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The Ethnic Conflict Research Digest

2000, Vol. 3 No. 2 .


The Rise and Decline of the State
Martin Van Creveld

Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1999
439pp. Index. Hb.: 37.50; ISBN 0-5216-5190-5. Pb.: 13.95; ISBN 0-5216-5629-X.



The author argues that the state is in decline. To prove this he aims to describe the pre-history of the state and its growth and development to the present day. The author attempts to cover a vast amount of territory. The first two chapters are a very detailed account of different types of political organisation culminating in the formation of the state. The author uses many examples to explain the struggle against the church, Empire, nobility, and towns ending in the victory of the monarchy. The next chapters explore the state as an instrument for controlling its people, followed by the state as an ideal. This leads the author to an exploration of the development of political theory. The state as an ideal may be of interest to scholars of ethnic conflict as it discusses the marriage of state and nation, and the intensely bloody conflicts which followed. The final historical chapter offers a description of the spread of the state. Chapter six finally brings the reader to Creveld's argument that the state is in decline. The reasons for this decline are the decline in major wars primarily because of the introduction of nuclear weapons, the deterioration of the welfare state, separation of church and state, the internationalisation of technology, and the threat to internal order, including from ethnic conflict. This involves an examination of how the treatment of ordinary citizens changes when the threat comes from within. It is regrettable that the conclusion is so short. A more detailed explanation of how the state is retreating and what is taking its place would have added to the work as the author hints at some interesting scenarios. This book would be of interest to someone who wants an historical focus on the development of the state, rather than an exploration of the modern role of state.


Helen Morris, St. Antony's College, Oxford University



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