Existing theories of state strengthening focus on macro-level factors and assume away individual-level differences among politicians. But state strengthening has distributive consequences that impose more costs on some politicians than others. I provide a theoretical framework in which the geography of kinship network is correlated with politicians’ support for state strengthening. When politicians’ kin are geographically concentrated, they prefer a weak state because their kin can rely on low-cost private protection and evade taxes to the state. When politicians’ kin are geographically dispersed, they prefer to strengthen the state because it is more efficient to protect a large area using public protection. I construct an original dataset using politicians’ tomb epitaphs from eleventh-century China and show that even facing severe external threats politicians exhibited polarization in their attitudes toward state strengthening, which can be explained by the geography of their kinship networks.