Capacity and accountability are two desirable traits in modern states, but states vary in their ability to achieve them. Scholars disagree on the reasons why some states grow stronger than others. Natural resources, culture, and war are frequent explanations.
This paper argues that elite cohesion is crucial. Cohesive elites strengthen the state because they see it as an instrument to pursue their interests. Non-cohesive elites, on the contrary, resist the development of a strong state, fearful that enemies will turn it against them if captured. In addition, non-cohesive elites fight more civil wars than cohesive elites.
Based on a database of family ties among all Chilean parliamentarians elected between 1834 and 1894 and their electoral performance over twenty parliamentary periods, this paper makes the following arguments:
- In Chile, family ties bridged regional and sectoral divides that in other Latin American countries produced decades of civil wars;
- family, not party, was the main axis structuring parliamentary politics;
- changes in the balances of power between family blocks occurred often; and
- intra-elite competition, not pressure from below, explains the liberalization of the nineteenth century Chilean electoral system.