This thesis places questions about violence and political order in historical perspective. Revisiting the Latin American puzzle — the emergence of “paper Leviathans” out of decades of internal conflict in 19th century Latin America —, I illustrate how the interaction between competing models for the organisation of armed forced shaped the trajectory and outcomes of statebuilding efforts. On the basis of innovative data regarding armed mobilisation and legislative output, Part 1 traces the impact of different armed formations active during periods of conflict and post– conflict reforms in 19th century Mexico. In order to show the analytical traction of these insights, Part 2 compares statebuilding trajectories in Argentina, Chile and Uruguay. Throughout, I highlight the external factors shaping the diffusion of armed organizations active at the outset of independence and identify the role played by three key models — the regular army, local militias, and irregular forces — in subsequent decades of conflict and statebuilding. Two key forms of (dys)function characterised the resulting states: on the one hand, the competition between traditional and emerging (state) authorities for the support of varying forms of armed organisations contributed to the reproduction of security arrangements that promoted private security at the cost of public insecurity; on the other, the empowerment of autonomous armed organisations facilitated the proliferation of dysfunctional governing coalitions: capable of gaining power but incapable of governing effectively. Taken together these comparisons suggest that competition between armed organisations shaped statebuilding trajectories by promoting state convergence towards isomorphic dysfunctionality — in other words, the creation of states that looked like modern “liberal republics” but that ran on the basis of different combinations of pre–existing governance mechanisms and new forms of order based on coercion. In conclusion, I argue that scholarly work at the intersection of history and comparative politics can offer valuable contributions to a number of overlapping debates — scholarly, policy and programmatic — concerned with the governance problems faced by contemporary postconflict societies in which, rather than anarchy or a monopoly of violence, armed disorder remains the norm.