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Bringing War Back In: Victory, Defeat, and the State in Nineteenth Century Latin America


Bringing War Back In (forthcoming with Cambridge University Press) builds on the history of Latin America to provide an important extension to the bellicist theory of state formation, bringing post-war dynamics back into the discussion. While during wartime all contenders mobilize and extract from society, war outcomes will ultimately determine the impact of these policies in the long term. Victorious states will consolidate their wartime coalitions and see their state-building project legitimized. Conversely, these actors and ideas will be challenged in defeated states, leading to long-term declines in state capacity. Due to the out-selection of defeated states in Europe, existing research has overlooked such post-war dynamics. The systematic survival of warring states in nineteenth-century Latin America, in contrast, evidences the protracted consequences of war outcomes.

To provide evidence for my theory, I carried out archival work in several Latin American countries, the United States, and the United Kingdom, surveying historical statistics and diplomatic accounts of nineteenth-century wars. Bellicist mechanisms of coercion-extraction, and the effect of war outcomes on post-war state capacity levels show up in my analyses of this novel cross-national time-series data. This allows me to question a conventional wisdom assuring variation in state capacity across Latin America is unrelated to inter-state armed conflict. State capacity in this region was forged precisely when wars were fought, and set victors and losers in different trajectories which rigidified in the twentieth century, when wars were conspicuously absent. High-capacity states today typically waged and won the most intense nineteenth-century wars.

Bringing War Back In combines comparative historical analysis with regression-type analyses and case studies to provide a comprehensive picture of state formation in Latin America before WWI. As a result, it offers a compelling narrative for readers across many disciplines. My findings suggest bellicist theory should move away from a recent focus on pre-war dynamics and pay more attention to the aftermaths of war, like classical bellicist theorists such as Max Weber and Otto Hintze used to. They also suggest the need to reinterpret the bellicist approach in competitive environments like Europe where most losers died, introducing selection bias. Finally, this book proves that restated as “victory made the state,” bellicist theory provides a compelling explanation for the variation in development levels that we see across Latin America today.

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