This article examines the role played by war, and public violence more generally, in the state-building experiences of Central America. Bellicist theory expects that wars provide a stimulus to extractive efforts, thus enhancing the autonomy and capacity of the state over time, though recent qualitative studies of South America find the opposite. I expand the reach of bellicist theory to Central America through the broader concept of public violence, which captures the long-term impact of external and internal rivals on the state. The quantitative tests demonstrate that Central American interstate and civil wars reduce the extractive ability of states, consistent with the South American evidence. Interstate rivals stimulate extractive efforts among governments, whereas intrastate rivals detract from those efforts. Incorporating the concept of public violence into bellicist theory thus helps to increase our understanding of Central American state building.
- Central America
- Civil war
- State building
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Sociology and Political Science