Book Reviews

Book Reviews 182 Book Reviews / Medieval Encounters 13 (2007) 174-183 Joseph R. Strayer. On the Medieval Origins of the Modern State . Prince- ton Classic Edition, with new forewords by Charles Tilly and William Chester Jordan. Princeton NJ: Princeton University Press, 2005. Pp. xxviii, 114. Th is is a reissue of noted historian Joseph Strayer’s 1970 synthesis on the birth of the medieval state, developed over a career of research and per- fected through years of lecturing before a graduate seminar at Princeton’s Woodrow Wilson School of Public Affairs in the 1960’s. Inspired by this diverse audience of students in fields in history and foreign public service, Strayer presents the medieval history of the state as having practical value for those studying (and building) modern states. Strayer focuses on France and England, claiming that they would stand as models for all other states in the modern period, and provides only a cursory discussion of Rome and China as potential counter-examples before dismissing them. Strayer first briefly describes what characteristics define a proper state, and then illus- trates how basic institutions of justice and finance enjoying society’s basic loyalty had been created by 1300 in France and England, thanks to the innovation of elite decision-makers. Th ese institutions survived in spite of various crises in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries, and the state- building process was completed around 1500 with the development of specialized diplomatic corps which replaced the self-interested aristocratic royal councils of late medieval kings. Th is simplistic schema has been con- tradicted by more updated scholarship focusing on the ways that late medieval crises fostered rather than hindered centralized institutions, and Strayer’s top-down model has been superseded by studies that have emphasized a wider political cultural approach. Furthermore, driving Strayer’s logic is the questionable assumption that centralized states of the modern type are both good and the necessary end-point of any rational political decision-making: only the state allows people to “realize their full potentialities (4).” Th e forewords of Tilly and Jordan acknowledge but excuse Strayer’s teleological, pro-centralization bias, applauding the book’s lucidity and practicality. Th e book does have those merits, but it has become seriously outdated and is particularly inadequate for comparative discussion, since it presents a flawed account that assumes only one possi- ble rational outcome of political development. Michael Sizer University of Minnesota © Koninklijke Brill NV, Leiden, 2007 DOI: 10.1163/157006707X174096 ME 13,1_f11-f14_174-183.indd 182 ME 13,1_f11-f14_174-183.indd 182 3/29/07 4:54:33 PM 3/29/07 4:54:33 PM http://www.deepdyve.com/assets/images/DeepDyve-Logo-lg.png Medieval Encounters Brill

Book Reviews

Medieval Encounters, Volume 13 (1): 182 – Jan 1, 2007
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Publisher
Brill
Copyright
© 2007 Koninklijke Brill NV, Leiden, The Netherlands
ISSN
1380-7854
eISSN
1570-0674
D.O.I.
10.1163/157006707X174096
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Abstract

182 Book Reviews / Medieval Encounters 13 (2007) 174-183 Joseph R. Strayer. On the Medieval Origins of the Modern State . Prince- ton Classic Edition, with new forewords by Charles Tilly and William Chester Jordan. Princeton NJ: Princeton University Press, 2005. Pp. xxviii, 114. Th is is a reissue of noted historian Joseph Strayer’s 1970 synthesis on the birth of the medieval state, developed over a career of research and per- fected through years of lecturing before a graduate seminar at Princeton’s Woodrow Wilson School of Public Affairs in the 1960’s. Inspired by this diverse audience of students in fields in history and foreign public service, Strayer presents the medieval history of the state as having practical value for those studying (and building) modern states. Strayer focuses on France and England, claiming that they would stand as models for all other states in the modern period, and provides only a cursory discussion of Rome and China as potential counter-examples before dismissing them. Strayer first briefly describes what characteristics define a proper state, and then illus- trates how basic institutions of justice and finance enjoying society’s basic loyalty had been created by 1300 in France and England, thanks to the innovation of elite decision-makers. Th ese institutions survived in spite of various crises in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries, and the state- building process was completed around 1500 with the development of specialized diplomatic corps which replaced the self-interested aristocratic royal councils of late medieval kings. Th is simplistic schema has been con- tradicted by more updated scholarship focusing on the ways that late medieval crises fostered rather than hindered centralized institutions, and Strayer’s top-down model has been superseded by studies that have emphasized a wider political cultural approach. Furthermore, driving Strayer’s logic is the questionable assumption that centralized states of the modern type are both good and the necessary end-point of any rational political decision-making: only the state allows people to “realize their full potentialities (4).” Th e forewords of Tilly and Jordan acknowledge but excuse Strayer’s teleological, pro-centralization bias, applauding the book’s lucidity and practicality. Th e book does have those merits, but it has become seriously outdated and is particularly inadequate for comparative discussion, since it presents a flawed account that assumes only one possi- ble rational outcome of political development. Michael Sizer University of Minnesota © Koninklijke Brill NV, Leiden, 2007 DOI: 10.1163/157006707X174096 ME 13,1_f11-f14_174-183.indd 182 ME 13,1_f11-f14_174-183.indd 182 3/29/07 4:54:33 PM 3/29/07 4:54:33 PM

Journal

Medieval EncountersBrill

Published: Jan 1, 2007

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