What is the Connection?
HENRI J.M. CLAESSEN
In this article I will investigate if and if so, to what extent, there is a connection between war and state formation. This connection is often more assumed than demonstrated, and it can be doubted if war is a creative force behind state formation at all. I will first make a distinction between war, and other types of conflict, and present some views on the concept of causality. Then I will discuss some theories and statements on the connection between war and state formation. Finally I will try to answer the question to what extent war has played a role in the formation of states – or, for that matter, in the development of hierarchy, chiefdoms or stratified societies.
A definition of war may resemble at first sight a mere terminological exercise, but in view of the importance that this concept is accorded in the construction of theories such an exercise is warranted. War is usually associated with large-scale, organised violence between societies. When the term ‘war’ is used, one thinks of extensive, well-organised chiefdoms and states. In the voluminous War, its Causes and Correlates, Martin Nettleship states that ‘war is a civilized phenomenon, different from primitive fighting’ (1975: 86). He does not draw, however, a line between ‘fighting’ and ‘war’. In his vision, one should rather think of a continuum than in terms of a sharp division.
The French anthropologists, Bazin and Terray, keep all possibilities open when they call war ‘une pratique sociale particulière’, which might be considered a poor definition (1982: 10). There are several more rather general statements on war, such as the one by Marvin Harris (1977: 33), that war is ‘organized inter-group suicide’. It is, however, Ronald Cohen who casts the most light on the phenomenon of war, by defining it as: ‘publicly legitimised and organized offensive and/or defensive deadly violence between polities’ (1985: 276–77). When the violence is restricted to groups within a political unit, or between small political units, fighting for revenge, feuds, need for booty, or on the ground of considerations of social and political prestige, he employs terms such as ‘conflict’, ‘raid’, ‘attack’ and the like. I shall follow him in this approach and limit the term ‘war’ to legitimised and organised deadly violence between centralised polities such as early states and paramount chiefdoms.