War, States, and Contention: A Comparative Historical Study

In This Review

War, States, and Contention: A Comparative Historical Study
By Sidney Tarrow
Cornell University Press, 2015
328 pp.
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Tarrow has spent most of his distinguished career exploring social movements and political conflict in western Europe. In this wide-ranging historical survey, he examines how “contentious politics”—draft riots, worker strikes, ethnic conflicts, civil rights movements, antiwar protests, and nationalist campaigns—have affected state building and war making in France, the United States, and Italy. During the French Revolution, domestic upheaval and war turned a “movement state” that proclaimed “the rights of man” into a military regime; French citizens regained their political rights only decades later, under the auspices of a centralized state. In the U.S. case, the Civil War strengthened the federal government and provided a catalyst for the abolitionist movement and the expansion of suffrage and citizenship rights. Italy entered World War I as a fragile liberal state, but faced with food shortages, labor strife, and antiwar protests, it succumbed to repressive military rule. In general, Tarrow sees the twentieth century as an era when foreign wars and geopolitical conflict tended to have a damaging impact on civil rights and citizenship, even in liberal democracies; the twenty-first century has seen a similar pattern, he argues, pointing to the consolidation of the “national-security state” and a semi-permanent war on terrorism. But his book is better at lamenting this development than explaining it.

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