European State System

European State System:

Modern state systems developed between the 15th and 17th centuries as the result of some specific politico-economic changes one can witness during this period. Before the emergence of the modern state system, Europe was divided among smaller states which were involved in internecine conflict. The period especially between the 15th century and the end of the Thirty Years War is characterized by fluctuation in economy, religious tension, and political conflict.

At the economic level, the heavy inflow of silver produced substantial results. Firstly, it resulted in a price revolution. So, the life of the common people was adversely affected. Secondly, it encouraged commercial profits. But at the same time, it gave a serious jolt to the economic condition of the nobility and clergy class. The social prestige of the clergy class was already undermined due to ongoing religious controversies. At the economic level, one important change was the marketization of landed wealth which was released from the feudal clutch. Consequently, a new class of capitalist landowners came into existence.

The period of the 16th and 17th centuries was characterized by religious conflict as well. The universal church system had already collapsed as a result of Protestant controversy. Even the power and prestige of the Holy Roman Empire were already undermined so Protestant German states were inclined to get free from the clutches of the Holy Roman Empire. German nobles had their eyes on the property of the church because the Roman Catholic Church owed the best land in Germany as a result of the disintegration of the manorial system these nobles were in adverse economic condition. Moreover, the mercantile class was not ready to accept the Roman Catholic value system in which profit-making and money lending were denounced. So, they put their support behind Protestants. In this war, economic, political, and religious factors all were deeply interwoven and resulted in the disintegration of the universal church system. It led logically to the freedom of the German States.

If we observe things at the European level, we find that the intense rivalry between the Bourbons and Hapsburg dynasties was an important question. This question after getting associated with some other questions ultimately produced the Thirty Years War.

It was in this Background that the modern state system came into existence. The modern state is marked by an effective monopoly on violence by direct rule and by bureaucracy which was an important tool for centralized rule.

Chronologically the first and perhaps the most important foundation of the modern European State was direct rule. From the 15th century onward, European monarchs increasingly imposed their direct rule on their subjects and concentrated all the powers in their hands. They did so by depriving their feudal lords and estates of power and appointing royal officials or lesser nobles directly responsible to or dependent only on the monarch. This was the beginning of modern bureaucracy. The most remarkable state builders of this type were Ivan IV and Peter the Great of Russia, Frederick William and Frederick II of Prussia, Cardinal Richelieu and Louis XIV of France, and Henry VIII and Thomas Cromwell of England.

Bureaucracy is an administrative hierarchy of officials with the following features as ideals: they are salaried professionals who have no personal interest in the decisions they take or enforce; they carry out the orders of their superiors and issue orders to their inferiors who implement such orders in the same fashion; they act according to rules laid down by law, not according to personal whim or preference; they are selected for their expertise in the area concerned not for their personal family.

It is bureaucracy in such a “rational-legal” form that makes the modern state so immensely powerful in the sense of being effective. Bureaucracy is an instrument that is more reliable and responsive than any other and can penetrate any field. Impersonality, expertise, action according to rules, strict hierarchy, and easy replicability make it possible to carry out decisions with precision and predictable results.

In addition, the modern state’s capacity for violence and repression is infinitely greater than that of any of the most famous tyrants in history. This derives not only from its claim to the monopoly of violence but also from the organization of military systems and the technological development of modern weaponry and weapons systems. Weapons technology likewise tilted the balance in favor of the state. Feudal lords could outfit cavalry and infantry, but the cost of artillery could be borne only by the state. This was already evident from the 15th century. But numerous innovations in the hand-held gun, making it more and more of an instrument of precision and therefore more expensive, placed the advantage in the hand of the state. The impact of such technologies on naval warfare was seen in the almost total disappearance of piracy by the 18th century. The 20th century then saw two further terrifying innovations, the tank and mastery of the skies, which from the outset, remained a monopoly of the state. The combined destructive power of tanks and aerial bombing overwhelmed any civilian population that dared challenge literature or in pre-modern times but in a political and social mobilization of the populace.

With this awesome accumulation of resources, the modern European State then imposed uniformity on its cities, thereby creating what we call the nation and nationalism. If all citizens were the products of the same culture, the capacity to act on them, to predict responses, to satisfy preferences, and indeed to create a set of common choices was greatly enhanced.

Perhaps the most powerful instrument of homogenization, or creating such uniformity, was education. The modern European State, unlike its predecessors, was singularly active in the field of education. It increasingly made primary and then secondary education universal and compulsory. Through such an educational system it ensured a common set of values and single language as taught in schools which could be different from what was available at home or in the region. Thus produced a single people with a single culture. And even a single language such that each citizen was a replica of any other, all common products of the same cultural factory as it were. A single culture is thus spread over a territory ruled by a single centre of power. And this is what is known as the nation-state. This sense of belonging to such a common culture in a specific territory is known as nationalism. Nationalism is a creation of modern times by states, which created such nations.

How recent the creation, and how difficult it has been, may be seen from the examples of the most famous nations states of Europe. Thus we speak routinely of a British people and a British nation. Little realizing that it consists of at least the English, Welsh, and the Scots. Within these, there are regions with pronounced identities, for example, Cornwall in England and the highlands in Scotland. Only in the 18th century did the English language become universal to all these countries of Great Britain similarly France, another distant and successful nation-state, consisted of many identifiable regions with their own languages to his date, of which Brittany in the northwest and Gascony in the south are the most well known. In 1789, only 12 to 13% of the population of France spoke French; therefore the French nation was in effect created during the 19th century through the process described above. Similarly in 1860, at the time of unification, only about 2.5% of the population of Italy spoke Italian, the rest spoke various regional languages. Again, the new Italian state had to impose the Italian language on the whole population and thereby held fashion the Italian nation.

From the revolutionary developments in America, Britain, and France in the late 18th century there emerged the modern state which rested on the claim of representing the people. The question is not whether it did in fact represent the popular will and how genuinely it did so. The point is that it had to claim to do so and appear to be doing so. All the European states have done so in increasing measure, however opposed their ideologies. This applies as much to the liberal democratic state of north-western Europe. The fascist-type state covered so much of Europe, especially Central Europe in the 20th century and the socialist states of the Soviet Union and East Europe.

Thus dictatorship could be imposed through perfectly democratic means. The first practitioner of this art of politics was Louis Napoleon in France in 1851 when he was elected through a Plebiscite; he later proclaimed himself emperor and ruled essentially by decree on this democratic foundation. Many dictators have used the Plebiscite and the referendum which are after all another form of popular vote, to prove their democratic credentials.

This procedure in its totality, of proving popularity, is known as democratic regimentation and the most effective instrument for achieving it was found to be some form of election.

Thus even while the foundation of the state became more democratic, its absolute power grew through the process of bureaucratization. The support of the people always provided more power to a ruler than any other source like tradition, or force of personality. As a state claimed to exercise power by promoting the interest of the people, it could call upon the people, that it could mobilize them to render such support. Politicians discovered soon enough after the French Revolution that they could acquire and exercise more power by mobilizing the people than by mobilizing God, custom, an individual, or an army.

As a factor “The Treaty of Westphalia (1648) prepared the way for the modern state system. In fact this treaty produced some important ingredients of the state system such as the recognition of the equality of all the states in an international forum, the development of the concept of the balance of power, the use of diplomacy as a substitute for war, beginning of international laws, etc.

Important Links:

Intellectual Enlightenment
Political Causes of the French Revolution
Economic Causes of the French Revolution
Beginning of the French Revolution
Functions of the Constituent Assembly
Unsuccessful Attempt of the Royal Family to Flee the Country
Phases of the French Revolution
Role of Philosophers in the French Revolution
Nature of the French Revolution
Correlation Between the Objectives and Achievements of the French Revolution
Do you agree that the French Revolution achieved far less than what it intended to achieve?
Triumph of Jacobinism
Transformation of the Republic into a Military Dictatorship
Importance of the French Revolution
The Course of the French Revolution
French Revolution of 1848
The Foreign Policy of Louis Philippe
Causes of the Revolution of February 1848
Short Note on the French Revolution of 1848
Bonaparte Napoleon
Napoleon Ascendency
Consulate Rule and Constitution of 1799
Reforms of Napoleon
Napoleon Concord With Pope
Napoleonic Code
Continental System
Causes of the Failure of the Continental System
Napoleonic Imperialism
Napoleonic War
Short Note on Napoleon Bonaparte
Decline of the Napoleonic Empire
Popular Movement
The United States and the French Revolution, 1789–1799