The Study of the State: A Brief Intellectual History

Almost 20 years ago, Margaret Levi wrote an essay titled “The State of the Study of the State,” which was published in Political Science: The State of the Discipline (edited by Ira Katznelson and Helen Milner). In the essay, Levi reviewed the booming literature on state formation and state building, but also noticed that “After … Continue reading The Study of the State: A Brief Intellectual History

The Hobbesian Hypothesis

Thomas Hobbes famously characterized the human condition under “the state of nature” as one in which “the life of man, solitary, poore, nasty, brutish, and short.” A Leviathan, Hobbes argued, would bring order and protect people from each other and this terrible fate. This narrative remains the essential premise for modern social science’s justification of … Continue reading The Hobbesian Hypothesis

Why War Didn’t Make the Chinese State

War made the state, as Charles Tilly famously argued. This bellicist explanation is still the dominant theory of state formation. Even scholars who claim to have challenged it prove its applicability in sub-Saharan Africa and Latin America, where there were no (large-scale) wars and no state building. War seemed to have contributed to ancient state … Continue reading Why War Didn’t Make the Chinese State

I Watched the Mob in the Capitol with My Heart in My Throat; It Reminded Me of China’s Cultural Revolution

Last week, the world witnessed Donald Trump’s supporters storming and breaching the U.S. Capitol, stoked by his defiant speech claiming the election had been stolen from him. I watched the videos online with my heart in my throat — the ecstasy of the participants, the chaos and the violence, and the presence of hysteria; they … Continue reading I Watched the Mob in the Capitol with My Heart in My Throat; It Reminded Me of China’s Cultural Revolution

How Elites Connect with Society Might Be Associated with the Rise and Fall of Civilizations

The failure to align the incentives of self-interested elites in favor of beneficial political changes is often considered a major cause of persistent underdevelopment around the world. One key issue in historical political economy is to explore mechanisms that align the interests of elites with the broader interests of the society. In this post, I … Continue reading How Elites Connect with Society Might Be Associated with the Rise and Fall of Civilizations