Protection rackets

During my years of wandering the Groves of Academe I read many thousands of pages of books and papers, and (I can see now) shuttled from one enthusiasm to the next, driven and drawn, blown and tumbled through a vast array of subjects and quite a few academic disciplines. The file cabinets in the barn hold a lot of the remains of the odyssey, and promise/demand many hours of rainy-day sorting –but perhaps (some would say) might as well go straight to recycling. Anyway, my pantheon of much-admired writers includes Charles Tilly. Today’s Crooked Timber tells me that Tilly has won the Social Science Research Council’s Hirschman Prize, and there’s a link to a pdf of his (1982) essay Warmaking and Statemaking as Organized Crime. I grabbed it and started reading… and was projected back to the Maxell Moment mindspace

that I have so often enjoyed as a reader of fine academic prose. Listen:

Apologists for particular governments and for government in general commonly argue, precisely, that they offer protection from local and external violence. They claim that the prices they charge barely cover the costs of protection. They call people who complain about the price of protection ‘anarchists’, ‘subversives’, or both at once. But consider the definition of a racketeer as someone who creates a threat, then charges for its reduction. Governments’ provision of protection, by this standard, often qualifies as racketeering. To the extent that the threats against which a given government protects its citizens are imaginary, or are consequences of its own activities, the government has organized a protection racket.

Hmmmm. 1982. I’m just saying…