Muchlinski publication in American Political Science Review

Dr. David Muchlinski

Posted July 8, 2021

Dr. David Muchlinski, Assistant Professor at the Nunn School, has announced the publication of his article “Swords and Plowshares: Property Rights, Collective Action, and Nonstate Governance in the Jewish Community of Palestine 1920-1948” in the prestigious American Political Science Review. The article makes contributions to the field of international affairs through its work with institutional theory to collective action.

The following is a synopsis of the article by the author:

A common assumption about sovereign states is that they wield a so-called monopoly over the legitimate use of force. States that cannot physically secure their populations or extend sovereign control over their entire territory are often seen as failed states. Yet across much of the world, the fully sovereign, developed state commonly seen in Western Europe or North America are the exception rather than the rule. Across much of the world state governments are weak and cannot exercise much power except across limited areas of the country. This project investigated communities of individuals in these kinds of states are able to organize socially to provide for their own economic needs and provide for their own physical security.

Using the historical development of the Jewish community of Palestine from 1920-1948 as a case study, this research showed that the institutions which these communities construct matter a great deal for determining how these communities organize to meet their economic and security needs. Specifically, this article discovers that property rights serve to affect social behavior in areas of the world where states do not function according to common Weberian assumptions regarding sovereignty. Communal property rights, that is, the abolition of private property, creates an institutional structure which makes cooperative behavior a rational strategy. Private property rights, by contrast, create institutions in which individualistic behavior is an appropriate strategy. The Jewish community understood this and built communal kibbutzim when Jewish-Palestinian relations were conflictual but more individualistic moshavim when relations were more peaceful. The cooperative behavior facilitated by the communal property of the kibbutzim caused individuals in these settlements to be very effective soldiers, willing to cooperate in dangerous situations with their fellow community members to ward off Palestinian and Arab states' military assaults. The individualistic moshavim, by contrast, were very good at ensuring individuals used their property to grow and develop the Jewish economy. Thus, rather than being the prerogative of the state, important public functions like ensuring economic growth and military security were privatized to the moshavim and kibbutzim respectively. This demonstrates that in some countries, rather than being a sign of state weakness, devolution of important public functions to intentional communities may serve the state's interest as these communities may be more effective in providing these kinds of public goods than the state. Scholars should not assume that simply because a state government is weak or ineffectual that it has failed or that conflict like civil war is immanent. 

Read the full article in APSR.