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date: 21 June 2021

(p. xi) Preface

(p. xi) Preface

For some decades now, the world’s national states have been opening their national economies and creating an international network of institutions and norms to oversee the resulting regional and global economies. This economic globalization, and the social globalization that accompanied it, has had feedback effects on the forms, functions, and effectiveness of national states. Geo-political events such as the end of the Cold War, asymmetrical warfare, and large-scale acts of terrorism have transformed the face of international politics while, on the domestic front, actors and demands have multiplied and citizens have voiced increased dissatisfaction with the performance of national political systems. Social scientists around the world have been observing and analyzing these developments for decades, and in 2007, Oxford University Press (OUP) editor Dominic Byatt decided it was time to assemble their research into a definitive report on the state of the national state. He queried Stephan Leibfried, director of the University of Bremen’s Transformations of the State Collaborative Research Center (TranState, 2003-14), about the possibility of assembling the OUP Handbook on the topic.

Leibfried, an expert on OECD nation state development and welfare state politics with a background in law, recruited his colleague Frank Nullmeier, who specializes in political theory and the legitimacy of political systems. Working with the TranState managing director, Dieter Wolf, they prepared a rough outline for the volume and began to assemble a team of editors from both sides of the Atlantic: political scientists Evelyne Huber and John D. Stephens at the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill are both wide-ranging comparativists who have studied the transformations in North and South American as well as European states; Jonah D. Levy at the University of California Berkeley is a comparative political scientist and expert on economic liberalization and its impact on the state; and sociologist Matthew Lange at McGill University in Montreal is a specialist on state-building in the Global South.

Even this editorial team of six lacked the expertise on international relations needed to assemble Part II, “Internationalization of the State,” and we are particularly grateful to the two authors who came to the rescue. Michael Zürn, a specialist on global governance and international institutions at the Wissenschaftszentrum Berlin (WZB), and Nicole Deitelhoff, a specialist on international relations and principal investigator in the Cluster of Excellence on Normative Orders at the Goethe University Frankfurt, wrote the introduction to Part II (Chapter 10) and worked with its authors to create a comprehensive and cohesive treatment of the subject.

In 2009, Huber and Stephens hosted a three-day meeting of the editors in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, and The Oxford Handbook of Transformations of the State and the “shape of things to come” began to emerge. OUP approved our expanded outline and author lineup, and in late 2010 the project was approved by the German Research Foundation (DFG) as an integral and concluding part of TranState activities during the center’s third and final phase of funding (2011–14).

(p. xii) Experts on state formation and development are relatively few and far between, and the team of authors we assembled was scattered across three continents. Two international workshops in the Fall of 2011 and Winter of 2012 enabled the editors and authors to discuss early drafts of the chapters face to face—one in northern Germany at the Hanse-Wissenschaftskolleg, and one in the US, at the University of North Carolina (UNC) Center for European Studies (CES) and European Union Center for Excellence (EUCE). John A. Hall’s critiques and recommendations during this period were especially helpful in shaping the fundamental chapters of Part I. Finally, in 2012, Huber and Stephens returned to the Hanse-Wissenschaftskolleg to focus on the introductory and concluding chapters and begin the final editing process, tasks which they carried on at UNC in 2013 and 2014. The tedious task of correcting the Handbook’s page proofs and checking citations a last time fell to Leibfried, Levy, and Lange in the Fall of 2014. The corrected proofs were checked by Stephan Leibfried, Steffen Schneider, and Monika Sniegs.

Over the course of this long trajectory, a number of institutions and individuals whose names do not appear in the Table of Contents were essential. TranState and the CES/EUCE built on their Transatlantic Masters Program (TAM) partnership to provide infrastructure and generate the needed “transatlantic research space.” The research space for the Oxford Handbook was made possible by TranState, with generous funding from the DFG and the University of Bremen, and by grants to the CES from the EU’s European Union Center for Excellence and the US Department of Education National Resource Center programs.

At the University of Bremen, Peter Boy and Dörthe Meyfeld built and managed the Handbook website. Monika Sniegs handled the word-processing and organizational tasks, Dörthe Hauschild the last round of copy-editing, and Dieter Wolf the administrative and financial issues: their mix of skill, good humor, no-nonsense North-German charm, and mild Southern—that is, Swabian—sarcasm kept the whole operation running smoothly. At UNC, Erica Edwards, Stephanie Volk, and Phil Daquila all helped to make the Winter 2012 workshop a success; Claire Greenstein made a substantial contribution to the chapter editing; and Santiago Anria checked and compiled the bibliographies. At the Hanse-Wissenschaftskolleg, which provided financial support and a venue for one of our workshops and research fellowships for two of our editors, Reto Weiler and Susanne Fuchs were gracious and flexible hosts. To all of them, we extend our sincere thanks. As we have seen in the aftermath of the financial crises of the past decade, and as this volume makes readily apparent, the era of the national state is long from being over. The careful scholarship assembled here shows that national states are required to stabilize and domesticate globalization—to handle and transform domestic conflict and make it work effectively across all sectors of society. The national state is neither withering away, a victim of globalization, nor slated for oblivion. It is, rather, the lynchpin of globalization: if we neglect or dismantle our national states, as many neoliberal pundits advocate, we effectively pull that lynchpin and trigger a vicious cycle of twenty-first century protectionist politics—to name just one of many troublesome consequences. The political scientists and sociologists writing here are not offering the philosopher’s gray-on-gray palette of wisdom about a dying era, like Hegel’s “owl of Minerva [which] spreads its wings only within the falling of the dusk.”1 The national state is alive and kicking, and the knowledge assembled (p. xiii) in this handbook is part of a lively debate on its future, aimed at the researchers and leaders who must guide us through the coming decades.

We have tried to capture the mood of this colorful debate in our cover images.

The economically developed northern countries have long been the focus of most research on the nation state, but the jumble of flags on the front cover represents countries of the Global South and international organizations,5 as does this volume. The coin depicted on the spine contains ancient symbols of power and governance that date back to the earliest concepts of political rule and are still in use today. It is a Shekel minted in the Phoenician city of Tyre, located on an island just off the coast of present-day Lebanon. The letters to the left of the eagle’s breast give the date as the “19th year of the era of Tyre,” which corresponds to 107/8 bc. The club beneath the date belongs to the Phoenician god Melqart,2 who appears on the front of the coin and was the patron god of Tyre.3 The eagle was a typical symbol of the Ptolemaic Kingdom, which ruled the region for some three centuries. It was usually shown standing on a thunderbolt, but here it is perched on the prow of a small ship. Images of ships—that is, of “ships of state”—had been used as symbols of political and economic power or governance at least since Plato’s time.4 Both the eagle and the ship6 remain important symbols of power and the state in public discourse and national emblems to this day.

Stephan Leibfried, Evelyne Huber, Matthew Lange, Jonah D. Levy, Frank Nullmeier, and John D. Stephens (p. xiv)


(1) Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel, 1952. The Philosophy of Right: The Philosophy of History, p. 7. Chicago, IL: Encyclopædia Britannica (first published 1821).

(5) The flags shown are from left to right: European Union, Brazil, Belarus, and The Netherlands; Portugal, United Kingdom, Algeria, and China; USA, Australia, Germany, and France; Namibia, Chile, Japan, and South Africa; Croatia, India, Poland, and NATO; UN, Ireland, Mexico, and Russia.

(2) The Phoenician counterpart to the Greek god Heracles, sometimes spelled Melkart or Melqarth.

(3) We would like to thank Amelia Dowler, the British Museum’s Curator of Greek and Roman Provincial Coins, for information about the coin.

(4) The word “govern” has its roots in the Latin word “gubernare,” which was derived from the Greek word for steering or piloting a ship, “kybernan.”

(6) For a first look at the ship metaphor, see online: Stephan Leibfried and Wolfgang Winter, “Ships of Church and State in the 16th Century Reformation and Counterreformation. Setting Sail for the Modern State,” Florence, Italy: European University Institute, Max Weber Programme Lectures 5/2014.