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2 - The Natural State

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  17 August 2009

Douglass C. North
Affiliation:
Washington University, St Louis
John Joseph Wallis
Affiliation:
University of Maryland, College Park
Barry R. Weingast
Affiliation:
Stanford University, California
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Summary

Introduction

A natural state manages the problem of violence by forming a dominant coalition that limits access to valuable resources – land, labor, and capital – or access to and control of valuable activities – such as trade, worship, and education – to elite groups. The creation of rents through limiting access provides the glue that holds the coalition together, enabling elite groups to make credible commitments to one another to support the regime, perform their functions, and refrain from violence. Only elite groups are able to use the third-party enforcement of the coalition to structure contractual organizations. Limiting access to organizational forms is the key to the natural state because limiting access not only creates rents through exclusive privileges but it also directly enhances the value of the privileges by making elites more productive through their organizations.

Every state must deal with the problem of violence, and if we begin thinking about the state by positing a single actor with a monopoly on violence, we assume away the fundamental problem. All states are organizations, involving multiple individuals who cooperate to pursue a common goal even as they retain their individual interests. In natural states, powerful elites are directly connected to the organizations they head. The resources elite organizations bring to the dominant coalition strengthen relationships within the coalition. Increasing specialization and division of labor, including specialization in violence, come with increasing size of societies. Because the application of violence requires organization, violence specialists typically head or are embedded in organizations.

Type
Chapter
Information
Violence and Social Orders
A Conceptual Framework for Interpreting Recorded Human History
, pp. 30 - 76
Publisher: Cambridge University Press
Print publication year: 2009

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