Michael Hechter. Alien Rule. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2013. xv + 201 pp. $28.99 (paper), ISBN 978-1-107-61714-8.
Reviewed by Micah W. Wright (Texas A&M University)
Published on H-War (March, 2015)
Commissioned by Margaret Sankey
In this provocative book, Michael Hechter, a renowned scholar of collective action and nationalist mobilization, questions the nearly universal assumption that nationalist sentiment and the international norm of self-determination preclude alien rulers from attaining legitimacy in the eyes of those they rule. Instead, he develops a rationalist, instrumental concept of legitimacy in which the competency of a ruler trumps their identity. While acknowledging that groups prefer to be governed by one of their own, Hechter argues that populations may opt for effective alien rulers over inept native governance. His beguilingly simple thesis holds that, like natives, alien rulers can attain legitimacy to the extent that they “effectively produce the right kinds of collective goods, and allocate these goods fairly to the ruled” (p. 3).
Through six thematic chapters, Hechter tests his argument against an eclectic variety of case studies. Chapter 3 traces the history of foreign governance in Iraq from the Ottomans to the British Empire and then native rule under the Ba’athists. Hechter finds that none of these regimes achieved long-term legitimacy because they failed to institute fair and effective governance. As a result, Iraq has been plagued by intergroup conflict and nationalist uprisings. Moreover, he concludes that political stability will remain elusive so long as collective goods--both political appointments and the country’s oil wealth--are distributed unevenly.
Chapter 4 attempts to account for varying levels of resistance to alien rule in distinct national contexts. Here, Hechter “applies a general theory of collective action to the problem of resistance” by contrasting the experiences of two Japanese colonies from the late nineteenth century to World War II (p. 76). He finds that anti-Japanese resistance was greater in Korea than in Taiwan and develops three propositions to explain this variation. In sum, he argues that: resistance is greatest in the initial stages of an alien regime’s consolidation; it can be retarded by providing opportunities to native elites; and regimes that are perceived as fair and effective enjoy greater legitimacy and thus, compliance. Moreover, Hechter finds that fairness trumps efficacy “as a determinant of legitimacy and lower resistance to alien rule” in part because subjects’ assessments of their government’s effectiveness in promoting the public welfare are “deeply subjective” (p. 94).
Military historians will be particularly interested in chapter 5, which focuses on occupations and the dynamics of collaboration. Hechter argues that the historiography which romanticizes resistance to occupation “ignores the inconvenient truth that some military occupations … succeeded in fostering new legitimate and sustainable regimes” (p. 97). Thus, he sets out to explain why some occupations have proven successful while others have reaped fierce opposition through an examination of the existing case-study literature. It is here that Hechter’s attractively simple thesis becomes somewhat less tidy. His analysis of the literature lends support to the argument that an occupation regime’s legitimacy is the product of its ability to provide public goods and its perceived fairness. Yet Hechter’s own models reveal legitimacy to be merely one (admittedly important) variable in determining the likelihood and extent of resistance. In other words, even if alien occupiers are motivated to rule impartially and in their subjects’ best interests, they may still face opposition and a lack of collaboration due to the characteristics of the host society as well as exogenous factors, such as the occupiers’ “wartime prospects and external support for the resistance” (p. 116).
Two concluding chapters broaden the scope of the analysis by examining how alien rulers win legitimacy in organizations less encompassing than the state. The penultimate chapter, co-authored by Gail Dubrow and Debra Friedman, discusses academic receivership as an example of alien rule and draws upon case studies to illustrate the factors which determine whether an externally imposed chair can reform a dysfunctional department. The conclusion extends the logic of Hechter’s argument by suggesting that the basic process of legitimation he outlines also applies in the case of corporate mergers and even stepfamilies.
In questioning the universality of resistance to alien rule, Hechter has crafted a thought-provoking study. And yet, his arguments are certain to engender dissent. First, Hechter’s instrumental approach to legitimacy assumes that both rulers and ruled are rational actors, capable of evaluating methods of governance with some degree of objectivity. His model also largely devalues the concept of identity, central to the cultural turn in the historiography. More broadly, disciplinary norms may make it difficult for historians to appreciate the significance of Hechter’s findings. As is common with political science, Alien Rule at times relies more on logic than empirical evidence to support its claims. Yet overall, Hechter is successful in making the case that “assertions regarding the pervasive antipathy to alien rule are overdrawn” (p. 2). The implications should make this study of interest to scholars of military occupations, supranational government organizations, and nationalist movements.
If there is additional discussion of this review, you may access it through the network, at: https://networks.h-net.org/h-war.
Micah W. Wright. Review of Hechter, Michael, Alien Rule.
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