Martin Shaw/Global Society and International Relations/Chapters 1/3/4/5/6/7 


War and the Nation-State in Social Theory

Contents: The problem of war and the theory of the state; Giddens on war and the state; The Nation-State and Violence; Dialectics of total war

At the centre of the new critical relationships between sociology and international relations has been the question of the state. The new sociological theory of the state, developed in the 1980s, placed the state in the context of the state system and thus opened up a dialogue with international theory. Sociological accounts have been widely seen as making a significant contribution to discussion in international relations, although there has been no shortage of criticism either - often from those who feel that sociological writers have conceded too much to traditional international relations orthodoxy. One critic argues that 'current sociological theories of the state are increasingly approaching a more traditional view of the state - the state as actor model - precisely at a time when the theory of international relations is getting away from this idea and taking a more sociological form.'

The most influential of all the new accounts of the state has been Anthony Giddens' analysis of the relationship between the pacification of societies through surveillance, and the concentration of violence in the outward-pointing activities of nation-states. In this chapter, we explore the social theory of the state largely through a critical examination of Giddens' account; in the following chapter, we look at state theory in the new context of international relations in the post-Cold War world. In both chapters we shall address the criticisms of recent sociological contributions from international theorists, while raising some critical questions of our own from a sociological standpoint, and examining the significance of these developments for a theory of global society.

The problem of war and the theory of the state

At the centre of all the new sociological theorising on the state has been a renewed sense of the importance of war. Here, the new school has been addressing a central issue of modern international relations, which reverberates through the historical development of society, but which sociology has traditionally neglected. Giddens' work, in particular, defines warfare as one of the four major institutional clusters of modern society, and one of two which are central to the state; the way in which warfare is dealt with is, therefore, of major significance.

The history of the twentieth century has often been written as that of a ‘century of total war’. Centuries are not, of course, socio-historical periods, but the idea of ‘total war’ expresses a dominant reality of the recent history of global society - from the 1890s to the 1950s, the period of the build up to, fighting and aftermath of the two World Wars. It can also be argued that one of the most important group of questions about late twentieth century global society is whether and in what senses we have superseded, or can supersede, the period of total war.

In the history of twentieth-century social theory, however, war hardly figures. The major writers have continued the debates of nineteenth-century thinkers about industrialism and capitalism, recognizing war as an event external to the main processes of social change - if at all. The late twentieth century boom in sociology, even radical and Marxist, has uncritically taken 1945 as the baseline of modernity, failing to reflect on the processes of war which determined this major rupture in social history.

This failure goes beyond sociology to encompass other disciplines and orientations in social science and the humanities. It is not a secondary or minor problem which can be met simply by partial adaptations of the social sciences, for example by developing a new sociology, geography or philosophy of war, however useful the contributions which these may make. It is a central issue in the interpretation of global society, a key problem of social theory in general.

The virtual absence of the problem of war in any mainstream tradition of social thought has many ramifications. Its consequences are not limited to the evident weakness of the sociological contribution to problems of war and peace. Total war, in the earlier part of the twentieth century, was fundamental process in the restructuring of state, economy and society. A social theory which has not grasped the nature and role of this mode of warfare historically is ill equipped to deal with the effects which its mutation, in the current period, has on economic and social life. The profound transformations of economy, politics and culture in global society at the end of the twentieth century are only explicable against the backdrop of the changes in total war - which shaped the earlier 'postwar' world.

The re-emergence of war, war-preparation and militarism as sociological issues was partly a reflection of the new public awareness of these problems in the 1980s. The new sociology of war widened the focus from the sociology of the military, which until then was the only significant manifestation of these issues. Even this new sociology paid insufficient attention, however, to the nature and processes of war and war-preparation themselves. The new sociology of war, drawing many of its materials from social history, has presented itself very often as a development from, and even a variant of, the historical sociology of the state. Certainly the theoretical impetus to the new interest in war has been the changing direction of thinking about the state.

It is a remarkable fact, of parallel and equally striking importance to the neglect of total war, that in the depths of the totalitarian epoch, sociology had little to say about the nature of the modern state. Even more fundamentally, of course, the issues of power and power-holding groups were hardly confronted in mid-century sociology. These issues were only slowly recovered, notably in and following Mills’s The Power Elite; but it was not until the late sixties and even seventies that a serious debate developed about the state. Modern state theory then emerged primarily, but never exclusively, from the rebirth of Marxism. The 1970s debate was mainly between Marxists, ‘instrumentalist’, ‘structuralist’ and ‘state-derivatist’. In this debate, the key issues were the relationships between capital, classes and state power, and more specifically the forms of these relationships in modern (i.e. ‘postwar’) capitalism. War and militarism were never central concerns.

The neglect of war and militarism in this case reflected both the theoretical origins of Marxism and the particular context of the new state theory. Marxism was itself a product of the long nineteenth-century peace: it shared the characteristic of much classical social theory that socio-economic issues pre-dominated over political and military concerns. More particularly, Western Marxism had emerged from a socio-cultural ‘detour’ which, as Anderson argues, avoided core political problems. The core problems which it failed to grapple with were those of the epoch of totalitarianism - and total war. Western Marxism finally flowered, moreover, in the one decade between 1940 and 1990 in which the actuality of fear of global war was not a dominant social theme. One should not underestimate the extent to which détente, as well as affluence, was a condition for the radicalism of the late 1960s and early 1970s, of which the Marxist revival was a product. The Vietnam War had the paradoxical effect of pushing the general issue of modern warfare, especially in its nuclear form, to one side.

Marxist critics have themselves pointed out the inadequacy of the new state theory, which neglected the 'national', 'external' and 'inter-state' dimensions of state power. As, in the later 1970s and 1980s, social theory came to terms with these realities, the tendency was however to reject the terms of the Marxist debate. None of the major writers were hostile, politically or intellectually, to Marxism, and all wished to incorporate what are seen as the valid contributions of the Marxist discussion. They did, however, reject the assumption that Marxism provides a sufficient framework for state theory - or for a radical politics.

Two major reference points in this debate are undoubtedly Theda Skocpol’s States and Social Revolutions and Michael Mann’s The Sources of Social Power. Skocpol reversed the Marxist terms of debate by explaining social revolutions in terms of crises of state power, themselves seen as contingent on international, war-related events. Her argument implied that the state had far more than the ‘relative autonomy’ from capital assumed by the Marxist debate. (She sufficiently impressed Ralph Miliband for him to propose a compromise between Marxism and the new state theory, in which capital and the state are seen as autonomous centres of power working in ‘partnership’ with each other.) Skocpol’s subsequent work stressed state-centeredness, in that states must be seen as conglomerations of administrative and political power sui generis, irreducible to economic power; but the international/military context of state power became a more subordinate theme in the much-cited collaborative volume, Bringing the State Back In.

Mann, on the other hand, provided a sustained challenge to Marxist assumptions, in arguments which give war and militarism a central place. For him, states were above all about military power, and there was only a contingent relationship between this and economic power. In a series of essays he challenged the view that there are necessary links between capitalism and militarism, or between domestic and international politics. His arguments are constructed around a scheme of the phases of modern warfare, and so brings war back into the foreground of social theory.

Mann’s theory of warfare and society, however schematic it remains at this point, makes him unusual among state theorists. The only comparable contribution to the social theory of war has come from a writer with a very different starting point. Mary Kaldor, the defence analyst and peace movement activist, argued for analysis of the ‘mode of warfare’ and its interaction with the mode of production. She argued, following Clausewitz’s tantalizing remarks about the analogies between war and commerce, that we can see warfare as a social process comparable to the process of production. The central problem of war, especially modern war, is that opportunities for testing the values of weapons and strategies are far more limited and irregular than those for testing the values of commodities. This, Kaldor argued, causes particular difficulties in the nuclear age, leading to ‘baroque’ military technology and an imbalance between the modes of warfare and production which may be dangerous to peace.

Kaldor’s argument, although using Marxist-influenced terminology, was non-reductionist and non-Marxist in its basic theoretical assumptions. She could better be described as a radical Clausewitzian, so long as it is understood that the way in which she uses Clausewitz’s understanding of war is very different from that of military strategists and classical Marxists alike. She presents some of the elements of a war-centered, rather than capital - or even state-centered, social theory, but very much in outline form. (I attempted to take this argument further in my own Dialectics of War.)

Giddens on war and the state

Anthony Giddens’s work was a particularly important contribution to this debate on the social theory of war, both in general and in relation to the state. The Nation-State and Violence is by far the most complete statement, not just of Giddens’s own thinking, but of these issues in relation to the main traditions of sociological thought as a whole. Giddens places himself clearly alongside those, like Skocpol and Mann, who are attempting a non-economic reductionist theory of state power, and takes up the same general issues of the role of international relations and war in the analysis of states. He extends the challenge to Marxism which these writers have made, and invites the same incomprehension of Marxists like Bob Jessop, who complains that he ‘curiously neglects the modern welfare state in favour of the modern warfare state’.

Giddens’s work is distinguished, above all, because it locates these issues within a synthetic sociological theory, and a generalized critique of previous positions which marginalized war and militarism (chiefly but not only Marxism). Giddens is concerned, however, with power and states, rather than with a theory of war as such. It is important to evaluate his work in this context, both to establish what he has achieved, and to identify the issues which his approach has not fully addressed.

It is interesting that Giddens’s early work, while always identifying the state as a major problem of social theory, contained few indications of the centrality of the international and military context of state power. In The Class Structure of the Advanced Societies, for example, Giddens contrasted Marx and Weber in terms of their treatments of state and society:

  • The Marxian conception ... treats the state essentially as an ‘expression’ of the class relationships generated in the market ... whereas Marx viewed the state in terms of his presuppositions about the infrastructure of society, Weber tended to view that infrastructure in terms of a paradigm derived from his analysis of the state. For Weber the ‘class principle’ is subordinate to the ‘bureaucratic principle’.
  • But the Weberian model, to which Giddens inclines, does not appear at this stage to be connected to any particular concern with the state-system in which states operate. In Giddens’s short study of Politics and Sociology in the Thought of Max Weber, written in the same year, the only reference to war is a passing one:

  • In the effects of the First World War upon German society, Weber saw both a vindication of his earlier analysis of the German social structure and the possibility of transforming the political order ... . He made no secret of the positive sentiments which the ‘great and wonderful’ war inspired in him: the passivity, and the lack of a national political sense, which he had criticised in the past, were replaced by a collective assertion of the integrity of the nation in the face of the other world powers.
  • One will not find the terms ‘war’, ‘militarism’ or even ‘violence’ in the index to any of Giddens’s work in the 1970s.

    War and militarism appear to have become of interest to Giddens as he began to develop his own theory of power and to frame the terms of his critique of Marxism. In A Contemporary Critique of Historical Materialism he brings together a number of concerns in his work to focus on the nature of power and the state. He argues that power is routinely involved in the ‘instantiation’ of social practices: it is not a secondary characteristic of social life. Giddens also insists that ‘power was never satisfactorily theorised by Marx, and that this failure is at origin of some of the chief limitations of his scheme of historical analysis’.

    In this volume, Giddens introduces some of the principal axes of his later approach to the state. Modifying Foucault’s view of power, he argues that ‘surveillance’, the capacity for ‘storage of authoritative resources’, is a key attribute of modern states. 'Lack of analysis of the phenomenon of one of the major limitations of Marx’s interpretation of the state.' Surveillance is not just a feature of late, computerized, capitalist society, but integral to the history of capitalism. He quotes Foucault: ‘the traditional, ritual, costly, violent forms of power...were superseded by a subtle, calculated technology of subjection’.

    The concept of surveillance is linked by Giddens, however, to a number of other theoretical propositions. On the one hand, it is argued, in terms quite compatible with Marx, that ‘the insulation of economy from polity involves ... the extrusion of the means of violence from the principal axis of class exploitation, the capital/wage-labour relation’. On the other, Giddens attacks ‘the prevalence in nineteenth-century social thought of the notion that capitalistic economic enterprise is essentially non-violent in nature’. This apparent paradox is explained by the fact that ‘Such a view ignores the processes that led to the internal pacification of states ... . And it ignores the fact that the capitalist state has been the purveyor of violence externally ...’.

    The opposition of ‘surveillance’ and ‘violence’ thus assumes a signal importance in Giddens’s thought. The growth of state surveillance corresponds to the reduction of violence within societies (‘pacification’) and in particular within class relations. But - and this is perhaps the most radical element of Giddens’s argument - the pacification of societies by states does not imply a general pacification of social life. The reason for this, once the violence of the initial pacification process itself has subsided, is the external violence of the state. Here, given the theoretical importance accorded to violence in society, is to be found the source of the growing theoretical importance of war to Giddens. When he remarks, later, that

  • I have long contended that the neglect of what any casual survey of history shows to be an overwhelmingly obvious and chronic trait of human affairs - recourse to violence and war - is one of the most extraordinary blank spots in social theory in the twentieth century.
  • Giddens is not simply making a ritual comment on a lack in social theory. He is pointing to a factor which, his theory suggests, is directly related to the main trends of contemporary society.

    The changing balance of internal and external violence, and the changing role of the state, implies a major change in the character of military power. ‘In class-divided societies’, Giddens suggests, ‘open class struggle is generally very sporadic, though it may be very violent.’ Because of this violence, and the lack of developed surveillance,

  • Military power has normally placed a decisive role in the integration of class divided societies ... . The use or the threat of the use of violence in sustaining system integration is ever present in class-divided societies. This is of major importance to the conceptualisation of the state ... .
  • In capitalism, by contrast, class struggles are a chronic feature of the organization of production, but they are correspondingly less violent, and they are regulated mainly by surveillance rather than by violence. Military power no longer plays a decisive role in system integration. The growth of military power continues, however, and can only be explained by external conflict.

    It is clear that Giddens differs sharply from Marxists who have tended to present the growth of military power as a result of the sharpening of class contradictions, often neglecting in the process the more obvious war-related explanations for the growth of military power. If he considers the role of military power within capitalist societies, he is more likely to see it as cause than consequence. For example, he makes the point that military organization anticipated the organization of the factory:

  • In the army barracks, and in the mass coordination of men on the battlefield (epitomised by the military innovations of Prince Maurice of Orange and Nassau in the sixteenth century) are to be found the prototype of the regimentation of the factory - as both Marx and Weber noted.
  • Giddens also now presents the state specifically as a ‘nation-state’. He sees ‘the period of triumph of capitalism as a "world capitalist economy"’ as ‘also a period eventuating in the world-wide triumph of the nation-state as a focus of political and military organisation’. And he argues that it is ‘not necessary (nor is it legitimate) to suppose that one has to unearth how it came to be that capitalism "needed" the nation-state for its development, or in which, per contra, the nation-state "needed" capitalism’. Nor is nationalism the direct product of nation-states (still less of capitalism): this too needs to be specifically explained, perhaps as a result of war. War-mobilization disrupts the social fabric - ‘the relatively fragile fabric of ontological security may become broken. In such conditions regressive forms of object-identification [nationalism] tend to come to the fore.’

    In this volume, therefore, Giddens outlines many of the positions on state and society which mark him off not just from Marx but also from others who acknowledge Weber as the major figure in social theory. What Giddens takes from Weber is quite clearly a world away from Parsons’s interpretation, for example:

  • Neither Weber’s sombre view of modern capitalism, nor his emphases upon the centrality of military power and violence more generally in history, survive prominently either in Parsons’s representations of Weber’s work, or in Parsons’s own theories.
  • The centrality of war, military power and violence had not been so apparent in Giddens’s earlier work, either, but now these are becoming the cutting edges of his theory of state and society.

    The Nation-State and Violence

    Not surprisingly, the second volume of the ‘contemporary critique of historical materialism’ bears directly on these themes and contains a full exposition of his views. The more radical theoretical developments were, arguably, made in the first volume, but The Nation-State and Violence integrates them in a broad theoretical and historical statement. The gap between his theory and Marxism is also clarified.

    At the centre of Giddens’s theory, now, is the nation-state, presented not just as a major institution or set of institutions, but as the defining and integrating institution of modern societies. ‘Modern societies’, he writes, ‘are nation-states, existing within a nation-state system.’ Societies were not previously co-extensive with administrative units, since traditional states lacked clearly defined boundaries and means of social control. It is a result of ‘distinctive forms of social integration associated with the nation-state’ that this has come about.

    ‘Capitalism’ needs, in Giddens’s view, to be ‘prised free from the general framework of historical materialism, and integrated in a different approach to previous history and to the analysis of modern institutions’. It becomes instead one of four ‘"institutional clusterings" associated with modernity: heightened surveillance, capitalistic enterprise, industrial production and the centralised control of the means of violence’. These clusterings are irreducible, the one to the other, but reflect different forces which are at work in modern societies. Two of these clusterings, of course, directly appertain to the nation-state (surveillance and military violence); the other two, which are more commonly used to define modern societies (industrialism and capitalism) ‘intersect with’ the development of the nation-state system.

    States in general can be defined, following Weber rather than Marx, according to violence and territoriality, but Giddens wishes to qualify his definition. Traditional states, he argues, could ‘claim’ a legitimate monopoly of violence within a given territory, but only modern nation-states have really achieved it. Traditional states were characterized by specialized military forces, but the distinction between external and internal war was not always very clear. The monopoly of violence eluded the central state, and much warfare was the result of attempts by states to establish and maintain as well as to extend the scope of their power. On the other hand, states did not ‘govern’ their populations in a regular sense, and so had periodically to resort to military force as a substitute for administration.

    The fundamental transition, according to Giddens, is from the traditional state to the modern nation-state. The absolutist state is a stage in this development, but is still basically a traditional form. This transition is not determined by a single socio-economic process, or indeed by socio-economic processes in general. Giddens is determinedly non-reductionist in his explanation for changes in state forms, and one of the most interesting points in his account is where he argues that ‘there were three sets of military developments that decisively influenced (but were also influenced by) the rise of the absolutist state’. He refers to technological changes in armaments, the emergence of modern military discipline and the development of naval strength. He goes on to assert that

  • Various main features of European state development were shaped in a decisive way by the contingent outcomes of military confrontations and wars. Nothing shows more clearly how implausible it is to regard the emergence of modern societies as the result of some sort of evolutionary scheme that inexorably led from the alluvial dirt of Sumer to the factory shop-floor of latter-day Europe.
  • A crucial analytical issue in this assertion is whether military events should be regarded as purely ‘contingent’ or whether there is a major category of factors which need to be incorporated into the explanation of social change. Should military factors as such, or only the outcome of particular battles and wars, be regarded a ‘contingent’? Giddens pursues his analysis of military developments, such as the development of standing armies and discipline, in a way which suggests that these are significant general factors. Repeating the historical point already made in A Contemporary Critique he writes that through the interventions of Maurice of Nassau,

  • there is a very real sense in which ... the techniques of Taylorism became well embedded in the sphere of the armed forces several hundred years before, in industrial production, they came to be known by that label.
  • The development of modern nation-states, aided by military organization and technology, involves in Giddens’s view the establishment of monopolies of violence. Nation-states as ‘bordered power-containers’ achieve more and more effective surveillance of their societies and are able to eliminate or marginalize violence within them. Civil wars in modern nation-states are, according to Giddens, less common than were the internal armed struggles of traditional states and societies. Where they do occur, the fact that armed movements are invariably concerned with the assumption of state power testifies to the centrality of the state in the modern world.

    Giddens is ‘principally concerned with the means of violence associated with the activities of organised armed forces, not with violence as a more blanket category of doing physical harm to others’, and hence can discount (though he denies wishing to underplay) ‘violence that takes place in smallscale contexts in modern societies’. He mentions violent crime and domestic violence; it is obviously crucial to his theory that it should be possible also to discount class, industrial, political and racial violence.

    The elimination of violence, or ‘pacification’ of societies by nation-states and their surveillance activities, are necessary conditions for the expansion of capitalism and industrialism. Indeed capitalism, according to Giddens, involves

  • a novel type of class system, one in which class struggle is rife but also in which the dominant class ... do not have or require direct access to the means of violence to sustain their rule. Unlike previous systems of class domination, production involves close and continuous relations between the major class groupings. This presumes a ‘doubling-up’ of surveillance, modes of surveillance becoming a key feature of economic organisations and of the state itself.
  • Marx, of course, was aware of how the ‘dull compulsion’ of economic relations, rather than violence, was the main mechanism of capitalist power; but according to Giddens, ‘he does not ask what happens to the means of violence "extruded" from the labour contract’.

    This 'admittedly crude formulation' echoes closely words used in A Contemporary Critique, already quoted, and expresses one of Giddens’s most radical ideas. It is almost as thought he is suggesting that the violence which is squeezed out of society, and notably economic relations, is directly expressed in externally directed military violence, i.e. in war. It is not, surely, that he believes that there is a fixed amount or level of violence in any society. What he is arguing is that the pacification of social relations occurs primarily through the accumulation of power in the nation-state. Although the mature form of a pacified society is one in which surveillance is paramount, the initial pacification occurs partly through military power, and leads to a standing army as the foundation of the modern nation-state. At the same time, Giddens argues that nation-states exist only in and through the nation-state system. He attacks Wallerstein’s concept of a world system, arguing that a world system ‘is not only formed by transnational economic connections and dependencies, but also by the global system of nation-states, neither of which can be exhaustively reduced to the other’.

    This argument gives Giddens a novel angle on an old debate. Mann, for example, has argued that, contrary to both the nineteenth-century ‘optimistic theory of pacific capitalism’ and the early-twentieth-century Marxist theory of militaristic capitalism’, industrial capitalism is instrinsically neither pacific nor militarist. Giddens, by contrast, argues that industrial capitalism is ‘pacific’ - but only internally, within a nation-state:

  • What it involves, however, is not the decline of war but a concentration of military power ‘pointing outwards’ towards other states in the nation-state system.
  • Pacification and militarism are not alternatives, but two sides of the same process. This implies, however, that military power itself has undergone immense change.

    Giddens devotes a chapter to the historical sociology of military power, outlining the development of armaments and military technology. Locating these within his four ‘institutional clusters’, he rejects the common assumption that capitalism lies behind the growth of arms, insisting instead that ‘Industrial capitalism provided the means for the industrialisation of war, but the activities and involvements of nation-states are at the origin of the phenomenon.’ He also emphasizes the link between military duty and citizenship rights in political democracy. In discussing the two World Wars, he stresses the impact of war on industrial organization, the institutionalization of class conflict and the political structures of the combatant states. ‘My main point’, he argues, ‘is to emphasise that the impact of war in the twentieth century upon generalised patterns of change has been so profound that it is little short of absurd to interpret such patterns without systematic reference to it.’

    It is obviously of critical importance to discover how far this impact continues beyond the period of the two World Wars. ‘Do we’, Giddens asks, ‘still, in fact, live in military societies?’ ‘How far are Western nation-states currently dominated by military imperatives in terms of their basic economic organisation? Are patterns of military rule likely to become more, rather than less common...?’

    In answering these questions, Giddens deals mainly with the economic issue, arguing that despite the specific weight of military industries, economies as wholes are not generally dominated by a ‘military-industrial complex’; and with the political aspect, maintaining that even where the military take power, rule is not generally carried out through military means. Consistent with his main argument, he argues that military power as such is of declining importance in social control. Repressive military regimes are examples of the more general phenomenon of totalitarianism, which is inherent in the surveillance state. Giddens concludes that only in the sense that our nation-states are part of a world military order, in which the means of waging industrialized war are widely diffused, do we live today in ‘military societies’. (In terms of the internal organisation of national societies, we are moving in a 'post-military' direction, although he does not use this term.)

    The system of nation-states - rather than capitalism or industrialism - is, then, the key to understanding the problems of military power. The role of the military in the newer ‘state-nations’ depends on the same twin features of centralized, bureaucratized military power and a historically high level of internal pacification which are found in nation-states generally. Despite the extent to which some states are militarily and politically subordinate to others, and despite elements of international organization, world society is more than ever composed of competing nation-states with the means to wage industrialized war.

    This analysis leads Giddens to largely pessimistic conclusions. ‘In terms of historical agencies of change,’ he writes, ‘there is no parallel in the sphere of weaponry to the proletarian in the area of industrial labour. No plausible "dialectical counterpart" to the progressive accumulation of military power seems to exist.’ Peace movements are likely, in Giddens’s view, to be of limited effect. Hope is sought, however, in resistance to militaristic values - old-style militarism is seen as in decline, new-style militarism as no more than a propensity to seek or accept military solutions. In the absence of a dialectic of change, we must look to ‘a renewal of utopianism, mixed with the firmest form of realism’ to resist the war-propensities of nation-states. This utopianism ‘can (not must) negatively affect tactical decisions relevant to coping with a heavily militarised world’.

    Dialectics of total war

    It will be evident that The Nation-State and Violence has a very wide scope and offers an impressive range of generalizations - matched, it should be stated, by the breadth of its author’s historical knowledge. In its restoration of the issues of war and militarism to the centre of social theory in general, and state theory in particular, it is far and away the most important text yet published. Its basic theoretical approach has been questioned, however, by Jessop, who argues that

  • we seem to be faced with the concept of a gradual co-evolution of four different spheres without any serious attempt to move beyond an historical account to an analysis of system integration around the capitalist character of modern societies.
  • There seem to be two separate issues here. One is whether Giddens has adequately identified, and explained the relationships of, his ‘institutional clusterings’. It is possible to argue, as this chapter does in relation to war and militarism, with the way the four are specified and to suggest better explanations for their interactions. But Jessop clearly wants to go further than this. As a Marxist, forced to admit that Giddens has made ‘compelling’ criticisms of historical materialism, he feels obliged to insist that it is around the ‘capitalist’ character of modern societies that system integration must be identified.

    Giddens has, however, given compelling reasons for structuring our explanations of social integration - and social change - around the nation-state rather than around capitalism. It is not an oversight that prevented him from arguing as Jessop suggests. As our preliminary discussion has indicated, his argument brings together main points which are increasingly common ground among state theorists. The Nation-State and Violence is a persuasive statement of the new theoretical consensus based on the widely perceived inadequacies of Marxist state theory.

    It is perhaps surprising that Jessop hinged his criticism on the relation between capitalism and the state, rather than examining the more novel parts of Giddens’s argument such as his use of violence, war and militarism. A great deal, after all, hinges on the argument about pacification and surveillance. Giddens is adopting very broad historical standards when he dismisses class, industrial, political, racial, criminal or personal violence in contemporary societies as not amounting to significant violence for his purposes. When he accepts the Marxist concept of class struggle, but denies there is significant class violence, he identifies violence narrowly with organized, armed fighting and killing.

    The distinction between what is commonly described as ‘social violence’ in contemporary societies, and violence in this more fundamental sense, is valid and important. But it is still unclear that Giddens is on strong historical ground. It would have been difficult for him to put forward his argument at an earlier stage in the development of nation-states and capitalism. In the first half of the twentieth century organized class violence - for example, between the paramilitary formations of communist and fascist parties - was all too commonplace. Class struggle appeared as likely to culminate in political violence as it did in pacification and integration. It is not so clear, then, that these are features of nation-states as such, rather than of the more industrially advanced nation-states since the Second World War. May not pacification also be regarded as a contingent military outcome?

    What these issues demonstrate is that while The Nation-State and Violence presents itself as a synthesis, it is often raising fundamental historical and analytical issues rather than resolving them. If this is true of its observations on social violence, it is even more true of the analysis of war and militarism. These themes are in reality far more problematic than Giddens allows. For him, they are a means of explaining important features of the modern nation-state, but they are still not treated coherently from a theoretical point of view. Because of the new importance accorded to military power as one of the core institutional clusterings of modern societies, it is necessary to develop a social theory of war and militarism.

    Despite many assertions of the striking effects of war on society, Giddens never enters into the theory of war: to seek, for example, the sociological meaning of Clausewitz, whose concept of war could be set alongside the ideas of Marx and Weber as an intellectual landmark for the modern era. He therefore lacks a general explanation for the facts which in so many ways he finds of startling importance for understanding modern societies.

    There is a broad similarity between Giddens’s concept of military power as an institutional cluster and Kaldor’s of a ‘mode of warfare’. The difference is that where Giddens offers us a series of historical accounts of military technology, organization, etc., Kaldor argues for seeing warfare as a set of social processes flowing from the contest of violence between states. Giddens writes of the concentration of outward-pointing military violence in the state, but he does not discuss the logic of its use in actual war. This is where, as Kaldor recognizes, Clausewitz is essential.

    Clausewitz’s main contribution is not to be sought, as Marxists have believed, in his dictum that ‘war is the continuation of policy by other means’. The core of his work is his concept of warfare as a contest of force, to which there is no necessary limit. War may be limited, by the political aims of the combatants and also by what Clausewitz calls ‘friction’, i.e. constraints such as geography, climate, logistics and technology. But the essence of war is the contest of force which tends to become absolutely destructive. ‘Absolute war’ is not therefore merely one type of war, but the logical culmination of the inner meaning of war. ‘Absolute war’ can therefore be seen as an ‘ideal type’ or a ‘maximum possible concept’ of war in general. Clausewitz may not have envisaged that absolute war would ever be fully realized in practice: but as Howard points out, nuclear war threatens to abolish friction and make war instantaneously absolute.

    The absolutism of war is a fact of general sociological interest. It is this which accounts for the tendency of war to cut through established patterns of social relations. The logic of violence dwarfs other social concerns, so that both formal and informal social institutions undergo change in response to the demands of warfare. Wars are often major periods of social change: this has long been true, but the nature of modern warfare and its relationship to society have given the point new significance. Twentieth-century industrialized war raises the stakes in the military determination of social relations. Giddens recognizes the manifestations of this process, but his theory does not fully explain it.

    The concept of the mode of warfare is extremely important here. Kaldor lays emphasis on the way in which the form of war being waged or envisaged in strategic planning becomes embedded in military technology stresses the way in which it reflects historically outmoded strategic concerns, thus rendering itself militarily obsolescent and economically retarding.

    What is needed is a more general account of the ‘mode of warfare’ which developed as a result of the rise of the nation-state system and of industrial capitalism, and of the way this has changed over time. I have suggested that we need to develop the sociological concept of total war to describe this mode of warfare, incorporating both Clausewitzian and socio-historical insights. On the one hand, the development of military technology, under the impact of the industrialization of war, led to warfare which increasingly realized the ideal type of ‘absolute war’. On the other hand, capitalist organization of an industrial work-force, combined with the mobilizing power of the nation-state (a form of what Giddens calls surveillance), created the potential not just for mass armies but for total socio-economic and political war-mobilization.

    These two dimensions combine to define the mode of total war which dominated the economic, social and political life of the first half of this century, and which was realized in the two World Wars. Total war was not of course a single form of war, but was constantly changing. Between the two World Wars, developments in strategy and technology changed national labour forces from the suppliers of total war to its targets. Revolutionary ideologies, by-products of the First World War, became motive forces of the Second. These and other changes marked inner transformations of total war and its relationship to society.

    Much of Giddens’s analysis could be further explicated by a dynamic concept of total war, attempting to relate the international, military, political-ideological and socio-economic processes involved. Total war was, moreover, a deeply contradictory process, leading to both revolutionary and reformist social movements. Giddens is wrong to deny the significance of revolutionary violence in capitalist societies in the first part of the twentieth century. A more satisfactory argument against Marxism is that revolutionary contradictions were much more apparent in mobilization for total war than in the capitalist economic crisis which Marxists have seen as determining. Total war was also, however, the context for much of the consolidation of the power of nation-states of which Giddens writes. Indeed, and this again is a question-mark against Marxism, the outcome of class, as much as military, violence in the epoch of total war has invariably been to centralize state power.

    The criticism of Giddens is that while he recognizes many of the effects of total war, he does not explain what total war is or has been. The nature of military power, as a basic institutional cluster of modern society, is explained only ad hoc and not theoretically (on a par with capitalism, industrialism or even surveillance). Military power tends to be presented as a resource of states; it is not clear that Giddens has quite come to terms, theoretically at least, with the destructive logic of actual war. He has not thought through an answer to the question, why and how is it that modern war has such a transformative effect on social relations?

    Just as Giddens lacks a clear concept of the mode of warfare and its development historically, he only skirts around the changes which have taken place since 1945. He grasps, with his seemingly unerring sense for the historical tendency, the demise of classical militarism which accompanied the passing of classical total war. He puts his finger on the paradox of societies which, while producing an ever more destructive outward-pointing militarism, are not inwardly militarist in most obvious senses - indeed are quite clearly post-militarist. He does not, however, discuss either the causes of this in the nuclear mutation of total warfare, or the consequences for nation-states. In this respect Giddens has less to offer than Mann, who has recently outlined a scheme of the stages of modern warfare. (Mann’s threefold classification - ‘Clausewitzian’, ‘citizen’ and ‘nuclear’ war - is, however, open to question both on interpretation and argument.)

    What cannot be in doubt is that the period since the end of the Second World War has seen a fundamental transition, in the advanced industrial societies, from mass-mobilization to high-technology militarism. Nuclear weaponry was the first, and is still the dominant, but is by no means the only technology of this new form of war-preparation. Warfare has in general moved beyond the stage in which quantities of men and weapons are crucial, to the supremacy of technological sophistication - in electronics as well as nuclear physics.

    The transformation of modern warfare clearly has major implications for the relationship of war and society. Nuclear militarism clearly requires general ideological mobilization, in the context of Cold War rivalry, and this can give the impression of societies which are still highly militarized. At the same time there is a need for specialized military industries of a high order of technological sophistication, which lie behind the concept of a ‘military-industrial complex’. Indeed, these two characteristics, taken together, led E. P. Thompson to assert that societies in the Cold War ‘do not have military-industrial complexes; they are military-industrial complexes’.

    This view, understandable in view of the danger which war-preparation poses is, however, misleading. Ideological mobilization accompanies practical demobilization: populations are no longer mobilized en masse in war-preparation, nor will they be required to fight and produce in nuclear war. The concentration of military industry in high technology means that is has less direct impact on advanced economies as wholes. In order to prepare for possible wars, nation-states no longer require much of the direct and detailed control over economies and societies which they took in the epoch of classical total war.

    Giddens clearly appreciates some of this change, but his analysis cannot pinpoint the issues decisively enough. The difficulty is that his concepts are at too high a level of generality to explain specific phases and forms of the relationships of nation-state and society. The relationships of military power, surveillance, industrialism and capitalism are changing in ways which are descriptively acknowledged, but cannot be accounted for theoretically. For example, Giddens is right to argue that modern nation-states rule through surveillance rather than military power. But surveillance takes many forms: the fact that nuclear nation-states like the US and the UK can dispense with much of the direct control which they assumed forty years ago is of immense political importance. More sophisticated forms of surveillance, monitoring and manipulation - without postwar ‘intervention’ and controls - have opened up a new economic and political era in advanced Western nation-states. The ideology of Thatcherism, with its twin totems of nuclear weapons and the market, actually expressed the new relationship of the nuclear state to economy and society. The state may retain overall direction of the national economy while abdicating much of its detailed intervention to private agencies. Giddens offers us little with which to define these changes, or their relationship to military power.

    One point on which Giddens is clear is his denial that there are dialectics of change in military power and war. It has been argued here, against this, that there certainly have been radical contradictions in the mode of warfare. Total war (very ironically from the point of view of Marxism) was the context of socialist advance in the first half of this century. It is common ground, however, that contemporary nuclear militarism will not generate any internal agency for change: the radical contradictions of war-mobilization have been closed off. It is not so clear, however, that the changed relation of war and society is so hopeless for radical politics. The decline of classical militarism, and the development of post-military society, also creates space in which a politics of transformation can flourish.

    Similarly, although the retreat of the nuclear state from much direct socio-economic control is designed to create new opportunities for private capitalism, it also creates new space for a decentralizing politics of democratic control. It may make it possible, for almost the first time in this century, to define socialism free from the distortions of statism induced by total war. This may be, as Giddens insists, largely a utopian exercise but the link with historical possibility is still there to be shaped.

    From a theoretical point of view, the central issue which is raised by these critical reflections is that of how far The Nation-State and Violence, in correcting the neglect of war and the inter-state dimension of state-power, overemphasised the predominance of the nation-state system and minimised its social contradictions. A world of nation-states, each internally pacified (by extensive surveillance) but potentially engaged in the most violent war with each other, is a world in which states are all and social forces are nothing. No wonder that the theory has been seen as a sociological underpinning for a realist view of global anarchy. In centring on the global system of nation-states, the approach leaves little room for a wider concept of global society.

    The Nation-State and Violence is perhaps best seen, then, as a theoretical summing-up of the global state-system as it emerged from the period of total war. It presents us with a schema of state and society which enables us to understand the 'national societies' into which the world was divided in the era of total war, and which still predominated in the Cold War period. Like all such schema, it was a good starting point for analysis, but it had its weaknesses. These were not so serious so long as the major conditions underpinning it remained intact, but are more critical now that fundamental changes have started to occur, since the end of the Cold War. As we now look at the very different world of the 1990s and beyond, we need to re-evaluate the theory of the state bequeathed to us from the 1980s.