Hezbollah Made War and War Made Hezbollah

By Marleen Bornat


When people hear about the Lebanese organisation Hezbollah, they will most likely picture them as a terrorist organisation. Yet that portrayal fails to capture the many transformations the militant group has undergone since its formation in the 1980s; mainly from a resistance movement to a “state within a state” and an Islamic political party that is part of one of the dominating coalitions in the Lebanese Parliament (Davis 2007). In the following, I will apply Tilly’s (1985) theory of state making to Hezbollah to show that it is lacking a vital component of a state-building force, apart from the obvious lack of recognition by the international community.

According to Tilly (1985), there were four main processes to state formation in Europe. Among them is war making during which “states” eliminate their rivals outside of their own territory (ibid.). Although Hezbollah rarely engages in territory expanding activities, it led the struggle against Israel which strengthened its own regional basis (Davis 2007). Additionally, it possesses the unofficial monopoly of violence as it is much stronger than the Lebanese Armed Forces (ibid.).

Hezbollah also fulfils the protection element of state making. The organisation does not only defend the Lebanese people against outside forces but it also provides services that the state fails to care for, thus acting as a parallel authority. Additionally, it eliminates domestic enemies by punishing criminals according to Islamic law. The only state making element Hezbollah is really lacking is the ability to extract to realise the above-mentioned processes. According to Tilly (1985), European states had to extract resources for war efforts which required them to create bureaucratic institutions to secure regular income. Contrary to that, Hezbollah receives a lot of funding from its allies, today mainly from Iran (Davis 2007).

To summarise, although many sub-state groups or militant organisations have the strength to make war, build a state and protect, they often lack extractive institutions as they tend to rely on funding and plundering. This means that even though Hezbollah has in some parts established parallel state-like institutions that function better than the state-provided ones, as long as they are mainly a proxy for more powerful states, they will never be powerful enough to pose a real threat to the actual state.