The birth of the modern state



The gestation of State sovereignty was a secular process, with a long and violent climax between the mid-XNUMXth century and the second half of the XNUMXth century.

In the Low Middle Ages, the expansion of commercial activity, capital accumulation, the crisis of traditional society and the emergence of new social and political realities were intertwined in a unique process, in which each of the factors mentioned was fed and acted upon the other. The Crusades, the war of Reconquista in the Iberian Peninsula and the German advance towards Eastern Europe, were among the processes that boosted long-distance European trade, a fundamental factor in the economic collapse of the feudal structure and the collapse of the last imperial remains, and also for the emergence of new economic and political realities in western and central Europe:

“The emergence of new communities qualifying as national began to occur in Europe, at the end of the Middle Ages, thanks to a singular convergence of several historical factors, simultaneously unfavorable to the maintenance of ethnic cohesion and the predominance of a globalizing religious entity. In fact, medieval Europe was the only part of the world where, for a long time, the dispersion of political power among a multitude of principalities and lordships that we call feudalism had completely prevailed. In the same period, the empires and kingdoms of China, India, Persia, and vast regions of Africa, remained as States, if not strongly centralized, at least sufficiently united so as not to be classified as feudal”.[I]

The rupture of “Christian unity”, typical of Europe in the feudal era, and the emergence of new state and societal realities were complementary and parallel processes, with long-term consequences.

The religious wars conveyed a new state reality, which was emancipated from institutionalized religion. The decline of Christianity's temporal power was parallel in the West and East, and had not only religious but also, and above all, material (or “economic”) foundations. What remained of the Eastern Roman Empire was wiped off the economic and political map in the Low Middle Ages, until it collapsed in 1453. The maritime decline of Byzantium was already visible in the XNUMXth century, but it was not mainly the Arab-Islamic people who took advantage of it. , as the “maritime cities” of Italy, especially Genoa and Venice, began to systematically exploit, through a daring commercial offensive, the Byzantine Empire, or what was left of it, replacing the imperial State in obtaining benefits from the port of Constantinople and the Greek ports. John V, Byzantine emperor, was forced, due to the financial bankruptcy of his empire, to pawn the Crown jewels.

O Basileus While traveling, he was arrested in Venice for unpaid debts, a supreme humiliation for the holder of an imperial throne. John V Palaiologos even offered to end the schism between the Catholic and Orthodox Churches if the Western kings would help him in the fight against the Ottomans. In 1423, the Byzantine Empire sold Thessalonica, its second city, to the Venetians, for 50 thousand ducats.[ii] It was the miserable prelude to the collapse of his empire.

When, in May 1453, the Ottomans commanded by Mehmet II, the Conqueror, took control of the Byzantine imperial capital, ending a 53-day military siege, they reaped already rotten fruit: “Constantine XI, eighty-sixth emperor of the Greeks, died fighting in the narrow streets beneath the western walls. After more than eleven hundred years, there was not a single Christian emperor left in the East.”[iii] The sultan transferred the capital of the Ottoman state from Edirne to Constantinople and established his court there. The capture of the city (and two other Byzantine territories) marked the end of what formally remained of the Eastern Roman Empire.

The conquest of Constantinople also dealt a severe blow to the defense of Christian continental Europe; the Ottoman armies were left with no immediate obstacle to advancing across the European continent. The orthodox Christian faith was confined to Russia, which began to consider itself as “the Third Rome” and as the seat, therefore, of a new universal Christian empire. But tsarist Russia “only reached maturity on the day it blocked the Russian isthmus, when Ivan the Terrible (1530-1584) managed to seize Kazan (1551) and then Astrakhan (1556), coming to control the huge Volga, from its sources to the Caspian. This double success was obtained by the use of cannons and frameworks… The entire south of Russian space was occupied by the Mongols, or Tatars”.

“Muscovy” increasingly turned to Europe, with an internal system of oppression at the service of its despotic centralization: it was an “ideologue” of Ivan the Terrible, Ivan Peresvetov, who developed a first political theory of state terror. Russian social and political development became marked by violence and revolt: “In depth, but also unfolding on the surface, the Revolution walked through the entire history of Russian modernity, starting from the XNUMXth century”.[iv] From then on, the modern history of the giant Eurasian country developed between excessive external imperial ambitions and systematic internal social conflicts.

While Byzantium collapsed and imperial Russia was still in its infancy, in Western Europe, with its commercial, productive and demographic recovery, the idea of ​​Nation resurfaced, defining a horizon capable of supporting a new formulation of the State (an instrument of that),[v] opaqued, although not completely eliminated, by imperial dissolution in the feudal era: “The nation was in Western Europe, from the XNUMXth and XNUMXth centuries, the political organization of society that progressively and subsequently allowed the reappearance of the state form of power. Until then, the State had materialized in the Roman Empire, carrying for approximately a millennium – from its fall in the XNUMXth century until the emergence of European nations – the perpetual nostalgia and evocation of a new Empire. This implicit quest for the State only found its fulfillment in the XNUMXth and XNUMXth centuries in France, Great Britain and Spain; other European nations had to wait until the XNUMXth and XNUMXth centuries for state recognition of their national identity”.[vi]

The absolutist State foreshadowed these transformations; it arose when there was “a sudden and simultaneous restoration of political authority and unity in one country after another. From the abyss of acute medieval chaos and turbulence of the Wars of the Two Roses, the Hundred Years' War and the second civil war of Castile, the first 'new' monarchies rose at practically the same time, during the reigns of Louis XI in France. , Ferdinand and Isabella, in Spain, Henry VII, in England, and Maximilian, in Austria”.

The word “restoration” is ambiguous: in the West the new state was a “relocated political apparatus of a feudal class that had accepted the commutation of obligations”, while in the East it was “the repressive machine of a feudal class that had just extinguished the traditional communal freedoms of the poor” (Machiavelli defined the Ottoman state as “the antithesis of the European monarchy”). The “monarchical restoration” masked a rupture: “In the course of the XNUMXth century, the centralized monarchies of France, England and Spain represented a decisive break with the pyramidal and parceled sovereignty of medieval social formations, with their systems of property and vassalage”.

Thus, if in Western Europe monarchical absolutism was “compensation for the disappearance of serfdom”, in the East it was an “instrument for the consolidation of serfdom”.[vii] In Western Europe the communes of the late Middle Ages had produced citizenship aspirations that gave early expression to concepts of civic freedom; the Protestant Reformation proposed a religious version of this promise with its notion of individual conscience. The emergence of national sentiment, which demanded the participation of “civil society” in the sovereignty of the State, was a substantive part of the structure of the new reality that began to be called “modern”. The term “civil society”, however, as Marx observed, only emerged in the XNUMXth century, “when property relations became disconnected from the ancient and medieval community… civil society as such only developed with the bourgeoisie”. His strength, however, preceded his name.

The modern nation, however, would not exist without the State, which took up a previous idea adapting it to a new reality: “The increasing scale of war and the intertwining of the European state system through commercial, military and diplomatic interaction ended up give the advantage of waging war to those States that could raise standing armies; States with access to a combination of large rural populations, capitalists, and relatively commercialized economies won. They set the terms of war and their state form became the predominant one in Europe. Eventually, European states converged on this form: the National State.”[viii]

The gestation of State sovereignty was a secular process, with a long and violent climax between the mid-XNUMXth century and the second half of the XNUMXth century. Ideologically, it was advanced by Marsílio de Pádua,[ix] with your Pacis Defender, published in 1324 and banned by the Inquisition three years later. In the text, the Italian sought to demonstrate that “one of the conditions of peace was the limitation of the pope's claims. The thesis, however, was not simply stated. Marsílio carefully circumscribed the field of political reflection. The ties between nature and God are a matter of faith, they cannot be demonstrated; the science of politics must limit itself to caring for objects accessible to reason and experience. Now, the State can be understood in purely lay terms, as an entity with its own purpose, linked to the natural needs of man. It is a product of human action and results from the combination of the will of citizens, who can give their opinion directly or through representatives”.[X]

Both peace, desired and theorized successively (even obsessively) by authors such as Padua, Dante Alighieri, Thomas Hobbes and Immanuel Kant, and the acquiescence of the State (necessarily sovereign), were organic components of the emergence of a new society, or, in words of Fernand Braudel: “There are conditions of a social nature for the manifestation and triumph of capitalism. Capitalism demands that there be a certain tranquility in the social order, as well as a certain neutrality, or weakness, or complacency on the part of the State.”[xi]

The absolutist monarchical state (“the absolute monarchy of the XNUMXth and XNUMXth centuries, which maintained the balance between the nobility and the bourgeois class”, in Engels’ words) acted as a dynamic component in the gestation of a new social order, with “complacency ” growing in relation to its new actors and leaders, but with no complacency in relation to those who should be placed on a secondary plane, or subjected, by it; hence the violence used against the autonomy of free cities. Capitalist development would enter its modern phase – conducive to the development of the industrial bourgeoisie – when national unity was achieved under the iron leadership of the absolute monarchy, the various elements of society mixed and united until allowing cities to replace local sovereignty and independence. of the Middle Ages by the general government of the bourgeoisie. In the words of EF Hecksher, “national states replaced in almost all [European] territories the unity represented by the medieval Church and by the second, less strong heir of the Roman State: the universal monarchy embodied in the Empire”.

For most authors, the basis of this political process was economic, linked to the structural crisis of the feudal mode of production: “In the XNUMXth and XNUMXth centuries, the French monarchy increased its power through conquests and alliances. But what notably contributed to the advance towards a new form of monarchical centralization was, especially in the last part of the XNUMXth century, the decline in seigneurial income, a consequence of aristocratic disorganization and peasant conquests, initiating a long-lasting process by which Numerous members of the landlord class ended up gravitating towards the royal administration, opening the way for the construction of a fiscal and bureaucratic State, concomitantly with the reinforcement of peasant property... Feudal class and property relations determined a long-term trend towards a decline in productivity , which constituted the structural limit in the overall development of the feudal economy”.[xii]

Political centralization would have been a consequence of economic stagnation, resulting in the creation of greater political units and, also, the emergence of a different conception and reality of the State in Europe. This is what Antony Black maintains: “The most important distinction made between 1250 and 1450 was between secular power and the religious authority of the Church. From the beginning of the fourteenth century, an increasingly wide circle of ruling and enlightened elites expressed an awareness of secular power as separate in origin, purpose, scope and legitimation, from the Church; including in the case of those who still maintained that spiritual authority was in some ultimate sense superior. People talked about vita civilis (policy), civil societies, potestas civilis e Humanitas. Comparing European civilization with others, this period appears to be decisive; the separation between Church and secular power could appear as the decisive issue in the development of the idea of ​​State. It was here where Europe differentiated itself from its Christian cousins ​​in the East, the Islamic world and other civilizations... Christianity rejected the idea of ​​ritual religious law that governed human conduct and social relations, while at the same time making these the object of a moral concern... The power of the secular State found its expression in practice, and in ideology, as a norm within States and between some States and others. The weakening of the papacy and the Empire coincided with the strengthening of the power of kings over lords, bishops and cities. In the rise of monarchical theory from 1420 onwards, part of the initiative came from the religious concerns of the papacy. Sovereignty, through the papal model, was offered to all kings. Power over a large territorial population was considered concentrated in a single position and person.”[xiii]

The author focused on the political and ideological aspect of the process, noting that “[Christian] internationalism was losing strength, and belonging to a local or national unit was increasingly important”. He only tangentially touched the economic/social basis of this trend that had a differentiated continental reach. Victor Deodato da Silva paid attention to the diversity of European institutional evolution at the end of the European Middle Ages: “On the continent it was up to the monarchy to carry out what in England was undertaken by the privileged orders with the support of the 'commons', or their most active sectors, through of constitutional movements, consolidated by the numerous statutes promulgated in the reign of Edward I (1272-1307)”,[xiv] which caused an early distinction between the Crown and the person of the king. England thus anticipated a process that would spread throughout Europe in successive centuries, when “the concept of State was being articulated and refined, until it assumed a modern connotation, defining itself as a form of public power, separate from the ruler and the governed, constituting the supreme political authority within a defined territory. Certain prerequisites were necessary for the concept to achieve this modern meaning: when politics began to be valued as an autonomous field of knowledge; when the claim and legal basis for the political autonomy of the kingdom or of civitates against the Empire and the papacy; when the absolute sovereignty of the holder of political power was recognized and when the purpose of political power was freed from the ultimate ends of salvation. In this sense, at the end of the XNUMXth century, the theory of the modern State was yet to be elaborated, but it already had the necessary foundations to be developed”.[xv] Let's see the evolution of these foundations from its initial case, England.

George M. Trevelyan located the conquest of England (in 1066) by the Normans (a people of Norse origin who occupied the Northwest of France since the XNUMXth century), who defeated the Anglo-Saxon inhabitants, the linking of the British islands, linked to the Scandinavian kingdoms from the end of the Roman Empire, to the history of Europe. English liberal ideology postulated that the British monarchy already had a contractual origin (not based on hereditary precepts) expressed in the Vitan, Royal Council, existing before the Norman invasion (and well before any similar institution in continental Europe). In the period before the Norman Conquest, England was divided into 60.215 “gentleman's manors”; an English chronicler shortly after the conquest mocked those who missed the “Anglo-Saxon days”, when the country was “divided into cantons” and was “ruled by princelings”. With the Norman monarchy, there was the creation of the Common Law, “which was a characteristic development of England; Parliament, together with the Common Law It definitely gave us a political life of our own in sharp contrast to the later developments of Latin civilization.”[xvi] The English monarchy established its proto-national character at the same time that it began to recognize popular rights and still incipient forms of political representation, as the only means of imposing itself on the particularisms on which the old barons relied.

In the 1139th century, the Normans, in order to religiously legitimize their conquest of the British Isles, linked themselves to the reform movement of the Roman Church driven by the papacy, in the context of the Gregorian reform, through which the Vatican sought to assert its primacy over any competitor, in a European context marked by the fight against heretics and religious minorities (Jews and Muslims). Between 1153 and 1154, the English civil war known as “anarchy”, provoked by the succession of Henry I, led to a collapse of the social order and a decline in royal income. Henry II, his successor, who came to the throne in XNUMX, strove to regain the power regained by the barons, establishing legal courts in the different regions of the country, with the power to adopt legal decisions on civil matters.

O General Eyre allowed judges with plenipotentiary powers to travel throughout the country. The English king also became involved in conflicts with the Church, expanding royal jurisdiction to the clergy. As a result of these events, English royal power became more solid and centralized; O Tractatus de Legibus et Consuetudinibus Regni Angliae, from 1188, codified the new legal system and gave legal bases to the Common Law.[xvii] It was a first step towards a “Rule of Law”.

Across the English Channel, at the end of the XNUMXth century, in some French cities, revolutionary sectors took control of public buildings protesting against taxes, extortion and restrictions on their freedom to work and trade. Despite its initial failure, the action gave rise to a wave of rumors and terror about new movements of this type: the revolutionaries were, according to the Pope, “the so-called bourgeois” or, in the words of the Archbishop of Chateauneuf, potentiore burgenses, the powerful of the burghs. Three decades after the proclamation of the first English legal systems, Magna Carta (Great Charter), in 1215, established the necessity for any punishment of “due process of law,” incorporated into English political constitutions. Pressure from the nobility, through the Royal Council, forced King John to sign the Magna Carta, limiting the power of the monarchs.

The “Letter” had antecedents: in 1188, the year of Tractatus, Henry II had fixed a tax (the Saladin Tithe) controlled by a jury composed of representatives of those taxed: the connection between taxes and political representation was born.[xviii] Thus, it was not difficult to see that “the fundamental political characteristic, that England was not an absolutist State, that the Crown was responsible to Parliament and was subject to the law, was established before Magna Carta in 1215. This remained subsequently, despite attempts in the XNUMXth and XNUMXth centuries to introduce absolutism.

Other characteristics were also very old, the lack of a centralized bureaucracy, a professional army and an armed police, the tradition of an unpaid local administration and justice, and the custom of the local community organizing its own administrative function. police".[xx] Magna Carta was signed by King John, said Landless, fifth son of the Plantagenet dynasty, successor to the dynasty inaugurated by William the Conqueror, who reigned in England between 1154 and 1399. It determined that the king could not, except in very special cases, institute taxes without the consent of his subjects.

The Charter attempted to resolve the conflict between the royal house and Parliament, representing the Anglo-Saxon barons facing “foreign” lords. To resolve the impasse, the Charter recognized the rights and freedoms of the Church, nobles and subjects, configuring a first attempt at a “constitution” based on rights and duties. In 1254, Henry III, on the occasion of a financial crisis in the monarchy, extended parliamentary representation to representatives of the counties, the counties (“each sheriff was required to send two knights from his county to consider what aid they would give the king in his great necessity”). And, in 1265, Simon de Montfort managed to get Parliament to approve that parliamentary representatives from cities and villages were also accepted (boroughs). The prerogative disputes between the crown and Parliament, added to the strengthening of gentleman, were consolidating the common law as a legal basis against the absolutist pretensions of the monarchy and the powers of the nobility.

To complete the singular and unique English case, in the following century England went from being a country successively occupied (by the Scandinavians and French) to being an invader, with the “Hundred Years' War” against France, started in 1337 by King Edward III. . The centralization of human and military resources meant that the English nobility emerged very weak from this war and, also, from the “War of the Two Roses” between two houses competing for the throne. Thanks to them, at the end of the XNUMXth century the English throne had already managed to dissolve the feudal troops and destroy the fortress castles of the barons, who had to submit to the king.

In the case of France, the “Estates General” dated back to its first convocation in 422, by the legendary Pharamond (370-431),[xx] first king of the Franks, but, as a royal political body, “serious things began in 1302, with Philip the Fair, when the king of France began a 'foreign policy'. His predecessors had fought the lords of the kingdom to expand their dominion. Philip had to assert himself before the pope and the emperor [the Holy Empire], two powers with universal claims.”[xxx] These assemblies would have been the distant antecedents of territorial collectivities and “participatory democracy”.

The new European political forms provided a solution to the decline of archaic forms of domination, characterized by the territorial principalities of feudalism and typical of an economy based on local and occasional exchanges, opposing institutions resting on broader territorial and economic bases, the Territorial states, giving rise to the idea and practice of state sovereignty. In the political and social units of Antiquity, and even less so in the great Eastern empires, the idea of ​​national sovereignty did not exist; nothing was more alien to the feudal aristocracy than the idea of ​​nationality. Any idea of ​​citizenship was still absent.

The centralization of violence and political power in a State with a wide territorial scope, and a range of military/political action beyond its borders, conditioned subsequent developments, especially the birth of centralized public finances. The Hundred Years' War gave rise to an institutional transition of structural scope, “the effort of sovereigns to control and regulate military forces, one of the forms assumed by the monarchical power of the late Middle Ages (and) the emergence of a military society, the transformation of military status in a status, with a specialized function in society... The military function that was common to all free men in the Middle Ages now escapes to the field of specialty. Society is demilitarizing, advocating modern societies that hand over the care of war to a group of specialists, coming from different social strata.”[xxiii]

In parallel, the importance of public finances was increased by the costs of new wars (in France and England, in particular, by the Hundred Years' War): “The origin of new taxes lies in war, in a regime of competition between States, which They intend to mobilize internal resources, especially men, but they also need costly external alliances. Currency devaluations were just an expedient, as it was difficult for a king to pay his debts in weak currency and then demand payment of fees in strong currency. It was necessary to find new forms of imposition, increase the number of taxpayers and obtain their consensus. Taxes were created on trade and the circulation of goods, and a tax on income, preferred over a tax on capital (practiced for some time).

Within the royal domain, where no lord or prince stood between the king and his subjects, the establishment of taxes was carried out more easily. Outside this domain, there were no taxes, or they were divided between the king and the local lord, who could receive a compensatory pension due to his subjects being taxed.”[xxiii]

The monarchical State multiplied its functions and advanced over local and seigneurial powers. Marx noted the scope of these processes: “The power of the centralized State, with its multiple organs, such as the standing army, the police, the bureaucracy, the clergy and the judiciary, organs forged according to the plan of a hierarchical and systematic division of labor, has its origins in the times of absolute monarchy, serving the emerging middle class society, as a powerful weapon in its struggles against feudalism”.[xxv]

The “complacency” of the State, to use Braudel’s expression, was essential for the emergence of a new social order, with a new class structure. The other element was an emerging class, the bourgeoisie, endowed with new values, capable of being placed as the axis of social reproduction, and capable of imposing them on society as a whole. These values ​​were synthesized in the idea of ​​“individualism”, with all its political consequences.

Alan Macfarlane proposed that the English peculiarity consisted in having matured this system of values ​​during the Old Regime, due to specific characteristics (“the most and least feudal of societies”) of its formation as a national society: “England distinguished itself of other nations for not having sanctioned private fiefdoms after the Norman conquest of 1066, thus avoiding the disintegrating anarchy typical of France”.

Eric Hobsbawm has pointed out that “British feudalism (the 'Norman yoke') was the conquest of a Norman nobility over an established and structured Anglo-Saxon political community, which would allow popular, structured and somewhat institutionalized resistance, an appeal to previous Anglo-Saxon freedoms; the French equivalent was the conquest, by Frankish nobles, of a disintegrated population of irreconcilable but powerless local Gauls.”[xxiv] English vassalage did not include the obligation to fight for their suzerain, which favored the centralization and power of the monarchy.

In this way, a favorable environment was created for a transition that would overcome feudalism and pave the way for a new society, based on bourgeois property: “There is no isolated factor to explain the emergence of capitalism… In addition to geographic, technological and economic factors, Christianity, a specific economic and political system is also necessary. The need for such a system was met by 'feudalism'. However, the variant of feudalism that allowed the 'miracle' to occur was of a very unusual type, containing already implicit the separation between economic and political power, as well as between market and government... a solid and centralized system, providing security and uniformity necessary for the exercise of industry and commerce... Peace was guaranteed by the control of fiefs, taxes were moderate and justice was uniformly and firmly administered from the XNUMXth to the XNUMXth century”.[xxv]

The idea of ​​a “main cradle” of capitalism (and its political/state forms) should not be confused with the idea of ​​a “single cradle”, as these characteristics existed, to a greater or lesser degree, in other European countries.

With the formation of absolutist states, the ascendant bourgeoisie was faced with a bureaucratic-military state apparatus rooted in a broad fiscal framework different from that based on feudal income, a system where “individualistic relations of authority replace traditional ones between masters and servants . Encouraged by the economic opportunities and egalitarian ideas of an incipient industrial society, employers explicitly rejected the paternalistic world view.”[xxviii]

The change to a new political system, however, was carried out through the decisive intervention of the State. Wars required centralization of resources through absolutist states. Were these, therefore, the product of random (warlike) circumstances? Are there other possibilities for the transition towards modern society? This is what researchers who approached early medieval contractual forms maintained, such as the negotiation of pacts between commoners and aristocrats, the initial political organization in cities (including their first representative assemblies), which would have constituted a first experience of constitutional order, including political contracts Iberians in the kingdoms of Aragon and Castile, paradigmatic examples of “medieval contractualism” (long before the modern contractualist philosophies of Thomas Hobbes, John Locke and even more so Jean-Jacques Rousseau).

For these authors, there even existed a “political virtuality” of a republican order, discernible in “a certain political balance of powers in Europe in the years 1460-1480”. Compared to this “virtuality”, monarchical absolutism would constitute a political regression, not a necessary and inevitable step.[xxviii] History followed other paths, undoubtedly the most likely, but not necessarily inevitable.

It was in the midst of warlike conflicts of European scope, which required concentration and centralization of human, economic and military resources, that steps towards a sovereign State were taken in England, France (with the Capetian dynasty) and the Iberian kingdoms, between the XNUMXth and XNUMXth centuries. In the beginning, France was still a unified territory with several “French countries”, with some common traditions, where, however, a national consciousness and political unity were absent: it was the monarch who represented the unity of the territory.

The justifications were mystical: the king's spiritual body and real body symbolized the unity and continuity of France (after his death, fragments of this body were preserved as relics).[xxix] The formation of new and larger territorial units served the interests of the emerging “middle class”. Commerce had an advantage with a larger unified market, with common laws, currency, weights and measures established by the State, with security coming from the king, who gradually acquired a monopoly on the use of all violence, thus preventing citizens from being the object of violence. arbitrariness of local lords.

The expansion of capital within these territorial borders, however, would not have been enough to consolidate a new mode of production; he needed a broader economic picture. The Roman tradition of state ownership (in the Empire, mines and minerals belonged to the State by right of conquest) laid down new roots in Europe through monarchical decrees: from Emperor Federico I, of the Holy Roman Germanic Empire, in the XNUMXth century; in England, by Kings Richard I and John, in the transition from the XNUMXth to the XNUMXth century.

From the XNUMXth century to the XNUMXth century, these countries were followed by the Netherlands and Poland, in addition to the rise of Prussia in the Germanic context, in countries marked by the concentration of power in monarchies and the strengthening of the State, by the decline of the feudal nobility (for Engels, “it was the period in which the feudal nobility was made to understand that the period of its political and social domination had come to an end”), by the concomitant decline of the privileges of the cities – state and the papacy, as well as of the Holy Roman Empire- Germanic. Despite the grafts of political representation, these were not yet modern States and even less democratic States, but absolutist States.[xxx]

They had two “modern” characteristics: sovereignty (which guaranteed their independence in relation to the dynasties and their superiority and independent continuity from them) and a kind of constitution (or “charter”), which regulated the rules for access to power (and , to a lesser extent, the conditions of its exercise):[xxxii] “The acceptance of state sovereignty has the effect of devaluing the most charismatic elements of political leadership that had previously been of fundamental importance to the theory and practice of government throughout Western Europe.

Among the assumptions that were displaced, the most important was the claim that sovereignty was conceptually connected with its display, that majesty served in itself as an ordering force... It was impossible for the beliefs of charisma associated with public authority to survive after the transfer of this authority for the impersonal institution – Rousseau's 'purely moral person' – of the modern state.”[xxxi] Archaic forms of domination were an obstacle to economic advancement, the expansion of trade and the accumulation of capital. Insecurity in the face of the voracity of the masters was a reason to hide wealth, to spend and accumulate less.

Due to this, the social rise of the bourgeoisie made use of the absolutist State, defined based on the “transformations that had been occurring since the XNUMXth and XNUMXth centuries… It was no longer the [feudal] lord who defined the norms that regulated the relations of society . This role came to be played by royalty. The economic force was no longer the fief, but the city, commerce. The great fairs of the XNUMXth century were being replaced by large commercial centers, further increasing the power of the communes and, consequently, of royalty. It is in the changes that made the spirit of locality disappear, that we must seek the origins of the centralization of power in the XNUMXth century, which saw the birth of a new society, modern society, of the social form where there existed, as a dominant tendency, no other force other than that of the government and that of the people. The XNUMXth century was an important milestone in the process of development of the two forces (the commune and royalty) that were born from the conditions created by feudalism and that fought for centuries to impose themselves as dominant”.[xxxii]

The great political ruptures that gave rise to the new sovereignty of the State took place between the middle of the 1453th century and the middle of the following century, not only in the “European” theater, although they were provoked by it. The political/war events in Europe accompanied (and were conditioned) by the beginning of the global expansion of the continent's main powers: “The political organization of European States reached a new level of efficiency in the century between the end of the Hundred Years' War, in 1559, and the Peace of Cateau-Cambrésis, which in 1453 ended the wars between the Habsburgs and the Valois. Centralized administration began long before XNUMX, with the first efforts of medieval rulers, after the political fragmentation typical of the feudal era, to establish a minimum order in their domains and a more universally respected authority. These efforts achieved partial success between the XNUMXth and XNUMXth centuries, in the institution of feudal monarchies.

The process continued for a long time after 1559, until it concluded in Western Europe in the administrative reforms of the French Revolution and Napoleon and in the unifications of Germany and Italy after 1850. But it was between the 1453th and 1559th centuries that the construction of States was most concentrated , fast and dramatic. Before XNUMX, European states were more feudal than sovereign; After XNUMX we can certainly speak, with qualifications, of sovereign States”.

The new political forms adjusted to the economic changes that were taking place in a geographical framework that exceeded Europe. The decline of compulsory forms of expropriation of economic surplus coincided with international commercial expansion, which required an adaptation of state forms. The transition from feudal units and kingdoms to states independent of the Papacy and the Holy Empire did not happen separately from a no less violent transition to new relations of production. The new economic units faced internal (regional diversity and autonomy) and external (the complementary pair Church/Empire) obstacles. The first referred to the very economic bases of support for absolutist state apparatuses (based on growing, better equipped and more disciplined, therefore more expensive armed forces) with greater territorial coverage, capable of defending themselves against growing external dangers.

To solve these problems “European monarchies now have a main source of income: direct taxation. Indirect taxation of direct royal rule [the 'King's lands'] was totally inappropriate. Indirect taxes were certainly profitable, but not sufficient to finance the costs of wars. Loans were just a stopgap. The government's main problem was the universal and critical imbalance between income and expenditure. The only possible basis for resolving the financial problem was a regular system of direct taxation... To achieve this, the subjects' aversions had to be defeated, overturning one of their most cherished and established rights. The traditional view was that the king should live based on 'his own resources', income from the royal domain and indirect taxes. They constituted the ordinary income of the monarchs. If a military emergency presented itself and required the creation of extraordinary income, the next step would be to appeal to the loyalty of the subjects. General taxation was not recognized as an integral and necessary part of government finances. Any direct taxation was extraordinary. And no taxation of this kind could be imposed without the consent of the subjects.”[xxxv] The political demand embedded there was resolved through the beginnings of political representation.

War, a characteristic of medieval society, was drastically reformulated: “War had always been, in the Middle Ages, a more or less endemic phenomenon. The action of the Church and princes in favor of peace was motivated by the search for conditions favorable to prosperity. The condemnation, by the development of monarchies, of private feudal wars, led to a retreat from the warrior phenomenon. If in the XNUMXth century there was an almost general return to war, what mainly impressed contemporaries was that the military took on new forms.

The slow formation of national states, initially favorable to the peace imposed on feudal quarrels, gave rise, little by little, to 'national' forms of war... The most visible was the appearance of cannon and gunpowder, but siege techniques improved It was also the case, and all these changes led to the slow disappearance of the strong castle in favor of two types of residences in rural areas: the aristocratic castle, essentially a residence and place of ostentation and pleasure, and the fortress, often royal or for princes, designed to resist the aggression of cannons. The war became diluted and professionalized.”[xxxiv]

With a consequence whose effects would be measured over time: “When the first cannons were fired, at the beginning of the XNUMXth century, they affected the ecology by sending workers into the forests and mountains for more potassium, sulfur, iron ore, and charcoal, with resulting erosion and deforestation.”[xxxiv] It was the beginning of “an irreparable fissure in the interdependent process between social metabolism and the natural metabolism prescribed by the natural laws of the soil”, in Marx’s words. Wood consumption increased sevenfold in England between 1500 and 1630, destroying five-sixths of the country's original forests in just one century. After this destruction, England began to import wood from its American colonies and Scandinavia, increasing its trade deficit and causing new deforestation in North America and Scandinavian countries.[xxxviii]

Through these impactful processes, war became detached from society along with, and through, the State. In this way, through the use of force, the modern characteristics attributed to the national State were developed more by a supranational effort by European sovereigns (and the elites linked to them) to keep contiguous or discontinuous territories under control, and less by an effort that it would be integrated into a process of rationalization and formal ordering of the world.[xxxviii] With the concentrated, intermittent, but systematic use of state force, war emerged as a constitutive element of the new society, in which peace represented a residual time.

An emerging political philosophy, which enshrined this fact, accompanied these transformations. Political and military success had no shame (“Those who win, no matter how they win, never acquire shame”, summarized Machiavelli). Modern war shaped a new era, as its main theorist, Carl von Clausewitz, summed up in a famous sentence: “War is a true political instrument, a continuation of political relations, a realization of these by other means”.[xxxix] The new gunpowder technology, military professionalization, the emergence of military academies, the extension of the size of armies, the consequent need for financing to fund them and, to this end, the imposition of a fiscal system and the State's indebtedness to creditors private: such was the scenario that emerged in Europe at the turn of the XNUMXth to the XNUMXth century, marked by the “resurrection” of the State.

The philosopher Thomas Hobbes summarized the characteristics of modern war in “force and fraud”, because, in the new system of territorial power with global reach, States would be eternal rivals permanently preparing for war; There was no “higher power” that could arbitrate between “good” and “evil”, “just” and “unjust”. As Marx observed, “it was wars, especially maritime wars, which served to conduct the competitive struggle and decide its outcome”.

The constitutive process of the new State, therefore, was sown with violence throughout Europe and, partially, worldwide: “War played a decisive role in the birth of the modern State. The concrete political reasons that led the absolute State to war could be very varied and were not susceptible to 'rational' criticism: territorial objectives, dynastic conflicts, religious controversies or, simply, an increase in the national prestige of the dynasties that emptied public coffers to pay salaries to immense professional armies engaged in endless wars of conquest.

There was often an underground motivation that led to conflict, consubstantial with the political community of the State as a unitary entity: war resolved conflicts internal to State entities, promoted their internal cohesion, removed the danger of a dissolution of the State by identifying a target external to its territorial borders. The conflict not only served to generate a sovereign State through indistinct political entities, but it favored the strengthening of its political community or, on the contrary, determined its dissolution.

The war not only presided over the birth of the sovereign State, but also guaranteed its maintenance.”[xl] Pitirim Sorokin carried out a statistical survey of several centuries of European wars: he listed 18 wars for the 24th century, 60 for the 100th century, 180 for the 500th century, XNUMX for the XNUMXth century, XNUMX for the XNUMXth century, reaching a peak of… XNUMX in the XNUMXth century: “The monarchs of the XNUMXth, XNUMXth, and XNUMXth centuries employed war to compel small feudal principalities to accept common rule, and after establishing their authority, they organized the nations with the power that military control gave them over civil administration, the national economy and public opinion”.[xi]

In the future Germany, following the rise of Germanic cities, the territory was grouped into two leagues, the League of Southern Cities and the Hanseatic League, through which the ascending bourgeoisie gained political influence. The imperial cities, from 1489 onwards, began to participate in the Reichstag, imperial political representation. Through cultural and commercial exchange, large Germanic cities were connected with other European capitals. The growth and projection of cities caused their distancing from the countryside, where peasants fought for the review of old feudal rights and duties, demanding essential freedoms.

This was the origin of the agrarian revolt on the Upper Rhine in 1493. The peasant movement was neglected by the city bourgeoisie, who fought for similar freedoms for themselves. Religious conflict, chronic in medieval Christianity, took on new forms. In the new political conditions “an appearance of rigor and method tended to be established in Germany.

At the Diet of Augsburg in 1500, the constitution of the Empire was proclaimed, the Reichsregiment: the King of the Romans would be the president surrounded by the delegates of the great vassals, the bishops and abbots of the great monasteries, the counts, the free cities and the six circles.[xliii] Under [Emperor] Maximilian other institutions emerged: the Reichskammer or chamber of the Empire, the Hofrat or advice of the Court, the Hofkammer or chamber of the Court, responsible for the administration of the public treasury; finally, the imperial chancellery or Hofkanzlei".[xiii]

In the following period, the whole of Europe, with the former territories of the Holy Empire as its epicenter, witnessed a series of conflicts and wars, in which the dominant element of the past (the medieval conflict, of religious basis) mixed, until it lost its primacy, with the constituent elements of the future, wars between sovereign States, the “new war” that heralds and precursors modern, national political units. Religion and the Church, dominant institutions in the European Middle Ages, were shaken to their foundations.

Subordination to the clergy of Rome became an anachronism in relation to emerging economic and social relations, paving the way for a religious crisis, within which new political and social relations emerged. The expropriation of direct independent producers received momentum in England in the XNUMXth century, with the religious reform and the looting of the Catholic Church's assets that accompanied it. The properties of the Roman Church constituted the religious bulwark of ancient property relations. When that one fell, they could no longer maintain themselves.

The idea of ​​religion was emancipated from its medieval institutional support, the Christian Church: “The first systematic attempts to produce a universal definition of religion were made in the XNUMXth century, after the fragmentation of the unity and authority of the Church of Rome and the consequent wars religions that divided European principalities”.[xiv] The deterioration of the unity of the Church, which would gain explosive strength with Christian heresies and the Protestant Reformation, was parallel and complementary to the decline of feudalism: “The decadence motivated protests and attempts at correction. The four centuries that preceded the Reformation were not only characterized by the disintegration of papal power and the sharpening of pontifical pretensions, but also by the emergence of sectarian movements that separated themselves from the Church. The sectarian spirit of the High Middle Ages had found a diversionary factor in the missions or monastic movement; In the XNUMXth century, the same reformist zeal that led to theocracy determined the protests due to the pettiness of its results…. The attempt had to be renewed through elites of individuals committed to a personal commitment, which resulted in a proliferation of sects in southern France; the Rhine Valley and the Netherlands were covered by mystical movements, in Bohemia a malaise was spreading in which heresy merged with national sentiment”.[xlv]

The transition from a universal community, based on religion, to particular communities, with non- (or not primarily) religious bases, had begun. The base or religiously motivated wars, however, opened the way for him.

*Osvaldo Coggiola He is a professor at the Department of History at USP. Author, among other books, of Marxist economic theory: an introduction (boitempo). []


[I] Pierre Fougeyrollas. The Nation. Essor et decline of modern societies. Paris, Fayard, 1987.

[ii] Charles Diehl. The economic decadence of Byzantium. In: Carlo M. Cipolla, JH Elliot et al. The Economic Decadence of the Empires, cit.

[iii] Alan Palmer. Decline and Fall of the Ottoman Empire. Porto Alegre, Globo, 2013.

[iv] Fernand Braudel. Grammar of Civilizations. São Paulo, Martins Fontes, 1989. Social upheavals have permeated Russian history since its beginnings. From the second half of the 1640th century and, above all, in the first half of the following century, there were systematic peasant revolts in the western regions of ancient Russia against landowners and administrative officials. Around 1650-XNUMX a large-scale popular uprising against the Moscow authorities broke out across Ukraine and Belarus. In all the cities that surrendered, the governors were killed or expelled and their archives, where the documents containing the owners' rights over the peasants were found, were burned.

[v] The idea of ​​the State was successively reformulated, until it reached a new etymological and political meaning. In his study on Machiavelli, Corrado Vivanti pointed out that “the word State It took a while to appear with a concrete semantic value… The territorial meaning of the term appeared early; only at the beginning of Quattrocento its meaning often became linked to that of 'regiment' [norm; statute, regulation]”. The new meaning was linked to the urbanization process, “the term can be extended to the situation in which there is a single individual or a lineage that occupies the city... The meaning 'essence of the regiment' is illustrated in a fragment of the Trattato de' Governi by Bernardo Segni: 'The State is an order that is established in the cities, through which the magistracies must be distributed and the party that must be the owner of the city must be arranged'” (Corrado Vivanti. Machiavelli. The times of politics. Buenos Aires, Paidós, 2013).

[vi] Jean-Luc Chabot. Le Nationalisme. Paris, Presses Universitaires de France, 1986.

[vii] Perry Anderson. Lineages of the Absolutist State. São Paulo, Editora Unesp, 2016 [1974].

[viii] Charles Tilly. Coercive Capital and European States. Madrid, Alianza Universidad, 1992.

[ix] Marsílio de Pádua (1275-1342), a pioneering theorist of the modern State, when a student in Paris, observed the state of corruption of the clergy, becoming contrary to the temporal power of the Catholic Church. He was an advisor to Emperor Louis IV of the Holy Roman Empire, who at the time was in conflict with the pope. Marsílio's thesis was that the peace it was the indispensable basis of the State and an essential condition for human communities: the need for the State did not originate in ethical-religious purposes, but in human nature. From this, different communities would have emerged, from the smallest to the largest and most complex. The order would be necessary for communities to guarantee their coexistence and the exercise of their functions. He understood that this requirement would have purely human characteristics: at the basis of order would be the common will of citizens, superior to any other will, which would grant the government the power to impose the law. State power would thus be delegated and exercised in the name of the popular will. Political authority did not derive from God or the Pope, but from the people; Marsílio defended that bishops were elected by ecclesiastical assemblies and that the pope's power was subordinated to the Councils. He was one of the first scholars to distinguish and separate law from morality, declaring that the first was related to civil life and the second to conscience, therefore being considered a precursor of the Renaissance. A new concept of State, independent of ecclesiastical authority, was the hallmark of Marsílio's thought.

[X] Raquel Kritsch. Sovereignty: the construction of a concept. Advanced Studies. Documents, political series, nº 28, São Paulo, IEA-USP, June 2001.

[xi] Fernand Braudel. La Dynamique du Capitalisme. Paris, Artaud, 1985.

[xii] Robert Brenner. The agrarian roots of European capitalism. In: TH Ashton and CHE Philpin (eds.). Il Dibattito Brenner. Turin, Giulio Einaudi, 1989 [1976].

[xiii] Anthony Black. Political Thought in Europe 1250-1450. Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 1996.

[xiv] Victor Deodato da Silva. The Impasses of Historicism. São Paulo, Giordano, 1992.

[xv] Marcella Miranda and Ana Paula Megiani. Political Culture and Arts of Governing in the Modern Period. Porto, Cravo, 2022.

[xvi] George Macaulay Trevelyan. History of England. London, Longman, 1956.

[xvii] Edmund King. The Anarchy of King Stephen's Reign. Oxford, Clarendon Press, 1994; Graeme White. Restoration and Reform. Recovery from civil war in England. New York, Cambridge University Press, 2000.

[xviii] Courtenay Ilbert and Cecil Carr Parliament. London, Oxford University Press, 1956.

[xx] Alan Macfarlane. The socio-economic revolution in England and the origin of the modern world. In: Roy Porter and Mikulas Teich. The Revolution in History. Barcelona, ​​Criticism, 1990.

[xx] Pharamond, or Pharamond, is considered the first king of the Salian Franks, ancestor of the Merovingians, although he is a more legendary than historical figure. He was succeeded by Clodius (386-450), semi-legendary king of these peoples of Germanic origin, whose successor was Merovaeus, from whom the dynasty inherited its name. The Salian Franks were a subgroup of the ancient Franks who originally lived north of the borders of the Roman Empire, in the coastal area above the Rhine in the north of today's Low Countries.

[xxx] Mireille Touzery. L'État Moderne naît des États Généraux. Special History nº 7, Paris, September-October 2012.

[xxiii] José Roberto de Almeida Mello. Behind the scenes of the Hundred Years' War. Historical Studies nº 13 and 14, Marília, Department of History, Faculty of Philosophy, Sciences and Letters, 1975.

[xxiii] Philippe Contamine. L'impôt permanent, une révolution. Special History nº 7, Paris, September-October 2012.

[xxv] Karl Marx. The 18th Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte. São Paulo, Boitempo, 2011 [1852].

[xxiv] Eric J. Hobsbawn. Echoes of the Marseillaise. Two centuries review the French Revolution. São Paulo, Companhia das Letras, 1996.

[xxv] Alan Macfarlane. The Culture of Capitalism. Rio de Janeiro, Jorge Zahar, 1989.

[xxviii] Reinhard Bendix. National State and Citizenship. Buenos Aires, Amorrortu, 1974.

[xxviii] Francois Foronda. Avant le Contract Social. Le contrat politique dans l'Occident médiéval, XIIè – XVè siècles. Paris, Publications de la Sorbonne, 2011.

[xxix] Marc Bolch. Les Rois Thaumaturges. Paris, Gallimard, 1983.

[xxx] Piero Pieri. Formazione e Sviluppo delle Grande Monarchie Europee. Milan, Marzoratti, 1964.

[xxxii] Jean-Louis Thireau. Introduction Historique au Droit. Paris, Flammarion, 2009.

[xxxi] Quentin Skinner. The Birth of the State. Buenos Aires, Gorla, 2003.

[xxxii] Terezinha Oliveira. The medieval origins of bourgeois society. In: Ruy de Oliveira Andrade Filho (ed.). Power Relations, Education and Culture in Antiquity and the Middle Ages. Santana de Parnaíba, Solís, 2005.

[xxxv] Eugene F. Rice Jr. The Foundations of Early Modern Europe 1460-1559. London/New York, WW Norton & Co., 1970, as well as the preceding citation.

[xxxiv] Jacques Le Goff. The Medieval Roots of Europe. Petropolis, Voices, 2007.

[xxxiv] Lynn White. Historical roots of the ecological crisis. the earth is round, São Paulo, February 28, 2023.

[xxxviii] Laurent Testot. Cataclysmes. Une environmental histoire de l'humanité. Paris, Payot, 2018.

[xxxviii] John H. Elliott. A Europe of composite monarchies. Past and present No. 137, London, 1992.

[xxxix] Carl Von Clausewitz. Of war. São Paulo, Martins Fontes, 1979 [1832].

[xl] Mario Fiorillo. War and Law. Text presented at the Symposium “War and History”, held at the Department of History at USP, in September 2010.

[xi] Quincy Wright. The war. Rio de Janeiro, Bibliex, 1988.

[xliii] The six imperial circles were administrative divisions of the Holy Roman Empire to organize common defense and tax collection, and also as a means of representation in the Imperial Diet. Its organization began at the Diet of Worms in 1495, in an attempt to recover for the Empire its power and splendor of the High Middle Ages, and were defined in 1500 as part of the imperial reform at the Diet of Augsburg (George Donaldson. Germany: a Complete History. New York, Gotham, 1985).

[xiii] Jean Babelon. Carlos V. Barcelona, ​​Vitae, 2003.

[xiv] Talal Asad. The construction of religion as an anthropological category. Field Notebooks no. 19, São Paulo, December 2010.

[xlv] Roland H. Bainton. La Riforma Protestante. Turin, Giulio Einaudi, 1958.

the earth is round exists thanks to our readers and supporters.
Help us keep this idea going.

See this link for all articles


  • About artificial ignoranceEugenio Bucci 15/06/2024 By EUGÊNIO BUCCI: Today, ignorance is not an uninhabited house, devoid of ideas, but a building full of disjointed nonsense, a goo of heavy density that occupies every space
  • Franz Kafka, libertarian spiritFranz Kafka, libertarian spirit 13/06/2024 By MICHAEL LÖWY: Notes on the occasion of the centenary of the death of the Czech writer
  • The society of dead historyclassroom similar to the one in usp history 16/06/2024 By ANTONIO SIMPLICIO DE ALMEIDA NETO: The subject of history was inserted into a generic area called Applied Human and Social Sciences and, finally, disappeared into the curricular drain
  • Letter to the presidentSquid 59mk,g 18/06/2024 By FRANCISCO ALVES, JOÃO DOS REIS SILVA JÚNIOR & VALDEMAR SGUISSARDI: “We completely agree with Your Excellency. when he states and reaffirms that 'Education is an investment, not an expense'”
  • A look at the 2024 federal strikelula haddad 20/06/2024 By IAEL DE SOUZA: A few months into government, Lula's electoral fraud was proven, accompanied by his “faithful henchman”, the Minister of Finance, Fernando Haddad
  • Strengthen PROIFESclassroom 54mf 15/06/2024 By GIL VICENTE REIS DE FIGUEIREDO: The attempt to cancel PROIFES and, at the same time, turn a blind eye to the errors of ANDES management is a disservice to the construction of a new representation scenario
  • PEC-65: independence or patrimonialism in the Central Bank?Campos Neto Trojan Horse 17/06/2024 By PEDRO PAULO ZAHLUTH BASTOS: What Roberto Campos Neto proposes is the constitutional amendment of free lunch for the future elite of the Central Bank
  • Chico Buarque, 80 years oldchico 19/06/2024 By ROGÉRIO RUFINO DE OLIVEIRA: The class struggle, universal, is particularized in the refinement of constructive intention, in the tone of proletarian proparoxytones
  • Volodymyr Zelensky's trapstar wars 15/06/2024 By HUGO DIONÍSIO: Whether Zelensky gets his glass full – the US entry into the war – or his glass half full – Europe’s entry into the war – either solution is devastating for our lives
  • The melancholic end of Estadãoabandoned cars 17/06/2024 By JULIAN RODRIGUES: Bad news: the almost sesquicentennial daily newspaper in São Paulo (and the best Brazilian newspaper) is rapidly declining