“The Economic Origins of Territorial States”

That’s the title for a paper by Scott Abramson in the Department of Politics at Princeton. Among the gems in this excellent paper:

[…[ before the French Revolution, before the era of the mass conscript army, wealth could not only purchase the technologies of violence, but also the manpower required to prosecute major wars. That is, rather than being an age when large states dominated militarily, this was a period where the population and natural resource advantages of territorial states provided little benefit in the production of violence. Leaders of states could, for a negotiated price, hire a Hessian colonel or an Italian condotierro and retain their men for a campaign season just as they could use these resources to purchase the most advanced technologies of coercion like siege artillery or rearms. It was by virtue of their economic capacity city-states like Genoa and Florence or groups of independent towns like the Swabian league could raise armies that matched or even exceeded those of territorial states like France or England


[…] the relationship between geographic scale and survival probability is the opposite of what war-making theories predict. Over this span small states were more likely to survive than their larger counterparts. In other words, rather than being an age of the territorial state” the period between 1500 and 1800 was one in which small political communities not only persisted but remained the typical form of political organization.

Read the rest of the paper here. So small territorial units dominated much of Europe during the initial phase of modernity and industrialization. What I’m trying to piece together is a way to incorporate the ability of small states to provide for themselves while at the same time maintaining ties with multiple neighbors in a way that binds them economically and politically, but without the coercive apparatus of a central government.

I think Madison was thinking about the same thing when he drafted the federal republic of the US, but it seems to me there is a right way to do federal republics (US) and a wrong way (Latin America). Does this make sense?

4 thoughts on ““The Economic Origins of Territorial States”

  1. I think, off the top of my head, that it does, Brandon. I also think it can be taken too far. Using your example of the North American republics and the Latin American ones, I think you find that the traditional things, like the common law, and much less corruption, had a greater impact, and in fact, education itself, may be a factor in the foundings.

    • I see where you’re going NEO, but I would argue that different policies has led to different outcomes in regards to US/Latin America. The Spanish came as conquerors and subsequently tried to enslave their victims (with the help of their victims’ indigenous enemies, of course). The English/French/Dutch/Swedes came as pseudo monopolists.

      While the Spaniards tried to enslave the Native Americans (thus ensuring a larger population of indigenous and “mixed ancestry” individuals), the northern Europeans simply slaughtered their enemies. The allies of the northern European factions either 1) assimilated into the broader culture, 2) were removed from their lands a la the Trail of Tears, or 3) eventually made the wrong alliances and ended up being slaughtered anyway.

      This “big picture” lens explains much more, I think, that the cultural attributes of the European colonists and immigrants alone.

    • Well, while I won’t argue your points here, Brandon, whatever the outcome for the indigenous people, I think the rule of law has more to do with outcomes than the ethos of the colonists.

      I also think that the northern European colonists had a fairly good motive in ‘slaughtering’ their opponents, since most of those tribes seemed to be of the same mindset. Once a party was here, it almost had to either try to survive on whatever terms, or simply commit suicide, and that was never likely.

      Assimilation was pretty much always an option, and those that took it fared better, although seldom really well, once the colonies were up and running.

    • Again, I don’t think we disagree much here, NEO, but I would like to add that the laws and the applications of the laws within a Rule of Law have to be just, too.

      There was a Rule of Law in Spain (and Mexica), for example, but it was Law that blessed plunder, not private property.

Please keep it civil

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