Title: Rethinking War and Change: Competing Logics in World Politics
Name: Victoria Tin-bor Hui
Department of Political Science
University of Notre Dame
130 Hesburgh Center
Notre Dame, IN 46556
thui@nd.edu
Year: 1999
Type: Dissertation Fellowship
Summary:

This project compares international relations and state-society relations in ancient China (659-221 BC) and early modern Europe (1495-1815 AD). I examine why theorists of international relations and state-society relations take for granted checks and balances in early modern Europe but a coercive universal empire was established in ancient China. I argue that we should not presume the European experience as the norm and treat ancient China as a deviant case. Although early modern Europe and ancient China reached diametrically opposite outcomes in processes of system formation and state formation, the two historical systems in fact shared striking similarities in their formative processes. To account for similar processes and divergent outcomes, I propose a dynamic theory which views world politics as processes of strategic interaction between domination-seekers and targets of domination who employ competing strategies and who are simultaneously facilitated and hindered by competing causal mechanisms.

With regard to international relations, realist theories of international politics tend to focus on structural mechanisms and overlook agential strategies. At the same time, they focus on causal mechanisms which check attempts at domination and overlook mechanisms which facilitate domination. It is true that attempts at domination are checked by the mechanisms of the balance of power and rising costs of expansion. But domination-seekers may overcome such obstacles by pursuing divide-and-conquer strategies, ruthless tactics, and self-strengthening reforms. This was what happened in ancient China. Attempts at domination repeatedly failed in Europe not just because countervailing mechanisms were in operation, but also because European domination-seekers came significantly short in their capabilities and strategies for domination. Theorists of state-society relations make a similar argument that checks and balances normally prevail in processes of state formation. They argue that liberal democracy historically emerged out of the war-make-state-and-state-make-war processes in the early modern period. It is noteworthy that nascent constitutional rights and a certain degree of freedom of expression also emerged in the Spring and Autumn and Warring States periods in China. However, such state-society bargains were rolled back in ancient China rather than institutionalized as in early modern Europe. I argue that processes of state formation unleashed by international competition should logically facilitate domination by providing rulers with significantly enhanced coercive capabilities. In ancient China, early timing in the development of state formation allowed domination-seeking rulers to accumulate coercive capabilities over time. As a result, the most successful rulers not only established domination in international politics, but also eroded nascent constitutional bargains in domestic politics. European states avoided this coercive trajectory because they underwent state deformation for most of the early modern period before they eventually embarked on state formation towards the end of the period.

Bibliography: Hui, V. War and State Formation in Ancient China and Early Modern Europe, New York: Cambridge University Press, 2004.
Hui, V. Toward a Dynamic Theory of International Politics: Insights from Comparing the Ancient Chinese and Early Modern European Systems, forthcoming in International Organization.
Hui, T. The Emergence and Demise of Nascent Constitutional Rights: Comparing Ancient China and Early Modern Europe, Journal of Political Philosophy, vol. 9, no. 4, December 2001, pp. 372-402.