States of Being

Kevin Lewis

March 24, 2023

Demolition and Discontent: Governing the Authoritarian City
Sean Norton
American Journal of Political Science, forthcoming 


The presence of large cities increases the probability of authoritarian breakdown, but the literature has offered little empirical insight as to how challenges to authoritarian rule develop in urban space. I develop a theory of cities as complex sociopolitical spaces that are difficult to govern, particularly in the absence of democratic institutions. This complexity makes both co-optation and coercion difficult, meaning the very tactics that authoritarian cities use to control discontent can become its proximate cause. Using a large, city-financed housing project in Moscow targeted at rewarding regime supporters, I utilize a Bayesian semi-parametric model to demonstrate that even a seemingly well-targeted co-optive exchange contributed to a surprising defeat for the regime in a subsequent municipal election. My results suggest that the relative illegibility of cities plays an important part in the development of opposition to authoritarian rule.

The Power of History: How A Victimization Narrative Shapes National Identity and Public Opinion in China
Yiqing Xu & Jiannan Zhao
Research & Politics, forthcoming


We study the effect of a victimization narrative on national identity and public opinion in China experimentally. Previous research has suggested that governments can shape public opinion by guiding citizens' collective memories of historical events, but few studies have established a clear causal link. By conducting an online survey experiment among approximately 2,000 urban Chinese citizens, we examine the causal impact of historical narratives on political attitudes. We find that, compared to control conditions, a narrative focusing on China’s humiliating past in the late Qing significantly reinforces respondents' attachment to the victim side of the Chinese national identity, raises suspicion of the intention of foreign governments in international disputes, stimulates preference for more hawkish foreign policies, and strengthens support for China's current political system. These effects are particularly strong among respondents without a college degree.

Social Origins of Modern Terrorism, 1860–1945
Joshua Tschantret
Security Studies, forthcoming 


Why did modern terrorism arise as a form of political violence? Scholars have located its origins in the mid-nineteenth century, a development that culminated in a global wave of terrorism and contributed to the outbreak of World War I. Despite consensus on its period of origin, we lack any explanation for why this development occurred. This article forwards a social theory for the origins of modern terrorism. Civic associations, which proliferated globally in the nineteenth century, provided the opportunity and motivation for the development of terrorism. Associations not only fostered the social and human capital necessary for terrorism; they also frequently generated grievances through an inability to enact political change and via ideological propaganda. I test this theory using an original global dataset of terrorist groups formed between 1860 and 1945. Statistical analysis reveals that cities with a YMCA, an exogenous indicator of associationism, were much more likely than those without to see the formation of terrorist groups. Additionally, terrorist groups are formed during civil wars, indicating that armed conflict can spur dramatic innovations in violent contention.

Foreigner kings as local kingmakers: How the ‘unusual’ marginalization of conservative political groups occurred in pre-Industrial Revolution Britain
Makio Yamada
Journal of Institutional Economics, forthcoming 


Building on the Hodgson-Mokyr debate in this journal (Volume 18, Issue 1, 2022), this article discusses how modern economic growth occurred in pre-Industrial Revolution Britain, with a particular focus on coalition politics and the marginalization of conservative political groups -- vetoers to change. Such political marginalization was unusual before the 19th century, when monarchs had substantial political power and land-based conservative groups were their main political allies. This article finds the source of the English exceptionalism in the unique system of non-imperial personal union that Britain then had with the Dutch Republic and Hanover. Under this system, foreigner monarchs chose their local ally in Britain based on the security needs of their home states. It created a significant disadvantage to the Tories, the incumbent conservative groups, while providing a window of opportunity for the Whigs, the opposition group supported by new commercial interests, to form a coalition with the Crown. The long absence of the Tories from power resulted in the incorporation of their constituencies into the Whig-led regime, making the traditional economic interests the regime's ‘junior partners’, instead of formidable political competitors to the new commercial interests, which was the case before and elsewhere at that time.

The Rush to Personalize: Power Concentration after Failed Coups in Dictatorships
Joan Timoneda, Abel Escribà-Folch & John Chin
British Journal of Political Science, forthcoming


How do failed coups influence power personalization in dictatorships? While scholars have studied the mechanisms of personalism in dictatorships in detail, little attention has been paid to the timing and determinants of surges in personalism levels. In this article, we propose that personalism can evolve non-linearly, and show that large, quite rapid increases in personalization by dictators occur after a failed coup attempt. The logic is that failed coups are information-revealing events that provide the dictator with strong motives and ample opportunities to accumulate power. The leader uses this window of opportunity to rapidly consolidate his power at the expense of the ruling coalition. We test the theory using time-series, cross-sectional data on dictatorships in 114 countries in the period between 1946 and 2010. Two placebo tests indicate that disruptive events by regime outsiders -- failed assassination attempts and civil war onsets -- do not promote the rush to personalize.

Elite Change without Regime Change: Authoritarian Persistence in Africa and the End of the Cold War
Josef Woldense & Alex Kroeger
American Political Science Review, forthcoming 


Because the end of the Cold War failed to produce widespread democratic transitions, it is often viewed as having had only a superficial effect on Africa’s authoritarian regimes. We show this sentiment to be incorrect. Focusing on the elite coalitions undergirding autocracies, we argue that the end of the Cold War sparked profound changes in the constellation of alliances within regimes. It was an international event whose ripple effects altered the domestic political landscape and thereby enticed elite coalitions to transform and meet the new existential threat they faced. We demonstrate our argument using cabinets as a proxy for elite coalitions, showing that their composition drastically changed at the end of the Cold War. Africa’s authoritarian leaders dismissed many of the core members of their cabinets and increasingly appointed members of opposition parties to cabinet portfolios. Such changes, we argue, represent the dynamic responses that enabled autocracies to persist.

Ideas Mobilize People: The Diffusion of Communist Ideology in China
Ying Bai, Ruixue Jia & Runnan Wang
NBER Working Paper, February 2023 


Can ideas mobilize people into collective action? We provide a positive answer to this question by studying how exposure to the Communist ideology shaped an individual’s choice to join the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) during the party’s formative stage. The individuals we focus on are cadets at the Whampoa Military Academy, who subsequently fought in 20th-century China’s most important wars. Our identification strategy exploits the locality-time-content variation in the circulation of the New Youth magazine -- the major platform to promote Communism after the Treaty of Versailles in 1919 -- as well as the variation in an individual’s location over time. By comparing the Whampoa cadets living in a locality with post-1919 New Youth available against those who had lived in the same locality but missed this channel, we demonstrate that the former were significantly more likely to join the CCP. In future political struggles, those whose party choice was more influenced by this ideology channel were less likely to quit the CCP and more likely to sacrifice their lives. Additionally, we document that family background cannot predict the party choice of these political pioneers but social networks can complement ideology exposure.

Loose Cannons: War Veterans and the Erosion of Democracy in Weimar Germany
Christoph Koenig
Journal of Economic History, March 2023, Pages 167-202 


This article shows that democracy in Weimar Germany was eroded by the political legacy of WWI. Using novel data on WWI veterans and an election panel from 1893–1933, I find that former soldiers are associated with a sizeable, persistent, and momentous shift in political preferences from left to right. I provide suggestive evidence that war participation made veterans highly receptive to nationalism and Anti-Communism. This alienated them from leftwing parties and drove the majority toward the political right. Contrary to historical accounts, veterans’ shifts in political preferences cannot be explained by exposure to violence or other polarizing post-war events.

Scars of the Gestapo: the Origins of German Privacy Concerns
Sebastian Bauer & Florencia Hnilo
Stanford Working Paper, March 2023 


We study how remembrance of an authoritarian regime impacts privacy concerns. Our main hypothesis is that Germany's culture of Holocaust remembrance (Erinnerungskultur) focuses Germans’ attention on the risks associated with private data ending up in the wrong hands. One example of this culture of remembrance are the Stolpersteine, plaques on the sidewalk signalling that a victim of Nazi persecution lived on a given address. We use a detailed street level imagery dataset of Berlin to relate the location of the Stolpersteine to a novel geolocated measure of privacy concerns: whether a person asks for their building to be blurred on a street-level imagery provider. We show that there exists a positive relationship between the amount of Stolpersteine near a person’s house or workplace, and the probability that this person will ask the imagery provider to blur the front of their house. This relationship is very localized, as most of the effect concentrates on Stolpersteine that are less than 10 meters away.

The Density and Power of National Flags
Jonathan Hassid
Iowa State University Working Paper, January 2023 


National flags are modernity’s premier symbol of statehood, universally flown by sovereign and would-be sovereign entities alike. For decades, scholars have speculated that that viewing flags can cue patriotic attachment and that the large-scale display of national flags is associated with other forms of state power. This article challenges both these assumptions. Using a pre-registered survey experiment in China and the USA, I evaluate the (non) impact of seeing flags on respondents’ political attitudes. Using a dataset of 47 million photos geotagged around the world, I then examine the larger implications of this micro-foundational result. Once again, a null result suggests that -- contrary to expectations -- flag density is unrelated to other measures of state capacity. Official symbolic power, though important, appears orthogonal to state coercive or financial resources.

Problematizing state capacity: The Rwandan case
Leander Heldring & James Robinson
Journal of Institutional Economics, forthcoming 


We argue that the effectiveness of Rwandan governments, both at implementing the 1994 genocide and inducing the current growth miracle, illustrates that the state has high capacity. Yet this capacity is not captured by conventional Weberian concepts, with their focus on taxation and formal bureaucracy. Rather, the capacity of Rwanda's state relies on its ability to leverage dense social networks which connect it to society. The origins of these networks lie in the construction of the historical state which expanded by merging with local lineages and kinship groups. Using data on the historical expansion of the Rwandan state as a proxy for the strength of state–society social networks we show they are uncorrelated with measures of Weberian state capacity. In a fieldwork exercise, we show that rule compliance today is positively correlated with our proxy, but uncorrelated with Weberian state capacity.

Hobbesian Wars and Separation of Powers
Weijia Li, Gérard Roland & Yang Xie
NBER Working Paper, February 2023 


This paper formalizes the principle that persecution power of government may generate violent contests over it. We show that this principle yields a large set of theoretical insights on different separation-of-powers institutions that can help to preempt such contests under different socio-economic conditions. When socio-economic cohesion is low, the risk of contests can be eliminated only by individual veto against persecution. Moreover, such unanimity rule is resilient to autocratic shocks only when the chief executive does not control the legislative agenda, i.e., the executive and legislative branches are separate. When socio-economic cohesion is high, the risk of violent contests can be eliminated without individual veto, but only by a persecution-reviewing judiciary whose members cannot join the executive branch in the future, i.e., when the executive and judicial branches are separate. Our results shed light on the evolution of separation of powers in European history.


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