jueves, 31 de enero de 2008

Lecture 1: Seventeenth-Century Europe and the Nature of Authority

The seventeenth century has had a bad reputation among modern historians, who have encapsulated the entire period in the concept of “crisis.” For modern historians, it seems that no matter where or when one looks some part of seventeenth-century Europe was in crisis, be it in the economy, the church, politics, culture, or science. Merchants and peasants had to work around the troubles of war; kings tried mightily to assert their political authority against rambunctious nobles; preachers tried to protect their flocks from the other side’s errors; scientists wanted the freedom to explore the book of nature freely. And all of this was in vain.

The roots of modern “crisis” theory lie in the seventeenth-century’s reputation for brutal war, religious strife, and economic dislocation. The problem with the general approach is, however, that the seventeenth century was no more warlike than the sixteenth or the seventeenth centuries, though the Thirty Years’ War (1618-1648) was a complete disaster for many of the German states. Dynastic competition and religious strife repeatedly turned Italy and Germany into battlefields in the sixteenth century, leaving the seventeenth to pick up the pieces. Moreover, one could easily make a case that the eighteenth century was not only more warlike than the seventeenth, but also invented the world war, as it exported European conflicts to other parts of the globe. Finally, science, which did so much to change the early-modern worldview, was deeply rooted in both the philosophical and religious speculation of the sixteenth century. Modern chemistry and physics actually date to the sixteenth century, no matter how brilliant Newton, Huygens and company were.

Nonetheless, Europe did change in important ways from 1601 to 1700, as political, military, and intellectual structures looked much more “modern” at the end of this period than before it. Therein lies a clue to a new way of looking at the seventeenth century, for both the people and their age look strange to us (in crisis, as it were) precisely because many parts of Europe were working out resolutions to problems that we no longer confront. The seventeenth century resolved a series of inherited problems, including religious and dynastic rivalries that paved the way for the age that historians celebrate, the Enlightenment. In this sense, our understanding of the age is handicapped both by its strangeness and the supposed glory of its successor. If we are to understand the seventeenth century, we need to do two things. First, we must accept it on its own terms. Second, we need to recognize the tremendous creativity that it inspired. In politics, art, religion, and economics, and regrettably war, the seventeenth century provided answers to old problems and raised new issues that later generations had to confront.

We will begin with an overview of European politics in the seventeenth century, and here we must note that our vision of the political is much different from the vision of seventeenth-century people. As you know from Historia Universal I, by 1600 Europe was divided along religious lines, with each sect claiming absolute truth for itself. To the extent that there was such a thing as religious freedom it amounted to nothing more than the right to emigrate from your homeland with whatever you could carry, should your conscience lead you to hold heterodox beliefs. (Seventeenth-century Prussia and Holland were notable exceptions in this case, since they accepted immigrants of different faiths.) Politically, this meant that states that professed different faiths were instant political rivals. Socially, however, it also meant that the status of one’s co-religionists in foreign lands also became political. In this sense, there is no understanding 19th-century nationalism without including its religious roots.

The seventeenth century also inherited the great dynastic battles of the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, of which the most important was the battle between the Habsburgs and Valois, and later the Habsburgs and Bourbons. The Habsburgs in Spain and Austria put their respective countries on a constant war footing, during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, always seeking to defeat their old enemies in France. (We discussed the division into two family lines in the previous course.) The Valois, for their part, feared being encircled by one family, though in truth the two Habsburg lines in Spain and Austria, respectively, did not like each other much. Hence, when the Bourbon Henri IV came to the throne in 1594, the traditional rivalries were merely transferred to a new family name. The geo-politics of the situation remained the same.

Given what I have said above, the first thing we should note is the centrality of religion to these family rivalries. On the one hand, the Spanish and Austrian Habsburgs were fervent Catholics who saw it as their duty to wipe out heresy. The Spanish, of course, brought Catholicism to the new world and worked vigorously to extinguish native faiths there. The Austrians, for their part, tried repeatedly to extinguish Protestantism in the northern German states. On the other hand, the French were traditionally Catholic, though they also had a tradition of independence from Rome, which was called Gallicanism, and the Bourbon family had been Protestant until Henri IV converted in order to gain the French throne. Moreover, the French situation makes the religious picture even more complex, since French governments used Germany’s religious divisions to advance Bourbon interests in Europe, sending money and troops to aid German Protestants in their fight against the Austrians. Hence, during the seventeenth century, dynastic interests and religious interests came into conflict, and this is another key to understanding the forces of change that were at work in the seventeenth century.

The rise of dynastic interests points our attention, however, to problems that look more familiar to modern eyes. During the seventeenth century, new international players entered the European scene. First, the Dutch and the Swedes rose to Continental prominence, followed by the Prussians, the Russians, and the English. By 1609, the Dutch had won their independence from Spain, and soon became a major commercial and colonial power. England would, of course, become a key player in the eighteenth century, especially since they stole much of the Dutch colonial empire during the second half of the seventeenth century. The Prussians and the Russians were important because they changed the Austrians’ strategic situation. Now Austria had to worry about more than just the French to the west and the Ottomans to the east.

All of these states developed centralized administrations that raised money and projected power in that country’s interest. We are not quite talking about a state yet; that would have to wait until the eighteenth century. Still, in the seventeenth century, an embryonic bureaucratic system appeared across Europe that supported unified state actions such as war. The state’s increased taxing ability created a problem that would plague the eighteenth century, as peasants in many countries were soon taxed to the verge of starvation. Those states that best handled the problems that higher taxation brought, such as England, prospered in the eighteenth century. Those that failed to deal with the issue, such as France, had extensive problems. The appearance of an early state apparatus also pointed the way, however, to a resolution of an old problem, rambunctious rural nobilities.

Throughout the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries nobles had constantly risen up against their kings when it was convenient. This was especially the case after the Reformation, because this movement offered both spiritual “Truth” and political opportunities. Frederick the Wise in Saxony may have saved the Reformation by sheltering Martin Luther, but from the Holy Roman Emperor’s point of view, he was a recalcitrant noble. Much the same occurred in France, as Protestant nobles rebelled against the Crown during the sixteenth century. In the end, however, the French nobility lost where Frederick and his princely cohorts won, an outcome that deeply affected the histories of both France and Germany. France remained politically united and followed a path toward religious uniformity. Germany, which had long been politically divided, remained so, and the existing divisions became even sharper as religion got involved. Nonetheless, in both French and German areas, as well as others, noble uprisings became a thing largely of the past during the seventeenth century. This was mostly because Europe’s new states found ways to entice nobles into joining with the crown. Not only did emerging state apparatuses provide the power to keep rambunctious nobles down, but they also provided ways of buying off nobles by giving them access to state resources. Along these lines, Prussia and France became models for noble pacification.

There is also a broad, less obvious change that is, however, of fundamental importance for understanding the seventeenth century. During this period, European the economy’s center shifted, moving from northern Italy, Saxony, and the German Rhineland, to the northwest, in Northern France, the Low Countries, and England. This new economic situation created a host of opportunities and new sources of power, as the rise in Atlantic merchant wealth eclipsed the power of regions associated with manufacturing (Germany) and those that engaged in Mediterranean trade. German cities such as Leipzig, Nuremberg, and Augsburg yielded leadership in manufacturing to Antwerp and Amsterdam. Northern Italian cities such as Venice and Milan saw their merchant activity drop as London’s increased. At a more general level, Spain’s emphasis on resource extraction in the New World (organized stealing) was soon surpassed by the English and French emphasis on trade not only with the New World but also with Asia, though this trade was, in fact, another form of organized stealing.

Europe’s economic changes also had a significant impact on, perhaps, the seventeenth century’s most glorious historical contribution, science. English, Dutch, and French ships plied the globe, bringing back geographic and natural knowledge in all its forms. Dutch map makers led the world. English and French scientists took the lead in astronomy, which had once been led by Italians and Germans. More importantly, perhaps, the victorious colonial powers, among which England and France ranked highest, created new places for science by founding royal academies and supporting scientific research. In 1660, the English found the justly famous Royal Academy of Sciences. The French founded their own in 1666. The Prussians followed in 1701. If we stake a step back, for a moment, we can see that the great Isaac Newton was, in many ways, a product of a commercial society that had sufficient wealth to support science.

Let us now return to the broader problem: the seventeenth century is both strange and familiar to us. At times it seems maddeningly backward, at other times distressingly modern. First, the century’s religious fervor and religious wars seem odd for three reasons. First, as children of the Enlightenment, we have learned to be skeptical of claims to absolute truth. Second, modern Europeans subsequently created a host of new reasons to kill each other that were, in fact, much more effective at fostering mutual hatreds. Finally, seventeenth-century science was both old and modern. On the one hand, it was dedicated to experimentation in what we see as acceptable realms such as physics. On the other hand, it also pursued experiments in “unacceptable” realms such as alchemy. For example, Newton discovered the theory of gravity, but also did extensive alchemical experiments. He may even have died of mercury poisoning. Moreover, in politics we can see the origins of the state, but the age’s daily politics seems to have occurred in a realm different from what we understand. Courts were power centers, and things such as art and religion supported the state, rather than subverted it. And here we reach an important point: if we are to understand the people who lived in this age, we must break with a simple notion of the nation-state. Seventeenth century kingdoms and republics are not simply pre-states. Their approach to power and politics was fundamentally different that the eighteenth century one that we have inherited.

Although state power became more important during this time, nation states did not exist and politics among nations followed different rules. Let me illustrate the problem by considering the modern state’s basic characteristics. First, the state maintains a monopoly on force. (Some states allow people to use force to defend themselves against attacks by private individuals. Still, no state allows people to use force against its own representatives, nor as a private punishment for crimes committed.) Second, a state controls its borders. Third, all the state’s citizens are subject to the same law, even if the law is not always applied equally. The modern state is, in short, characterized by uniformity and universality.

Early-modern European regimes such as Richelieu’s in France worked toward these principles, but the reality is that in the seventeenth century, diversity in political institutions was the norm, rather than the exception. Germany, for example, had 365 separate states within one large empire. Some of these states were large and powerful, such as Saxony, Bavaria, and Austria. Most other states were small and weak, often no more than a few miles across. Few of these states had contiguous borders. The small Duchy of Württemberg in southwestern Germany, for example, consisted of a core territory around Stuttgart with a host of surrounding island territories around it. One could cross multiple political borders in one day’s carriage ride. Moreover, the Holy Roman Empire, which was believed to have existed since AD 800, was respected by everyone, though understood by almost no one. Although there was one emperor, his power was limited by the sovereignty that Germany’s individual princes claimed, which is, incidentally, what saved Luther from being burned as a heretic. In addition, imperial institutions such as the Imperial Court in Regensburg were so bloated and inefficient that they never resolved anything. (One famous court case was finally resolved after over 200 years of deliberation.) Indeed, one might say that the Empire existed to avoid resolving anything, since so many traditions and rights existed in conflict with each other. It was, therefore, impossible just to change any one thing, since so many rights and duties were tied up together.

Even a famous “centralized” nation such as France was littered with a bewildering array of exceptions and privileges. The French kingdom originated in the tenth century in the area around Paris, growing steadily throughout the Middle Ages through the acquisition of new territories, sometimes through marriage, other times through inheritance, or even war. Since the different regions became part of the French crown via different routes, many of them retained special privileges that prevented the king from treating them equally. Some, for instance, were subject directly to king’s will and could be taxed by him (pays d’état). Others had joined the crown with their taxing privileges intact, and could not be taxed without permission (pays d’élection). One important result of this administrative and political diversity was that all identities were primarily local: people were Bretons first and Frenchmen second, or Prussians rather than Germans. Moreover, France was not a contiguous state. For example, in the seventeenth century France only had control of parts of Alsace. Many regions were still subject to German princes, and the great city of Strasbourg was independent and largely German-speaking. In addition, the church possessed Avignon as a foreign territory that was situated wholly within French borders. This jumbled situation would not change in France until the French Revolution. Germany would only begin to change during the Napoleonic era, and this process would not end until Bismarck’s rise to prominence.

Seventeenth-century Spain provides another interesting example of power’s general diffusion, for it was not so much a kingdom as a union of crowns. Although Ferdinand of Aragon and Isabella of Castile’s marriage in 1492 united the two separate crowns within one family line, the two regions were managed and taxed independently. Indeed, Aragon managed to avoid the heavy taxation that plagued Castile, since local nobles had the privilege of approving taxes, which they did rarely, at best. As a result, Castile not only bore most of the Empire’s tax burden but also suffered economic ruin in the long run. Portugal was united with the Spanish crown in 1580, but here the problems were even more serious than in Aragon, and the Portuguese threw out the Spanish at the first opportunity, in 1640. Hence, generally, all parts of Spain tried to maintain their respective privileges against what was seen as a centralizing monarchy, and this is one major reason that Spain lost out to France and England in the game of power politics during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries.

With this broad overview we are in a better position to consider some themes that will run through the rest of this course. Seventeenth-century Europe’s main political characteristic was the diffusion of power throughout the system. This is a remnant of the medieval diffusion of power that began with the Roman Empire’s dissolution. As power left Rome’s cities, including those in what are today France, Germany, and England, it flowed into the European countryside, where noble families developed independent, rural power bases, which gave them control over large territories and the people who lived in them. By the seventeenth century many of the rural elites maintained some kind of local administrative control, be it legal, tax, or other matters. The key to understanding the modern state’s development is, therefore, to recognize that these independent power bases were only slowly and imperfectly co-opted into the modern state. Local privileges and duties to the crown became inextricably linked. Indeed, some local bonds were stronger than those of the royal government. Even into the eighteenth century a local lord might have had more control over the people in his lands than the king had over that lord. As a result of this diffusion, Europe developed a general culture of deference and dependency. Some people used the social hierarchy either to increase their influence or to fight others above them. Nobles used flattery to gain royal preferment. Peasants may have tried to do the same, but were probably more adept at avoiding notice than gaining it.

Still, during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, everywhere the central issue became how to get access to royal funds or special privileges, which was really the same thing. In France, for instance, the nobility had the privilege of tax exemption, which meant that Europe’s wealthiest people paid no taxes to the king. But nobles still needed income, which could come in the form of a pension, a lucrative tax collecting position, or even a monopoly in some economic matter. Hence, the emerging state and the nobility cooperated to increase centralized power. Moreover, in conjunction with this search for privilege, there was no universal sense of “Man. For those born in the seventeenth century, being born into a station seemed the normal way of doing things. City artisans tried to protect their control of the local market, nobles wanted to protect their privileges, the church wanted to maintain its control over education, etc. What united people in their varied stations were not the nation or universal rights, but a common religion and common subjection to a king.

The king’s role as political center and cultural icon made royal courts the focus of power. The king dispensed favors, and since he was to be found at court, only those who courted him could get favors. In general, one had to be seen in order to gain royal benefits, which meant spending a great deal of time in some castle waiting to be seen by the king. Louis XIV once replied to a courtier who mentioned the desire of some noble for a special benefit, “I have not seen him.” In this sense, although we see Versailles as nothing more than a pleasure palace, it was, in fact, a fundamental part of daily governance. All its inefficiencies and stupidities aside, Versailles was power in the seventeenth century.

Louis XIV also calls to mind a central issue in seventeenth-century Europe and that is the development of forms of public representation. In this period, power was represented and constituted through symbols. Paintings of the king, the use of the king’s image on coins, the construction of castles and residences, were all part of what we would consider a propaganda campaign. The king’s authority was determined by his presence, both real and imagined. Put another way, the king had to be seen by his people, just as he had to see them.

To all of this we must add the continuing significance of religion. The Reformation had split Europe along confessional lines, leaving the continent with bunches of fervent believers, each of whom claimed special access to the Truth. As the state apparatus expanded, however, this meant religion came to be ever more associated with royal authority. In the sixteenth century, Europe’s princes claimed religious freedom only for themselves. The decision to convert to Lutheranism, Catholicism, or Calvinism lay not with the subjects, but the king. Hence, by the sixteenth century, those who worshipped differently from the king became enemies of the state. This trend represents a fundamental change in how early-moderns understood heresy. Heretics were not simply religious non-conformists whose presence threatened the community’s souls; they were traitors now, too. As the modern state became more adept at finding such traitors, medieval or renaissance inquisitions came to appear mild by comparison.

Now I will attempt to summarize the general points involved. First, the seventeenth century was marked by a trend toward centralization, but within the context of a very old system of diffused power. Those states that centralized most effectively became the strongest powers in the eighteenth century. Second, as royal authority grew, so too did the royal interest in aggrandizement. Princes wanted to become counts. Dukes wanted to be kings. Kings wanted to be emperors. Then, of course, all of these people wanted their neighbor’s lands. Thus, the seventeenth century opens our view on a new rapacious state that sought power and glory through conflict. Louis XIV, for example, attacked the Dutch in the second half of the seventeenth century largely out of contempt for their bourgeois ways. Finally, concomitant to this, the larger states now had to watch each other jealously, regardless of religious affiliation. For example, it the Habsburgs gained too much territory from the Ottomans, they might become too powerful for the French. It was, therefore, necessary for the French on occasion to make common cause with Muslims, even if the affected party was Christian. (the same can be said of Richelieu’s support of Protestant German states against the Habsburgs in the Thirty Years’ War.) All of this together makes the seventeenth century an age not of crisis but of enormous creativity. Some of the creativity was good; much of it was bad. Still, none of it justifies the concept of “crisis.”

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