Weber III: The Real Locus of Power

Legitimacy may be grounded in several ways, but power is grounded only in one.
How do the politically dominant powers manage to maintain their domination? The question pertains to any kind of domination, hence also to political domination in all its forms, traditional as well as legal and charismatic.  

Organized domination, which calls for continuous administration, requires that human conduct be conditioned to obedience towards those masters who claim to be the bearers of legitimate power. On the other hand, by virtue of this obedience, organized domination requires the control of those material goods which in a given case are necessary for the use of physical violence. 
Weber goes on to note that there are two basic forms of this, one of which is better than the other from the perspective of limiting domination -- and, thus, never practiced by the modern state. 
To maintain a dominion by force, certain material goods are required, just as with an economic organization. All states may be classified according to whether they rest on the principle that the staff of men themselves own the administrative means, or whether the staff is 'separated' from these means of administration. This distinction holds in the same sense in which today we say that the salaried employee and the proletarian in the capitalistic enterprise are 'separated' from the material means of production.... 

These political associations in which the material means of administration are autonomously controlled, wholly or partly, by the dependent administrative staff may be called associations organized in 'estates.' The vassal in the feudal association, for instance, paid out of his own pocket for the administration and judicature of the district  enfeoffed to him. He supplied his own equipment and provisions for war, and his sub­-vassals did likewise. Of course, this had consequences for the lord's position of power, which only rested upon a relation of personal faith and upon the fact that the legitimacy of his possession of the fief and the social honor of the vassal were derived from the overlord.  

However, everywhere, reaching back to the earliest political formations, we also find the lord himself directing the administration. He seeks to take the administration into his own hands by having men personally dependent upon him: slaves, household officials, attendants, personal 'favorites,'... [H]e seeks to create an army which is dependent upon him personally because it is equipped and provisioned out of his granaries, magazines, and armories. In the association of 'estates,' the lord rules with the aid of an autonomous 'aristocracy' and hence shares his domination with it; the lord who personally administers is supported either by members of his household or by plebeians. These are property-less strata having no social honor of their own; materially, they are completely chained to him and are not backed up by any competing power of their own. All forms of patriarchal and patrimonial domination, Sultanist despotism, and bureaucratic states belong to this latter type. The bureaucratic state order is  especially important; in its most rational development, it is precisely characteristic of the modern state. 
The professional army that we employ today dates in an important sense to the Napoleonic wars, in which it proved to be the case that organized national armies with combined-arms capabilities were impossible to resist except through a similar means. For two hundred years we have lived in that world, with the consequence that it enables a modern state that exercises this more direct and aggressive mode of control over the means of physical force.

Yet the failure of this mode has been brewing for a while. The Vietnam War was a prototype, although it was not won (as in the popular imagination) by the Viet Cong's 'man in the black pajamas.' It was won by the professional armies of the People's Army of Vietnam (usually given in the US as the 'NVA'), backed by the arms factories of the People's Republic of China and the Soviet Union. Guerrillas allowed a non-state actor to fight an asymmetric war that was generally lost, but expensively so by the winning great power; and thus, competing great powers tended to fund and support such efforts. Terrorism provided an even more extreme version of the same practice of perfidy, in which the guerrilla now took on the guise of an ordinary person in a peacetime environment and used it to wage war not on the state armies but on the citizenry. 

The prototype has given way to the proper type, however, in the conflict in Afghanistan. Both the USSR and now we have lost long-fought wars in Afghanistan that were conducted without major support from an opposing great power. Charlie Wilson's War wasn't why the Mujahedeen won against the Soviets, and no great power has been supplying the Taliban against the United States. Their arms are leftovers from the Soviet arsenal they won the hard way, or they are home-made in Darra Adam Khel and similar villages. Firearms are a mature technology; the knowledge of how to make a rifle or a pistol is widespread and the tools easily available.  

The regular army that Napoleon's era spawned still wins every conflict at the squad level or higher; somehow it cannot win its wars. In Iraq, we won not by winning the gunfights so much as by persuading the enemy; and not persuading him to turn in his guns, but to use them on our side against an enemy had reason to hate even more. 

If the winning mode is shifting from Weber's more concentrated mode to a less-concentrated mode, then nature of the state is primed to shift as well. A new kind of state becomes possible, one in which voluntary associations of ordinary people can hold the land in defiance of concentrated powers and regular armies; and, having exhausted them at last, live as they please. 


Christopher B said...

The regular army that Napoleon's era spawned still wins every conflict at the squad level or higher; somehow it cannot win its wars.

A SWAG, and maybe a digression, is that a national army of the Napoleonic style (as you noted in the post) is also by nature a nationalistic one, and it's victory condition is total conquest of a foe. We've been using a national army to fight imperial wars, especially since 1989, in the sense of what the British Army fought in the nineteenth century, conflicts that have amounted to bashing heads until the natives settled down a bit.

Grim said...

That is fairly plausible. Napoleon from the beginning organized his national army as an imperial one; but his failure arose from the willingness of national armies to form in despite of him, and their ability to repel his imperial advances. The Russians in particular were similar: they generally weren't able to beat him, but found they didn't actually have to beat him to attain complete victory.

J Melcher said...

We've been using a national army to fight ... conflicts that have amounted to bashing heads until the natives settled down a bit.

Which is not the worst of policy goals. "Nation Building", on the other hand, toward a policy of completely remaking a non-Western society along Western lines, is an open-ended goal with little hope of success. It's particularly difficult to get a democracy to support imposing Western culture on an adversary, when so many voters and activists within the Western democracy hate, or are ashamed of, or reject the axioms of, the Christian, Free-Market, Industrialized West.

Remaking the culture of the militarily defeated American Confederacy is an on-going project. Japan chose many of the West's axioms voluntarily before being militarily defeated, and even so their re-made society is scarcely well-described as "Western". South Korea is still, essentially if very lightly, "occupied".
Assuming the goal was truly and clearly stated with measurable benchmarks that Iraq, Afghanistan, and maybe Iran for good measure were to be considered enemies and targets of war until their governments and people were indistinguishable from Turkey's. Hmph! We haven't even managed to hold TURKEY after that nations defeat and reformation in WWI.