Legacies of Revolution: Peasant Militias and the Rule of Law in Mexico


Tuesday, February 20, 2018, 12:00pm to 2:00pm


CGIS South, S250, 1730 Cambridge Street

Speaker: Mariano Sánchez-Talanquer, Academy Scholar, Harvard Academy for International and Area Studies

Moderator: Steven Levitsky, Professor of Government, Harvard University


This study examines why revolutionary regimes delegate control over the means of violence to local militias during state-building, as well as the long-run consequences of militia mobilization on the rule of law. Using a new geocoded dataset of over 1,700 semi-official peasant militias in postrevolutionary Mexico, collected from archival sources, I show that resistance to the revolutionary state project, especially from political Catholics, shaped the geography of militia mobilization. Collaboration with local militias helped rulers consolidate power, but it spawned durable institutional trajectories unfavorable to the rule of law. Today, municipalities where militias were historically active have a markedly higher probability of producing vigilante organizations, higher levels of interpersonal violence, less effective civilian police forces, and weaker formal conflict-resolution institutions. Findings are based on various causal identification strategies, while archival documents and survey data provide support for mechanisms connecting historical militia presence to contemporary outcomes.

Mariano Sánchez-Talanquer is an Academy Scholar at the Harvard Academy for International and Area Studies. Starting in the Fall of 2018, he will also be an Assistant Professor of Political Science at CIDE in Mexico City. His research interests include state formation and state capacity, long-run institutional development, and the politics of inequality, with a particular interest in Latin America. He is working on a book project that examines the subnational development of various forms of state capacity in Mexico and Colombia throughout the twentieth century, in particular the capacity to collect taxes, provide security, education, and other public goods. His research has been funded by Fulbright, the Social Science Research Council, and the Mexico National Council of Science and Technology. He holds a PhD from Cornell University and previously served as an advisor to the Executive Secretary in Mexico’s Federal Electoral Institute (IFE).