From universal Christianity to the sovereign western state: Problems and definitions
Discussions of the modernstate are complicated by the fact that some fundamental assumptions about its nature have lost their validity over the last twenty years. Until the 1950s, it was assumed that the gradual transfer of legitimacy in the area of civil order from universal Christianity to the modern state was caused by a putative early-modern triumph of the coercive, bureaucratic, institutional, tax-collecting state over elites which, while initially reluctant, were eventually subdued.
This interpretation of history developed at the turn of the last century and informed the work of sociologists from Max Weber (1846–1920) to Charles Tilly (1929–2008). It emphasized the role of the mighty "Leviathan", the emerging bureaucratic edifice of the modern state with its capacity to monopolize power and to coerce its subjects with its spreading tentacles, fed by secure funding in the form of regular taxes. A central feature of this historical narrative was the assumption that modern bureaucracies are characterized by a concept of power that is fundamentally different from feudal concepts or a band of gangsters. It was assumed that a growing distinction between civil order, and the interests and wishes of the ruler went hand in hand with increasing loyalty on the part of state servants to the state as an institution, as opposed to loyalty to the ruler, the ruling dynasty or a religion. It was assumed, therefore, that the development of state theory in the early modern period from Jean Bodin (1530–1596) to Thomas Hobbes (1588–1679) and Samuel von Pufendorf (1632–1694), and from there to Immanuel Kant (1724–1804), and the and French revolutions reflected actual developments in the form of the expansion of the state through the expansion of the state's bureaucratic machinery of civil servants.1
While evidence contradicting this view has been accumulating since the 1955 International Congress of Historical Sciences in 2 the last two decades have seen increasingly bold attempts to react to this challenge to the historical narrative by redefining the modern state. These discussions on the nature of the modern state have not remained unaffected by developments such as the disintegration of the , which had an impressive bureaucratic machinery, as well as the instability of state power in many developing countries, some of which have been unable to maintain legitimacy in spite of bureaucracies and armies. Michael Stolleis (*1941) has recently concluded that the distinction between the objective reality of the power exercised by the institutional, bureaucratic, coercive state, and the state as image and argument, based on prevalent concepts of legitimacy within society is a false distinction. It is because of such concepts of civil order that the state existed, he argues. The state existed as the "will and imagination" of those running the state and by means of beliefs about the nature and legitimacy of civil order in the broader society.3,
For two reasons, our understanding of the modern western state was to a large degree shaped by centuries of war and civil war in early modern Europe. Firstly, these unprecedented conflicts prompted Europeans to gradually re-conceptualize civil order. Europeans increasingly insisted on the independence of secular government from the church and on the sovereign authority of governments. They increasingly viewed the unity of subject population, state territory and state law – i.e., that all three were co-terminous – as the ideal situation. As regards foreign policy, Heinz Schilling (*1942) has shown how diplomatic relations were increasingly viewed as affairs of "state" from the second third of the 17th century, reflecting the diminishing importance of dynastic and religious interests in international relations.4 By the time of the and revolutions, the prevalent philosophical and legal concepts of how a state should be constituted had changed dramatically from concepts of civil order prevalent in late-medieval Europe. By this time, most of the concepts that were subsequently realized in 19th century constitutional reforms already existed.
Secondly, in the late 19th century and the first half of the 20th century, these changes in attitude were increasingly interpreted – incorrectly – as resulting from the actual emergence in the early modern period of the institutional state, which coerced reluctant elites and subjects into supplying the state with resources which gave the state the capacity to coerce them even more (the so-called "coercion-extraction cycle"). Reservations regarding this interpretation were first voiced at the 1955 International Congress of Historical Sciences in Rome, and subsequent research disproved it completely. It has been demonstrated that early modern bureaucratic institutions were permeated by networks of patrons and clients of old and new elites, on whom princes remained more dependent than ever.
Royal authority also continued to be organized in complex combinations of different principalities held together primarily by . These principalities differed from each other in law, language and culture. Early modern historians have increasingly emphasized the composite – indeed, the jumbled – nature of Europe's "dynastic agglomerates" and have described Europe in terms of a "society of princes".5 For example, the consolidation of the Valois in France through the capture of and parts of was accompanied by an ongoing shrinking of the branches of the royal family, reducing the number of potential rivals to the reigning monarch to almost none during the reigns of Henry IV (1553–1610), Louis XIII (1601–1643) and Louis XIV (1638–1715), thus massively strengthening the position of the king. However, principalities like Brittany remained distinct in political terms and were governed through clients with influence in Brittany and good contacts in , rather than simply being ruled directly from Paris. Armand-Jean du Plessis de Richelieu (1585–1642) remained in the pay of Brittany and kept the province's taxes low. Connections to Richelieu became increasingly important, however, for those members of the Breton elite keen to promote their interests in Paris.6 Bohemia was captured by military force for the House of Habsburg in 1620, but government remained firmly in the hands of local and regional elites, though these now had to submit to Roman Catholicism in order to continue to benefit from ecclesiastical benefices.7 In the case of France, Jim Collins (*1950) has attempted to distinguish between the royal dynasty with its various branches, the person of the king, and the crown representing the sum total of legal prerogatives of the king, on the one hand, and fundamental laws governing civil rule in France by which both the king and his subjects remained bound, on the other. These are just two examples of the spectacular expansion of dynastic agglomerates during the 16th and 17th centuries, bringing with it not powerful centralized states, but new dynamics created by the relationship between the different parts of the dynastic agglomerate, as well as the relationship between these parts and the ruling dynasty.8
In the area of public finances, the early modern period was characterized by an unprecedented growth in public debt. Regardless of how important a source of revenue taxes had become by 1500 (for example, in the principalities of the French royal family, in 9 Far from witnessing the emancipation of an institutional, coercive, bureaucratic state from its elites by means of regular enforceable taxes, regimes became increasingly dependent on old and new elites to organize and broker public debt, farm taxes, and buy or pre-finance offices.10 As Lucien Bély (*1955) has stated with regard to Louis XIV, "les créanciers du roi sont des groupes financiers, et derrière eux, la noblesse et la bourgeoisie qui prêtent ses avoirs".11or in ), the explosion in spending on the military meant that taxes alone could not cover public spending and public debt increased rapidly. Other innovations included the wholesale sale of offices, in particular in the two major dynastic agglomerates of and France, and the farming of taxes. Thus, what has been interpreted as vital elements of the emerging bureaucratic state, its offices and taxes, remained firmly in the hands of those who purchased the offices or farmed the taxes.
The term "New Monarchy", coined in 1638 by Henri Duc de Rohan (1579–1638),12 was used from the 1960s to 1980s to signify the introduction of regular taxes and standing armies from the 15th century. It will be used below in a modified sense to include the empirical findings of the last half-century. Political regimes in early modern Europe were characterized by participation in unprecedented wars and by dramatic increases in expenditure on military preparedness, by unprecedented financial burdens associated with these wars, by dramatic increases in the volume of public funds (which were debt-financed to a significant extent)13, and by increasing recourse to a rhetoric of nation and patria by all parties involved in the raising and spending of these funds.
State forms and state systems, 1490s to 1790s
Given this state of research, we must clearly distinguish between three levels of analysis concerning "state forms" and "state systems". Firstly, there are theoretical reflections on the nature of civil order by politicians and legal scholars from Leonardo Bruni (c. 1369–1444) to Bodin, and from Hobbes to Kant. Here, civil order as the legal person of the state gradually took shape. Secondly, there are contemporary analyses and descriptions ranging from Niccolò Machiavelli (1469-1527) to the Duc de Rohan in 1638 and to Pufendorf's history of European states. Increasingly, these writings recognized the existence of relatively stable dynastic agglomerates with their own specific constellation of political aims. They began to describe these entities with shorthand names such as England, , and Spain, although it remained of course entirely clear that England (from 1603 to 1688) was part of the Stuart dynastic agglomerate of England, , and ; and that Brandenburg was part of the Hohenzollern dynastic agglomerate of various lands. The Allgemeine Landrecht für die Preussischen Staaten applied only subsidiary and secondary to the specific laws applicable in each of the Hohenzollern principalities – Brandenburg, , and so forth – where these local laws did not contain clear provisions on an issue.
Thirdly, there is the modern historical analysis of constitutional and power realities. Of primary importance for the further development of the European system of states was the consolidation of the Valois monarchy in France with the takeover of large parts of Burgundy after 1477 and subsequently of Brittany, and the simultaneous consolidation of the Habsburg agglomerate in "New Monarchy" of Spain had accumulated vast lands in an astonishingly short period of time and could also access increasing resources from mines in America. Very soon after the consolidation of the Habsburg agglomerate through dynastic inheritance, it clashed with the Valois dynasty, which had encroached on Aragonese interests in . The European system of states continued to be dominated by the clash of these dynasties, with its resulting enormous increase in military spending, from the Valois invasion in in 1494 until the revolution in European alliances in 1756/1757, which brought about the Franco-Austrian alliance against . There were, however, other smaller theatres of conflict upon which the main conflict only occasionally impinged, for example, the Anglo-French rivalry (Henry VIII (1491–1547) launched several expeditions into France), the struggle for the among , , Sweden and , and, last but not least, the ongoing conflict between the , on the one hand, and the Habsburgs in their possessions in Austria and , Poland and , on the other.and Burgundy and the subsequent inheritance of the Spanish and Italian possessions. This
In strictly legal and constitutional terms, Europe remained primarily a collection of princes and dynastic agglomerates until the 19th-century constitutional reforms. Historians correctly point out, however, that regimes increasingly attempted from the 16th century to mobilize the population to better bear the burdens of war by employing a rhetoric of nation and fatherland. In particular, the confessionalisation of the late-16th and early-17th centuries massively reduced the freedom of action of the dynasties and also added an important confessional element to the humanist rhetoric of 14and fatherland. From the 1580s to the 1630s, several dynasties placed confessional considerations above other considerations. From the 1630s onward, however, distinct confessional identities became enshrined in most European polities and the actions of the regimes began to be defined by considerations of "state" again. The map of Europe began to be defined by the existence of a number of "powers". By this time, no Protestant could become king of France, and no Catholic could become king of Scotland, England, or Sweden. Catholic, Lutheran and Reformed confessional identity became enshrined in the various polities and was depicted as the alleged ancient religion of nation and fatherland, as part of the fundamental laws of the polity. Through brutal conflict and negotiation, churches, estates and dynasties came to agree on this confessional identity in the respective polities, thereby integrating the dynastic agglomerates somewhat and lending them continuity. The rhetoric of state, religion and nation increasingly defined dynasties by their role as protectors of the interests of specific states and nations. The French monarchy was defined in terms of its struggle against Spain; the Swedish and Danish monarchies in terms of their struggle for the Baltic, and so on. Heinz Schilling also identifies a number of longstanding conflicts of interests between powers which resulted in ongoing intensive diplomatic and political activity in the powers concerned, though these conflicts of interest only became interconnected briefly during the Thirty Years War and again during the 18th century. These conflicts of interest were – besides the major confrontation between the Valois and Bourbons, and the House of Habsburg – the struggle for the Baltic, the struggle against the Ottomans, and the struggle for maritime superiority and colonial influence primarily among Spain, the , England and France.
Writings on the nature of legal rights and political power from Bodin to Hobbes often emphasized the supposed increasing rights and prerogatives of the ruler. The reality was more complex, however. Of equal importance in the period from the late-16th to the 18th century was the "invention" of "national" law codes. In the wake of these conflicts, Europeans did indeed exhibit a particular interest in the exercise of power and techniques of suppression (the reception of Tacitus (c. 55-120)), and the need to concentrate governing rights in the hands of one person for civil order to be sustained was also widely discussed (the reception of Bodin). In addition to these discourses, however, the legal record became increasingly comprehensive. In the 16th and 17th centuries, antiquarians attempted to research the origins of laws and rights, and systematic compilations of laws were produced. All these circumstances gave rise to the vision of comprehensive legal codes for European polities to be administered primarily by judges and lawyers. Simultaneously, legal humanists increasingly emphasized the historical context of Roman law, thereby encouraging an emancipation of the legal codes of the individual European polities from Roman and Canon law. Among others, Edward Coke (1552–1634, Lord Chief Justice of England), Friedrich Lindenbrog (1573–1648), Friedrich Hortleder (1579–1640), Melchior Goldast (c. 1576/78–1635),15 Hermann Conring (1606–1681, author of De origine iuris Germanici16), Hugo Grotius (1583–1645) of the Netherlands and Guy Coquille (1523–1603, author of Institution de droict françois17) all participated in collecting and publishing compilations of laws, which, it was claimed, were medieval in origin and specific to the realm or republic in question. While English common lawyers insisted that "by lex terrae is meant the laws of St. Edward the Confessor"18, the German jurist Georg Melchior Ludolph (1667–1740) later referred to the "patrias leges".19 Scholars began to discuss and conceptualize law not as being valid for Christianity as a whole or merely for a village or region, but for a specific kingdom or republic. Against the background of religiously motivated civil conflict and dynastic instability, elites also began to argue that these laws were inviolable. By the 1740s, in as elsewhere in Europe, national laws supposedly of medieval origin were beginning to take precedence over other legal arguments.20 Though they remained partially depending on confessional historiography21, elites and their representatives increasingly emphasized the integrity and autonomy of the individual legal code of the respective polity, making regular reference to its alleged medieval origins and national character.22 These concepts became central to the ensuing debates between elites and princes. The rallying of elites behind a "national" legal order, a civil order for the "fatherland", proved to be a crucial step towards the gradual emancipation of civil order from the churches and dynasties in the polities of Latin Christianity.23
With the War of the Spanish Succession (1701–1714) and the Russian triumph over Sweden in the Great Northern War (1700–1721), a system of European states began to establish itself, which included Britain (the union of England and Scotland), Austria (the whole of the dynastic agglomerate of the German Habsburgs), France, Russia, and – after 1763 – Prussia (the whole of the Hohenzollern dynastic agglomerate).24 This pentarchy of five major powers dominated European and world history until the World Wars of the 20th century.25 By the 18th century it is possible to speak of a Europe of states. It must not be forgotten, however, that vast powers and prerogatives remained in the hands of monarchs in most cases, and they exercised these powers to pursue the perceived best interests of the individual ruler and the respective dynasty, such as Frederick II's (1712–1786) annexation of in 1740.26 Also, dynastic claims and interests remained of primary importance in Europe's wars of succession during the 18th century. During this period, the relative strength of the major four (then five) powers enabled them to divide longstanding established states (the divisions of Poland) and to intervene almost with impunity in other countries (the Prussian expedition into the Dutch Republic). Competition between the major powers alone spared some smaller polities from domination, with the powers keeping each other in check. In this way, the campaign of lesser princes against the alleged threat of domination by a single monarch and his "universal monarchy", by Charles V (1500–1558) or Louis XIV, was transformed into a state system which was in itself balanced by the mutual jealousy of the major powers. At the same time, this "pursuit of glory"27 became increasingly defined as an attempt to increase the glory of the nation and the fatherland. By the late 18th-century, some princes even increasingly referred to themselves as servants of their state or nation. Indeed, failure to convince that one was guided by the best interests of the nation could have disastrous consequences for a monarch and his dynasty. Tim Blanning (*1942) has contrasted the success of the Hohenzollern and Hanoverian dynasties in and in portraying themselves as patriotic kings, thus enabling their dynasties to survive the era of the French Revolution, with the fortunes of the Bourbons who paid the price for failing to do the same.28 While we have yet to discuss power and constitutional realities (the third level of analysis mentioned above), these were massively – though often indirectly – shaped by the other two levels already discussed (contemporary legal and political thought, and contemporary descriptions and comments). An integrated survey of all three levels is required to describe the transformation of Europe from universal Christianity to a system of sovereign states.
Apart from Europe's major dynasties and their vast agglomerates, a small number of republics survived the regular and large-scale conflicts of the 16th and 17th centuries. From the 16th century, descriptions of forms of government distinguished – among other things – between monarchies and non-monarchical regimes, usually termed "republics". The term "republic" signified either a non-monarchical polity (Machiavelli) or any state (Bodin). The most notable republics were the Republic of 29, and, from 1649 to 1660 only, the English Commonwealth. With the exception of the relatively short-lived England Commonwealth, these republics were significantly smaller in size and territory than the larger dynastic agglomerates, though the Dutch Republic with around two million inhabitants had a population similar to that of the Swedish kingdom. This small number of republics differed at least as much among themselves as they did from the monarchies. Venice was essentially a city state, governed by an aristocracy and a single chief magistrate, the Doge, and had acquired a major land mass in northeastern Italy, the terra ferma. Both the Swiss Confederation and the Dutch Republic were confederacies of smaller polities. While the Dutch Republic had a single (though hotly debated) constitutional framework from the Union of , the Swiss Confederation in practice consisted of an intricate web of mutual treaties between the cantons, giving these cantons by way of these treaties very different constitutional statuses. While all the Dutch republics were run by their estates, which consisted of knights and city magistrates, some of the Swiss cantons were monarchical, some aristocratic, and some democratic polities.30 While the influence of the ambassadors of Paris and on factions within these cantons was considerable, there were constant rumors in the Dutch Republic regarding alleged treason in (for instance, rumors in 1672 regarding Cornelis De Witt (1623–1672) and his brother Johan De Witt (1625–1672)). The Dutch Republic nevertheless became one of the foremost economic and military powers of Europe during the 17th century. The De Witts, while still contemplating appeasement with France during the 1660s, considered "cantonizing" the (which roughly correspond to the territory of present-day ) after the Swiss example, to create a Dutch and a French zone of influence. This highlights how different the Swiss Confederation and the Dutch Republic were in practice, in spite of the fact that neither was a monarchy. For most of the early modern period, the House of Orange wielded major influence as head of the army and stadhouder (steward) in many of the Dutch republics., the , the Dutch Republic, the Republic of , which was in a disputed relationship with the Holy Roman Empire
Like the republics, there were also vast differences between the monarchies. The monarchies can be divided into two categories: the four large, heterogeneous continental empires, on the one hand; and the relatively smaller, but also much more homogeneous kingdoms on Europe's geographical periphery, on the other. The first category includes Spain (including the 31 – and the Polish-Lithuanian Union. Denmark and Sweden (both members of a late medieval union during 1397–1523), Scotland and England (united in a Stuart dynastic union between 1603 and 1688, and from 1707 united in state union rather than dynastic union) and (between 1580 and 1640 a possession of the Spanish crown) falls into the second category. Though they had at times been part of dynastic unions, these ancient kingdoms had, since the high middle ages, reasonably clear territorial boundaries (even though the province of Scania was captured from Denmark by Sweden in 1658), a reasonably stable population of subjects, and increasingly clearly defined laws and legal practices. The kingdom of England, for example, was never a dynastic agglomerate in the same way as France was, even though it was at various times connected with the , Scotland and Ireland by dynastic bonds.and Castile, and the Burgundian, Italian and American possessions), France (including many principalities only integrated during the early modern period), the Holy Roman Empire of the German Nation – and subsequently the possessions of the German branch of the House of Habsburg, which were increasingly outside the empire proper and included two sizeable kingdoms, Hungary and
In the larger empires, monarchies usually had to contend with powerful dynasties in the higher nobility, dynasties which within the Holy Roman Empire were busy building their own dynastic agglomerates. Indeed, the Wittelsbachs inand the , the Welfs in , the Albertine line of the Wettin dynasty of , and the Hohenzollerns in Prussia all attempted to secure the crown of "sovereign" principalities outside the empire (England, Poland, East Prussia). The German Habsburgs excelled in this, with their ever-increasing possessions gradually shifting the centre of gravity of their possessions outside the empire and towards the , where they ultimately gained the upper hand over the Ottomans with victory in the Battle of Zenta (1697) and the capture of (1717 and 1789) and created an empire of their own. Each of these empires was characterized by a major dynasty with a regional centre of power and with dynastic connections outside the empire. Each empire was also characterized by large variations in law, language and culture across the empire, and by conflicting national claims within the empire.
In some of the smaller, more homogenous kingdoms like Denmark and Sweden, on the other hand, the higher nobility was much weaker. Consequently, the Swedish and Danish monarchies were able, for longer or shorter periods, to severely restrict the power of the higher aristocracy, in particular, by cooperating with city burghers and the lower nobility. Rather than distinguishing between monarchies and republics, it is perhaps more useful to speak of a continuum of decreasing aristocratic influence, starting with the larger empires, where the influence of the higher aristocracy was considerable, to the smaller kingdoms and finally to the smaller republics, where the higher aristocracy hardly existed at all.
All early modern polities were based on the rule of legally privileged elites, aristocracies composed of various groups of different ages, reputations, statuses and lineages. Social mobility was invariably dependent on the acquisition of privileged legal status, and in this regard early modern republics did not differ appreciably from monarchies. However, changes were in progress. European polities were gradually emancipated from the confessional churches and their claims to authority, and there was increasing scrutiny in most European polities of the connection between legal privilege, landed wealth, claims to superior virtue and privileged access to public office. To a degree, these two developments led during the 18th century to the self-conscious description of "Commonwealth of Europe". The early modern reception of Aristotle (384–322 BC) had consciously translated his assessment of climate and virtue into a dismissal of polities outside Latin Christianity, including , the Ottoman Empire and , but also of Orthodox Russia, as despotic regimes. It was contended that the subjects of these realms lacked what united Latin Christianity and what set the Commonwealth of Europe apart from the rest of the world: legal rights and entitlements, defendable in court with the help of professional lawyers and before professional, university-trained judges. The independence of law – of law fundamentally found, not made – of the legal system and the legal professions was the starting point from which theorists from Machiavelli to Montesquieu (1689–1755) proceeded when they discussed the unity of (occidental) Europe as free (i.e., law-governed) peoples, as distinct from the slavery of those who had to submit to the will of a human master.32 From the late 16th century, this theme was increasingly expressed in terms not directly related to confessional Christianity. During the Enlightenment, this theme became an important element of Latin European self-consciousness, and its concept of itself as distinct from, and superior to, the rest of the world, even empires once admired for their efficiency, such as the Chinese.33
Toward the modern state system, 1790s to 1950
From the 1760s, the nature of civil order began to change rapidly. The legitimacy of political rule by inherited legal privilege was progressively undermined, and the increasing demands of warfare between the Seven Years War (1756–1763) and the Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars (1792–1802, 1804–1815) forced monarchical regimes into a relatively long period of financial retrenchment and political cautiousness after 1815, which was prolonged further by the European revolutions of 1830 and 1848. With individual differences, most monarchies and republics had to re-organize political legitimacy and financial support in line with growing assumptions of national sovereignty – however implemented – and in line with some degree of fiscal control. Funded by the increasing revenues of the Industrial Revolution and less pressed by incessant wars as in the period before 1815, most European polities developed fully funded civil services, based to a large degree on modern university education rather than on inherited privilege.
At the end of this process – around the turn to the 20th century – sociologists like Max Weber based their discussions of the state on the bureaucratic and coercive, tax-funded state as a standard or archetype. Providing social security for old age and in times of sickness for large elements of the increasingly democratic electorates began to establish itself as a major budgetary item. World War I would prove that, without national legitimacy, a state could no longer withstand the pressures of modern war. With the fall of the Ottoman, Russian, in 1918 and 1919, the nation-state in its modern form became very common and even began to establish itself as the norm. Between 1815 and 1939, smaller countries such as Denmark, the Netherlands, (from 1839/1890) and Portugal remained protected by the rivalry between the five major powers, but also by an increasing assumption of the right of each nation to exist as an independent state. Just as in the late Middle Ages and the early modern period, however, the existence of politically independent polities went hand in hand with a vibrant European network of communication and with the , of scholars and , of and models. The more recent emergence of a common European attitude, as distinct from the prevailing attitude in the , concerning issues such as the role of religion in public affairs and the financing of the welfare state is just a modern example of the continuing phenomenon of the "Commonwealth of Europe", which persists independently of changing constitutional realities. This broader sense of commonality does not alter the fact that national cultures continue to thrive, not least because the importance of common languages – Latin or French – through which learned people throughout Europe could communicate has waned. Longstanding animosities also continue to be remembered and, indeed, continue to play an important part in national identity, an identity on which European states depend more than ever. One of the most enduring features of Europe is, after all, that it is made up of nations.34 As the content and significance of concepts of "nation" have changed over the course of centuries, concepts of "state" have changed with them, and continue to do so.and German empires