Skip to main content

Testing Clausewitz: Nationalism, Mass Mobilization, and the Severity of War

  • Lars-Erik Cederman (a1), T. Camber Warren (a2) and Didier Sornette (a3)

Drawing on Clausewitz's classical theory, we argue that the emergence of mass nationalism following the French Revolution profoundly altered the nature of the units constituting the interstate system, thereby transforming the conduct of interstate warfare. To validate these assertions—and thus to test Clausewitz—we rely on quantitative evidence at the macro level, with a particular focus on the global distribution of interstate war sizes, measured in terms of battle deaths, over the past five centuries. Drawing on extreme value theory, we demonstrate that temporal discontinuities in the shapes of the tails of such distributions can be used to draw inferences about the nature of the mechanisms underlying the bloodiest events in world history. This approach allows us to show that the interstate system experienced a fundamental shift in the mechanisms underlying the production of war sizes: a shift that can be dated to the years 1770–1810, and that resulted in a systematic increase in war severity. These same tools also allow us to rule out a number of alternative explanations for this shift (including changes in population sizes and changes in weapons technology), while providing evidence for a specific account of war severity rooted in the mobilizational capacities of states.

Hide All
Alfarano, Simone, and Lux, Thomas. n.d. Extreme Value Theory as a Theoretical Background for Power Law Behavior. Unpublished manuscript, University of Kiel, Kiel, Germany.
Anderson, Benedict. 1991. Imagined Communities: Reflections on the Origin and Spread of Nationalism. 2d ed. London: Verso.
Ardant, Gabriel. 1975. Financial Policy and Economic Infrastructure of Modern States and Nations. In The Formation of National States in Western Europe, edited by Tilly, Charles and Ardant, Gabriel, 164242. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press.
Bak, Per, Tang, Chao, and Wiesenfeld, Kurt. 1987. Self-Organized Criticality: An Explanation of 1/f Noise. Physical Review Letters 59 (4):381–84.
Barkin, J. Samuel, and Cronin, Bruce. 1994. The State and the Nation: Changing Norms and the Rules of Sovereignty in International Relations. International Organization 48 (1):107–30.
Beissinger, Mark R. 2002. Nationalist Mobilization and the Collapse of the Soviet State: A Tidal Approach to the Study of Nationalism. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Beyerchen, Alan. 1992. Clausewitz, Nonlinearity, and the Unpredictability of War. International Security 17 (3):5990.
Bohorquez, Juan Camilo, Gourley, Sean, Dixon, Alexander R., Spagat, Michael, and Johnson, Neil F.. 2009. Common Ecology Quantifies Human Insurgency. Nature 462 (7275):911–14.
Bukovansky, Mlada. 1999. The Altered State and the State of Nature—the French Revolution and International Politics. Review of International Studies 25 (2):197216.
Calhoun, Craig. 1997. Nationalism. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.
Carlson, Jean M., and Swindle, Glen H.. 1995. Self-Organized Criticality: Sandpiles, Singularities, and Scaling. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America 92 (15):6712–19.
Cederman, Lars-Erik. 1997. Emergent Actors in World Politics: How States and Nations Develop and Dissolve. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press.
Cederman, Lars-Erik. 2003. Modeling the Size of Wars: From Billiard Balls to Sandpiles. American Political Science Review 97 (1):135–50.
Cederman, Lars-Erik. 2005. Computational Models of Social Forms: Advancing Generative Process Theory. American Journal of Sociology 110 (4):864–93.
Cederman, Lars-Erik, and Daase, Christopher. 2003. Endogenizing Corporate Identities: The Next Step in Constructivist IR Theory. European Journal of International Relations 9 (1):535.
Chickering, Roger. 1999. Total War: The Use and Abuse of a Concept. In Anticipating Total War: The German and American Experiences, 1871–1914, edited by Boemeke, Manfred F., Chickering, Roger, and Förster, Stig, 1328. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Clauset, Aaron, Shalizi, Cosma Rohilla, and Newman, M. E. J.. 2009. Power-Law Distributions in Empirical Data. SIAM Review 51 (4):661703.
Clauset, Aaron, and Wiegel, Frederik W.. 2010. A Generalized Aggregation-Disintegration Model for the Frequency of Severe Terrorist Attacks. Journal of Conflict Resolution 54 (1):179–97.
Clauset, Aaron, Young, Maxwell, and Gleditsch, Kristian S.. 2007. On the Frequency of Severe Terrorist Events. Journal of Conflict Resolution 51 (1):5887.
Clausewitz, Carl von. 1984 [1832]. On War. Rev. ed. Edited and translated by Howard, Michael and Paret, Peter. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press.
Clausewitz, Carl von. 1992. Historical and Political Writings. Edited and translated by Paret, Peter and Moran, Daniel. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press.
Cobban, Alfred. 1969. The Nation State and National Self-Determination. Rev. ed. London: Collins.
Connor, Walker. 1972. Nation-Building or Nation-Destroying? World Politics 24 (3):319–55.
Darwin, John. 1991. The End of the British Empire: The Historical Debate. Oxford, England: Blackwell.
Deutsch, Karl W. 1953. Nationalism and Social Communication: An Inquiry into the Foundations of Nationality. Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press.
Downing, Brian M. 1992. The Military Revolution and Political Change: Origins of Democracy and Autocracy in Early Modern Europe. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press.
Dupuy, Trevor N. 1984. The Evolution of Weapons and Warfare. Fairfax, Va.: Hero Books.
Elias, Norbert. 1982 [1939]. The Civilizing Process. Vol. 2, State Formation and Civilization. Translated by Jephcott, Edmund. Oxford, England: Blackwell.
Embrechts, Paul, Klüppelberg, Claudia, Mikosch, Thomas. 1997. Modelling Extremal Events for Insurance and Finance. Berlin: Springer.
Emirbayer, Mustafa. 1997. Manifesto for a Relational Sociology. American Journal of Sociology 103 (2):281317.
Fearon, James D., and Laitin, David D.. 2000. Violence and the Social Construction of Ethnic Identity. International Organization 54 (4):845–77.
Fearon, James D., and Wendt, Alexander. 2002. Rationalism v. Constructivism: A Skeptical View. In Handbook of International Relations, edited by Carlsnaes, Walter, Risse, Thomas, and Simmons, Beth A., 5272. London: Sage.
Gagnon, Valère P. Jr. 2004. The Myth of Ethnic War: Serbia and Croatia in the 1990s. Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press.
Gellner, Ernest. 1983. Nations and Nationalism. Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press.
Giddens, Anthony. 1979. Central Problems in Social Theory: Action, Structure and Contradiction in Social Analysis. Berkeley: University of California Press.
Gilpin, Robert. 1981. War and Change in World Politics. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Goddard, Stacie E. 2006. Uncommon Ground: Indivisible Territory and the Politics of Legitimacy. International Organization 60 (1):3568.
Gray, Colin S. 2004. Strategy for Chaos: Revolutions in Military Affairs and the Evidence of History. New York: Routledge.
Hall, Rodney Bruce. 1999. National Collective Identity: Social Constructs and International Systems. New York: Columbia University Press.
Hechter, Michael. 2001. Containing Nationalism. Oxford, England: Oxford University Press.
Hill, Bruce M. 1975. A Simple General Approach to Inference About the Tail of a Distribution. Annals of Statistics 3 (5):1163–74.
Hinsley, Francis H. 1973. Nationalism and the International System. London: Hodder and Stoughton.
Hintze, Otto. 1975. Military Organization and the Organization of the State. In The Historical Essays of Otto Hintze, edited by Gilbert, Felix, 178215. New York: Oxford University Press.
Holsti, Kalevi J. 1991. Peace and War: Armed Conflicts and International Order, 1648–1989. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Howard, Michael. 1976. War in European History. Oxford, England: Oxford University Press.
Jervis, Robert. 1978. Cooperation Under the Security Dilemma. World Politics 30 (2):167214.
Knox, McGregor, and Murray, Williamson, eds. 2001. The Dynamics of Military Revolution, 1300–2050. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Krepinevich, Andrew F. 1994. Cavalry to Computer: The Pattern of Military Revolutions. National Interest 37:3042.
Lacina, Bethany, and Gleditsch, Nils Petter. 2005. Monitoring Trends in Global Combat: A New Dataset of Battle Deaths. European Journal of Population 21 (2-3):145–66.
Lacina, Bethany, Gleditsch, Nils Petter, and Russett, Bruce. 2006. The Declining Risk of Death in Battle. International Studies Quarterly 50 (3):673–80.
Lebow, Richard Ned. 2003. The Tragic Vision of Politics: Ethics, Interests and Orders. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Levy, Jack S. 1983. War in the Modern Great Power System, 1495–1975. Lexington: University Press of Kentucky.
Levy, Jack S. 1989. The Diversionary Theory of War: A Critique. In Handbook of War Studies, edited by Midlarsky, Manus I., 259–88. Boston: Unwin Hyman.
Levy, Jack S., Walker, Thomas C., and Edwards, Martin S.. 2001. Continuity and Change in the Evolution of Warfare. In War in a Changing World, edited by Maoz, Zeev and Gat, Azar, 1548. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press.
Maddison, Angus. 2003. The World Economy: Historical Statistics. Paris: OECD.
Mann, Michael. 1993. The Sources of Social Power. Vol. 2, The Rise of Classes and Nation-States, 1760–1914. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Marshall, Thomas H. 1973. Class, Citizenship, and Social Development: Essays. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press.
Miller, Benjamin. 2007. States, Nations, and the Great Powers: The Sources of Regional War and Peace. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Mitzenmacher, Michael. 2004. A Brief History of Generative Models for Power Law and Lognormal Distributions. Internet Mathematics 1 (2):226–51.
Namier, Lewis Bernstein. 1958. Vanished Supremacies: Essays on European History, 1812–1918. London: H. Hamilton.
O'Leary, Brendan. 1998. Ernest Gellner's Diagnoses of Nationalism. In The State of the Nation: Ernest Gellner and the Theory of Nationalism, edited by Hall, John A., 4088. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Osiander, Andreas. 2001. Sovereignty, International Relations, and the Westphalian Myth. International Organization 55 (2):251–87.
Petersen, Roger D. 2002. Understanding Ethnic Violence: Fear, Hatred, and Resentment in Twentieth-Century Eastern Europe. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Pickands, James III 1975. Statistical Inference Using Extreme Order Statistics. The Annals of Statistics 3 (1):119–31.
Pisarenko, Vladilen F., Rodkin, Michael V., and Sornette, Didier. 2004. Deviations of the Distributions of Seismic Energies from the Gutenberg-Richter Law. Computational Seismology 35:138–59.
Pisarenko, Vladilen F., and Sornette, Didier. 2006. New Statistic for Financial Return Distributions: Power-Law or Exponential? Physica A: Statistical Mechanics and Its Applications 366:387400.
Posen, Barry R. 1993. Nationalism, the Mass Army, and Military Power. International Security 18 (2):80124.
Richardson, Lewis F. 1960. Statistics of Deadly Quarrels, Edited by Wright, Quincy and Lienau, C. C.. Chicago: Quadrangle Books.
Ruggie, John Gerard. 1998. Constructing the World Polity: Essays on International Insitutionalization. London: Routledge.
Sammis, Charles G., and Sornette, Didier. 2002. Positive Feedback, Memory, and the Predictability of Earthquakes. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 99 (Suppl. 1):2501–8.
Sarkees, Meredith Reid, and Schafer, Phil. 2000. The Correlates of War Data on War: An Update to 1997. Conflict Management and Peace Science 18 (1):123–44.
Schulze, Hagen. 1996. States, Nations and Nationalism: From the Middle Ages to the Present. Translated by Yuill, William E.. Oxford, England: Blackwell.
Simmel, Georg. 1950. The Sociology of Georg Simmel. Translated Wolff, and edited by Kurt H.. Glencoe, Ill.: Free Press.
Small, Melvin, and Singer, J. David. 1982. Resort to Arms: International and Civil Wars, 1816–1980. 2d ed. Beverly Hills, Calif.: Sage.
Smith, Richard L. 1987. Estimating Tails of Probability Distributions. The Annals of Statistics 15 (3):1174–207.
Snyder, Jack. 2000. From Voting to Violence: Democratization and Nationalist Conflict. New York: Norton.
Sornette, Didier. 2006. Critical Phenomena in Natural Sciences. Chaos, Fractals, Self-Organization, and Disorder: Concepts and Tools. 2d ed. Berlin: Springer.
Spruyt, Hendrik. 1994. The Sovereign State and Its Competitors: An Analysis of Systems Change. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press.
Strayer, Joseph R. 1970. On the Medieval Origins of the Modern State. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press.
Tajfel, Henri, and Turner, John. C.. 1979. An Integrative Theory of Intergroup Conflict. In The Social Psychology of Intergroup Relations, edited by Austin, William G. and Worchel, Stephan, 3347. Monterey, Calif.: Brooks/Cole.
Tajfel, Henri, and Turner, John. C.. 1986. The Social Identity Theory of Intergroup Behaviour. In Psychology of Intergroup Relations, edited by Worchel, Stephan and Austin, William G., 724. 2d ed. Chicago: Nelson-Hall.
Tilly, Charles. 1990. Coercion, Capital, and European States, AD 990–1990. Oxford, England: Blackwell.
Tilly, Charles. 1994. States and Nationalism in Europe 1492–1992. Theory and Society 23 (1):131–46.
Toft, Monica Duffy. 2003. The Geography of Ethnic Violence: Identity, Interests, and the Indivisibility of Territory. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press.
Van Evera, Stephen. 1994. Hypotheses on Nationalism and War. International Security 18 (4):539.
Waltz, Kenneth N. 1979. Theory of International Politics. Reading, Mass.: Addison-Wesley.
Weber, Eugen. 1976. Peasants into Frenchmen: The Modernization of Rural France, 1870–1914. Stanford, Calif.: Stanford University Press.
Wendt, Alexander. 1999. Social Theory of International Politics. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Wimmer, Andreas. 2002. Nationalist Exclusion and Ethnic Conflict: Shadows of Modernity. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Wimmer, Andreas, and Min, Brian. 2006. From Empire to Nation-State: Explaining Wars in the Modern World, 1816–2001. American Sociological Review 71 (6):867–97.
Woodwell, Douglas. 2007. Nationalism in International Relations: Norms, Foreign Policy, and Enmity. New York: Palgrave Macmillan.
Yack, Bernard. 2001. Popular Sovereignty and Nationalism. Political Theory 29 (4):517–36.
Recommend this journal

Email your librarian or administrator to recommend adding this journal to your organisation's collection.

International Organization
  • ISSN: 0020-8183
  • EISSN: 1531-5088
  • URL: /core/journals/international-organization
Please enter your name
Please enter a valid email address
Who would you like to send this to? *


Altmetric attention score

Full text views

Total number of HTML views: 16
Total number of PDF views: 351 *
Loading metrics...

Abstract views

Total abstract views: 771 *
Loading metrics...

* Views captured on Cambridge Core between September 2016 - 18th March 2018. This data will be updated every 24 hours.