The Duck of Minerva

The Duck Quacks at Twilight

Answers for Brad DeLong

March 10, 2008

Brad reads my announcement of manuscript delivery, and raises a few important questions:

1. Do you really want to write “Franche-Compté” rather than “Franche-Comté”?

2. Do you really want to leave blurb-readers (and us!) hanging as to what your theory of state formation and the Wars of the Reformation actually is?

3. Jan de Vries and I, after class last Wednesday, were discussing why it was that transoceanic trade seems to have done something to strengthen the forces of tolerance, economic liberty, and representative government in the United Provinces and the United Kingdom, and to have done a great deal to strengthen the forces of religious intolerance and autocracy in Spain. Jan mentioned that he had somewhere at some point in the past seen a map of the travels of Charles of Ghent, and I would dearly love to be able to track it down…

Answers, of a sort, after the fold

1. Of course not. I hope that remains the most embarrassing error in the materials, but I expect additional misspellings, factual problems, and other sundry mistakes remain to be discovered.

2. That’s a fair point, and probably good immediate evidence for why Princeton University Press will rewrite the blurb. For semi-immediate gratification, here’s a (pre-copyedited) synopsis of the argument that I’ve cribbed together from the book’s introductory chapter:

This book addresses, first and foremost, this oversight: I provide an explanation for why the Protestant Reformations produced a crisis of sufficient magnitude to alter the European balance of power, both within and among even its most powerful political communities. I argue that the key to understanding this impact lies in the analysis of the dynamics of resistance and rule in the composite political communities that dominated the European landscape. Many of the most important political ramifications of the Protestant Reformations did not stem from any sui generis features of religious contention; they resulted from the intersection of heterogeneous religious movements with ongoing patterns of collective mobilization.

Religious contention, given particular formal properties and specific ideational content, triggered up to five processes extremely dangerous to the stability of early modern rule:

• It overcame the institutional barriers that tended to localize resistance against the rulers of composite states, thereby making widespread mobilization against dynastic rulers more likely.

• It undermined the ability of rulers to signal discrete identities to their heterogeneous subjects, thereby eroding their ability to legitimate their policies on a range of issues, from religion to taxation.

• It provided opportunities for intermediaries to enhance their own autonomy vis-à-vis dynastic rulers; religious contention complicated the tradeoffs inherent in the systems of indirect rule found in composite polities.

• It exacerbated cross pressures on rulers—by injecting religious differentiation into the equation, by increasing the likelihood of significant resistance to central demands, and by creating often intense tradeoffs between political and religious objectives.

• It expanded already existing channels, as well as generating new vectors, for the “internationalization” of “domestic” disputes and the “domestication” of inter-state conflicts.

Given the right circumstances—a transnational, cross-class network surrounding religious beliefs and identities—the spread of the Protestant Reformations therefore activated many of the existing vulnerabilities in early modern European rule. Not every instance of religious contention, of course, triggered all of these dynamics. Variation in institutional forms, the choices made by agents, and other contextual factors also influenced how these mechanisms and processes played out in particular times and places. And non-religious contention sometimes triggered similar processes. On balance, however, the injection of religious identities and interests into ongoing patterns of resistance and rule made cascading political crises more likely than they might otherwise have been.

This explanation contributes to this book’s secondary task: to assess the status of the early modern period as a case of international change. Was the early modern period, as Philpott suggests, a “revolution in sovereignty” or otherwise, as traditionally understood in international-relations theory, a key moment in the emergence of the modern state system? My answer involves two claims. On the one hand, the Protestant Reformations shaped the development of the sovereign-territorial order, but in far more modest ways than many international-relations scholars assume. On the other hand, a better analytic approach to the concepts of “continuity and change” in world politics allows us to see what kind of a case of change the Reformations Era represents: one of the rapid emergence of new actors—transnational religious movements—altering the structural opportunities and constraints of power-political competition.

The third, and final, goal of this book is to specify precisely such an analytic framework for the study of international continuity and change. I develop an approach to this problem, called “relational institutionalism,” in the second chapter. It combines key aspects of sociological-relational analysis with historical-institutionalist sensibilities. This framework provides the theoretical infrastructure for my explanation of the book’s primary puzzle, as we all as for how we should understand early modern Europe as an instance of international change. But I also intend it to serve as a novel way of approaching inquiry into continuity and transformation in world politics. Relational institutionalism, I argue, incorporates insights from the major prevailing approaches to the study of international relations; it also provides a way of reconciling some of their apparently very different claims about the fundamental dynamics that drive international relations.

3. I largely avoid the debates over state formation and “regime type,” but I expect that the standard answers apply: differences in institutions, economic and fiscal strategies, and key related choices, explain much of the divergent impact of overseas trade. Jan de Vries, in fact, is far more qualified to provide answers that I am.

A. The Spanish Habsburgs adopted policies very early on that placed a disproportionate tax burden on the productive areas of Castile’s economy while creating significant exemptions for its aristocracy; their bargain, set decisively in motion after the Comuneros revolt, weakened the ability of the Cortes to effectively represent urban interests while, over time, shifting political-economic power increasingly away from them. This wasn’t sufficient to render them irrelevant, but they lost the degree of influence that the “third estate” achieved in England and the Dutch Republic.

B. One would, of course, want to add a great deal about the development of early capitalism in the Low Countries, the conditions that made such developments possible, and the ways in which both England and the Dutch pursued overseas wealth via merchant capitalists intent on penetrating Spanish Habsburg monopolies in the Americas and East Asia.

C. The Spanish Habsburgs, moreover, resolved their “pluralism” problems by effectively excluding Protestants, suppressing (and then expelling the bulk of) the Moriscos, and so forth. Britain, and the Dutch in particular, ultimately accommodated–even if, by contemporary standard, in a fairly limited way–to the existence of large religious groups in their territories that did not accept the doctrines and rituals of their state churches. Significant Catholic and non-conforming populations persisted in both polities throughout this period, even, with sometimes violent results, within their state-sanctioned churches. So both developed vibrant trading classes under conditions of religious heterogeneity, while Castile developed neither.

Finally, Deborah Boucoyannis’ dissertation, “Land, Courts and Parliaments: The Hidden Sinews of Power in the Emergence of Constitutionalism”, provides a novel approach to some of these questions.

Re: Charles of Habsburg’s travels. The important point is, as Brad suggests, that he maintained a mobile court. Philip II ended this practice, with consequences that form a part of my account of the dynamics of resistance and rule in the Spanish Monarchy.

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Daniel H. Nexon is a Professor at Georgetown University, with a joint appointment in the Department of Government and the School of Foreign Service. His academic work focuses on international-relations theory, power politics, empires and hegemony, and international order. He has also written on the relationship between popular culture and world politics.