War and State making; Child’s play?

By Lauke Stoel

While discussing Tilly’s main argument about war- and state making and their similarities to organised crime, the comparison with the mafia came up in class. Tilly argues that, much like the organised crime methods the mafia employs, the process of state making involves the ‘double-edged sword of protection’. His argument entails that, leading up to the emergence of nation-states, warlords created a credible threat of violence and sold protection against that very threat. With these ‘taxes’, wars were fought, protected territories were created and so the nation-state emerged. Yet, whereas in class, a link was made to the mafia, I associated it with the way children play on the playground and how this way of establishing hierarchy seems to be human nature.

Developmental psychologist Piaget, who researched the role of play in the development of children, found that as soon as there are no parents present who exercise their authority to settle children’s disputes, kids argue it out amongst each other, and find that rules of a game are malleable. This notion of malleable rules can explain the social dynamic of how one group of kids can make up the rules of a game they and their classmates play. Sometimes, they add or change rules if something does not go in their favour and often, the other children will play along. The credible threat for non-compliance to these new rules, however, is seldom violence, but social exclusion; not being allowed to play the game anymore. Like this, a social structure emerges, which it is more beneficial to be part of than to be excluded from, and it is based on an almost arbitrary establishment of authority. This illustrates how the emergence of our most common mode of governance, ironically, can be traced back to how children play.