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Does the historic file help or contradict the next speculation: A robust issue for centralization of energy in a state is overseas strain?

One of many foremost capabilities of a state is protection, and I believe it is affordable to assume that if a state faces a powerful overseas risk, that may result in centralization, and the federal government could be strengthened and assume extra energy (after all, that assume the state in query does not collapse/get conquered from the strain). Conversely, a time of extended peace would result in fragmentation and weaker governments.

I’ve seen some proof for this concept in Walter Scheidel’s books, The Fall of Rome, and The Nice Leveler. However I ponder to what lengthen is it a constant development in historical past? How a lot of centralization was truly pushed by outdoors strain vs different components?

Comments ( 13 )

  1. Gosh this screams you have a midterm coming up, best of luck!

  2. You also have situations were fragmentation was driven by outside powers. Major powers supporting nobles in their aspirations so as to weaken a state. As for outside powers being the driving force, I’d be skeptical if that’s consistent. Look at medical Poland being internally fractured while facing huge outside pressures. Or the British empire giving out regional autonomy in the inter war years (even toying with the idea of federalism).

  3. Certainly an external threat might drive consolidation and persistent fear might also drive consolidation of power. Although in Fascism we see concentration of power by economic means in industrial societies.

  4. I’ve heard of this argument before in some narrow contexts. For example, in the 17th, 18th, and 19th centuries, there was so much “state competition” between the European powers that it escalated to the point where some of them eventually developed into extremely powerful fiscal-military states with very efficient (for the time) taxation systems, that had governments vastly more powerful than those found anywhere else in the world. To the point where, according to some estimates, Great Britain’s annual spending on social welfare/poor relief *alone* during the Napoleonic wars sometimes rivaled the entirety of Qing China’s yearly government expenditures. (according to *State, Economy and the Great Divergence: Great Britain and China, 1680s–1850s*)

    But I think it would be a step too far to say that this is universal. Those same European powers were not very centralized during the Medieval period, and there was no shortage of “foreign pressure” back then between them.

    Japan during the Meiji Restoration developed into a much stronger state largely due to foreign pressure. The Chinese state on the other hand got weaker (or at the very least did not get notably stronger) again due in part to foreign interference.

    Modern states are also vastly more powerful than they were throughout most of history. In 18th century, only Britain and a very small number of other nations could routinely have the state spend double-digit percentages of the nation’s national income. Today, that is the *norm.*

  5. The kings of France centuries long drive to centralization was to actually counteract the initial strength of the French feudal lords. It was a response to internal pressure.

    It was so ingrained in their weltanshauung that Louis XIV finally made the aristocrats redundant and transformed them into a leisure class. Saint-Simon wrote astutely that if a king gets rid of the aristocracy because it is supposedly useless, the king becomes just as useless because both kings and aristocracy’s authority rest on the same justification. 50 years later, the king was gone.

  6. Yes it can be but also: history is also full of artifical creation or exploitation of a SENSE or foreign pressure for the sole purpose of consolidating power.
    There is no need for a real threat as long as you can convince people there is, or an external threat is created to divert from an real interal threat (for example the implementation of a tyrannical government)

    If we are talking about centralization in the creation of the nation state in europe, foreign pressure surley played a part in the process, but also made centralization less likely in some cases. Austria-Hungary failed in centralizing the power over easter european subjects (among other things) due to external pressure.

    A very good example for how this is limited is the powerdynamic in european middle ages in periods of war and conquests
    While being able to have a consolidated military for defense surley gave some power to the monarch, it also gave a lot of power to the vasallen who where actually paying for it and not least to the serfs and farmers who facilitated everything whith their workforce in the first place. During times of crisis this first benefits the monarch, since there is less likely to be internal uproar as long as there is external danger. But immediatly after, the monarch is indebted through the cost of war and at the same time weakend by the fact that now there is no external danger so higher taxation is more likely to be met with resistance.

  7. Southeastern Europe provides strong contradiction to this idea first the Byzantine Empire would consistently engage in internal conflicts and civil Wars no matter the mounting threats that surrounded it

    If we then look a few centuries later to Hungary we can see the Hungarian Nobles eliminating the standing army and destroying central authority despite the imminent risk of ottoman invasion. Indeed they would invade and end up breaking the country.

  8. What was the role of the state back then? Basically it was tax collection and using the funds to pay the army/conscript the army.

    Foreign military pressure could of course drive the need for an army. But I’d think that a weak neighbor, an opportunity for some loot might as well have driven the process. One could argue that a weak neighbor has probably been weakened by another neighbor and thats the neighbors exakting the pressure. “If you don’t conquer the neighbor inbetween, you’ll end up neighbors with someone else, who’s more powerful.

  9. Egypt faced periodic threats from Libya and Numidia, but it wasn’t persistent enough to explain the powerful centralized state that endured for over a millennium.

  10. The answer is sometimes, power is centralised for a reason. Sometimes it is due to outside threats (Saxon Kingdoms vs. Norse ) , religious reasons (Holy Roman Empire), political will (King seeks to control for various reasons from personal aggrandizement to stopping internal conflicts , France is good example) to organising great works (China to stem the great floods) and lastly conquest (as in Spanish Reconquista). I also say there is normally more than one reason for people give up power to a central body.

  11. It depends how you define foreign pressure, not sure if anyone has brought up Norman/Angevin England yet. One often argued major reason for the centralisation of the English state under the Norman and Angevin kings was because of absentee kings.

    The Norman and Angevin kings until John spent most of their time in France (with Richard spending a lot of time in the Holy Lands too). Since the kings were always abroad, they had to build up a strong and centralised state to take care of affairs and keep the country running while they were away. This was considered to be one of the reasons why England was thought of as more centralised than other neighbouring countries of that same period.


    Bartlett, R. (2003). England Under The Norman And Angevin Kings, 1075-1225. Oxford University Press, USA

    Morris, M. (2012). The Norman Conquest. Windmill Books.

  12. The dynamic exists in my opinion (if we rephrase outside pressure to outside threat) but there is a very important limiting factor: the outside threat must be felt equally by all actors involved. If only part of the state feels threatened, it is more likely to lead to increased decentralization than centralization.

    For instance the late Roman empire and its tendency to decentralization and civil wars where the enemy at the borders was just treated as an enemy-of-my-enemy to be used to your advantage.

    Or how the Holy Roman Empire failed to centralize because it was just too big to really feel threatened in its existence, but did develop smaller sized military powers at its edges (Austria, the Burgundian Low Countries, Prussia) dealing with outside threats.

  13. The HRE certainly got weaker and weaker because of outside forces that would fight and ally with individual rulers and “states” until the emperor could barely excert internal power and Napoleon pretty much kicked him out.

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