Saturday, May 23, 2009

Dan Nexon's "The Struggle for Power in Early Modern Europe"

Daniel H. Nexon is assistant professor of government and foreign service at Georgetown University.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, The Struggle for Power in Early Modern Europe: Religious Conflict, Dynastic Empires, and International Change, and reported the following:
The Struggle for Power in Early Modern Europe examines the impact of the Protestant Reformations on European state formation and power politics. People in my field generally argue about two major questions when they study Europe in the 16th and 17th centuries: whether or not the 1648 Peace of Westphalia marked the beginning of the modern international system by establishing key principles of state sovereignty, and whether or not the fate of the Spanish Empire demonstrates timeless principles concerning strategic overextension and the balance of power. I argue that both these questions should be approached through a different lens--one in which we treat the period as a case of transnational religious movements (such as Calvinism and Counter-Reformed Catholicism) playing havoc with routine strategies of imperial rule. My findings therefore turn out to have some relevance to contemporary concerns.

Chapter 4, "Religious Contention and the Dynamics of Composite States," begins on page 99. This would seem to confirm, at least in part, the "Page 99" hypothesis, as this chapter develops my core arguments about why the Protestant Reformations created a great upheaval in early modern European politics. In this sense, the "quality of the whole" very much rises and falls on arguments that begin in page 99. On the other hand, page 99 is also one of the driest pages of the entire book.

I'm going to cheat a little bit and include an extract that begins on page 99, but carries over into page 100. Page 99 begins with a transitional paragraph that summarizes some of the material from Chapter 3 concerning the organization of early modern European political communities, particularly dynastic composite states such as Valois France and the Habsburg Monarchy. The bulk of the chapter analyzes this organization in terms of social-network analysis.

The network-structure of ideal-typical early modern European states accounts for their routine patterns of collective mobilization, resistance, and rule.

• Such structures create barriers against cross-regional and cross-class resistance to central authority: they produce institutionalized patterns of divide-and-rule that tend to limit the capacity of local actors to overcome the capabilities of central authorities. These same features also produce strong cross pressures on rulers stemming from the different interests and identities of their territories.

• Indirect rule limits governance costs for rulers; it also, however, leads to inefficiencies and principal-agent problems. Local intermediaries—such as viceroys, governors, magnates, and urban oligarchs—often already have, or develop, their own interests and ambitions. Not only might they disregard the policies and goals of their rulers, but they sometimes seek to expand their own autonomy or even, whether de facto or de jure, secede from central control.

• Rulers more effectively extract resources and negotiate with their subjects if they find ways to legitimate their rule across diverse audiences: that is, if they engage in what social scientists call multivocal or polyvalent signaling. Failure to do so, however, worsens cross-pressures and generally narrows the scope of mutual accommodation for rulers and ruled.

These conditions facilitated the rise of religious heterodoxy that we now call the Reformations. The structure of composite states in general, and dynastic agglomerations in particular, also accounts for why the Reformations led to a crisis in early modern state formation. The emergence of cross-region and cross-polity networks centered around religious beliefs and identities undermined the various ways that rulers managed their heterogeneous domains. Once disputes over theology and ritual entered into ongoing struggles over central and local control, rulers found it more difficult to legitimate their authority across different political coalitions. As Richard MacKenney argues, “The obstacles to sovereign national entities, universalism and localism, took new forms and indeed acquired new vigor—and in their novelty became more recognizably modern as political forces precisely because of the expanding importance of religion as an ideological and social force.”
Read an excerpt from The Struggle for Power in Early Modern Europe, and learn more about the book at the Princeton University Press website.

Visit Daniel Nexon's Georgetown webpage and group blog, The Duck of Minerva.

--Marshal Zeringue