Wars and Freedoms



Saumitra Jha, Associate Professor of Political Economy at the Stanford Graduate School of Business and Senior Fellow at the Center for Democracy, Development at the Rule of Law in the Freeman-Spogli Institute.

Date and Time

March 3, 2022 11:30 AM - 1:00 PM


RSVP Required.


Online, via Zoom.

About the Seminar: Saumitra Jha and Steven Wilkinson's book project, Wars and Freedoms, makes the case that, throughout human history, external wars are common catalysts for political change at home, and they do so in large part because of their impact on the organizational capacity of the disenfranchised. It draws widely from across the social sciences and humanities: literature; history; biography; psychology; sociology; economics; and political science. The book draws upon these diverse ways of knowing to provide evidence from across time and around the world of the relevance of a simple framework for understanding which types of external wars are conducive to the emergence of broad-based freedoms, the building of states, and the shrinking of wealth inequalities on one hand, and when instead, others have led to the building of military castes, or an increased propensity for political polarization,  ethnic conflict, attempted coups, revolution and genocide on the other. In so doing, Wars and Freedoms provides a re-interpretation of the history of revolutions and political change, in order to make clear which lessons and episodes from history may be more germane for the future of democracy and freedoms in the twenty-first century.

Wars and Freedoms describes how there were historically three paths that connected organizational skills developed in external wars to the spread of democracy and democratic values: in the shadow of a crisis that threatened broad class conflict, through a more gradual process of state-building in response to ongoing external existential threats, and through the organizational efforts of committed military leaders. Of these, however, only the last, the most fragile and contingent, is still likely to emerge organically. Understanding the decline of other paths, however, can still help us understand both how political freedoms and democracy emerged, how our democracies may die, and what we may still be able to do about it.

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About the Speaker:

Headshot for Saumitra Jha Saumitra Jha is Associate Professor of Political Economy at the Stanford Graduate School of Business, a Senior Fellow at the Center for Democracy, Development and the Rule of Law in Stanford's Freeman-Spogli Institute for International Affairs and convenes the Stanford Conflict and Polarization Lab. His work on the historical relationship between conflict and markets has been received the Michael Wallerstein Award for best article in political economy from the American Political Science Association, and has been published in the top journals in both Economics and Political Science, including The American Political Science Review, Econometrica, and The Quarterly Journal of Economics. His co-authored work on Heroes was awarded the Oliver Williamson Award from the Society for Institutional and Organizational Economics. Also an award-winning teacher, he has shown a particular interest in communicating the results of his research to broader audiences, in the press (such as the Indian Express and USA Today) and through online policy and social media outlets (VoxEU, VoxDev, Public Books, Broadstreet, Ideas for India, AOC), and to a range of student and practitioner audiences, including cadets at West Point, members of the US intelligence community, European Union diplomats, and entrepreneurs in Africa, India and the United States.  His work has been featured in the Economist, Financial Times and the Washington Post, among others, and he has provided commentary for television and radio news, including for the BBC, ABC and CBC.


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