Violent Conflict and Political Development Over the Long Run: China Versus Europe
Posted: 17 Jun 2018
Date Written: May 2018
Is the traditional logic by which violent conflict fosters long-run political development universal? To help address this question, this article compares Europe with China. While historical warfare was very common across both units, representative government flourished only in Europe. We suggest that the relationship between violent conflict and political development depends on the underlying political geography context. In Europe, political fragmentation was rampant. Thus, conflict tended to be external (i.e., interstate), and attack threats were multidirectional. Furthermore, exit ability was high in this context. Elites were therefore in a strong bargaining position to demand political representation in return for new tax revenue. China, by contrast, was politically centralized. Here, conflict tended to be internal, attack threats were unidirectional, and exit ability was low. The emperor was thus powerful enough to extract tax funds without surrendering political control. In this context, violent conflict promoted autocratic re-entrenchment. We conclude by briefly analyzing the relationships between political geography, historical conflict, and political development in sub-Saharan Africa and Latin America.
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