
of Conflict (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1980). In my usage, however, I do not
associate it with tacit communication.
22. See the discussion of how such actors can overtake the elements in an entire set in Robert
Axelrod, “The Emergence of Cooperation Among Egoists,” American Political Science Review 75
(June 1981), pp. 306-19. For a discussion of the prerequisites of iteration, see Kenneth Oye,
Cooperation UnderAnarchy (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1986), chap. 1.
534 International Organization
Two historical solutions to markets and hierarchy
Historically, the relation between market and political authority has often
taken two forms-imperial organization and ad hoc lord-merchant arrangements.
Both forms can be understood within the explanatory framework of
In traditional empires, most economic interaction takes place within the
boundaries of the empire. The geographical extension of political authority
roughly corresponds with the spatial extension of the primary market. According
to Roberto Unger, “Its most tangible feature is the overall coincidence of
economic and political boundaries.”23 Anthony Giddens argues that “imperial
expansion tends to incorporate all significant economic needs within the
domain of the empire itself, relations with groups on the perimeter tending to
be unstable.”24 Immanuel Wallerstein suggests that economically integrated
zones, that is, world systems, often were transformed into empires.25 While
such an empire might recognize an outside world, it is regarded as a periphery
with which one would deal as a nonequal.26 The overarching hierarchy can be
provided by political imperial control, as occurred in China, or by theocratic
authority, as occurred in India.27
The argument does not hold just for traditional empires. Clearly, modern
imperial pretensions often have been fostered by coalitions between elites with
transnational economic interests and political entrepreneurs. Economic elites
might seek resources or markets for their products to which the empire gives
them preferential access. Political rulers seek empire as a means of revenue,
glory, or manpower.28
But, of course, not all economic transactions fall within unified political
control, even though some traders and rulers might desire such outcomes.29
Even in premodern empires, a substantial amount of trade might be conducted
beyond the imperial frontiers. Moreover, imperial preferences will be matched
by other actors who seek to delimit such extension. Indeed, the greater the
23. Roberto Unger, Plasticity into Power (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1987), p. 113.
Unger places such modern empires as the twentieth-century German and Japanese programs in
this category.
24. Anthony Giddens, The Nation-State and Violence (Berkeley: University of California Press,
1987), p. 80.
25. Wallerstein, The Modem World System, p. 15.
26. On this point, see Friedrich Kratochwil, “Of Systems, Boundaries, and Territoriality: An
Inquiry into the Formation of the State System,” World Politics 39 (October 1986), pp. 27-52.
27. For an overview of these dynamics, see John Hall, Powers and Liberties (Berkeley: University
of California Press, 1985).
28. See Michael Doyle, Empires (Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 1986); and Jack Snyder,
Myths of Empire (Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 1991).
29. As Abu-Lughod notes, many economic zones, and world systems, did not fall under political
unification. She also notes, however, that unification can sometimes reduce uncertainty and
protection costs. See Janet Abu-Lughod, Before European Hegemony (New York: Oxford
University Press, 1989), pp. 208-9.
Institutional selection 535
imperial drive, the greater the possibility that a balancing coalition will arise
against the imperial actor.30
When commerce occurs across boundaries without political supervision, that
is, when the market geographically extends beyond existing political authorities,
then merchants must rely on self-help. On the one hand, merchants must
strike deals with local lords (or kings) to obtain local protection and trading
privileges. Unger terms this set of arrangements “overlord-peddler” agreements.
The overlord offers the trader landing rights, unobstructed passage, and
protection in exchange for certain fees or taxes. In essence, traders must strike
deals themselves, deals that are ad hoc and subject to defection by the local
lord. In NIH terms, merchants had to try to create institutional arrangements
that limited the incentives for ex post reneging. It was unknown whether the
other party would respect the terms of the bargain. As a result, long-distance
trade often was conducted by merchants who were related by kin or of similar
cultural background.31 Clan ties, reputation, and shared culture were critical to
commerce, since such traits had particular advantages in preventing reneging
and in reducing transaction and information problems.32
The problem of hierarchy and markets generally has been solved in two ways.
In the imperial logic of organization, political elites might benefit from
expanding their authority over the relevant sphere of economic transaction.
They might do so to gain more revenue or tribute or to expand their power
base. Merchants might acquiesce to such rule as it might create more certitude
in their market environment.33 The Roman Empire thus benefited both
emperor and merchant. Similarly, the lamented “barbarian” extension of
Mongol rule over much of the Eurasian continent in fact benefited trade by
placing East-West trade routes under unified political control. Such developments
reduced uncertainty by providing protection against infringement of
property rights, violation of contracts, and outright predation by robbers and
local lords. Such rule might reduce transaction costs by providing for certain
coinage and particular weights and measures and by reducing the amount of
legal customs.
30. Snyder, Myths of Empire, p. 6.
31. See Curtin’s discussion of trade diasporas in Philip D. Curtin, Cross-Cultural Trade in World
History (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1984).
32. See Janet Landa, “A Theory of the Ethnically Homogeneous Middleman Group: An
Institutional Alternative to Contract Law,” Joumal of Legal Studies 10 (June 1981), pp. 349-62;
Hans-Jorg Schmidt-Trenz, “Private International Trade in the Shadow of the Territoriality of Law:
Why Does It Work,” Southem Economic Joumal 58 (October 1991), pp. 329-38; and Jack Carr and
Janet Landa, “The Economics of Symbols, Clan Names, and Religion,” Joumal of Legal Studies 12
(January 1983), pp. 135-56.
33. One might object that this expansion should not be perceived as a contract between ruler
and ruled. However, if one assumes that at least a minimum of quasi-compliance is necessary for a
trading system to continue, then a purely extortionist government will destroy its own basis of
revenue should it tax its merchants to the point that there are no incentives to continue to engage in
commercial activity.
536 International Organization
Imperial authority, however, might have a negative consequence: it might
exploit traders who, given that the market lies primarily within the empire,
would have little opportunity for exit short of surrendering their occupation
altogether. Unified control over the market is thus a double-edged sword.
In a decentralized logic of organization, merchants have to strike deals with
lords on an ad hoc basis. This reduces the ability of long-term predation by one
lord because a merchant can shift to another. But it increases protection
problems and magnifies the uncertainty and transaction costs of crossboundary
trade without political protection. (This might be one reason why
trade across boundaries was often luxury trade. High profit margins compensated
for high risks and transaction costs.)
In Europe a third arrangement emerged. When trade increased in the late
Middle Ages, imperial organization, either in the form of the Holy Roman
Empire or Roman theocracy, failed. But this did not mean that merchants now
had to fend for themselves. The overlord-peddler deals increasingly became
supervised and routinized by a variety of political authorities. Of these,
sovereign territoriality proved to have long-term advantages in that it created
more certitude in the domestic economic environment. It reduced free riding
and transaction costs more efficiently than the alternatives. Externally, sovereign
authority became a focal point around which to conduct international
affairs. In short, the success of the territorial state can at least partially be
understood by its solution to the tension between markets and hierarchies.
The feudal era: local trade and barter exchange
Feudalism essentially entailed decentralized political authority, private possession
of the means of violence, and the lack of any distinction between public
and private authority.34 Those political factors created an environmenthat
greatly hindered commerce. While goods were produced primarily for local
consumption and exchange was largely in-kind, this posed few problems. The
late medieval expansion of trading opportunities, however, necessitated some
institutional changes.
The feudal barriers to trade were varied. First, feudal organization lacked
the absolute exclusion that we attach to private property. Instead, continued
possession over time, seisin, established the legitimacy of the holder. Since
production consisted mainly of agricultural commodities that were traded by
barter and often took place in the context of reciprocal feudal relations, this
was a workable solution. Holdings were embedded in a system of mutual
34. The characteristic features of feudalism are the subjects of long-standing disputes. Strayer’s
description is widely accepted, and that is the one I use here. See Joseph Strayer, Feudalism (New
York: Van Nostrand Reinhold, 1965), p. 13.
Institutional selection 537
obligations, and thus one could not easily convey any exclusive right to a third
Second, given that money was scarce, feudal obligations of necessity revolved
around in-kind transfers.36 Indeed, the very basis of feudal organization was
centered around the granting of land by a high lord or king to a lesser vassal.
Lords or knights of the manor demanded in-kind goods and services from the
peasants and serfs who worked the lands, in exchange for which they were
granted protection. All such relations were highly personalized and contextspecific.
The legal system further hindered commercial transactions. Feudalism
evolved into a system of preferential birth and operated as a closed caste
system favoring the warrior aristocracy.37 No amount of material wealth
dispelled the difference between commoner and noble. This entailed preferential
judicial procedures such as trial by ordeal and combat and judgment by
noble peers rather than by inferiors. Clearly such arrangements did not work in
favor of the burghers who sought more rational means of contract enforcement.
The high degree of localized rule also yielded a diversity of legal customs.38
Given that even lesser lords had acquired previously royal rights to pass
judgment, so-called banal justice, each locality had its own legal particularities.39
This situation was only exacerbated by the general absence of written
law-with the exception of southern France and Italy, the lands of the droit ecrit
(written law). Thus northern France, the land of the droit coutumier (customary
law), was governed roughly by three hundred local customary codes.40
Transaction costs were raised further by the fact that secular and ecclesiastical
lords used their own weights and measures. Indeed, manipulation of such
measures could yield tidy profits for local lords. They furthermore required
traders to use their measures and weights at a given location, of course paying a
fee to the lord for such use. By the late Middle Ages, England had hundreds of
35. Michael Saltman, “Feudal Relationships and the Law: A Comparative Inquiry,” Comparative
Studies in Society and History 29 (July 1987), pp. 514-32. See also Marc Bloch, Feudal Society
(Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1961), pp. 115-16.
36. Thus, Polanyi defined feudalism as an in-kind economy. See Karl Polanyi, “Primitive
Feudalism and the Feudalism of Decay,” in George Dalton, ed., Economic Development and Social
Change (New York: Natural History Press, 1971), pp. 141-47 and p. 142 in particular. An indicator
of this local consumption was the itinerancy of kings. Kings traveled to locations to claim lodgings
and food, to which they were entitled by the gite, the claim to hospitality from their vassals.
37. Leopold Genicot, “La Noblesse au Moyen Age Dans L’Ancienne ‘Francie’: Continuite,
Rupture ou Evolution?” (Medieval nobility in ancient France: Continuity, break, or evolution?)
Comparative Studies in Society and History, vol. 5, no. 1, 1962, pp. 52-59.
38. For a good account of the local diversity of law, see Susan Reynolds, Kingdoms and
Communities in Western Europe 900-1300 (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1984), chaps. 1 and 2. See also
Harold Berman, Law and Revolution (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1983),
particularly chap. 13.
39. For a discussion of these rights of local lords, see Georges Duby, Rural Economy and Country
Life in the Medieval West (Columbia: University of South Carolina Press, 1968), p. 181.
40. Jean Dunbabin, France in the Making 843-1180 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1985), p.
538 International Organization
different major measures, with perhaps as many as twenty-five thousand local
Finally, lords minted their own coins. In France there were perhaps three
hundred minters; in Germany, perhaps six hundred. Each Italian town had its
own mint.42 Traders thus had to learn which exchange rates were operative,
whether or not the local lords recently had debased their currency, what the
gold value of such coin might be, and so forth.
All such matters made the conduct of any business a highly speculative and
sometimes dangerous affair. In the terms of new institutionalism, transaction
and information costs were high, and the danger of ex post reneging was
As long as barter and local exchange prevailed, none of this was particularly
problematic. By the late eleventh and early twelfth centuries, however, a
dramatic economic transformation began to take place.43 Wastelands and
forests were cleared, and agricultural production and trade began to expand.
This economic revival had several causes-decreasing invasions, improved
agricultural production, possibly even a change in weather. However, the most
critical factor in this transformation was the role played by long-distance
trade.44 Trade made increasing division of labor possible. Consequently, many
new towns were founded, and existing towns grew in the wake of this economic
boom. Indeed, many current European towns trace their founding to this
The growth of towns caused a new political group to emerge: the burghers or
town dwellers. The existing institutions had favored the interests and perspectives
of clergy and feudal lords. The new actors, the townspeople, had little
41. Ronald Zupko, “Weights and Measures, Western European,” in Joseph Strayer, ed.,
Dictionary of the Middle Ages, vol. 12 (New York: Charles Scribner, 1989), p. 582; Witold Kula,
Measures and Men (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1986), provides a fascinating
account of the variety of weights and measures and of their regulation as an issue of contention. For
a classic discussion of the variation in weights and measures and coinage throughout the
Mediterranean, see Robert Lopez and Irving Raymond, Medieval Trade in the Mediterranean World
(New York: W. W. Norton, 1967), pp. 11ff.
42. Herbert Heaton, Economic History of Europe (New York: Harper and Row, 1948), p. 175.
43. Bloch describes this period as the second feudal period. See Bloch, Feudal Society, p. 69. The
economic growth is well-documented in Carlo Cipolla, Before the Industrial Revolution (New York:
W. W. Norton, 1980); Georges Duby, The Early Growth of the European Economy (Ithaca, N.Y.:
Cornell University Press, 1974); and Jacques Le Goff, Medieval Civilization (New York: Basil
Blackwell, 1988).
44. See Fernand Braudel, The Perspective of the World (New York: Harper and Row, 1984);
Henri Pirenne, Medieval Cities (1925, reprint; Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1952).
For a reaffirmation of Pirenne, see Le Goff, Medieval Civilization; Fritz Rorig, The Medieval Town
(Berkeley: University of California Press, 1969), p. 20; Geoffrey Barraclough, Origins of Modem
Germany (New York: W. W. Norton, 1984), pp. 4 and 76; and Adriaan Verhulst, “The Origins of
Towns in the Low Countries and the Pirenne Thesis,” Past and Present 122 (1989), pp. 3-35.
45. See Paul Hohenberg and Lynn Lees, The Making of Urban Europe (Boston: Harvard
University Press, 1985); and Edith Ennen, The Medieval Town (Amsterdam: North Holland
Publishing, 1979).
Institutional selection 539
influence in that political set of arrangements. Thus, coupled with the rise of
the towns, a new set of interests and ideological perspectives emerged with a
new set of demands. The feudal order-based on crosscutting jurisdictions and
on ill-defined property rights and judicial procedures-did not fit the burghers’
mercantile pursuits. Market exchange and trade required abstract contractual
obligations with money as a medium.46 The emergence of towns thus created a
dynamic element in the European political system. As Georges Duby wrote,
“Central to the revitalized principalities, towns now held the key position in the
political order that slowly emerged from the tangle of feudal relations.”47
Despite the opposition of the feudal aristocracy, the German emperor, and
the church, the economic transformation made new political arrangements
possible. Most accounts argue that the possibilities of continued feudalism, a
centralized empire, and theocracy had waned by the early fourteenth century.48
The future lay with three new institutional innovations: the city-league, the
city-state, and the sovereign territorial state. All three responded in some
degree to the demands of commercial actors, that is, of the townspeople.
Sovereign territorial states emerged particularly in England and France, while
city-states gradually arose out of the roughly two hundred to three hundred
independent communes of Italy. Germany became the primary location of
city-leagues, which united to curtail predation by the lords.
All three were able to respond to the precapitalist opportunities of the
period. It is thus a mistake to argue that sovereign territorial states supplanted
feudal organization in a linear and sequential way. All three institutional
arrangements-city-league, city-state, and sovereign territorial state-could
mobilize more resources than could traditional feudal organization. The
question is not why territorial states replaced feudalism but why they ultimately
managed to displace their contemporary competitors.
In short, until the late Middle Ages, European political development
differed little from that elsewhere. Decentralized political authority necessitated
ad hoc bargains and reliance on self-help by social actors. Alternatively,
both emperor and pope attempted to reestablish imperial organization. In
Europe none of these possibilities-feudal lordships, empire, or theocracyeventually
carried the day. Instead, the dramatic economic change led to
institutional innovation unique to the European historical experience.
We might conjecture that the new institution that would ultimately prove
most successful would be the one that could lessen the problems of feudal
particularism the most. A successful institution would have to reduce the
46. For a discussion of the significant implications of that transition, see Marvin Becker,
Medieval Italy (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1981).
47. Duby, The Early Growth of the European Economy, p. 252. For a similar view, see John
Morrall, Political Thought in Medieval Times (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1980), p. 42.
48. For an assessment that these three institutional arrangements indeed had come to the end of
their primacy by 1300, see Tilly, The Formation of National States in Western Europe, p. 26; and
Morrall, Political Thought in Medieval Times.
540 International Organization
number of crosscutting and rival jurisdictions. By centralizing justice and
authority, it could also reduce defection by its constituents. Furthermore,
internal hierarchy would reduce the number of legal codes, standardize judicial
procedure, and provide for an appeals process. In the economic sphere, an
organization’s success might be measured by the centralization of coinage and
the standardization of weights and measures. Consequently, if one accepts that
standardizations of laws, weights and measures, and coinage are at least some
of the prerequisites for a modern economy, then we have a priori indicators of
success. Furthermore, given that European trade would be transboundary
trade, a successful institution could a priori be specified as an institution that
could credibly commit to international agreements. Of the new institutional
types that emerged in the late Middle Ages, which performed these functions
most successfully in the course of the next centuries?
Rivalry and selection among the new
institutional possibilities
Sovereign territorial rule
The possibility of unified political control over the primary area of economic
interactions (the imperial solution) had failed by the early fourteenth century.
The expanding level of trade, therefore, occurred across political boundaries.
Consequently, traders had to work out arrangements of their own, such as the
development of merchant law,49 and had to negotiate with a variety of political
authorities over whose borders they crossed.
Rulers, however, realized that rationalizing the economies of their kingdoms
and facilitating trade were in their own interests. Consequently, they became
involved in both domestic and international tasks. Internally, political authorities
gradually became involved in creating an efficient domestic economy by
combating feudal particularism. Externally, they began to create conditions
that made long-term iterative behavior predictable and relatively stable. In
fact, as P. H. Sawyer wrote, “One of the prerogatives claimed by English kings
in the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries was the right to regulate merchants
and commerce.”50
One aspect of such regulation was the attempt to centralize and regulate
coinage. The dissemination of mints (for example, the small duchy of Berry
49. Merchant law is discussed by Berman, Law and Revolution, chap. 11. For a new
institutionalist view of merchant law, see Paul Milgrom, Douglass North, and Barry Weingast,
“The Role of Institutions in the Revival of Trade: The Law Merchant, Private Judges, and the
Champagne Fairs,” Economics and Politics 2 (March 1990), pp. 1-23; Avner Greif, “Institutions
and International Trade: Lessons from the Commercial Revolution,” American Economic Review
82 (May 1992), pp. 128-33; and Bruce Benson, “The Spontaneous Evolution of Commercial Law,”
Southern Economic Journal 55 (January 1989), pp. 644-61.
50. The quotation is drawn from p. 139 of P. H. Sawyer, “Kings and Merchants,” in P. H. Sawyer
and I. Wood, eds., Early Medieval Kingship (Leeds: University of Leeds, 1977), pp. 139-58.
Institutional selection 541
alone had twelve different mints) correlated with frequent depreciation by
many of the minting lords.51 To combat such fragmentation, the early Capetian
kings declared royal currency to be the only currency of the French realm.52
Although feudal lords continued to mint coins, their area of usage increasingly
was limited to that area immediately under each’s control. The number of
mints declined from roughly three hundred to thirty by the beginning of the
fourteenth century, the end of the Capetian reign.53
Although English minting already was much more centralized, the English
king tried to decrease further the number of baronial mints. Moreover, English
traders benefited from a regular currency that was debased only rarely.54
Monarchs also tried to standardize weights and measures. Here the French
king initially was less successful. It was clear to the bourgeois, however, that
only a hierarchical form of government could ultimately make inroads in that
direction. Philip V (1316-22) was one of the first French monarchs to regulate
weights and measures, but others continued the policy. Louis XI in the
fifteenth century, Louis XII in the reform of 1508, and Francis I and Henry II in
a variety of edicts in 1540, 1557, 1575, and 1579 all tried to reduce the
mind-boggling variety of measures then used throughout the kingdom.55 In
England, central authority made greater inroads into standardizing weights
and measures. Some progress already had been made beginning in the twelfth
century. In 1317, the crown had ordered that the standards of London be used.
Other orders, such as the statute of 1389 and the parliamentary legislation of
1413, further declared standards and specified penalties for offenders. But the
movement toward standardization received particular impetus during the
Tudor government. In the words of Ronald Zupko, “Before the imperial
weights and measures era began in the third decade of the nineteenth century,
no period in English history was as important from the standpoint of physical
standards as the Tudor.”56
Particularism and customary procedures in the legal field also were tackled.
By the middle of the thirteenth century, kings had forbade trial by combat and
51. Duby, The Early Growth of the European Economy, p. 249.
52. For French royal efforts in this regard, see Robert Fawtier, The Capetian Kings of France
(New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1960), pp. 188-91. In general, all royal authorities tried to
standardize and rationalize the legal process and bring more certitude to economic transactions.
See Berman, Law and Revolution, pp. 466-77; Peter Spufford, “Coinage and Currency,” The
Cambridge Economic History of Europe, vol. 2 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1987), p.
812; and Henry Myers, Medieval Kingship (Chicago: Nelson-Hall, 1982), p. 319.
53. See Heaton, Economic History of Europe, pp. 174-75; and William Jordan, Louis IX and the
Challenge of the Crusade (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1979), p. 209.
54. Carlo Cipolla, “Currency Depreciation in Medieval Europe,” Economic History Review, vol.
15, no. 3, 1963, pp. 413-22. For the stability of English coinage, see Duby, The Early Growth of the
European Economy, p. 251.
55. See particularly Kula, Measures and Men, chap. 22. Also see Elizabeth Hallam, Capetian
France 987-1328 (New York: Longman, 1980), p. 284; and Myers, Medieval Kingship, p. 319.
56. Ronald Zupko, British Weights and Measures (Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1977),
p. 74. For another discussion of English success at centralization, see Rorig, Medieval Town, pp.
542 International Organization
ordeal.57 Rulers tried to decrease local particularism by insisting on hierarchical
appeal procedures and by turning to Roman (that is, written) law for
greater certitude. Roman law not only justified sovereign rule, and hence was
desirable from the king’s position for that reason alone, but it also contained
developed theories of property. While English law did not take the same route,
there too kings began to rationalize judicial procedure. As early as the twelfth
century, Henry II had started to revolutionize “the system of law in England
primarily by imposing royal jurisdiction, and royal law, upon criminal and civil
matters that had previously been under local and feudal jurisdiction,” in the
words of Harold Berman.58 One of the dimensions of this royal jurisdiction was
greater protection for those who were illegitimately dispossessed. This occurred
even prior to the development of such principles in Roman law on the
Externally, kings started to act as representatives of their domestic constituencies.60
For example, the French king claimed during the Hundred Years War
that only he was allowed to negotiate with the English.6′ Government also
became involved in regulating trade. According to Jacques Bernard, “They
strictly controlled all ‘letters of mark’ and reprisals against foreign merchants,
and in their place substituted due process of law…. they also tried to
guarantee the authenticity, validity and execution of trading agreements.”62
Gradually, merchant law, the system of law that the merchants had administered
themselves in an ingenious self-help construction, was replaced by royal
law.63 To use Nettl’s term, sovereign rulers became the gatekeepers separating
their domestic realms from the international arena.64
The process of rationalizing the economy and centralizing the judicial system
was a lengthy one. England was initially much more successful than France.
Still, the latter had also made considerable inroads into centralization even
before Jean-Baptiste Colbert’s mercantilist policies of the early seventeenth
century. In short, from the very beginning of sovereign territorial rule, which
was formally claimed by kings in the late thirteenth century and throughout the
57. See Fawtier, The Capetian Kings of France, p. 188; and Berman, Law and Revolution, p. 467.
58. Berman, Law and Revolution, p. 445.
59. R. C. Van Caenegem, The Birth of the English Common Law (New York: Cambridge
University Press, 1988), 2d ed., pp. 44 and 91.
60. For an argument that the Capetian kings had formed the basis for sovereign authority by
1300, see Hallam, Capetian France 987-1328, pp. 262, 266, and 308; and Fawtier, The Capetian
Kings of France, pp. 47 and 189.
61. Aline Vallee, “Etat et Securite Publique au XIVe Siecle: Une Nouvelle Lecture des
Archives Royales Francaises” (State and public security in the fourteenth century: A new reading
of French royal archives), Histoire, Economie et Societe 1 (Spring 1987), pp. 3-15. Similarly the king
claimed jurisdiction in translocal affairsuch as piracy. See Frederic Cheyette, “The Sovereign and
the Pirates,” Speculum, vol. 45, no. 1, 1970, pp. 40-68.
62. Jacques Bernard, “Trade and Finance in the Middle Ages 900-1500,” in Carlo Cipolla, ed.,
The Fontana Economic History of Europe, vol. 1 (Glasgow: Collins, 1972), p. 314.
63. Benson, “The Spontaneous Evolution of Commercial Law,” p. 651.
64. Nettl, “The State as a Conceptual Variable,” p. 564.
Institutional selection 543
preindustrial era, monarchs worked toward eliminating the remnants of feudal
Of course, kings and queens had reasons of their own to do so. By providing
such goods, they obtained the support of the towns and thereby capital.
Moreover, by enhancing the economic well-being of the realm, they increased
their own ability to raise more revenue.65
The city-league: fragmented
sovereignty and nonterritoriality
The city-league lies in starkest contrast to the state. The most powerful of
such leagues was the Hanseatic League, or Hansa, which consisted of 160-200
towns and monopolized most of the northern trade.66 This league did not adopt
the principle of sovereign territoriality. It had no clear internal hierarchy and
no territorial borders to mark its jurisdiction. Because of its importance, and
because its organization was typical of many other city-leagues (such as the
Rhenish League, the Saxon League, the Swabian League, and others), I will
take the case of the Hansa as representative of city-leagues in general.
Unlike the situation in England and France, where the interests of the
monarch in an efficient economy corresponded with those of the burghers, no
central authority could legitimately claim to be a provider of internal collective
goods in the Hansa. Each town mistrusted the objectives of the others. In such
an arena of mutual distrust, economic transactions remained unstable. Efforts
by Lubeck, Hamburg, or Bremen, say, to standardize weights and measures met
with noncooperation. Consequently, city-league members continued to use a
variety of weights and measures to their own advantage.67 Moreover, to
complicate matters even further, measures might vary with the distance from
the point of origin. That is to say, traders manipulated measures to hide illicit
profit margins from ecclesiastical scrutiny.
One way of attempting to overcome this lack of collective action and create
greater standardization was the demand of the Hansetag (the Hanseatic
65. On the affinity between king and burghers, see Gianfranco Poggi, The Development of the
Modem State (Stanford, Calif.: Stanford University Press, 1978), p. 63; Edward Miller, “Government
Economic Policies and Public Finance 1000-1500,” in Cipolla, The Fontana Economic History
of Europe, vol. 1, pp. 356 and 369; and Rorig, The Medieval Town, pp. 58-64.
66. The seminal work on the Hansa is by Philippe Dollinger, The German Hansa (Stanford,
Calif.: Stanford University Press, 1970). Wernicke gives a good description of the Hansa’s
formative period and its regional and local subassemblies. See Horst Wernicke, Die Stddtehanse
1280-1418 (The Hanseatic cities 1280-1418) (Weimar: Hermann Bohlaus Nachfolger, 1983). A
good introduction to the history of the Hansa can be found in G. V. Scammel, The World
Encompassed: The First European Maritime Empires Circa 800-1650 (Berkeley: University of
California Press, 1981), chap. 2.
67. On the lack of success in standardizing measures and weights, see Otto Held, “Hansische
Einheitsbestrebungen im Mass und Gewichtswesen bis zum Jahre 1500” (Hanseatic attempts at
unity in measures and weights until the year 1500), Hansische Geschichtsbldtter 45 (1918), pp.
544 International Organization
Parliament) that its regional associations adopt the standards of one of the
dominant towns of that region. The Dutch towns, for example, were expected
to follow the lead of Cologne. But the Dutch, of course, benefited from using
and manipulating their own measures and hence had little reason to comply.68
Nor could the many Hanseatic towns agree on which currency to use and who
should mint it. The Hansa saw the use of Brandenburg talers, Lubeck and
Prussian marks, Rhenish guilders, Flemish pounds, and other currencies. The
various attempts to standardize coinage, for example through the Wendish
union on coinage, failed miserably. Relative to England and France, Hanseatic
currencies remained in disarray.69
Legal codes also remained diverse throughouthe Hansa. Daughter cities
adopted the codes of mother cities in an ad hoc manner. Some cities adopted
the legal code of Lubeck, others accepted codes from Magdeburg, Hamburg, or
other towns.70 Furthermore, enforcement and implementation of the decisions
of the Hanseatic parliament were left to the individual towns. Although the
Hansa provided for punishment, such as exclusion, for towns that defected, in
general the sanctioning process left a great deal of leeway for individual
Given the lack of effective control of each town over the others, even the
major towns tended to pursue their own objectives rather than provide for
collective goods as a hegemonic power might. Thus, despite the political
organization of the Hansa, members continued to rely on mechanisms usually
associated with self-help systems to organize trade. One such mechanism was
the implementation of ordinances to ensure the maintenance of strong family
ties. Marrying non-Hanseatics was forbidden and business partnerships with
them could be penalized by the loss of two fingers.7′
The distrust among Hanseatic members not only obstructed efforts for
greater centralization but at the same led to free riding when external collective
activity was called for. While the Hansa was sometimes quite successful in
waging war, there was always the danger of individual cities refusing to fulfill
their obligations. Thus, the Saxon members were slow to support the Wendish
towns in the war with Denmark.72 Some of the Dutch member towns were
reluctant to support the league against nonmember Dutch towns in Holland
68. Leo Lensen and Willy Heitling, De Geschiedenis van de Hanze (The history of the Hansa),
(Deventer, Holland: Arko, 1990), pp. 24 and 36.
69. Dollinger, The German Hansa, p. 207. Wilhelm Jesse, “Die Munzpolitik der Hansestadte”
(The coinage policy of the Hanseatic cities), Hansische Geschichtsblftter 53 (1928), pp. 78-96,
contrasts the lack of success in standardizing coinage and minting in the Hansa with the relative
success of France. See also Rorig, The Medieval Town, p. 65. Holborn comments on the lack of
centralization and the chaotic currency conditions in Germany as compared with England. See
Hajo Holborn, A History of Modem Germany: The Reformation (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton
University Press, 1959), p. 68.
70. Berman, Law and Revolution, p. 376.
71. Lensen and Heitling, De Geschiedenis van de Hanze, p. 41.
72. Matthias Puhle, “Der Sachsische Stadtebund und die Hanse im Spaten Mittelalter” (The
Institutional selection 545
and Zeeland.73 Even Lubeck and Hamburg, which as the Hansa’s dominant
towns were most likely to prevent free riding, were at one time briefly expelled
from the league for defecting from the league themselves.
Sovereign actors deliberately profited from this lack of unity. For example,
the Danish king claimed that certain privileges were due to the Wendish but
not the Prussian towns, although privileges had in fact been agreed upon for
the Hansa as a whole. The Prussians drew the incorrect conclusion that the
Wendish towns had defected and had negotiated private benefits of their
The lack of clear sovereign authority also made it difficult for the league to
credibly commit itself to international agreements. Treaties were negotiated by
the league as a whole, but individual towns were able to choose whether to
ratify the treaty or not. Thus, although Prussian towns refused to sign the peace
treaty with England in 1437, the Hansa nevertheless insisted that English
concessions were due to the Prussians.75 When English negotiators in the
sixteenth century demanded a list of all Hanseatic towns so that they could
know which ships could legitimately claim the specific privileges that the Hansa
had negotiated, the league refused.76 It feared that the crown would seek to
negotiate with individual towns at the expense of the league as a whole, a not
illusory danger, since England stood to gain by enticing towns to defect.77
From its side, the league would occasionally welcome free riding to
exonerate itself from any responsibility for infractions of international agreements.
For example, when England claimed that members of the Hansa
engaged in piracy and violated agreements thereon, the Hanseatic League
argued that it had no control over individual towns. In other words, it had no
clear means to deal with free riding.78
The Hansa thus could not credibly commit itself to long-term iterative
relationships with other governmentsince it could not control individual
towns’ incentives to free ride. Benefits of defection would accrue to the
individual town, whereas the costs would be borne by all. Moreover, the Hansa
itself benefited from obfuscating which members were part of the league, and
hence non-Hanseatics often distrusted their negotiating partners.
Saxon city-league and the Hansa in the late Middle Ages), Hansische Geschichtsbldtter 104 (1986),
pp. 21-34.
73. Lensen and Heitling, Geschiedenis van de Hanze, p. 155.
74. Dietrich Schafer, “Zur Frage nach der Einfuhrung des Sundzolls” (On the question of the
introduction of customs duties in the sound), Hansische Geschichtsblitter 5 (1875), pp. 33-43.
75. T. H. Lloyd, England and the German Hanse 1157-1611 (New York: Cambridge University
Press, 1991), p. 370.
76. Georg Fink, “Die Rechtliche Stellung der Deutschen Hanse in der Zeit ihres Niedergangs”
(The juridical position of the German Hansa in the time of its decline), Hansische Geschichtsblftter
(1936), pp. 122-37. See also Lloyd, England and the German Hanse, pp. 294-304, 319, and 378.
77. On English expansion into the Baltic, see Ralph Davis, English Overseas Trade 1500-1700
(London: Macmillan, 1973), pp. 16-19.
78. John Conybeare, Trade Wars (New York: Columbia University Press, 1987).
546 International Organization
Finally, the Hansa did not follow the principle of territorial delimitation of
its authority.79 Ithad no recognized borders. Consequently, its attempts to
bring new members into the league ran directly counter to the interests of
sovereign state actors, posing to them the same danger as imperial logics of
organization. Indeed, the Hansa acquired privileges in England that exempted
it from parliamentary statutes.80
In short, the city-league had problems with establishing internal hierarchy,
and consequently it was less successful than states in standardizing coinage and
centralizing jurisdiction. Externally, it was not able to credibly commit to
international treaties. Moreover, given its lack of clearly defined territorial
jurisdiction, it was less compatible with the territorial units in the international
system. In the Peace of Westphalia, for example, the princes refused to
recognize the league.81 However, individual cities such as Bremen, Hamburg,
and Lubeck were considered imperial cities (hence, de facto independent) and
as city-states were allowed to participate.82 The league therefore was refused
not on the basis of the total material resources at its disposal but on the basis of
its particular organizationalogic. The structure of the league was such that it
did not fit that of an international state system: it was not a like type.
I do not suggest that the material resources of the organization are irrelevant
altogether. It would be difficult to exclude the Hansa in its prime. However, a
material explanation alone cannot clarify why so many small actors continued
as legitimate actors in international relations. Bremen, Hamburg, and many
others were considered independent actors for many centuries after Westphalia.
While their limited resources might have made them second- or third-order
players in international politics, they were considered as legitimate players.83
The demise of the Hansa, therefore, had several causes. First, it was due to
the competitive nature of the international system in which it was confronted
by rival forms of organization. Sovereign states proved better at mobilizing
their societies and enhancing their domestic economies. Territorial units
gradually encroached on the independence of the cities that were members of
the league. Parallel with this “Darwinian” selective process were the choices of
79. See Werner Link, “Reflections on Paradigmatic Complementarity in the Study of International
Relations,” in Ernst Czempiel and James Rosenau, eds., Global Changes and Theoretical
Challenges (Lexington, Mass.: D. C. Heath, 1989), p. 101.
80. Lloyd, England and the German Hanse, p. 375.
81. Krasner is right in pointing out that Westphalia is not a dramatic break with the past. I see it
as a codification of practices already under way centuries before that. Nevertheless, it does serve a
useful purpose as a benchmark signifying that the formation of a state system was coming to
fruition. See Stephen Krasner, “Westphalia and All That,” in Judith Goldstein and Robert
Keohane, eds., Ideas and Foreign Policy (Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 1993), pp. 235-64.
82. Hans-Bernd Spies, “Lulbeck, die Hanse und der Westfalische Frieden” (Luibeck, the Hansa,
and the Peace of Wesphalia), Hansische Geschichtsblatter 100 (1932), pp. 110-24.
83. Structuration theorists might frame this in terms of the system empowering only like actors.
See, for example, Giddens, The Nation State and Violence, p. 282. Rephrased this implies that actors
recognize other units only on their terms-they admit only other states as legitimate actors in
international relations.
Institutional selection 547
individuals to form or join units they perceived as superior modes of
organization.84 The German princes thus started to mimic the administrative
processes and legal framework of territorial states.85 Towns, no longer
convinced of the benefits of membership in the league, defected to the
protection of territorial rulers or styled themselves as independent states in
their own right-however small they might be. But the demise of the Hansa
also proceeded along another dimension of mutual empowerment and mutual
recognition. The Hansa-nonterritorial in nature, with only a weakly established
hierarchy, and fraught with free riding-did not fit a system of
territorially demarcated states where sovereigns could credibly negotiate on
behalf of the members of their societies.
City-states and fragmented sovereignty
City-states shared characteristics of both sovereign territorial states and
city-leagues. Internally, city-states looked somewhat like leagues in that they
lacked the clear internal hierarchy of sovereign territorial states. Indeed,
Charles Tilly describes both such urban organizations as fragmented sovereignties.86
When the two hundred to three hundred independent communes of
northern Italy gradually were incorporated into about a dozen larger citystates,
they were given inferior status, roughly similar to that of colonies.87 Such
subjugated towns, however, retained much autonomy. According to Giorgio
Chittolini, “Large responsibilities were left to cities-a distribution of power
that some historians have called a diarchy.”88
Conversely, the inhabitants of the subjugated cities did not enjoy the benefits
that derived from being a citizen of such dominant cities as Venice and
Florence.89 When threatened by foreign powers, the subjugated towns often
84. In other words, they exercised exit rather than loyalty. See Albert Hirschman, Exit, Voice,
and Loyalty (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1970).
85. For this institutional mimicry, see Barraclough, Origins of Modem Germany, pp. 279 and
342-52; and Holborn, A History of Modem Germany, pp. 34-36 and 57.
86. Charles Tilly, Coercion, Capital, and European States, AD 990-1990 (Cambridge: Basil
Blackwell, 1990), p. 21.
87. For the early histoty of these communes, see Daniel Waley, The Italian City-Republics (New
York: McGraw-Hill, 1969).
88. The quotation is drawn from p. 699 of Giorgio Chittolini, “Cities, City-States, and Regional
States in North-Central Italy,” Theory and Society 18 (September 1989), pp. 689-706. Also see
Anderson, Lineages of the Absolutist State, p. 152; Brian Pullan, ed., Crisis and Change in the
Venetian Economy in the Sixteenth and Seventeenth Centuries (London: Methuen, 1968), p. 15; and
Jean-Claude Hocquet, “Venise, Les Villes et les Campagnes de la Terreferme XVe-XVIe siecles”
(Venice, and the towns and countryside of the mainland in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries” in
Neithard Bulst and Jean-Philippe Genet, eds., La Ville, La Bourgeoisie et la Genese de L’Etat
Modeme (The city, the bourgeoisie, and the creation of the modern state) (Paris: CNRS, 1988), pp.
89. For an exposition of this internal fragmentation, see Eric Cochrane, Florence in the Forgotten
Centuries 1527-1800 (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1973), p. 65; Eric Cochrane, Italy
1530-1630 (London: Longman, 1988), pp. 46-47; Stuart Woolf, A History of Italy 1700-1860
(London: Methuen, 1979), pp. 57 and 63; and Frederic Lane, Venice: A Maritime Republic
(Baltimore, Md.: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1973), p. 424.
548 International Organization
would favor foreign powers over their own dominant city. The subject cities
perceived Venice as “the city of three thousand tyrants.”90 Consequently they
were usually garrisoned by troops of the dominant town.
This lack of internal unity can be seen in the lack of rationalization of
internal economies. Although much research needs still to be done, particularly
on city-states after the Renaissance, the evidence suggests that-not
unexpectedly, given these divisions and lack of centralization-weights and
measures were standardized relatively late. Most standardization did not occur
until the eighteenth century.91 The lack of unity also was visible in the tensions
between capital and subject cities on economic matters. For example, evidence
suggests that Venice deliberately kept some industries on its mainland from
developing so as to prevent competition with Venice itself.92
On currency issues, less diversity was seen, with the currency of the dominant
city being the one usually accepted throughout the city-state. Particularly,
Venice seems to have established a relatively stable currency system.93
Legal codes in the city-states, however, remained diverse. Guilds, aristocracy,
clergy, and the subject towns retained their own legal authority.
Jean-Claude Hocquet wrote that Venice “did not dream of issuing an
ordinance that might have applied to the entire state.”94
In general, while in the course of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries
sovereign territorial states were on their way to rationalizing their economies,
the opposite tendency seemed at work in Italy. Although the various ruling
elites of the city-states had attempted to transform themselves into territorial
states, they were largely unsuccessful. As Michael Knapton describes, Venice
took “no planned action to create a more economically integrated region with
deliberate policies to favour freer patterns of internal flow of goods.”95 Italy
thus remained plagued by “the survival of innumerable transit duties” and
suffered from the continued existence of “protectionist duties and internal in
barriers to trade,” in Stuart Woolf s words.96
Indeed, according to many historians, the Italian city-states refeudalized.
Their internal fragmentation blocked their transformation into more integrated
and rationalized economies. To again quote Woolf, feudal forms of
90. Denys Hay and John Law, Italy in the Age of the Renaissance (London: Longman, 1989), p.
91. See Braudel, The Perspective of the World, p. 289; Cochrane, Italy 1530-1630, p. 183; and
Woolf, A History of Italy 1700-1860, p. 208.
92. Richard Rapp, Industry and Economic Decline in Seventeenth-Century Venice (Cambridge,
Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1976), p. 160.
93. Lane, Venice: A Maritime Republic, p. 427.
94. See Hocquet, “Venise, Les Villes et les Campagnes de la Terreferme,” p. 210; and Woolf, A
History of Italy 1700-1860, p. 64.
95. Michael Knapton, “City Wealth and State Wealth in Northeast Italy, Fourteenth through
Seventeenth Centuries,” in Bulst and Genet, La Ville, La Bourgeoisie et la Genese de L’Etat
Modeme, p. 189. For a similar evaluation of Florentine efforts, see Cochrane, Italy 1530-1630, p. 9.
96. Woolf, A History of Italy 1700-1860, pp. 52 and 59. See also Cochrane, Italy 1530-1630, p.
Institutional selection 549
tenure became “obstacles to the possession of full property rights.”97 Indeed,
territorial demarcation between such city-states once again became amorphous,
since feudatories held contiguous domains across borders.98
Externally, however, city-states behaved much like sovereign territorial
states. They recognized formal territorial limits to their jurisdiction-that is,
they accepted borders-and routinized their diplomatic representation.99
While the subjugated towns retained much local autonomy, as far as external
affairs were concerned the dominant cities represented the entire city-state.100
In other words, city-states had the means of establishing credible commitments.101
Unlike the city-leagues, the city-states died a slow death. While city-leagues
were unacceptable to the other actors in the system, city-states were considered
legitimate members of the international community, given that they were
territorially defined and provided clear focal points for negotiation. Unlike the
city-league, the system of rule of the city-state was not inherently at odds with
the principle of territorially circumscribed authority.
Competitively, however, the city-statesuffered from some of the same
problems as the leagues, in that they lacked internal unity and consequently
were slow in rationalizing their economies. While they formally did not come to
an end until their incorporation by Napoleon, their decline had begun much
Because sovereign territorial states were competitively more successful,
individuals turned to those institutional models for inspiration. When political
elites recognized the consequences of localism and the lack of economic
integration in their city-states, they turned to the territorial rules of Frederick
and Catherine the Great as models worthy of emulation.102
In sum, some political and social actors will prefer institutions that can
reduce uncertainty in their internal and external environments. Specifically in
commerce, actors will prefer organizations that reduce transaction and
information costs and can prevent expost reneging. Sovereign authority did just
that. Sovereign rulers centralized fragmented political systems and thus
reduced legal uncertainty and domestic transaction costs. As a consequence, by
97. Woolf, A History of Italy 1700-1860, p. 51.
98. Cochrane, Italy 1530-1630, p. 14. For similar assessments of the return of feudalism, see
Woolf,A History of Italy 1700-1860, pp. 17-18; Knapton, “City Wealth and State Wealth,” p. 195;
and Ruggiero Romano, “Italy in the Crisis of the Seventeenth Century,” in Peter Earle, ed., Essays
in European Economic History 1500-1800 (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1984), p. 193.
99. See the discussion in Garrett Mattingly, Renaissance Diplomacy (New York: Dover, 1988),
first published in 1955.
100. Eugene Rice, The Foundation of Early Modem Europe 1460-1559 (New York: W. W.
Norton, 1970), p. 115.
101. For the long-run diplomatic successes of some of the Italian city-states,ee F. H. Hinsley,
Sovereignty, 2d ed. (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1986); and William McNeill, Venice:
The Hinge of Europe 1081-1797 (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1974).
102. Woolf,A History of Italy 1700-1860, p. 85.
550 International Organization
preventing free riding and by rationalizing their economies, such systems of
rule were able gradually to expand the level of resources they could bring to
bear against opponents. Unity and integrated economies were prerequisites for
success in war.
But sovereign authorities also reduced the problems facing transboundary
trade by providing for clear focal points through which to negotiate. Such
rulers, moreover, could more credibly commit their subjects to long-term
agreements. Hence states had good reasons to prefer like units, that is, other
sovereign territorial states, in their environment.
Consequently, individuals had reasons to mimic those successful institutions
and to shift loyalties. Individuals emulated what they perceived to be successful
arrangements in order to reduce uncertainty and gain legitimacy.103
A brief comparison with alternative accounts
No doubt behind the decline of the Italian city-states and the Hansa lay many
causes. Changing trade routes, technological breakthroughs in oceanic shipping,
even migrating herring (in the case of the Hansa) have been suggested as
causal variables. This essay does not disavow the importance of those variables.
Instead, it draws attention to the internal and external consequences of
particular types of rule. Thus, while it specifically examines the Hansa and the
Italian city-states, it means to suggest why they as institutional types were less
successful-why their characteristics made them less successful-than sovereign
territorial states.
Are there alternative independent variables that explain equally well the
general nature of unit change in the European system between roughly 1300
and 1650? Given the anarchical nature of the international system and
considering the frequent occurrence of conflict in preindustrial Europe, we do
well to ask how the above account squares with the prevalent view that changes
in warfare lay at the heart of state formation.
Much of the discussion of the causes of the feudal-state transformation is at
cross-purposes. The question of whether war made states centers around the
growth in extractive capacities of government. Changes in warfare favored
larger and more expensive armies, which necessitated more taxation and
rational government. That issue largely has been settled. Warfare indeed has
had a profound effect on the growth of government and the influence of
government on society.104 That is to say, when “state” denotes “formal
103. On the notion of institutional mimicry, see Paul DiMaggio and Walter Powell, “The Iron
Cage Revisited: Institutional Isomorphism and Collective Rationality in Organizational Fields,”
American Sociological Review 48 (April 1983), pp. 147-60. My thanks to Guy Peters and Stephen
Krasner for bringing this argument to my attention.
104. See, for example, Karen Rasler and William Thomson, “War Making and State Making:
Governmental Expenditures, Tax Revenue, and Global War,” American Political Science Review 79
Institutional selection 551
government” there is little doubt that protracted conflict has influenced the
size and functions of public authority.
The question examined by this essay, though, is why did this particular form
of state prevail. What precisely about a public authority that was hierarchical
and spatially defined caused it to survive when the other two types of authority,
city-leagues and city-states, seemed also quite viable? One might argue that
because states were superior in waging war, defeated city-leagues and
city-states were absorbed into them. But such an account needs elaboration
and specification. For instance, the ability to wage war itself must first be
explained. To argue that a particular institutional form, that is, the sovereign
territorial form, was superior at war begs the question. Why was it superior?
Most accounts imply that military superiority was largely a function of size, and
in so doing, they neglect the consequences of institutional characteristics.105
Some researchers have compared the institutional efficiency of different
territorial states, by analyzing the relative efficiency of similar types of units.
Barry Weingast and Douglass North, for example, have taken a public choice
approach to investigate why England was able to raise capital at low rates, and
hence wage war at considerably less cost than France.106 But the present article
is one of the first studies of the institutional efficacy of different types of units,
comparing territorial states to their contemporary alternatives.
Second, since city-states were at one time as powerful and resourceful as
sovereign states or even more so, one might ask why states survived that initial
period. Indeed, in many cases the revenue of the Italian city-states outstripped
that of the emerging sovereign territorial states. And if money is the sinew of
power, then during this period of mercenary armies the answer to that question
is not straightforward.107 Furthermore, it is said that many Italian towns were
able to bring large armies to bear, even compared with France: by some
(June 1985), pp. 491-507; John Brewer, The Sinews of Power (New York: Alfred Knopf, 1989);
Michael Mann, States, War, and Capitalism (Cambridge: Blackwell, 1988); William McNeill, The
Pursuit of Power (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1982); Tilly, Coercion, Capital, and
European States; and Brian Downing, The Military Revolution and Political Change (Princeton, N.J.:
Princeton University Press, 1992).
105. Often these arguments allude to military and economic efficiencies of scale. See Leonard
Dudley, “Structural Change in Interdependent Bureaucracies: Was Rome’s Failure Economic or
Military?” Explorations in Economic History 27 (April 1990), pp. 232-48; Bean, “War and the Birth
of the Nation State”; and Ames and Rapp, “The Birth and Death of Taxes.”
106. See Douglass North and Barry Weingast, “Constitutions and Commitment: The Evolution
of Institutions Governing Public Choice in Seventeenth-Century England,” Journal of Economic
History 49 (December 1989), pp. 803-32; North and Thomas, Rise of the Westem World; and North,
Structure and Change in Economic History.
107. For example, the Della Scala signoria, comprising Parma, Lucca, and Modena, had a yearly
revenue of about 700,000 florins in the beginning of the fourteenth century. This was double that of
England at the time. See Reinhold Schumann, Italy in the Last Fifteen Hundred Years (Lanham,
Md.: University Press of America, 1986), p. 116. The revenue of Venice and its Terra Ferma
around the middle of the fifteenth century was 60 percent higher than that of France-more than
double that of England or Spain. See Braudel, The Perspective of the World, p. 120. See also the
estimates in Knapton, “City Wealth and State Wealth.”
552 International Organization
estimates Genoa could raise an army of forty thousand in 1295.108 The
Rhenish-Swabian League united about eighty-nine towns to oppose their
feudal overlords in 1385. In 1377 a league of southern German cities defeated
not only the Count of Wurttemberg, against whom they had allied, but also the
forces of Emperor Charles IV when he chose to back the count. The Hansa
frequently waged war with Denmark, England, Holland, and Sweden. In
Fernand Braudel’s estimate, initially the balance swung against territorial
states.109 Size was an imperfect predictor of how the Darwinian process would
work and suggests, therefore, that institutional efficiency might matter considerably.
Moreover, the ability to wage war cannot explain why so many small
territorial states survived. If the possession of considerable military force is the
only explanation of which units survive, why did Germany-as well as
Italy-see the survival of independent cities and miniature principalities until
well into the nineteenth century? While city-leagues and city-states were
occasionally defeated militarily, such setbacks did not lead to their ends as
institutional types. The Hansa’s decline was slow and not premised on any
particular military defeat. Likewise, confrontations with territorial states did
not end the phenomenon of the city-state.
Admittedly, the aggregate size of political organization is not irrelevantsmall
towns can hardly wield as much force as great empires no matter their
institutional efficacy-but it is an imperfect predictor of success. For example,
the decline of the Italian city-state is sometimes explained by reference to the
size of France and Spain, which invaded the Italian peninsula in the sixteenth
century. Sovereign states were larger and hence could mobilize larger armies
and raise more revenue. However, those wishing to pursue that explanation
should recall that the Republic of the Netherlands, a leading power if not the
hegemon of the seventeenth century, had as many citizens as Venice (1.5
million). Similarly, England, with only 40 percent of France’s population and
much less territorial area under its control, was able to match France and Spain
quite well. The Republic of the Netherlands and England were able to fight
empires and larger states successfully before acquiring empires themselves. In
short, while acknowledging that success has multiple explanations, my particular
emphasis is the effectiveness and efficiency of particular institutional
arrangements in mobilizing and rationalizing their domestic economies. That
in turn is an important factor in determining military success.
Consequently, the approach here suggests answers to some of the puzzles
mentioned above. First, continued internal particularism might partially
108. On the number of Genovese troops, see Scammel, The World Encompassed, p. 161.
Florence fielded about twenty-four thousand men in 1550; see Cochrane, Florence in the Forgotten
Centuries, p. 91. On the Rhenish-Swabian league, see Rhiman Rotz, “German Towns,” in Joseph
Strayer, ed., Dictionary of the Middle Ages, vol. 5 (New York: Charles Scribner, 1985), p. 464. By
contrast, the French standing army after the end of the Hundred Years War in the middle of the
fifteenth century numbered about fourteen thousand.
109. Braudel, The Perspective of the World, p. 91.
Institutional selection 553
explain the decline of Florence, Genoa, and other city-states. Second, in
suggesting that selection also depends on whether or not a unit is recognized as
legitimate by other actors, we have an explanation of why small states survived.
Unlike the Hansa, they were not logically contradictory to sovereign territorial
The approach taken here has, therefore, much in common with the work
pioneered by North and Robert Thomas, by Margaret Levi, and by others.
Nevertheless, there are significant differences. First, NIH is susceptible to
particular methodological flaws. This article has tried to avoid some of those
pitfalls by looking at competition between simultaneously existing alternative
institutions, without suggesting that any of those competing institutions was an
optimal outcome.1″‘ A variety of factors intervenes between preferences and
the creation of institutions. For example, second-order collective action
problems may prevent the creation of such an institution. Moreover, dominant
social and political elites also need not have overall efficiency as their primary
preference. A complete account of institutional emergence requires retracing
the old institutions and the changes in relative power among social actors that
enable them to pursue new institutional choices, and analysis of the overall
bargain struck to create coalitions in favor of institutional change. That cannot
be done within the scope of this essay. I have looked only at the relative
efficiency of simultaneously competing institutions during a specific period.
Second, this article draws attention to aspects of institutional selection other
than Darwinian struggles. Competitive success also depends on what actors
themselves find to be acceptable as a unit. They enforce their choices through
recognition of which types of units can more credibly commit and hence form
preferable partners in international deals.
Third, in trying to avoid a tautological use of transaction costs, this article has
tried to operationalize such costs and credible commitments in a plausible way.
I have defined transaction costs as the general costs of concluding any type of
contract in a given economy, rather than as the costs between ruler and
Fourth, I have extended transaction costs and property rights analysis by the
suggestion that these are heavily influenced by whether or not a political unit
has a clear sovereign authority who has an incentive to reduce such costs and
provide for protection of such rights. That is, I have suggested a specific
independent variable to account for the variation between different units.
110. This notion of international empowerment also explains why African states have persisted
despite tribal and irredentist movements. For that argument, see Robert Jackson, “Quasi-States,
Dual Regimes, and Neo-classical Theory: International Jurisprudence and the Third World,”
Intemational Organization 41 (Autumn 1987), pp. 519-49.
111. North argues that the flaw of suggesting optimality in outcomes existed particularly in his
earlier work. See Douglass North, Institutions, Institutional Change, and Economic Performance
(New York: Cambridge University Press, 1990), p. 7. For a discussion of this problem, also see
Moe, “New Economics of Organization.”
112. For the latter use of transaction costs, see Dudley, “Structural Change in Interdependent
Bureaucracies”; and Levi, Of Rule and Revenue.
554 International Organization
Before concluding, I must note that I have not examined the question of why
states ultimately extended across the globe.113 The focus has been narrow,
looking only at why states displaced other European institutions. I do not claim
to have accounted for the ultimate decline of Ming China, Tokugawa Japan, or
other imperial organizations. However, the logic herein might be used to
extend the argument in that direction. For example, one could argue first, that
because of the plurality of discrete jurisdictions, no political actor could exploit
his or her subjects to the same extent as imperial rulers could. That is to say,
within a state system, predation is limited because social actors have more
opportunity to exit that political system and to seek refuge and better
environments elsewhere. The flight of the Huguenots and the migration of Jews
from Antwerp to Amsterdam are but two such examples; while the reasons
behind each reason are complex, clearly both movements had large economic
repercussions. Even French absolutism was limited in scope.114
Second, the development of the individual states was driven by the very fact
that states interacted frequently and competitively. An isolationist policy such
as that pursued by Tokugawa Japan simply was impossible. Competition drove
internal development and institutional innovation.115
Third, one might examine to what extent such empires were compatible with
a system of de jure equivalent actors. Since empires deny others such
equivalence, state actors would have an incentive to prefer similar institutional
arrangements elsewhere.
Conclusion and implications
Why then did sovereign territorial states “win out” over rival institutional
forms? The answer advanced here lies along three dimensions. One causal
variable was competitive institutional efficiency. Sovereign territorial authority
proved superior to its contemporary rivals due to its internal structure. While
rival forms of organization initially might have controlled more resources, in
the long run sovereign authority proved to be better at combating the
fragmentation of feudal authority. Such rule could take the form of absolutist
government as in France or of a king-in-parliament as in England, but in all
cases authority was centralized. Polities such as the Republic of the Netherlands,
which lacked a formal sovereign, made up for that lack by the de facto
113. For a comparison between the competitive state system and non-European autarkic
empires, see Hall, Powers and Liberties; and John Hall, ed., States in History (Oxford: Basil
Blackwell, 1986).
114. See David Parker, The Making of French Absolutism (New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1983),
for the argument that French absolutism was paradoxically quite weak vis-a-vis the multitude of
social actors. Robin Briggs notes how monarchs were constrained in the level of debasement, as
this would weaken their “international position.” See Robin Briggs, Early Modern France
1560-1715 (New York: Oxford University Press, 1977), p. 44.
115. As John Hall points out, that argument already had been made by Gibbon. Hall, Powers and
Liberties, p. 14.
Institutional selection 555
hegemony of one city, Amsterdam, which produced much of Dutch revenue
and effectively ran the country. In the long run, however, the lack of formal
institutionalized central government hurt even the Dutch.1″6
In addition, territorial demarcation of jurisdiction with internal hierarchy
proved to be an effective way of structuring international relations. By
monopolizing external interactions with other units, sovereign rulers provided
focal points through which to regularize international relations. This second
aspect of institutional efficiency goes hand in hand with the first. The less the
political fragmentation, the greater the ability to mobilize society and prevent
defection and free riding. This in turn yielded a greater ability to commit
credibly. Hence sovereign territorial states could achieve long-term gains.
Third, sovereign territorial states proved mutually compatible. Indeed,
borders are explicit agreements on respective spheres of jurisdiction. States are
de jure equivalent, although de facto, of course, they are not.117 By their spatial
delimitation, they recognize that there is no logical necessity why such
authoritieshould encroach upon one another. Nonterritorial forms of organization
such as the city-league then or pan-Arabism today are logically at odds
with sovereign statehood.118
Fourth, once the benefits of internal centralization and the ability of
sovereign territorial states to engage in longer-term commitments to one
another became clear, actors began to imitate such institutions or defect to
This account of how and why sovereign territorial states displaced other
institutional types might shed some light on the question of why the sovereign
territorial state continues to exist given the apparent tension between spatially
defined authority and the increasingly nonspatial nature of the international
economy.119 Put another way, why have states become, and why do they
continue to be, the constitutive units of the international system despite the
fact that the level of economic interaction has increased so much?120
116. For a discussion of the Dutch case, see C. R. Boxer, The Dutch Seabome Empire 1600-1800
(London: Penguin, 1965), pp. 119 and 328; and R. J. Holton, Cities, Capitalism, and Civilization
(London: Allen and Unwin, 1986), p. 108.
117. For the difference, see David Held, Political Theory and the Modem State (Stanford, Calif.:
Stanford University Press, 1989), chap. 8.
118. For different views about the compatibility of Islam and statehood, see James Piscatori,
Islam in a World of Nation-States (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1986).
119. The early independence literature in emphasizing transnational relations below the state
level can be read as describing the tension between sovereign territorial rule and the nonspatial
character of the global economy. See Robert Keohane and Joseph Nye, Power and Interdependence
(Boston: Little Brown and Company, 1977). See also Robert Reich, The Work of Nations (New
York: Alfred Knopf, 1991). Porter argues that the state is still relevant, but only in terms of an
aggregation of sectors. See Michael Porter, The CompetitiveAdvantage of Nations (New York: Free
Press, 1990). For the development toward truly transnational organization, see Christopher
Bartlett and Sumantra Ghoshal, Managing Across Borders (Boston: Harvard University Press,
120. This issue is raised explicitly in John Ruggie, “Territoriality and Beyond: Problematizing
Modernity in International Relations,” Intemational Organization 47 (Winter 1993), pp. 139-74.
556 International Organization
This article suggests apartial answer to that question. Political entrepreneurs
and social groups had good reasons to prefer a system of sovereign states:
such units created some measure of regularity and predictability in both their
domestic economies and in international relations. The principle of territorially
delimited authority, which was sovereign within those borders, delineated
what was to be “domestic” and what “international.121 Only those forms of
political organization that were based on such distinctions were recognized by
other actors. Despite the much-lamentedxistence of sovereign territoriality,’22
it is in fact a method of structuring international relations that makes
interactions more predictable and regularized. In game theoretic terms,
sovereign territorial states could play iterative games, at which other units were
less adept, precisely because others’ governments could not credibly commit
themselves; the confederated nature of city-leagues made them particularly
The previous argument thus differs from the Grotian position advanced by
Hedley Bull and others.123 That is to say, Ido not contend that territorial states
create a particular international society but that the particular internal makeup
of a unit, specifically of the sovereign territorial state, had external consequences.
In the Grotian argument the particular characteristics ofthe unit
largely are irrelevant. The Grotian argument is a sociological one in that it
explains how units act within a given set of intersubjective rules.
Although the lack of government clearly is a fundamental problem of
international relations, I disagree with the structural realist position that
certain patterns of order are imposed only by hierarchy and the distributionf
power.’24 Just as the distribution of power in the system imposes certain
behaviors on actors, so the dominantypes of unit have consequences for
cooperation and conflict. Indeed, which type of unit gains dominance in a given
era itself determines who is to count as an international actor in the first
place. Thus, whichever type of unit becomes the constitutive unit of the
international system at a given time determines whom we understand to be an
international actor operating under anarchy and whom we consider adomestic
121. This issue has been well-described by Kratochwil, “Of Systems, Boundaries, and Territoriality”;
J. L. Holzgrefe, “The Origins of Modern International Relations Theory,” Review Of
International Studies 15 (January 1989), pp. 11-26; and John Ruggie, “Continuit and Transformation
in the World Polity,” in Robert Keohane, ed., Neorealism and Its Critics (New York: Columbia
University Press, 1986), pp. 131-157.
122. For example, Wright cites Arnold Brecht’s view that the anarchy of the state system is the
primary cause of armed conflict: “There is a cause of wars between sovereign states that stands
above all others-the fact that there are sovereign states, and a very great many of them.” See
Quincy Wright,A Study of War, vol. 2 (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1942) p. 896.
123. Hedley Bull, TheAnarchical Societ (New York: Columbia University Press, 1977).
124. Realists such as Robert Gilpin have suggested that the most fundamental type of system
change is change in the type of units, but there has been little research on what the effects of such
change are. See Gilpin, War and Change in World Politics, pp. 41-42; and Peter Katzenstein,
“International Relations Theory and the Analysis of Change,” in Czempiel and Rosenau, Global
Changes and Theoretical Challenges, pp. 291-304.
Institutional selection 557
actor operating under hierarchy.125 Sovereign government works as a gatekeeper.
This essay, therefore, provides an empirical and material explanation of a
facet that structuration theory has highlighted but not explained. Given that
the nature of a system needs to be accounted for by the actions of its agents
(i.e., states), we need to explain why states empowered only like units-other
states. Alexander Wendt argues that since individual discrete units are taken as
given, “the most important weakness of neorealism’s individualist approach …
is that it fails to provide a basis for developing an explicit theory of the state.”126
This essay contends that there were material reasons for agents to empower
only similar types of units, thus creating a structure that severely limited
subsequent possibilities for other types of units.
The notion that every international actor had to have some form of internal
hierarchy and external demarcation also led to a determination of what was
“private” and what “public.” As Janice Thomson has shown, actors classified as
private were disallowed into the international system. For example, piracy was
for a long time a perfectly legitimate policy for sovereign states, but it gradually
was disallowed because it did not fit the mold of internal hierarchy and external
demarcation. Were pirates subjects of territorial states and hence private
actors subject to the public authority of their sovereign? Or were they actors
who worked interstitially in the state system and hence had to be weeded
out?127 The same held true for mercenaries. Sovereign territorial states
gradually phased out their use.128 The use of force by nonstate actors did not fit
the territorial mode of authority whereby international relations were conducted
by sovereign governments.
The specification of internal and external realms continues as a constitutive
rule of international affairs. It is exactly because a state system is an ordering
device that one state is reluctant to interfere in another state’s affairs. That is,
we have equated sovereignty with autonomy. Since states have been one way of
ordering international relations, ethnic and irredentist movements define
themselves as statist in their intent. With the possible exception of Islamic
fundamentalism, movements define themselves in the terms of the international
state system in order to be recognized by the other members. They claim
international legitimacy based on their adherence to the constitutive rule of the
system-sovereign territoriality.
125. This corresponds with what Ruggie describes as the mode of individuation between units.
See Ruggie, “Territoriality and Beyond.”
126. Alexander E. Wendt, “The Agent-Structure Problem in International Relations Theory,”
Intemational Organization 41 (Summer 1987), pp. 335-70 and p. 342 in particular. Ashley makes a
similar point from a poststructural perspective. See Richard Ashley, “The Poverty of Neorealism,”
in Keohane, Neorealism and Its Critics, pp. 255-300.
127. See Janice Thomson, “Sovereignty in Historical Perspective: The Evolution of State
Control over Extraterritorial Violence,” in James Caporaso, ed., The Elusive State (Newbury Park,
Calif.: Sage, 1989), pp. 227-54. See also Ritchie’s account of Captain Kidd in Robert Ritchie,
Captain Kidd and the WarAgainsthe Pirates (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1986).
128. Janice Thomson, “State Practices, International Norms, and the Decline of Mercenarism,”
Intemational Studies Quarterly 34 (March 1990), pp. 23-48.

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