What's new? Studies of revolutions and divergences, 1770-1840

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Author: John E. Wills
Date: Mar. 2014
From: Journal of World History(Vol. 25, Issue 1)
Publisher: University of Hawaii Press
Document Type: Article
Length: 16,093 words
Lexile Measure: 1670L

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KNOT TWO: POLYCENTRIC EUROPE OVER THE EDGE

Europe was not an empire. The unifying aspirations of popes and of holy Roman emperors had never had much of a chance, perhaps due partly to an unusually fragmented geography but more to a long heritage of competitive corporate solidarity-from Athens versus Sparta through Rome to Florence versus Venice, all contributing to the rhetorics of identity and the strategies of mobilization used by Habsburgs versus Bourbons and, in our period, Britons versus French. Interstate warfare had become more vicious after 1500, when stoked by religious divisions, and after 1648 had turned into a cynical game of shifting alliances and disputed successions. Fiscal structures had neither the flexibility nor the legitimacy to keep up with the rising costs of war. There were many intellectual critics of these rigidities and irrationalities, and in a multistate world they usually could find a refuge and a printer not far away. Readers found it hard to forget their simple and radical questioning of the rationality and justice of hereditary privilege and established religion and their demonstrations that in a wider world quite a few people lived good lives without any form of Christian dogma. The explosion came in France, with echoes and parallels in many other polities and down to today.

The long continuities and many transformations of competitive corporate solidarity in European political culture are so central that historians of Europe and of a Europe-dominated world do not often find them worth discussing. Perhaps they are more obvious and more interesting to a historian of China, where a potent grammar of rulerminister relationship and highly developed practices for recruiting ambitious provincials into imperial service made a single very large polity the norm and province-against-province warfare the exception. Osterhammel analyzes many strands of nineteenth-century "national" buildups and mobilizations, the surprising decades of peace in Europe, and the evolution of the Westphalian system in the nineteenth century into forms of raison d'etat that were more bureaucratic or national and less dynastic. (53) France is an important case of Bayly's foci on domestication and industrious revolutions, and he also has a lucid summary of the great transformations in France. (54) Lieberman's nuanced and well-read summary of Old Regime France acknowledges the primacy of interstate war and its vast expense, finds comparable but much less advanced trends of state consolidation in mainland Southeast Asia and in Russia, and in an erudite summary of the literature on French statism since 1600 offers some openings toward the transformations of the Revolutionary and Napoleonic phases. (55) In a huge and constantly changing historiography we have to be grateful when a summarizer as skillful as Jeremy Popkin keeps updating a brief guide. One difficulty, noted in Lynn Hunt's searching paper in Armitage and Subrahmanyam and partly remedied by Jonathan Israel's great work, is that writing about French history tends to be very strongly focused inside the "hexagon," and world historians want to see the range of comparable stresses and breakdowns across Europe. (56) Why was...

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Gale Document Number: GALE|A379980424