Divine Sovereignty: The Origins of Modern State Power. .
In his well-written first book, based on his doctoral dissertation, Daniel Engsrer examines "the central principles of modern state theory," or tells "the story of the development of modern state power," as he notes at the outset of the volume. The stage, the plot, and the central characters of the story are familiar. The prologue rakes place in the Florence of Machiavelli, but the main scene is sixteenth- and seventeenth-century France. There Engster begins by discussing Michel de Monraigne and Pierre Charron (together with Justus Lipsius) in the first chapter and Jean Bodin in the second. Chapter 3 examines Richelieu and his coteries who expounded the French version of raison d'etat, while chapter 4 studies Louis XIV and Jacques-Benigne Bossuet. In the final fifth chapter Engsrer offers his account of the contemporary developments of the theories of stare in England.
Although Engsrer is exploring a well-known territory, he is able to leave there his own distinctive mark. His main argument is that the earlier accounts of the birth and development of the modern state have been misleading in linking it with the novel secular philosophy. In its stead Engster argues that the new state power was seen by its exponents as a sacred force which could maintain moral order in a contingent world. According to him, there were four central principles of modern state theory: legislative sovereignty (first formulated in derail by Jean Bodin), reason of state or executive prerogative (fully articulated by Richelieu) and his epigoni), state regulatory powers (first defined by Louis XIV), and rationalistic or impersonal rule (as developed again by Louis XIV).
In the course of developing his argument, Engster makes several interesting points. He rightly criticizes John Pocock for portraying republicanism as the only political theory which could develop in concert with the emergence of modern historical thinking. Engster's account of Montaigne and his relationship to Machiavelli is also interesting, as is his discussion of the development of Jean Bodin's political thought and its underlying methodology. Whereas in the Methodus Bodin had advocated a historical methodology, by the time he composed the Republique he had become much more skeptical about the viability of such a methodology. Most generally, Engster argues, though nor entirely originally, that a voluntarist theology underlay absolutism and modern state theory.
There are several problems in Engster's account. He offers interesting interpretations of well-known early modern theorists, but makes no attempt to enhance our understanding of their historical context, which, I would imagine, diminishes somewhat the value of his book for many readers of this journal. Of course, Engster teaches political science, and several times in the course of his book he points toward our own times and our own political concepts. While this is no doubt a perfectly legitimate exercise in political science, a more historically-minded reader might feel faint from the facility with which Engster leaps from the sixteenth or seventeenth century to the twenty-first, ignoring more or less completely more than three centuries of theorizing.
The French part of Engster's story, told as it is in four chapters, is perhaps somewhat unsurprising but at least it is fairly comprehensive. Nevertheless, when he takes the hazardous trip to England in the fifth chapter, the story becomes more sporadic. First, very little is done to relate the short account of the English debate to the French one, and Engster's four central principles of modern state theory are hardly mentioned in the English context. More seriously, in the final chapter Engster constantly refers to the outdated notion of "the Tudor worldview" or "the Tudor idea of order" and its alleged gradual breakdown. Short accounts are offered only of James VI and I, Robert Filmer, and Thomas Hobbes, devoid of their respective historical contexts. Engster's attempt at the end of the chapter to read central elements of John Locke's political theory as a continuation of absolutist themes is particularly odd and unfortunate.
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|Article Type:||Book Review|
|Date:||Jun 22, 2003|
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