State Formation, Sovereignty, and the Emergence of the Modern State System


-         Why did the “sovereign territorial state” emerge as the dominant actor in international politics?

-         Why did empires and city-states fade?

-         Why did sovereignty become the organizing principle in world politics, and not heteronomy of feudal period?

-         Will the sovereign territorial state last?


Key Terms

States: “Coercion-wielding organizations that are distinct from households and kinship groups and that exercise clear priority in some respects over all other organizations within substantial territories” (Tilly, 1992)

-         no mention of legitimacy

-         no “monopoly” on the use of force, legitimate or otherwise

-         not predominant in all respects


Sovereignty: no legitimate authority superior to ruler


Territorial: relating to physical boundaries (not by associational or ascriptive criteria)


Sovereign territorial state (STS): a state that is sovereign over a territory.

-         no superior authority over state controlling defined space

-         STS governs multiple, contiguous regions and cities via centralized, differentiated, and autonomous institutions (Tilly, 1992:2)

o      empires often non-contiguous and lacked strong centralized or differentiated structures (tribute over taxation)

o      city-states did not rule multiple regions

o      city-leagues lacked centralized



Why did the STS prevail?


“War makes the state, and states make war” (Tilly)

-         feedback between war-making and statemaking

-         STS more effective at making war and obtaining wealth than other state forms

-         Balance of capital and coercion

o      States that balanced the accumulation and concentration of capital (wealth) and coercion succeed and drove out other types of states

o      “Bargains” between coercion-wielding rulers, capital-controlling cities, and other groups (land-lords, merchants, peasants)

o      urbanization crucial to success of STS – multiple cities inside states





Extension of STS System/Society[1]


Feudal Period, 1000-1400

-         reliance on tribute and vassals to wage wars

-         Hundred Years’ War, 1337-1453


Emergence of Sovereign States 1400-1700

-         Extensive reliance on foreign loans and mercenaries for war

o      Thirty Years’ War, 1618-48

o      War of the League of Augsburg, 1688-97


‘Nationalization’ of STS, 1700-1850

-         Increased reliance on domestic sources of money & manpower

o      War of the Spanish Succession, 1701-13

o      Seven Years’ War, 1755-63

o      French Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars, 1792-1815

o      Latin American independence movements



-         …political ideology in which nations should govern themselves; belief that the boundaries of the nation should be congruent with the boundaries of the state.

-         Nations: ethno-cultural communities usually sharing common ancestry, language, and founding myths; ‘imagined communities’ (B. Anderson)

-         basis for founding new states and legitimating old ones.

o      ‘nations’ seeking states and states shape or create nations.

o      Italian and German unification by 1871.


‘Specialization’ of STS, 1850-1950

-         States  separate external from internal security and civil from military roles

-         rise of national welfare states

o      European imperial expansion into Africa and Asia in late 19th century

o      World War I, 1914-1918

o      World War II, 1939-1945

o      Decolonization, 1946-1970


Globalization of STS, 1950-

-         STS form adopted globally

-         Rise of international organizations

-         No direct war between great powers

o      US-Soviet Cold War, 1947-1991


[1] Draws  heavily on Tilly, 1992