War, States, and Contention

War, States, and Contention

A Comparative Historical Study

Sidney Tarrow

Cornell University Press, Ithaca, New York, 2015, 328 pages

Book Review published on: April 21, 2017

Sidney Tarrow is an accomplished academic and writer who has published many books addressing states and contentious politics, and this book builds upon that body of work. Tarrow sets out to illustrate an explicit relationship between domestic social crusades and political friction, and how those two things influence state-building using three war-related progressions: preparing for war, political dissention leading up to war, and engaging in war. He theorizes that war and contentious politics are inseparable from one another and both intersect with state-building and state transformation.

The methodological approach he uses to investigate and confirm his premise is comparative case study analysis. The cases range from the French Revolution (1789-1799) to the U.S. Civil War through Reconstruction, and from post-World War I Italy (during the rise of Mussolini) to the current U.S. War on Terror. Tarrow smartly chose his cases for their collective comprehensiveness, yet unique and complementing qualities, to objectively test his claims. He begins by thoroughly building the theoretical foundation for his argument before committing the preponderance of the book to detailing and analyzing each supporting case. He gives special attention to the post-World War II U.S. experience, since the United States emerged as the sole global hegemonic power.

Tarrow does a noteworthy job uncovering, interpreting, and linking evidence in support of his thesis in a substantively compelling way. He draws extensively on relevant scholarly literature in the fields of international relations, contentious politics, and comparative-historical analysis. He further compliments this scholarly rigor with personal experience rooted in his life’s body of work. His narrative is clear and logical, and he also provides numerous supplementary diagrams to assist the reader’s understanding.

Notable outcomes from this work are numerous. Sociopolitical movements can lead to war, and war can led to sociopolitical movements. Political movements are becoming less likely to lead to war against states, and more likely to lead to states waging war against movements. The growth in the number of advocacy groups holding government(s) accountable for national security-related policies and actions continues to rise around the world, therefore empowering civil society. The author creates several theories about the progressions of war such as preparing for war and engaging in war have problematic effects on freedoms. Another is that women’s rights have been advanced by war whereas others such as civil liberties are often diminished. The post-Cold War period was shaped by technological innovation, globalization, empowered transnational actors, and terrorism, creating a paradox pitting the promotion of Western sociodemocratic values and advancements in human rights against the necessity for the security of the state. This irony has fluctuated, in varying degrees influenced by the protests waged among citizens against government while governments look for new ways to evade civil society in order to protect the interests of the state.

The emergence of post-World War II international institutions designed to promote social welfare have also created a means for powerful states to promote or impose their national agenda on others. Governments rising out of war or dealing with conflict have a tendency to abuse the rule of law to suppress opponents. Since World War II, the growth in the U.S. military and its defense-industrial complex has made the United States a national security state, further empowering government at the expense of civil society. That domestic political discourse often leads to war but can also circumvent hostilities.

This is a well-crafted, insightful, and thought-provoking book that thoroughly informs and engages the casual and astute reader. Practitioners, scholars, and students of international relations, political science, state diplomacy, government policy, and civilian-military relations will find this book a most interesting read.

Book Review written by: David A. Anderson, PhD, Fort Leavenworth, Kansas