Bringing War Back in: Victory and State Formation in Latin America

The forthcoming article “Bringing War Back in: Victory and State Formation in Latin America” by Luis L. Schenoni  is summarized by the author below. 

The notion that warfare and state formation are intimately linked is widely held across the social sciences and humanities, although the specific way in which they are connected is still contested.  

Two mechanisms have gathered attention recently. On the one hand, an evolutionary understanding of bellicist theory posits war acts mainly by out-selecting weaker states. On the other hand, an account that focuses on extraction and mobilization contends that war boosts state capacity as states prepare for it, independently of the war outcome. These two mechanisms, however, overlook classical bellicist theorists who pictured war outcomes as having enduring effects into a post-war phase. Scholars like Otto Hintze, Max Weber, and Franz Oppenheimer, used to emphasize how institutions were shaped by success or failure in the battlefield, and had lasting effects afterwards. 

In “Bringing War Back In: Victory and State Formation in Latin America” I set out to test the hypothesis that war outcomes produce effects on state capacity that linger on into a post-war phase. While most applications of bellicist theory build on the European experience, I note this region is far from an ideal testing ground for this particular argument for the simple reason that European states systematically died as a cause of war, causing selection bias. To compare post-war effects on both victors and losers it is necessary to look at environments where most or all losers survived. 19th century Latin America provides a much better laboratory, with no out-selection going on despite frequent and severe warfare. 

Building on a panel of Latin America during the height of state building (1865-1913) I use a difference-in-differences design to show that losing a war had long-term negative effects on two indicators of state capacity – revenue extraction and railroad extension – which in time overwhelmed the wartime state-building effortI then delve into the two major wars between Latin American states in the 19th century: the Paraguayan War (1864-1870) and the War of the Pacific (1879-1884). Original archival material and further statistical analyses using the synthetic control method show that, although contenders were matched in state strength, the gap between losers and winners expanded significantly and consistently after these wars. 

This article puts into question a conventional wisdom according to which variation in state capacity across Latin America is unrelated to inter-state warMy findings suggest that the relative absence of war during the 20th century might account for the rigidity of the state capacity ranking in this region, which was much more fluid at the time of these early martial experiences. These conclusions make bellicist theory ever more enticing for scholars interested in contemporary world politics, yet another environment where wars almost never kill states. By incorporating war outcomes into the analysis future researchers should find war makes states in most regions of the world and well into the 20th century. 

About the Author: Luis L. Schenoni is a Postdoctoral Research Fellow at the Chair of International Politics, Department of Politics and Public Administration at University of Konstanz. His research “Bringing War Back in: Victory and State Formation in Latin America” is now available in Early View and will appear in a forthcoming issue of the American Journal of Political Science. 

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The American Journal of Political Science (AJPS) is the flagship journal of the Midwest Political Science Association and is published by Wiley.

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