The anachronism of bellicist state-building

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Eilstrup-Sangiovanni, M  ORCID logo

Unlike state-building in medieval Europe, America, and Africa, where a combination of security threats and economic incentives led to a swift consolidation of central authority, post-war Europe has lacked an essential ingredient of successful state-building: an existential threat. The result, argue Keleman and McNamara, has been a ‘gradual, uneven, and dysfunctional’ integration process, stopping short of statehood. Ironically, their comparative historical explanation for the EU's shortcomings is strangely ‘ahistorical’, failing to consider the specific world-historical time at which the EU was born. The EU emerged at a time when (a) existing nation-states were relatively solidly formed, and (b) the territorial state is increasingly anachronistic as a means of amassing and projecting power. In a globalized world, providing for citizens’ security and welfare demands global alliance-building more than coercive taxation to build large standing armies. War-deprivation is therefore not what explains the EU’s limited statehood. As security threats loom on the EU’s borders, concentration of fiscal capacity and coercive power in Brussels remains unlikely. The good news is that–by historical standards–the EU appears to be managing external crises remarkably well with limited ‘core state powers’.

European Union, state-formation, bellicist state-building theory, comparative integration
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Journal of European Public Policy
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Informa UK Limited