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The Sovereign State and Its Competitors: An Analysis of Systems Change (Princeton Studies in International History and Politics)

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The present international system, composed for the most part of sovereign, territorial states, is often viewed as the inevitable outcome of historical development. Hendrik Spruyt argues that there was nothing inevitable about the rise of the state system, however. Examining the competing institutions that arose during the decline of feudalism--among them urban leagues, ind The present international system, composed for the most part of sovereign, territorial states, is often viewed as the inevitable outcome of historical development. Hendrik Spruyt argues that there was nothing inevitable about the rise of the state system, however. Examining the competing institutions that arose during the decline of feudalism--among them urban leagues, independent communes, city states, and sovereign monarchies--Spruyt disposes of the familiar claim that the superior size and war-making ability of the sovereign nation-state made it the natural successor to the feudal system. The author argues that feudalism did not give way to any single successor institution in simple linear fashion. Instead, individuals created a variety of institutional forms, such as the sovereign, territorial state in France, the Hanseatic League, and the Italian city-states, in reaction to a dramatic change in the medieval economic environment. Only in a subsequent selective phase of institutional evolution did sovereign, territorial authority prove to have significant institutional advantages over its rivals. Sovereign authority proved to be more successful in organizing domestic society and structuring external affairs. Spruyt's interdisciplinary approach not only has important implications for change in the state system in our time, but also presents a novel analysis of the general dynamics of institutional change.


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The present international system, composed for the most part of sovereign, territorial states, is often viewed as the inevitable outcome of historical development. Hendrik Spruyt argues that there was nothing inevitable about the rise of the state system, however. Examining the competing institutions that arose during the decline of feudalism--among them urban leagues, ind The present international system, composed for the most part of sovereign, territorial states, is often viewed as the inevitable outcome of historical development. Hendrik Spruyt argues that there was nothing inevitable about the rise of the state system, however. Examining the competing institutions that arose during the decline of feudalism--among them urban leagues, independent communes, city states, and sovereign monarchies--Spruyt disposes of the familiar claim that the superior size and war-making ability of the sovereign nation-state made it the natural successor to the feudal system. The author argues that feudalism did not give way to any single successor institution in simple linear fashion. Instead, individuals created a variety of institutional forms, such as the sovereign, territorial state in France, the Hanseatic League, and the Italian city-states, in reaction to a dramatic change in the medieval economic environment. Only in a subsequent selective phase of institutional evolution did sovereign, territorial authority prove to have significant institutional advantages over its rivals. Sovereign authority proved to be more successful in organizing domestic society and structuring external affairs. Spruyt's interdisciplinary approach not only has important implications for change in the state system in our time, but also presents a novel analysis of the general dynamics of institutional change.

30 review for The Sovereign State and Its Competitors: An Analysis of Systems Change (Princeton Studies in International History and Politics)

  1. 4 out of 5

    Matthias

    Where did the state - with its clear territorial boundaries, calculable and unitary law, and legal equality with its peers - come from? Well, it arose, as we all know, from "feudalism" (whatever you define that to mean.) According to romantic nationalists, the nation-state arises from the Will of the Nation to better correspond to the People; according to Hegel, from the will of the World-Spirit in man's continued journey towards greater self-reflexivity; according to (some) Marxists, the will o Where did the state - with its clear territorial boundaries, calculable and unitary law, and legal equality with its peers - come from? Well, it arose, as we all know, from "feudalism" (whatever you define that to mean.) According to romantic nationalists, the nation-state arises from the Will of the Nation to better correspond to the People; according to Hegel, from the will of the World-Spirit in man's continued journey towards greater self-reflexivity; according to (some) Marxists, the will of growing bourgeois fractions in tentative alliance with other social groups; according to Tilly, territorial (eventually "national") states emerge because of technological changes that make them more economically or militariily efficient than their competitors. Spruyt's contribution agrees with the Marxists about the bourgeoisie and with Tilly about the role of competitive efficiency and selection, but he has two points to make, one more central than the other. The minor point is that he thinks Tilly overstates the role of bellicist factors; the social coalition that built the state in France, for instance, preceded the military revolution of the late middle ages; and many small and militarily helpless polities (Monaco, say) were able to survive as long as they redefined themselves and sought recognition as juridically equal states among states. The major point is that, regardless of the efficiency selection criterion, or the particular social class alliances that lie behind the development of states, Spruyt sees the standard story as overdeterministic, teleological, and linear; and he brings in SJ Gould's well-known criticisms of adaptationism in evolutionary theory as a parallel. Evolution of biological forms, in Gould's take, doesn't slowly progress from the less to more absolutely efficient, but in darting shots from the less to more locally efficient, "local" being in large part defined by what creatures happen to appear such that the whole arc and meander of evolution is non-deterministic. Spruyt wants to highlight this non-determinism by focusing on (1) how rising burghers embraced many different forms of sovereignty, none of which it was initially clear was more efficient than the others (2) how a large part of the efficiency advantages of the state were self-reinforcing ones, defined in part by being able to settle disputes and deal reliably with other states. Across Western Europe from the high middle ages onward, trade and urbanism were rising, and the emergent urban elites were dissatisfied by the particularism and disrespect for market rationality shown by traditional landholding elites (who, Spruyt is also keen to emphasize, organized themselves not only according to petty feudal Kleinstaaterei but also the universal pretensions of emperor and pope). In what would become France, these burghers took up their assigned historical role and responded by making an alliance with the crown to create a single territorial state that would reduce transaction costs - unifying coinage and measures, reducing tolls, promoting written law - and defend their liberty and property against incursions from the nobility. But in what would become northern Italy and the coasts of the northern sea, burghers made different choices - choices that one could arguably reflected even better their "true" preferences for political arrangements, since urbanization and trade value had progressed further here than in France. The French cities traded with each other, but this was low in volume and value-added; the German cities had big volume trading staples, the northern Italian ones big value-added trading luxuries. These differences, alongside the question of which alliances they could pull off (the Holy Roman Emperor was too keen ally with his local landowners against the towns, merchant-landowner distinctions were much weaker in the older Italian cities than in the newer German ones) resulted in different political projects. The northern merchants formed the Hanseatic League, which was able to wage war, make treaties, and raise considerable revenue, all despite being a loose confederation of trading cities that joined and left at will and were frequently formally subject to the jurisdiction of various petty princedoms and/or the Emperor. The Italian cities struck out independently, trying to monopolize for themselves the fruits of any given luxury trade, and using the same to finance war and that Renaissance we all love so much. The account of why the territorial (eventually national) state won out includes the self-reinforcing compatibility notion, but also includes several efficiency arguments that lean the book, however much against its wishes, towards a more deterministic (or culturally particularlistic, depending on how you interpret the evidence) account. The Hanseatic League's constant entrance and exit of actors made it difficult to commit to bargains as a coherent entity, and the fiercely guarded independence of the cities got in the way of both this and of doing all the transaction-cost lowering standardization that the French were getting out of their monarchy. The southern city-states were even worse - not only did each of the cities make war on each other, each city was constantly embroiled in war internally (whether in the class struggles between grandi and popolo that Machiavelli saw as the basis of Italian liberty, or just in stupid clientelistic factional struggles between arrogant families) and with their subjugated countrysides, who got nothing out of the bargain and showed no loyalty as a result. I like books that leave me feeling curious better than books that leave me feeling satisfied - I'm the sort of person that frequently feels a movie would have been better with the last scene removed - and so I am happy to have questions on finishing this book. How did all of this play out in what would become Switzerland? How about the fact that this period included a vigorous, growing universal empire in Europe under the Ottomans? What was up with things like crusader states? All in all, I'm not sure how to judge all of its arguments - though it's a short book on a large subject, so that's probably inevitable - but it provides some good questions to think with for IR scholars, anarchists and other weird radicals who want to rebuild sovereignty from scratch, and D&D worldbuilders alike.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Khaled Esilini

    عندما تقرأ كتاب هندريك سبروت "الدولة ذات السيادة ومنافسوها" والذي يتحدث عن كيف نشأت الدول القطرية القومية الحديثة لالمانيا وفرنسا وايطاليا من رحم النظام الاقطاعي والامبراطورية الرومانية المقدسة وسلطة الكنيسة البابوية تكتشف من بين السطور اربع حقائق تاريخية. الاولى .. ان صعود هذه الدول لم يحدث بسبب تصور نخبة الشعوب في اي مرحلة تاريخية لشكل الدولة التي من المفترض ان يصلوا اليه، بل جاء نتيجة لتجاذبات المصالح الذاتية الأنية لتلك النخب، بمعنى اخر كانت مصالح حاضر تلك النخب وليس تصور الدولة لما يجب ان يك عندما تقرأ كتاب هندريك سبروت "الدولة ذات السيادة ومنافسوها" والذي يتحدث عن كيف نشأت الدول القطرية القومية الحديثة لالمانيا وفرنسا وايطاليا من رحم النظام الاقطاعي والامبراطورية الرومانية المقدسة وسلطة الكنيسة البابوية تكتشف من بين السطور اربع حقائق تاريخية. الاولى .. ان صعود هذه الدول لم يحدث بسبب تصور نخبة الشعوب في اي مرحلة تاريخية لشكل الدولة التي من المفترض ان يصلوا اليه، بل جاء نتيجة لتجاذبات المصالح الذاتية الأنية لتلك النخب، بمعنى اخر كانت مصالح حاضر تلك النخب وليس تصور الدولة لما يجب ان يكون هو دافعهم لنمو مصالحهم وبالتالي نمو مؤسسات الدولة حتى اصبحت بالشكل الحالي. اي ان التطور السياسي والاقتصادي والاجتماعي التاريخي لهذه الدول تم بطريقة لا عقلانية تماما، فهو تطور من النظام الاقطاعي الى ثلاثة انظمة جديدة مختلفة لكن نظام واحد فقط نجح على المدى الطويل وساد لوجود مزايا فيه لم تكن ظاهرة الا بعد قرون ونتيجة لتغيرات بيئية وبيولوجية وجغرافية. الثانية .. ان الجدلية التاريخية التي انتجت اوروبا الحديثة وقدمت حقوق ايجابية لصالح المواطنين، لم تحدث بسبب وعي النخبة الحاكمة الاخلاقي لحقوق الانسان بل بسبب عملية تفاوضية صعبة ومؤلمة وتراكمية طويلة بين قوى مجتمعية محتاجة لبعضها البعض اقتصاديا وبشدة وهو ما يسمى بوحدة الاضداد، فرب العمل محتاج للعمال لكي ينتج ويراكم ثروته والعمال يحتاجوا بشدة للعمل لكي يعولوا عوائلهم. المعنى ان ما نتج من حقوق للمواطنين جاء كأعراض جانبية نتيجة التدافع بين القوى المجتمعية وليس كهدف غائي في حد ذاته. الثالثة .. ان ما يُعتقد انه مفيد للمجتمع لكي ينمو ويزدهر قد يكون في زمن تالي سببا لتفكك المجتمع وانهيار دولته، فأكتشاف اسبانيا لامريكا الجنوبية واستحواذها على كميات مهولة من الذهب والفضة ادى بها في مرحلة لاحقة الى ضمور التفكير العلمي وفشل التنوير الاوروبي فيها وجعل الكنيسة البابوية والملكية اكثر قوة واستبداد وقسوة مع حركات البحوث العلمية والتنوير، عكس ما حدث مع انجلترا وفرنسا. الرابعة .. شكل الدول والمؤسسات التي تمثلها لا يظهر نتيجة للتطور في الانظمة السياسية والاقتصادية والاجتماعية بل يأتي كناتج للقدرة على التكيف الافضل للواقع المحيط بها، وهذا الفرق من المهم فهمه واستيعابه لانه يفسر لماذا بعض الدول العربية في الربيع العربي انتكست من حداثة غربية ورثتها عن الاستعمار الاوروبي الى الاحتكام من جديد للدين والقبيلة في معالجة ازماتها في القرن الواحد والعشرين. الوعي الانساني بالواقع يأتي نتيجة تكرار الظواهر الطبيعية، ويمكن تعريف العقلنة بأنها ادراك التكرار لاي ظاهرة، وعندما ينجح الوعي الانسان في محاكاة تجربة بشرية ناجحة سابقة، فهو ينجح لوجود ذات المدخلات الواقعية او شبيهة بها الى حد كبير لتنتج ذات المخرجات او شبيهة بها. ما يحدث في العالم العربي من مخاض مؤلم للتخلص من الديكتاتوريات العسكرية لاجل نظام اكثر تعددية سياسية، هو جزء من حركة التاريخ، مع ضرورة ادراكنا ان موجبات التغيير السياسي والاقتصادي والاجتماعي اليوم في العالم العربي تختلف عن اسباب نهضة اوروبا لكن يمكن تعدادها وعقد المقارنات وهذا يحتاج الى مقال مستقل. بالطبع عندما نتحدث عن نظام اكثر تعددية في العالم العربي لا يعني هذا النسخة الديمقراطية الغربية الاخيرة وان كانت مرجع عقلي بشكل لا ارادي لما يجب ان يكون، وانما يعني ان هناك قوى اجتماعية جديدة ظهرت من خضم الثورات تحاول صناعة مجالها الحيوي الجديد وانشاء مصالح اقتصادية ذاتية مستقلة عن منظومة الحكم، فالانتقال من حكم ديكتاتوري الى اوليغارشية حاكمة يعتبر انجاز في المنطقة العربية. والانزلاق الى الحروب الاهلية جزء من محاولة القوى المجتمعية الجديدة اثبات وجودها وسعيها لتمزيق روابط ومصالح القوى المجتمعية القديمة والتي تحاول بدورها خنق ووأد القوى الجديدة بإعادة التمركز للاستحواذ على السلطة والثروة والسلاح. انصح بالمتخصصين في دراسات النظم السياسية قراءة الكتاب لانه سيساعد على تبني نهج اكثر واقعية وموضوعية لما يحدث في العالم العربي اليوم. *توضيح : النخب في المفهوم الاوروبي هم اصحاب رؤوس الاموال ورجال الاعمال، اما المثقفين والمفكرين فهم ادوات لهؤلاء

  3. 4 out of 5

    عمر أعراب

    يعالج هذا الكتاب الجذور التاريخية لظهور الدولة القطرية ذات السيادة المعروفة أيضا بالدولة القومية والدولة الوطنية الحديثة في أوروبا، والتي يؤرخ لها في العادة بسنة 1648 حيث صلح وستفاليا، إلا أن هذا التاريخ قد سبقه تنافس بين الأنظمة السياسية التي ورثت اضمحلال الفيودالية كنظام الدول المدن السائد في إيطاليا لقرون عديدة أو نظام إتحاد المدن المسمى بالهانزا أو العصبة المدينية والذي عرفته ألمانيا. أما عن نظام الدولة القطرية ذات السيادة فقد عرفته فرنسا والذي ظهر في الوقت الذي يتلاشى فيه النظام الإقطاعي الف يعالج هذا الكتاب الجذور التاريخية لظهور الدولة القطرية ذات السيادة المعروفة أيضا بالدولة القومية والدولة الوطنية الحديثة في أوروبا، والتي يؤرخ لها في العادة بسنة 1648 حيث صلح وستفاليا، إلا أن هذا التاريخ قد سبقه تنافس بين الأنظمة السياسية التي ورثت اضمحلال الفيودالية كنظام الدول المدن السائد في إيطاليا لقرون عديدة أو نظام إتحاد المدن المسمى بالهانزا أو العصبة المدينية والذي عرفته ألمانيا. أما عن نظام الدولة القطرية ذات السيادة فقد عرفته فرنسا والذي ظهر في الوقت الذي يتلاشى فيه النظام الإقطاعي الفيودالي ثم النزاع مع سلطة البابوية والكنيسة وكذالك مع بقايا الإرث الامبراطوري الروماني، وقد استطاع نظام الدولة القطرية ذات السيادة التغلب على جميع منافسيها ، ليشمل بعد ذلك أوروبا وليصبح في التالي المنطق السياسي المعروف في النظام الدولي الحالي، لكن تبقى هناك أسئلة مطروحة حول إمكانية بقاء نظام الدولة السيادية في المستقبل في ظل التغيرات السريعة التي تجتاح العالم حيث العولمة الثقافية والاقتصادية.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Ben Marchman

    Certainly not a page turner that will keep you on the edge of your seat, but important nonetheless for understanding the rise of sovereign states as we understand them today. Effectively challenges our long held views about the importance of the Treaty of Westphalia and what that means for our understanding of states.

  5. 4 out of 5

    John Hess

    An essential account of the origins of the modern state. Not sure that I agree with Spruyt regarding his chronology of the transition from feudalism to... not feudalism?... but a very interesting and important book.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Colin

    This is a more nuanced take on Charles Tilly’s arguments about how the demands of large-scale war-making produced large state bureaucracies and the modern nation-state. The author begins by making an analogy to the evolutionary process, arguing that the events that led to the rise of nation state as the dominant form of political organization have to be separated into the exogenous shocks that first produced the nation state, and the subsequent selection stage that eliminated the nation-state’s This is a more nuanced take on Charles Tilly’s arguments about how the demands of large-scale war-making produced large state bureaucracies and the modern nation-state. The author begins by making an analogy to the evolutionary process, arguing that the events that led to the rise of nation state as the dominant form of political organization have to be separated into the exogenous shocks that first produced the nation state, and the subsequent selection stage that eliminated the nation-state’s rivals. A rise in international trade around the 10th century created new concentrations of capital, new towns, and in doing so new political interest coalitions that disrupted the existing feudal / medieval balances of power between empire, church, and nobility. But the author makes the case that the sovereign, territorial, centralized nation-state (epitomized by France) was not the only response to the emergence of the bourgeoisie, loosely confederated city-leagues in northern Germany, and city-states in southern Italy, were also the product of different political coalitions. Many sovereign states were initially weaker than their constituent duchies and other noble factions, and many Italian city-states posses revenues and resources far in excess of larger territorial states; in this sense the victory of the sovereign state in a Darwinian struggle with its peers was not foreordained. But ultimately, the author concludes that the centralizing sovereign state was more efficient than its competitors: at regulating its territory, generating revenue, reducing transaction costs, instituting common standards, centralizing adjudication, and eliminating free riders (allowing for more credible commitments to other “international” actors). In this telling, success in war-making was an indicator of sovereign states’ comparative efficencies, and not the sole means of selection. The territorial states also empowered each other, since unlike empires or the city-leagues they did not make universalistic claims and were able to accept a boundary on their authority, allowing for them to regard other actors as legitimate peers. This was theory-heavy, but provided some interesting insights into the medieval / feudal era — whose personalistic overlapping jurisdictions echo contemporary Afghanistan in many ways — and ultimately offers a more institutionally-grounded argument than Tilly’s big-picture history of state formation.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Dylan Groves

    crown and town, baby

  8. 4 out of 5

    Paul

    A surprisingly engaging and interesting book given that it's mostly talking about late mediaeval trade, which isn't exactly a subject I'd usually read about. Well argued and in-depth analysis of the factors that can lead to systems change, and analysis of three resulting outputs, and the competition between them that led eventually to the modern sovereign state. Some analysis at the end applying this to modern systems, which personally I'd have liked more of, but apart from that it was overall e A surprisingly engaging and interesting book given that it's mostly talking about late mediaeval trade, which isn't exactly a subject I'd usually read about. Well argued and in-depth analysis of the factors that can lead to systems change, and analysis of three resulting outputs, and the competition between them that led eventually to the modern sovereign state. Some analysis at the end applying this to modern systems, which personally I'd have liked more of, but apart from that it was overall excellent.

  9. 4 out of 5

    SpaceBear

    Spruyt takes a view of the development of the modern state which descends from the 9th century or so, as a kind of response to increased trade with the east. His materialist view asserts that the modern state rose as a result of the increased wealth of burghers in towns. Uses France, Hanseatic League and Italian city states as examples.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Paul

  11. 5 out of 5

    Cory Dupont

  12. 4 out of 5

    Yousf alshammari

  13. 4 out of 5

    Dave Blair

  14. 5 out of 5

    Raf

  15. 5 out of 5

    Mike Edwards

  16. 4 out of 5

    Evan Baas

  17. 5 out of 5

    Nick Hawkins

  18. 5 out of 5

    Brandon

  19. 5 out of 5

    Eduardo Paez

  20. 5 out of 5

    Camila Schiffl

  21. 4 out of 5

    Trent Whisenant

  22. 5 out of 5

    Richard

  23. 5 out of 5

    Subhajit Das

  24. 5 out of 5

    Kogut

  25. 5 out of 5

    Apoorva

  26. 5 out of 5

    Jeremy

  27. 4 out of 5

    Michelle J. Dingler

  28. 5 out of 5

    Julienc

  29. 4 out of 5

    Tanja

  30. 4 out of 5

    Garrett Hinck

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