The Art of Coercion

The Primitive Accumulation and Management of Coercive Power

July 2011 9781849040815 256pp


In today’s dominant discourse of liberal interventionism, the role of coercion and the monopoly of violence have been neglected, argues Antonio Giustozzi, an analyst justly renowned for his research and writing on the Taliban. It is widely assumed that a functional, liberal state can emerge out of a political settlement between warring parties based on political inclusiveness and a social contract, which involves pressuring political actors to reach a deal. But the post-Cold war experience of such deals has been so disappointing that a re-examination of these ‘certainties’ is warranted. Giustozzi contends that a key source of such flawed analyses is widespread confusion over what state formation and state-building involve. In his view, completely different ‘rules of the game’ apply to the two. Naked coercion is a key component of state formation, and very few states were formed without recourse to it. In contrast, the history of state consolidation after their initial formation is one of taming violence and creating increasingly sophisticated way of managing it.The Art of Coercion offers a new approach to thinking about the role of security forces, in their broadest sense, in this transition between state formation and state-building. While focussing largely on the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, Giustozzi discusses coercive power throughout history, from the Carolingian empire to the Boer War, from Zapata’s Mexico to China’s Warring States. He scrutinises the role of armies, guerrilla bands, mercenaries, police forces and intelligence services, analyses why some coups fail and some succeed, and examines the ways in which the monopoly of violence decays.


‘Antonio Giustozzi has written another terrific book.  He places coercion and violence within the framework of  the state-building literature and engages the critical issue of the monopoly of violence head on.  His discussions of elite bargaining and its relations to coercion in civil war and internal crises, the role of political policing, the political micromanagement of population control, and the origins and development of policing are all full of original insights and thought-provoking arguments.  Moreover, Giustozzi’s mastery of history — unusual among most social scientists — shines through as he illustrates his contentions with wonderfully apt examples from the past.  This book is a major contribution to the field of security studies and, just as importantly, will be a joy to read even for those who may lack the specialist’s fascination with the topic.’ — Zoltan Barany, Frank C. Erwin, Jr. Professor of Government, University of Texas

The Art of Coercion is a superb addition to the literature: erudite, wide-ranging in its historical examples, and neatly structured. Its arguments about the typically ruthless “primitive accumulation of a monopoly of violence” and the institutional and political challenges of this and of maintaining a monopoly once achieved, are of more than merely scholarly appeal. The evidence and argument have profoundly challenging implications for all those involved in interventions to “build stability overseas” or interested in conflict prevention and state building.’ — Christopher Cramer, Professor of the Political Economy of Development, SOAS

‘In an era dominated by deception and good intentions, the book sounds like a wake-up call for, and a desperate appeal to, any scholar or policymaker concerned with the true meaning of his/ her profession. Giustozzi leads us back to the basics, shedding light into the international politics’ “cabinet of horrors”, in order to answer the primary research question of any social science study: “is man good or bad by nature”?’ — Contemporary Security Policy


Antonio Giustozzi is Senior Research Fellow at the Royal United Services Institute, and Visiting Professor at King's College London, with a PhD from the London School of Economics. His eleven books are published by Hurst, most recently The Islamic State in Khorasan: Afghanistan, Pakistan and the New Central Asian Jihad.  

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