State Building and State Survival: Polynesia in the 19th Century
University of California, San Diego - School of International Relations and Pacific Studies
APSA 2011 Annual Meeting Paper
Despite their small size and their eventual absorption into larger states or their colonial empires, five Polynesian societies -- Hawaii, Tonga, Samoa, Tahiti, and Aotearoa (the Maoris in what became New Zealand) provide a controlled comparison in the 19th century that extends our understanding of contemporary state building. Although all of these cases lost political independence by the end of the century, the timing and terms of their exit are significant. The process of building new political orders is considered in two stages. In the first phase to 1880, Tonga and Hawaii become recognized states. The other three polities were not recognized as states, and their autonomy and survival were undermined or ended. Pre-contact political formations largely explain these outcomes. A more hierarchical and centralized political endowment at contact offered advantages in the quest for empirical and normative statehood. In the second phase, from 1880 to 1990, Hawaii and Tonga pursued divergent strategies of state building in an increasingly harsh international environment. Hawaii was annexed by the United States; Tonga survived as a British protectorate, retaining much of its political and cultural autonomy. The strategies of state building that had won them recognition, liberal in the case of Hawaii and illiberal or regulated in the case of Tonga, produced different prospects for survival in a changing international environment. The Polynesian experience calls into question prevailing assumptions of contemporary state building by reasserting the importance of political formations that precede the modern state, re-evaluating the role of military conflict in state building, questioning the costs of liberal state building strategies for small states, and qualifying the role of international competition in sustaining or undermining the political autonomy of those states.
Number of Pages in PDF File: 69
Keywords: state, state building, warfare, imperialism
JEL Classification: H11, N45working papers series
Date posted: August 1, 2011 ; Last revised: September 2, 2011
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