chapter 1



the point of the book

The purpose of this book is to fill in some of the gaps of this historical amnesia, by giving an account of where basic political institutions came from in societies that now take them for granted. The three categories of institutions in question are:

democracy is ascendent but fragile

democracy’s prestige: even authoritarism pretends to be democratic

Such is the prestige of modern liberal democracy that today’s would-be authoritarians all have to stage elections and manipulate the media from behind the scenes to legitimate themselves. [10]

the fantasy of statelessness

from the right

[Libertarians] have suggested not just rolling back an overgrown welfare state but also abolishing more basic institutions like the Federal Reserve Board and the Food and Drug Administration

from the left

[John Perry Barlow of the Electronic Frontier Foundation to governments re: cyberspace] “You are not welcome among us. You have no soverignty where we gather”

[characterization of Hardt, Negri] economic injustice could be abolished by undermining the sovereignty of states and replacing it with a networked “multitude” [11-14]


the naturla human propensity to favor family and friends…constantly reasserts iteself in teh absence of strong countervailing incentives

history of theorizing state formation

be more comparative

Much of it is not comparative on a sufficiently broad scale…a lot of theorizing about modernization…the massive studies of Karl Marx…has focused heavily on the experience of England as the first country to industrialize. The English experience was exceptional in many ways but is not necessarily a good guide to development in countries differently situated. [17]

[Marx, Durkheim Weber] tended to regard the experiece of the West as paradigmatic of modernization…but development is not only about economics…I take China as a paradigm of state formation and ask why other civilizations didn’t replicate the path it followed. As we will see, a modern state without rule of law or accountability is capable of enormous despotism. But China was the first to develop state institutions, and its pioneering experience is seldom referred to in Western accounts of political development. [19]

But there is good reason for paying closer attention to CHina than to Greece and Rome in studying the rise of the state, since China alone created a modern state in the terms defined by Max Weber…the Chinese put a far larger proportion of its people under a uniform set of rules than did the Romans. [21]

be less polite

The multicultural approach…tend to select either positive stories of how non-Western civilizations have contributed to the overall progress of humankind, or else negative ones about how they were victimized. One seldom finds serious comparative analysis of why an institution developed in one society but not in anotheer. [18]

republicanism doesn’t scale

Classical republicanism did not scale well. It worked best in small, homegenuous societies like the city-states of fifth-century Greece, or Rome in its early year. [20]

the Church indirectly allowed Europe to grow nation states

[Europe’s] exit from tribalism was not imposed by rulers from the top down but came about on a social level through rules mandated by the Catholic Church. In Europe alone, state-level institutions did not have to be built on top of tribally organized ones. [21]