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The Sovereign State and Its Competitors: An…
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The Sovereign State and Its Competitors: An Analysis of Systems Change

by Hendrik Spruyt

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This is clearly one of the most interesting history books I've read in recent years. The author studies three European forms of political organization, approximately from the 13th to the 17th century: the sovereign state, the independent city-state and the trade league. France, northern Italy and the Hansa are the corresponding examples which he discusses in some detail. One of his main arguments is that success in war was not a primary determinant in the competition between different political forms. Instead he emphasizes political compromises between different social classes, as well as many economic and institutional factors. The argument is very convincing, but it cannot be adequately summarized in a short review like this.

It's interesting to read a historical analysis where three forms of political organization are treated on an equal footing. The eventual outcome, the institutional victory of the sovereign state, is not taken for granted. The author explains with admirable clarity why the two city-state alternatives eventually vanished, but also why it was not a foregone conclusion at the time. In conclusion this is a very good book for readers interested in the history of political institutions and different forms of government.
1 vote thcson | Oct 22, 2013 |
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0691029105, Paperback)

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.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:04:43 -0400)

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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, 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.… (more)

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