War and Competition between States. .
The European Science Foundation has embarked on the daunting task of producing a seven-volume series titled "The Origins of the Modern State in Europe, 13th to 18th Centuries" under the general editorship of Wim Blockmans and Jean Philippe Gener. Seven working groups concerned with topics such as "Power Elites and State Building" and "Resistance, Representation, and Community" each have four years to carry out a program of research and publication. "War and Competition between States" is theme A of the set of seven, and this volume represents the first fruits of the Foundation's initiative.
As the general editors note in their preface, the project does not aim at comprehensiveness but at producing a set of snapshots representing the state of current thought. Given this preconception, it is hardly surprising that this volume of studies does not present the reader with a master narrative or any approximation of a fully-realized theory of how states were built in early modern Europe. Each specialist scholar presents a shortened form (essays average 25-30 pp.) of his or her own work, with little effort to present a coordinated, comprehensive picture. Fair enough, as any such attempt would probably have scuppered the whole project, or at least reduced it to the level and value of a primary text.
But this approach means that the reader is presented with ten essays of varying quality by (mainly) senior scholars from continental Europe. Only one of the authors is British; none is American. This helps gives the book its predominant flavor, which is quite different from anything the Anglophone reader is accustomed to. In particular, the bete de somme of English-speaking historiography, the so-called "Military Revolution" championed by Geoffrey Parker, is nowhere to be seen in these pages.
The implications of this need to be made clear: even though the project editors ranked warfare as the first theme to consider in establishing the "Origins of the Modern State," the authors represented here give next to no consideration to the major ideas contained in Parker's thesis. To be sure, Jan Lindegren, in his splendid essay on "Men, Money, and Means," does cite Parker frequently, but only in respect to demography, and usually only to correct Parker in the light of Scandinavian data. This reviewer kept looking for some additional point of engagement between the scholarship contained in these pages and the numerous treatments of early modern military affairs in English that stress gunpowder weapons, bastion fortresses, and linear field tactics. But like the English tourist vainly seeking bangers and mash in Mallorca, he finally gave up and learned to enjoy the local cuisine.
Perhaps however, this absence is the real point of the volume. Evidently, the view that the early modern state owes its existence to new modes of warfare is no longer fashionable among leading scholars of the nation-state. If that is indeed the case, then this is truly a significant book, for it marks the emergence of political history from thralldom to military history.
That said, there remains the task of highlighting four offerings that favorably impressed this reviewer. The essays by Lindegren (see above) and Luis Ribor Garcia on "Types of Armies: Early Modern Spain" are noteworthy for their sensitivity to the problem of recruitment and the human burden that waging war meant for many states. In "States and Their Navies," Jaap R. Bruijn suggests that the late seventeenth century witnessed an interlocking technical and administrative transformation that gave birth to the modern naval ship - a most welcome clarification. Contamine's own essay, "The Growth of State Control: Practices of War, 1300-1800: Ransom and Booty" is a contribution to the administrative and economic history of early modern warfare, stressing the gradual ending of a "system" of private rewards for engaging in armed combat. More work needs to be done in all these areas, but each of these studies is a small masterpiece in its own right.
Ultimately, this volume is not for the novice. The offerings vary far too widely in subject matter and are far too tightly focused to make for easy reading, and the contextual demands all the authors make on the reader's background knowledge will put it simply out of reach for beginners. This is a book by specialists for specialists, but in its best moments, it makes significant contributions to the development of an extremely important topic. One hopes it is a harbinger of more to come.
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|Article Type:||Book Review|
|Date:||Jun 22, 2003|
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