This is still only a summary of what is surely a stimulating piece work, by a scholar with a proven record in military history (his earlier work includes one called The Transformation of War (1991)(link), together with studies of logistic and of command). For a different version, follow this link. A natural companion to Van Creveld's work is Charles Tilly, Coercion, Capital and European States, A. D. 990-1992 (link).
“…government and state are emphatically not the same. The former is a person or group which makes peace, wages war, enacts laws, exercises justice, raises revenue, determines the currency, and looks after internal security on behalf of society as a whole, all the while attempting to provide a focus for people’s loyalty and, perhaps, a modicum of welfare as well. The latter is merely one of the forms which, historically speaking, the organization of government has assumed, and which, accordingly, need not be considered eternal and self-evident any more than were previous ones.
The first place to see this particular form of government was
Western Europe, where it started developing around 1300 and where the decisive changes took place between the death of Charles V in 1558 and the Treaty of Westphalia ninety years later. Speaking very roughly, and skipping over the many differences that separated various countries, the process worked as follows. Having fought and defeated universalism on the one hand and particularism on the other, a small number of ‘absolute’ monarchs consolidated territorial domains and concentrated political power in their own hands. Simultaneously, in order to wield both the civilian and military aspects of that power, they set out to construct an impersonal bureaucracy as well as the tax and information infrastructure necessary for its support. Once the bureaucracy was in place, its own nature—the fact that the rules of which it consisted could not be arbitrarily violated without risking a breakdown—soon caused it to start taking power out of the ruler’s hands and into its own, thus spawning the state proper.
…the state was originally conceived principally as an instrument for imposing law and order on groups and people. About a century and a half after its birth, however, it met with, and proceeded to appropriate, the thunder of nationalism, thus providing itself with ethical contents. . . .
Unlike any of its predecessors at any other time and place, it is not identical with either rulers nor ruled; it is neither a man nor a community, but an invisible being known as a corporation. As a corporation it has an independent personal. The latter is recognized by law and capable of behaving as if it were a person in making contracts, owning property, defending itself, and the like.
As of the last years of the twentieth century, it is becoming apparent that [this] characteristic of the state—the fact that it has a persona—is [coming to drive the evolution]. In the main, the threat to the state does not come either from individuals or from groups of the kind which exercised the functions of government in various communities at various times and places before 1648. Instead it comes from other corporations: in other words, from such ‘artificial men’ as share its own nature but differ from it both in respect to their control over territory and in regard to the exercise of sovereignty.”
Thursday, September 14, 2006
From the Best Book I Read Last Year
Rooting around in my hard disk, I found a nice summary extract from Martin Van Creveld's Rise and Decline of the State (1999) (link), surely the best book I read last year. Oddly enough, I seem not to have retained page numbers, but I will add them once I run them down.