Dr. Daniel Nexon had a thought-provoking post at The Duck of Minerva entitled “Failed state and the global war on terror“. His post is long and contains many points worthy of attention and indeed, I could not help but leave comments on some of them at The Duck. I suggest you read Dr. Nexon’s post in full as I am going to critique particular sections.

Here follows excerpts from Dan’s post and my observations and questions:

“….I argue in the book that there are a variety of generalizable principles concerning religious conflict and the dynamics of imperial control. But these “lessons” tend to be rather indirect.When we got back I returned to the process of converting the footnotes from plain text to Endnote (note to all dissertation writers: use citation software now; doing so will save you a lot of time later) and realized that I could draw one rather immediate and, in some ways, rather banal lesson: if your aim is to limit the impact of trans-national religious movements, then your focus should be on enhancing state capacity. As some analysts might put it, the best way to limit “networks” is to develop “hierarchies.”[1]”

I would agree. There’s only so much social ” battlespace” in a given population and the unconstrained growth of hierarchies can crowd out potential competitors by thoroughly dominating the environment the way trees shade out grass. Taken to an extreme you have the Nazi “coordination” of all German institutions, professions, industries, charitable associations until effectively the civil society independent of National Socialism ceased to exist or was forced into collaboration with the regime. Or the Soviet Union where all private associations were simply abolished and replaced by Bolshevik ones.

Unfortunately neither of those examples are attractive options for a liberal democracy, representing a cure worse than the disease. The very definition of a liberal and open society is one in which its citizens are relatively free to associate and interact without government supervision and intervention which is where we’d like most Gap states to be someday. Yet most weak states are in danger of failing from an inability to provide basic security or attract the primary loyalty of its citizens and fear liberalization would cause what little authority they have to come unglued. Therefore I’ve argued that the United States should pursue building state resilience in a focused manner which means strengthening institutions in terms of their legitimacy and not simply showering weak states with massive amounts of aid money. Without a degree of resiliency and functional transparency the aid cannot even be effectively absorbed.

“As John Mueller remarked to me about a number of African polities, “their central governments are so weak that they face serious threats from roving bands of two hundred or so thugs.” In fact, the relative strength of central power across early modern Europe was a decent, if imperfect, indicator of whether or not religious contention would fragment a polity. Early modern European states tended to be relatively weak, composite entities with imperfect, at best, monopolies on coercive military power. The fact that they developed in relatively centralized and strong states later on rendered them, all things being equal, both relatively resilient in the face of such threats and decreased the likelihood that such threats would emerge in the first place.”

Here’s an interesting counterpoint, going back some 700 years earlier, the Byzantine Empire, a highly centralized polity tearing itself apart over the Iconoclast movement ( a religious reform that was also a bid for even greater centralization in religious or political affairs). That being said, I’m pretty sure Dr. Dan is right about early modern Europe.

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