Tilly 1985

From Projecting Power

Main Argument:[edit]

Charles Tilly contends that the coercive and self-serving behaviors inherent in war making and state making, coupled with their reliance on violence and exploitation, closely resemble the traits associated with organized crime. This perspective challenges the traditional perception of these activities as legitimate forms of governance, highlighting their parallels with illicit practices typically associated with criminal enterprises.



  • Building upon Weberian definition of the state
I.e. The state as an organization that holds the monopoly of legitimate violence over a given geographic territory
  • Analogizes the creation of modern nation-states with organized crime in the form of a protection racket that operates with the authority of legitimacy.
    • Those responsible for war-making and state-making are compared to manipulative entrepreneurs who use coercive violence for self-seeking purposes
  • As opposed to:
States as a social contract under which the authorities of states and military offer services to the population through an open market


  • Attempting to address contemporary concerns regarding the looming presence of military organization and action throughout the world including:
    • The increasing destructiveness of war
    • The expanding role of great powers suppliers of arms and military organization to poor countries
    • The growing importance of military rule in those same countries

The Nation-State

  • Characteristics of the modern nation-state
    • Rule over a population inhabiting a large, contiguous territory
    • Relatively centralized
    • Contains differentiated organizations
    • Officials successfully monopolize the means of violence
  • Primary example utilized: creation of sixteenth/seventeenth century Western European national states
    • E.g. Specifically France’s growth from 1600 onward

Theoretical Framework

  • Comparing premodern western Europe’s formation of nation-states and the present day third world
    • Using the example of European experience to better understand and address modern issues
  • Caveat
    • Third-world countries and premodern Europe do not strongly resemble one another
    • Europe’s past cannot predict the future of third-world countries
  • Still, we can apply analyses of Europe in comparison to the third world specifically in terms of:
    • Theoretical framework:
Coercive exploitation by state/war-makers → popular resistance → implementation of protection and constraints on the state’s own violence by the state itself

Subject of the essay

  • Organized means of violence → growth and change in forms of government → modern nation-state
    • I.e. Interdependent processes: War-making ↔ state-making
      • Also, during the initial conception and rise of nation-states in Western countries:
State-making ↔ mercantile capitalism
  • Argument: War makes states
    • Analogy between state-making and war-making and organized crime (i.e. protection rackets)
      • Difference: States operate with the advantage of legitimacy
      • Organized crime: less successful and smaller-scale version of war-making and state-making processes
      • All on the same continuum: Banditry, piracy, gangland rivalry, policing, war-making

Double-Edged Protection[edit]


  • In this section, Tilly discusses the contrasting perceptions of the term "protection." He highlights two distinct connotations associated with protection: one being comforting and the other ominous. Upon defining these connotations, Tilly discusses the various nuances encompassing perception. The passage can be broken down into the following categories:

Comforting vs. Ominous Tone: Tilly distinguishes between the comforting aspect of protection, symbolizing safety and security provided by a powerful entity, and the ominous tone, representing coercive practices where individuals are forced to pay tribute to avoid harm.

Degree of Coercion: The difference between the two perceptions lies in the degree of coercion involved. While some forms of protection are based on mutual benefit and trust, others involve explicit threats and extortion to extract payments.

Dependence on Threat Perception: The interpretation of "protection" is heavily influenced by the perceived reality and external nature of the threat. Individuals may comply with demands for protection based on their assessment of the risks involved.

Power Dynamics: Tilly highlights the power dynamics at play in situations of protection, where individuals may feel compelled to pay for security even if it involves coercion, reflecting a complex interplay between security and exploitation.

Violence and Government[edit]

  • There is a fine line between 'legitimate' and illegitimate forms of violence imposed upon a political force.
    • Despite obvious and immoral stances against crimes of theft, murder, and other acts of criminal violence, it is quite apparent throughout history that many actors in power have bended or crossed that moral line by hiring bandits and assassins to sabotage enemy lines.
    • The world of outlaws is to be analyzed as a taboo subject and often looked down upon during times of peace, but can be a necessary key during times of war and manipulation -- especially by people in power.

Post-17th Century Era[edit]

  • This passage explores the historical evolution from 'local and decentralized' hirings of outlaws to full fledged and armed national states in Western Europe to delve into the transformation and progression of governmental structures. It highlights the significance of the distinct features of national states as entities with considerable centralization and command over concentrated sources of power.
    • Centralized control via government, not individualized power and violence is what evolved European nations into shaping the modern day nature of national states. By having a monopoly on the means of force, states can assert their sovereignty, enforce laws, suppress dissent, and protect central interests, ultimately eliminating the notion of indirect rule from key actors in power, or magnates.

Protection as Business[edit]

  • The pacification or elimination of rivals, especially rivals with significantly large populations or competitive resources, by the sovereign is portrayed as a strategic move to establish a monopoly on protection.
  • Governments, similar to businesses, ironically provide protection services to their citizens regardless of individual preferences. This means that even if individuals may not actively seek or want this protection, governments impose it as part of their role in maintaining order and security within society.
    • As a result, it is quite difficult to analyze how necessarily 'good' is this layer of governmental protection, especially in large scale imperialist powers like the United States.
Frederic Lane's Theoretical Approach[edit]
  • Monopoly profit signifies how governments wield control over violence, essentially monopolizing its production and regulation. This authority enables them to dictate terms of protection and leverage it for economic gains from their constituents. In essence, the state's monopoly on violence intertwines governance and economics, shaping the dynamics of power and authority within society.
    • eg. Lane's coinage of the word "tribute" as means of rationalizing the profound economic benefit a state-maker reaps after 'protecting' its subjected merchants.
  • The concept of protection rent highlights the reciprocal relationship between the government and its constituents, where the government's provision of protection services leads to economic gains for those who benefit from enhanced security.
  • Maximization of tribute and protection rent hails from citizen ownership, self-centered monarch, and managerial behaviors are simply expected from Lane's concept of protection-providing governments.
    • Very capitalistic especially in the form of economic growth in the face of power protection for national states