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The Rise of Modern Police and the European State System from Metternich to the Second World War.

Despite its title, this work is not about nineteenth-century "policemen states" in which the "better-off people disciplined their inferiors."(1) Nor is it even about "the well-ordered police states"--like those of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries--which embarked on social and institutional change through law in order better to manage their economies and discipline their society.(2) Rather here we have history--familiar nineteenth- and twentieth-century European political history, at that--reworked from a "modern police" angle. Liang's injecting police history into the treatment of diplomacy, socialism, revolution, national defense, and totalitarian origins breathes new life into these subjects.

That the history for the European state system since Metternich still has a yield will no doubt surprise those who mined or who are familiar with the innumerable volumes of diplomatic documents published between the two World Wars. Liang, however, has gone beyond Die Grosse Politik: he has examined and made sense of police and other records scattered throughout European archives. These he uses whether depicting Austria's and Prussia's response to the revolutions of 1848 or Gambetta's and Boulanger's role in French politics. The police who tracked Gambetta suspected their man of dictatorial ambitions, but they also had orders to protect him from harm.

Although this work carries the title "European state system," Liang concentrates on the Austrian, French, Prussian, and Swiss police and marginally on the Russian and Czech. The police of these countries--their styles and how they dealt with revolution, functioned in the aftermath of the Franco-Prussian War, and handled problems resulting from the disintegration of the Ottoman and Habsburg Empires--are themes explored in the early chapters.

Liang devotes a full chapter to various aspects of international police collaboration, especially as generated by anarchism at the turn of this century. Indeed, his discussion of police collaboration from the 1870s to 1914--their professional contacts as affirmed by the Rome (1898), The Hague (1899), and Monaco (1914) Conferences, and plans for a reactionary police league--is especially informative to this reviewer.

The author's insertion of the police into the Russian Revolution in 1905, mobilization for war in 1914, the revolution in Russia in 1917, and in a post-war Europe that eventually welcomed totalitarianism in the 1930s embellishes and elucidates old themes. Finally, in a less detailed epilogue the author looks at the last half of the present century and takes some solace that police regimes, corrupt replicas of those established in the last century, collapsed like a house of cards in 1989.

Liang's showcasing Swiss police and Switzerland itself, which usually receives only incidental regard in the context of great power relations, is an important element in this work. That Switzerland was a haven for both political refugees and conspirators--not just Lenin in 1917--required considerable diplomatic dexterity by its government order to preserve its integrity and still accommodate those who sought refuge. After the murder of Alexander II in 1881 the Swiss went to extraordinary lengths to prevent demonstrations of approval by resident Russians. They had also to tread lightly with the German government and at the same time allow German socialist publications to flow across the border. Dealing with a Bismarck given to tantrums--as the Swiss once did when they arrested two Prussian agents--demanded steady nerves. Treatment here of the International Red Cross, also a creature of the Swiss environment, represents a topic neglected by diplomatic historians.

Despite our reliance on police professionals--whether those who protect us in our cities or those who ferret out spies--we have grown wary of police who not infrequently abuse their authority. With this in mind and mindful also of historians' inclination to censure police regimes, Liang's book holds some surprises. Although readily admitting police excesses in the present century--i.e., the police execution of the Sparticist leaders Rosa Luxembourg and Karl Liebknecht in January 1919--he is generally positive in his presentation even in explaining the Weimar police failure in their dealing with Nazi marauders.

Having written about European police for more than two decades, Liang now chooses a novel way to write about great power relations, one that provides new insights on the behavior of states. Mastery of subject as illustrated by his extensive use of archival material makes this a standard work for both police and diplomatic history. From the point of view of social history the work is important in showing the delicate role performed by the police in either preserving or destroying a civil society.

Albert J. Schmidt Quinnipiac College School of Law


1. V. A. C. Gatrell, "Crime, authority and the policeman-state," The Cambridge Social History of Britain 1750-1950, ed. F. M. L. Thompson, 3 vols. (Cambrdige, 1990), III, 245.

2. See Marc Raeff, The Well-Ordered Police State: Social and Institutional Change through Law in the Germanies and Russia, 1600-1800 (New Haven, 1983).
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Author:Schmidt, Albert J.
Publication:Journal of Social History
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Jun 22, 1994
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