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Frontiers and borders : sources of transcendent credibility and the boundaries between political units


Rather than starting with physical form as "state"- centered theories do, a more useful theoretical model should begin with the content of political units. Specifically, this model should examine a crucial element of the content of a political unit, the "source of transcendent credibility," and analyze the effects this has on the physical form of political units in a given system. Hence, this dissertation hypothesizes that the boundaries between political units in a given system will be relatively more distinctive as the number of sources of transcendent credibility within that system increases. A source of transcendent credibility is an unseen (transcendent) force that a critical mass of the population in a territory believes to be acting on behalf of and in favor of the "faithful." To more efficiently and effectively generate compliance from the people, a ruler will link his own credibility to this inherently credible source. Competing sources of transcendent credibility within a system increase the perceived threat to the ruler's source of efficient compliance generation. The cost-effectiveness of this means of generating compliance creates large incentives for the investment of resources to protect the source's efficacy. One potential threat arises from the fact that an international rival can improve its' bargaining power vis-à-vis a ruler by undermining the ruler's source of transcendent credibility, provided the two rivals rely on different sources of transcendent credibility. Second-tier variables, geopolitics and military capabilities, can exacerbate the perceived threat from an international rival that depends on a different source of transcendent credibility. The dissertation tests this hypothesis using case studies that vary in both time and space: the unification of northern and southern China under the Sui and T'ang, the eighth century rivalry between China and Tibet, the rise of the Shiite Safavid Empire alongside the Sunni Ottoman Empire in the sixteenth century, and the European continent from the medieval period to the present. The extended European case examines the dynamic of changing numbers of sources of transcendent credibility in a system and responses to these changes. The conclusion discusses the implications for the future global system and the discipline of Political Science

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