Category Archives: Law

States start with violence and expropriation

I came across this passage in a collection entitled States and Development: Historical Antecedents of Stagnation and Advance (pdf): A realistic, even if stylized, account begins with the coalition building in which the elites of an emergent state are likely to engage, both with other power holders and with economically successful interests (p.11). It is in a similar […]

Serfdom versus slavery

Slavery remains a live issue, as discussed in the Global Slavery Index. The Index uses the following operational definition of slavery: Slavery is the possession and control of a person in such a way as to significantly deprive that person of his or her individual liberty, with the intent of exploiting that person through their use, management, […]

Frustrated status and bigotry

Bigotry (in the sense of prejudice-by-category) is a form of moral exclusion–one excludes some group from the moral consideration and standing given to other people. As I have noted before, bigotry is always and everywhere a moral claim–a claim about some category of people’s moral status or standing. A claim not based on specific individual actions against others, […]

The hollow states of Islam

Reading Norman Davies’s Vanished Kingdoms, it struck me how much Islamic states–across most of the history of Islam–resembled the fluid warlord states of Europe in the centuries immediately after the collapse of the Western Roman Empire, but did not resemble the institutionally resilient Christian states of the later medieval period. These divergent paths came from the very different internal dynamics […]

When the three languages of US politics get in the way

Economist Arnold Kling, who blogs here, has provided a useful framing of American political debate as divided into three languages of politics. He discusses his framing with economist Russ Roberts here, and his analysis is usefully discussed here. The three languages are: the conservative barbarism-civilisation axis, the progressive oppressors-oppressed axis, and the libertarian freedom-coercion axis. None of them provide a useful way of thinking about […]

The poisonous legacy of slavery and the US race tangle

In his book War, Peace, War: The Life Cycle of Imperial Nations, historical demographer Peter Turchin argues that the mass slavery of the Roman Empire–which was at is most intense in Sicily and Southern Italy–is still depressing the social capital of the area centuries later; that the socially disintegrative effects of mass slavery can persist long after the […]

Thinking about states

While writing a paper on state dynamics in Latin Christendom, it was useful to try and think (think out aloud indeed) coherently about states as historical entities. State understood as an institutionalised structure of expropriation and coercion dominant in a particular territory. The notion that a state has to have, or even aspire to, a monopoly of coercion does not make […]

Cause and context

In the postwar period, the Democratic candidate for President has received a majority of votes cast in precisely four elections: Johnson 1964 (53.4%), Carter 1976 (50.1%), Obama 2008 (52.9%), Obama 2012 (51.1%). Which makes the first African-American President the only Democratic candidate to get a majority of the votes cast twice in the postwar period. (It is […]

Good appeasement and bad appeasement

Appeasement–in the form of conciliatory concessions–can be a perfectly reasonable way of dealing with folk. It entirely depends on how limited their aims are. Mixed past So, the Middle Realm‘s Sons of Heaven used appeasement successfully for centuries in dealing with the steppe nomads to their north, the only open border of a unified China (with the partial […]

States and gangs

Having previously defined the state as (a structure of) systematic coercion requiring hierarchy to operate and revenues to sustain itself extracted from a given territory, an obvious question is: what about criminal gangs? They engage in systematic coercion, have a hierarchy which they use to extract revenue to sustain themselves from a given territory. One objection might be that criminal […]