Nation-building, nationalism, and wars

That is the new NBER working paper by Alberto Alesina, Bryony Reich, Alessandro Riboni, here is the abstract:

The increase in army size observed in early modern times changed the way states conducted wars. Starting in the late 18th century, states switched from mercenaries to a mass army by conscription. In order for the population to accept to fight and endure war, the government elites began to provide public goods, reduced rent extraction and adopted policies to homogenize the population with nation-building. This paper explores a variety of ways in which nation-building can be implemented and studies its effects as a function of technological innovation in warfare.

That is related to some recent work by Ferejohn and Rosenbluth.


No mention of Philip Bobbitt, is he insufficiently respectable?

He reserves the term Nation State for this essentially 20th-century form, with conscription, factories, standardised schooling, the welfare state, big wars. And points out that this is one of a long series of quite different forms which countries have taken (some under the same name throughout). "Nation-building" described here is the transition into this form. He makes the argument that the 1st world countries are busy transitioning out of it, into what he dubs the Market State --- individualism, a small professional army, internationalism... Google, Ikea & ISIS are emblematic of this, the way British Rail, Academie francaise & the IRA were of the previous order.

And if you buy this, it starts to seem less obvious that nation building is ever going to happen in many states.

Sounds interesting.

Dammit, ninja'd by the first post.
Relevant Book:

Legal, ótima materia.

So, the Royal Navy? Being as it were likely one of the central reasons for the UK's rise to an imperial power. It isn't as if mass conscription was all that common in the UK in 1780 or 1880, for that matter. As noted here - 'The First World War was fought predominantly by conscript armies fielding millions of ‘citizen-soldiers’. The origins of this type of military lay in the levée en masse (mass mobilisation) organised by the French revolutionary regime at the end of the 18th century, the first modern force built on the idea that all male citizens had a duty to bear arms in defence of their nation. However, it was France’s rival Prussia which improved and systemised the military model, developing a new form of universal short-service peacetime conscription. After spectacular victories over Austria and France in 1866 and 1871, this provided the organisational template for other continental European armies. Austria-Hungary imitated it in 1868, France in 1872 and Russia in 1874. Britain and the United States, which relied primarily on their navies for security, were alone among the major powers in remaining with small professional armies.'

I have always wondered at the British lack of revolutionary spirit, with major changes in the country generally coming through evolution. My guess is that the lack of a need for a large standing army is a big part of this. Like prisons educate criminals armies can educate the common man.

"the lack of a need for a large standing army": it was more than a lack of a need. It was also the doctrine that a standing army is a threat to liberty.

As it was in the U.S., until stepping into the shoes of the world's defender of the free world. Or maybe the world's policeman. Something like that, and results in terms of American liberty are plain to see.

It was never articulated in those terms. In fact many English strategists lamented that unlike France England didn't have a large enough population to man a large navy and a large army. Adam smith saw standing armies as a key hallmark of a modernizing society. In England the debate in England was not over standing armies themselves as a threat to liberty, but that standing armies not controlled by parliament but by the king were a decided threat to liberty.

The notion that standing armies in themselves endanger liberty is almost entirely of American provenance. Which means true to form you should hate the idea.

'but that standing armies not controlled by parliament but by the king were a decided threat to liberty

Cromwell belongs being wedged into that somehow.

'is almost entirely of American provenance'

Not exactly, though it was certainly most clearly expressed by the American founders as policy in guiding the creation of a new nation. Nonetheless - 'Thomas Gordon, who also wrote under the name of Cato, was an adamant opponent of standing armies, seeing in them a key method of undermining ancient English liberties as he argues in his Discourse of 1722:


Thomas Gordon was much read in the American colonies on the eve of the Revolution. One of his great concerns, shared by many in the 18th century “commonwealthman” tradition,” was that standing armies were a threat to liberty. Their danger came from two sources: one was the sheer cost to taxpayers of having a large an permanent body of troops equipped and stationed at home during peace time; the other was the fact that it provided a tempting tool to despotically minded “Princes” or monarchs to use against their own people should they object too strenuously against government policy. It was for this reason that it became embedded in the American constitution that there was a right to bear arms and to form local militias as an alternative to monarchical standing armies.'

Broadly speaking, all of the American Revolutionaries (particularly in Virginia) were extremely well read Englishmen.

"It was never articulated in those term" Yes it was. It's why, for instance, there had to be an Act passed by parliament every year or the army would evaporate. No Act, no army.

"The notion that standing armies in themselves endanger liberty is almost entirely of American provenance." Bollocks. Learn some history.

The problem is I know your country's history better than you. Also you are a blockhead ahole, but again if you actually knew history then your personality would just be unfortunate not ignorant.

The issue was framed entirely in terms of a battle over prerogatives for the king vs. parliament. If standing armies where a threat in and of themselves then it wouldn't matter who controlled them would it.

Only in the USA where there wasn't a king vs parliament debate did the notion of standing armies in and off themselves being a threat to liberty draw true salience.

Oh such ignorant rubbish. From what historians call "early modern times" a standing army was viewed as a potential instrument of despotism. The view is far older than the USA, older than the Glorious Revolution, older than the Civil War. It's so old that it was around before Parliament was as powerful as it later became. If you think that it was merely Crown vs Parliament you need to explain why Parliament didn't simply take control of the army rather than using the device of an annual Act to ensure that it was itself constrained against quietly establishing a standing army. You have to explain the settled objection to the idea of conscription well into the period when Parliament was entirely in control.

Sam, I don't think that's true. Here in the UK we do have a parliamentary suspicion (faded in the modern age, of course) about standing armies. Originally with the King, of course, but then Cromwell did leave a deep impression on parliament. The Army Act was annually renewed until very recently, I think, and the domestic use of armed forces has always been very heavily controlled, even when fighting the IRA in Northern Ireland.

I'd say that distrust of standing armies certainly has some English provenance, not just American.

The British had their revolutions earlier with rebellious Barons in 1215 -1217 leading to Magna Carta and the Forest Charter, the ECW in 1640's, and the Glorious Revolution in 1688 resulting in the Bill of Rights. It's like the claim that England didn't have any great enlightenment thinkers. Their enlightenment thinkers, e.g. Locke and Newton, just arrived earlier.

Good grief, do people really make that claim? After Locke, Hume, Milton and Mill?

Google press gang.

Royal navy used this as a form of conscription

Interesting perspective, and relevant - except impressing merchant seamen did not lead to nation building, unless one counts the War of 1812, of course.

The press gang is not precisely equivalent to mass conscription, because the Royal Navy needed workers with specialised skills. First of all, this meant that only the relatively small number of people with those skills were under much danger of being pressed (i.e., merchant seamen). Secondly, the cost of supervising and guarding a really stubborn hold-out would be much larger - with skilled work to be done maintaining the ship, there is no direct equivalent of herding the conscripts to the front and shooting anybody who runs in the wrong direction. The only defence against sabotage is the obvious one that everybody is quite literally all in the same boat.

It is almost as if Royal Navy captains didn't routinely hand out flogging measured in the hundreds of lashes.

There is a direct equivalent of the file closers of the Army. When a Royal Navy ship was in port, it was normal to put a smaller boat in the water and row around it in order to spot and deter anyone trying to swim to shore. Any number of accounts show that no matter how much money sailors were owed, if they could run, they would run.

"states switched from mercenaries to a mass army ..": rather, some states switched. The state that was dominant for much of that period didn't.

" Starting in the late 18th century, states switched from mercenaries to a mass army by conscription..."

Alesina, Reich, & Riboni have a very short view of world history. Apparently they are unfamiliar with ancient Egyptian, Chinese, Persian or even Roman military/political history.
We can all safely ignore their new "working paper" --- what do these guys actually do for a living?

Honestly roman conscription was basically what saved them in the Second Punic War. In other words pretty much the most important war of the classical world came down to conscription vs. mercenaries at the base of the Alps.

what do these guys actually do for a living?

Two economists and a business professor. They've got a hammer in their hands and fancy everything looks like a nail. If the moderator were to suggest that the tools of economics are ill-suited to the tasks other disciplines set for themselves, somewhat might get the idea that Bryan Caplan's research programme is a wheel-spinning exercise.

(The thesis as stated does sound rather reductionist).

Seriously? This is news to anyone? Hasn't this been mainstream in the literature for the past 100 years?

For instance, it is pretty much the way that J. F. C. Fuller describes modern history. That took him into Fascism as a consequence.

It would have been news to Scipio Africanus.

Given Fuller wasn't born for another 2000 years I guess so. I doubt his understanding of 19th and 20th historiography was all that great.

In what way was this a response to what I said?

Goethe tried to cheer up his Prussian friends at the Battle of Valmy in 1792 when the French mass army overwhelmed their monarchical mercenaries: "Here and today, a new epoch in the history of the world has begun, and you can boast you were present at its birth."

As the child of a veteran, I am less inclined to advocate for military action. War changes our loved ones in twisted ways. I read a series by James Fallows titled "Chickenhawk Nation" where he describes America's tenuous relationship with its military. Truly worth the read. One marker of a nation's decline is the inability to wage and win war. Korea, Vietnam, Iraq 1, Afghanistan, Iraq 2, etc.

Nation building is an impossible feat proposed by foolhardy statesmen who have never fought in battle. The hubris required to believe we can tame fundamentally different cultures is astounding. As always our military will try and do it's best, but when the task is insurmountable we have no one to blame but ourselves for their failure.

Different definition of nation-building.

France is largely a creation of the Revolutionary Wars which drove the French government to stamp out other languages - less than half of all Frenchmen spoke French at the time of the Revolution - and so create the nation. As someone once said, the nation created the State and then the State created the Nation. So this is looking at the internal process of nation-building for which the US Army is a poor and external substitute.

France is largely a creation of the Revolutionary Wars which drove the French government to stamp out other languages – less than half of all Frenchmen spoke French at the time of the Revolution – and so create the nation. As someone once said, the nation created the State and then the State created the Nation. So this is looking at the internal process of nation-building for which the US Army is a poor and external substitute.

France as a political entity has existed since the 9th century and the Ile de France dialect had by 1789 been the language of the court system for centuries. Northern French dialects, Iberian dialects and Italic dialects are distinct taxa. The Occitanian dialects spill over the political boundaries, but the origin of the linguistic boundary between Italy and France was in the use of Tuscan as a court language and and as a literary language in Italy, a late Medieval innovation.

I wonder what the relevance of that is to what I said? Yes, the Paris Court had used French for a long time. Yes, there are big differences between French dialects and Catalan spoken in the south or various Italian dialects spoken in places like Corsica and Nice. More interestingly the difference is even larger with the remnants of Basque or Breton or German dialects in the east. So what?

I wonder what the relevance of that is to what I said? Y

It discredits what you said. Your modus operandi is to bluster when you don't know jack.

Pointing out that France had a lot of people who spoke Iberian and Italian dialects does nothing to dispute what I said. Nor does pointing out that French was used at the court in Paris. Who claimed otherwise?

I may bluster. Who knows? Don't care. Simply posting some random facts with no actual connection to what I said does not prove that nor does it challenge what I said. It is, in fact, nothing but bluster. It is bad enough when p-a does it. You should stop.

That formula is not working so well in Syria. But doesn't Syria suffer sectarian division? Yes, and Assad's army is made up almost entirely of Sunni conscripts, but that has made matters worse, not better; indeed, the Sunni conscripts, being dependent on the Alawite (Shiite) Assad for support, were less likely to join their Sunni brothers in the revolution to overthrow Assad, a situation ironically compounded by the west's embargo. So the formula works, but not in the way the authors suggest.

Syria is a state built by Soviet advisers. So those Sunni conscripts that have not joined the insurgents do not do so because the Syrian Secret police will murder them and their families. As Zhukov said, it takes a very brave man to be a coward in the Soviet Army. And in fact Khrushchev's son was MIA and so his wife and family went into the Gulag.

I mean your comment is not even internally logical and consistent. If Sunnis were not joining the insurgents, who is? The Sunni part of the Army does appear to have collapsed completely. The Asads are relying on their fellow Alawi - and Lebanese and Iranian mercenaries. Plus, of course, Soviet Air power.

'If Sunnis were not joining the insurgents, who is?'

The Kurds do not consider themselves Sunnis first, and Kurds second - and nether does anyone fighting against them.

The USSR dissolved on 26/12/1991, > 1 quarter century ago: tail fins on automobiles and dial-up Internet.

Krushchev's son was a Project Manager in the USSR's Space Program.

Are you, like, a member of the 'reality based community'?

Sergei Krushchev was, indeed, a rocket scientist. He was also the editor of Nikita Khrushchev's memoirs. The first volume of which has a little excerpt on pages 716-719. You might be interested in it. As it talks about Leonid Khrushchev. You know, Khrushchev's other son. And the fact that his wife was charged with spying for the West and thrown in the Gulag because her husband went MIA.

Still, how were you to know? I mean how many people born in the 19th century had more than one son?

Syria is a state built by Soviet advisers. S

No, it was assembled by France from a set of Ottoman subprefectures.

It's not a formula, it's a change to an evolutionary pressure. It's absolutely possible your state can't make the change and ends up like Austria.

California 50 years ago was a people due to the War in the Pacific. It's not anymore.

The youth live comfortably, go to Coachella, the old men complain that it's not like the old days.

The subtle digs in these pieces always suggest ethno-cultural hegemony leads to nationalism which leads to war and, sub silentio, Hitler and the camps. But nobody seems to discuss much what the immigration model was before the managerial, democratic State.

There were no transfer payments or birthright citizenship. There were no civil rights or public accommodation laws. Vagrancy was a crime. "Diversity" meant Europeans with the occasional exotic from the Maghreb or Asia Minor or the Far East. Recidivist criminals were executed. City-states banned troublemakers. In other words, immigration was subject to market discipline.

Also, isn't this ignoring the Peace of Westphalia ushering in the modern nation-state after many decades of religious and territorial wars? Are academics working themselves up to argue for dissolving the Westphalian order?

Sounds like a description of Athens circa 500BC.

In one of the public TV series on it, I recall the public ledgers chiseled into parts of the structure to demonstrate to the citizens these public works were built to benefit the citizens who were homogeneous and active participants in the wars the produced their wealth.

Athens cycled between demos, and rule by rich rent seekers. We look back with favor on the demos, but contemporaries condemned the mob rule and praised the rule by the elites. Of course, that history was written in the context of the Roman Republic which was not a demos, but a rule by elites, who granted great favors to the masses who earned Roman citizenship. Roman public works benefited the citizen masses who had little say in Roman rule.

It was Roman Republic history that influenced 18th century political reform in Northern Europe and in its American colonies.

I don't know why I bother but you do realize that the Athenian Demos were the rent-seekers? The rich, or at least the aristocrats, opposed Empire, they wanted to avoid wars of expansion and they sought peace. While the democrats actively wanted all of those things because of the free goodies they provided to the poor.

Here's a run down by Tom Ricks on books about the economic benefits of war that isn't quite as positive as the study by economists who, unlike Ricks, stayed away from the devastation:

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If you want peace, fix your own damn roads.

This can be summarized by, of all places, the final Batman movie:

It's also consistent with the 'barbarian to civilization' model of Roman to Mongol times: A society becomes great through adversity and warfare and is honed to a fine edge, then it explodes outward, in the process absorbing land and peoples and dulling down the fighting spirit. Eventually, the society completely settles down, turns to agriculture and stable laws, and stagnates, becoming ripe for the next horde to sweep in from the East.

Does this then imply that to optimize society we need to have a 'splendid little war' every couple of decades?

So Rome had no professional army?

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