2. Absolutism and the State
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2. Absolutism and the State

October 8, 2019

Prof: So,
what I want to do today–again, this is a parallel holding
pattern lecture. I’m going to talk about
absolute rule. This parallels what you’re
reading. It’s just to make clear,
with some emphasis, about the importance of the
development of absolute rule. Now, one of the points I made
last week, for those of you who were here,
is that one of the themes that ties European history together
is the growth of the modern state,
of state-making. This tends to be an awkward
expression or term that is used by historians.
If you look at the way states
are in Europe now, whether they be relatively
decentralized, such as Great Britain,
or extraordinarily centralized, as my France,
the origins of the modern state must, in part,
be seen in this kind of remarkable period of European
history from the early seventeenth century through the
middle of the eighteenth century.
Now, we have a process in late
Medieval Europe of the consolidation of territorial
monarchies. You did have monarchies like
Spain, England, and France, namely.
Those were the three most
important ones, in which rulers consolidated to
brush claimants to power aside and consolidated their rule.
But the period of absolute rule
really begins in the mid-seventeenth century,
and is to be found in those states that had specific kinds
of social structures. This is a point we’ll come back
to, particularly when we’re talking
about the two most important states,
two of the great powers of the period that did not have
absolute rule. And which, in the case of
England, the civil war was largely
fought, to a great extent anyway,
trying to prevent the English monarchy from taking on
characteristics of those emerging absolute states on the
continent. I’ll talk next Wednesday about
English/British, because Britain doesn’t exist
until 1707, self-identity and how not being
an absolute state is part of what emerged in the sense of
being British and being Dutch certainly,
arguably even more, had to do with that because of
the proximity of the direct threat to the Dutch by the
megalomaniac, Louis XIV, who modestly refers
to himself as the Sun King. So, between 1650 and 1750,
and this is right out of what you’re reading,
the rulers of continental Europe,
of the biggest states, extended their power.
And, so, there were two aspects
of this. One is they extend their
ability to extract resources out of their own populations;
and, second, they work to increase their
dynastic holdings at the expense of their neighbors munching
smaller states, or by marriages,
or by wars against their big rivals.
One of the most interesting
examples of that is the Thirty Years’ War,
which starts before this course and ends before this course or
with the beginning of this course, 1618-1648,
which I’m going to come back to a little bit in a while–they
say while it begins as a religious war between
Protestants and Catholics, it ends up being a dynastic
struggle between two Catholic powers consolidating their
authority over their own peoples,
and expanding their dynastic domains,
thus Austria and France. That’s an important point,
because it tells you what really is the big picture that
is going to emerge. So, when we’re talking about
the growth of absolute rule, we’re talking about France,
that is, the Sun King; Prussia, particularly Frederick
the Great about whom you can read;
Russia, Peter the Great, about whom I will have
something to say in a week or two, I don’t know when;
Austria, aforementioned; and Sweden.
Sweden kind of disappears from
the great power state when they’re defeated by Peter the
Great in–when is it?–1709. Now, what did it mean to be an
absolute ruler? What it meant was that in
principle, your power was greater than any
challenge that could come from those underlings,
those craven reptiles in your imagination over whom you ruled.
But there’s a balance to it
that I’ll discuss in a while. There really can’t be a
challenge to them from the state itself.
So, they make their personal or
dynastic rule absolute, based on loyalty to them as
individuals and not to the state as some sort of abstraction.
Of course, one of the
interesting things that we’ll hear about in a couple days is
the fact that British national identity,
which is formed precociously early in European history,
arguably in the seventeenth century and for elites perhaps
even before, has this sort of constitutional
balance between the rights of parliament,
victorious in the English Civil War,
and loyalty to the monarchy. So, absolute rulers assert
their right to make laws, to proclaim or to announce laws
with the waive of their chubby hands,
to levy taxes and to appoint officials who will carry out
their will. So, it’s possible to talk about
the bureaucratization of medieval states if you want,
but when you look at the long-range growth of
bureaucracies as part of government,
as part of state formation, that’s why the growth of these
bureaucracies is one of the characteristics of these
absolute states in all of these big-time powers.
So, what they do is–well,
let me give you a couple of examples.
One thing absolute monarchs
don’t want is they don’t want impediments to their personal
rule. What was a kind of impediment
to their personal rule? One would be the municipal
privileges. For example,
in the German port towns, Lübeck and Hamburg and the
others, they formed this Hanseatic
League, and Germany remains to be
centralized. There are all sorts of states.
Some are more powerful than
others. But Germany is not unified
until 1871. But if you think of Spain,
if you‘re hitchhiking through Spain or something like
that, or through the south of France,
or Eurail passes, and if you go to a town like
Avila in Spain. Avila is one of the most
fantastic fortified towns in Europe.
Or, if you go to Nimes in the
south of France, you’ll see boulevards that
people race motorcycles around all the time and they keep you
up all night. There are no walls there
anymore, because the king had them knocked down.
So, what happens with municipal
privileges, towns that had municipal
privileges, these are eroded and then
virtually eliminated by powerful potentates.
In the case of Nîmes,
N-I-M-E-S, which was largely a Protestant
town, they knocked down the wall so
the Protestants of Nimes could not defend themselves against
this all-conquering Catholic monarch.
So, municipal privileges–walls
were put up for a variety of reasons around towns.
Plague, for example.
Dubrovnik, one of my favorite
cities in Europe. Dubrovnik had these magnificent
walls you could walk all the way around.
They have a quarantine house
where they would put people who were travelers arriving there,
because walls kept out plagues. Walls keep out
malfaiteurs–;evil doers. They keep out bandits and
things like that. The doors literally slam shut
at night. There was a case of a very
minor insurrection in an obscure Italian city in 1848 where the
people of the town literally locked the ruler out of the
town–and Italy remains decentralized.
The tradition of these
decentralized city-states that were the heart of the
Renaissance. Italy is not unified–to the
extent it has ever been unified–until the 1860s and
1970s. What these kings do,
these kings and queens is they get rid of these impediments to
their authority. Even take the word burgher
or bourgeois. Bourgeois is a French word.
It’s more of a cultural sense,
but it also has a class sense. A bourgeois or a burgher was
somebody who lived in a city and assumed that some of the justice
that was levied against him or her would be the result of
decisions taken locally. Now, big-time,
powerful absolute monarchs don’t want that.
So, part of the whole process
is the elimination of these municipal privileges and
replacing municipal officials, to make a long story short,
with people that they have appointed.
They eliminate–the one
privilege above all that the big guys want to get rid of is the
right to not be taxed. Part of being an absolute ruler
is being able to levy taxes against those people who have
the joy or the extreme misfortune of living in those
domains, and more about that later.
So, what happens with all this
is that absolute rule impinges directly on the lives of
ordinary people more than kingly,
or queenly, or princely, or archbishiply power had
intruded on the lives of ordinary people before that.
So, these rulers have a
coercive ability in creating, and I’ll come back to this,
large standing armies that will be arriving not immediately,
they’re not arriving by train or being helicoptered in at some
distant command, but they will get there if
there’s trouble. They will arrive and they will
get there and they will enforce the will of the monarch.
We’ll see the statistics are
really just fascinating about how big these armies become.
The argument that I’m going to
make, drawing upon again Rabb–he’s
not the only one that’s made this argument,
but he’s made it more thoroughly than most
people–absolutism may be seen as an attempt to reassert public
order and coercive state authority after this period of
utter turmoil. The English Civil War,
the Thirty Years’ War, in which in parts of central
Europe a quarter of the population disappeared,
were killed, murdered in ways that I will
unfortunately show you in a while.
More than this,
what happens is that the nobles,
who in all these countries going back to the Medieval
period, had privileges that they were
asserting vis-à-vis their monarchs,
they will say, “We agree to be junior
partners in absolutism in exchange for the protection that
you, the big guy,
and your armies can provide us, so that we don’t have to lie
awake wondering who is coming up the path to the big house.
Is it peasants who are come and
assert the rights of the poor against us?”
And at a time of popular
insurrections in all sorts of countries.
Think of all the insurrections
or all the people who followed false czars to utter slaughter
in Russia. The nobles say, “All right.
We agree to be junior partners
in absolute rule in exchange for recognizing your supreme
authority over us in exchange for the protection that you will
afford us.” Private armies are disappearing.
The armies of the state,
as you will see in a while, are growing,
and moreover, “you, oh big guy,
you will assert our own privileges.
You will recognize our
privileges as nobles.” So, it’s a tradeoff.
But in absolute states,
there’s no doubt who rules and who helps rule.
So, in absolute states big
noble families are very happy to send their offspring to become
commanders in the army and navy, where they never do a damn
thing, or to become big bishops like
Talleyrand, and to profit from the state
while recognizing that the big guy,
the king and the queen, have absolute authority over
them. Now, the classic case,
of course, Louis XIV you can read about.
Louis XIV when he was a kid,
he was about twelve or thirteen years old, he lived in Paris.
He lived in the Tuileries
palace along the Seine, which was burned in 1871 during
the commune. There was a huge old
insurrection called the Fronde, F-R-O-N-D-E.
A fronde was a kind of a
slingshot that Paris street urchins used to shoot fancy
people with rocks as they rode their carriages through the
muddy streets of Paris. It’s a noble insurrection
against royal authority, and in Auvergne in central
France you have people rising up against their lords saying,
“Hell with you. We’re not going to pay
anymore.” When he’s a boy,
he hears the crowd shouting outside of the royal palace in
Paris. It scares the hell out of him.
At one time they burst into his
bedroom and he’s a little guy. When royal authority conquers
these rebels, the frondeurs–;you
don’t have to remember any of that,
F-R-O-N-D-E, it’s good cocktail party
conversation, or something like that,
but it’s important–he makes them,
literally, he’s a bigger guy then,
they literally come and they bow down,
and they swear allegiance to him in exchange for protection
and the recognition of their privileges as nobles,
as titled nobles. That’s really the defining
moment in absolute rule. What does Louis XIV do?
He goes out and builds
Versailles. He only goes back to Paris I
think three times ever. He doesn’t like Paris.
Versailles is only eighteen
kilometers away. It’s about eleven or twelve
miles away. The women of Paris in October,
many of them will walk to Versailles to bring the king
back to Paris. After that, he’s essentially,
well to put it kind of ridiculously,
toast, French toast, when that happens.
He builds this big–I call it a
noble theme park, basically, at Versailles.
It’s not the most interesting
of the châteaux at all. The most interesting is
Vaux-le-Vicomte, which is southeast of Paris.
It’s a big sort of
sprawling–gardens everywhere. Ten thousand nobles lived there.
How boring!
But the point was that they
could be watched, that they’re not going to–they
can chase each other’s wives and mistresses around,
and they can eat big drunken meals.
The château was so big
that when it freezes, they were trying to get to the
bathroom and most of them never made it and peed on these long
corridors that some of you have seen.
The wine would freeze on the
way from the kitchen through–it is sad–to the big dining hall.
But he has 10,000 of these
dudes and dudesses there that he’s going to watch over.
They can conspire against each
other, and they can hit on each other’s wives and mistresses.
He could give one damn.
But he can control them there.
He only goes back to Paris
three times ever. All the time he’s expanding his
own personal power vis-à-vis his own
population, conquering Alsace and parts of
Lorraine and going to these inevitable natural frontiers.
Napoleon thought the natural
frontier was the Pacific Ocean. That would be another story.
So, this is what,
in a nutshell, kind of what absolutism was.
But let me say two things now,
after having said that. There were doctrines.
You can read about this
stuff–geez, it’s obvious. But there were doctrines of
absolutism that originated with jurists early.
This was out there.
There was a theoretical
conceptual framework for having a king or queen having absolute
powers. Even the development of this
theory of absolute rule is in response to the rise of these
territorial states like Spain, and France, and Russia later.
France is a good example.
I quote in here a guy who
croaks before this course starts, Jean Bodin,
B-O-D-I-N. He says,
“Seeing that nothing upon earth is greater or higher next
unto God than the majesty of kings and sovereign
princes,” he wrote in Six Books of the
Republic, “the principal point of
sovereign majesty and absolute power was to consist principally
in giving laws, dictating laws,
onto the subjects in general without their consent.”
So, for absolute rulers,
the link to religion you can read about,
but there’s always the sense that he or she is doing God’s
will by exploiting ordinary peasants,
ordinary people and conquering other territories.
But there’s a theoretical
framework, and it will catch up with the
French monarchs, among others,
later–that the ruler must be a father,
a benevolent figure. As I said, in some context last
time, how many Russian peasants died
in the 1890s thinking, “Oh my god,
if the czar only knew that we’re starving,
how angry he would be with his officials.”
Well, he could have given one
damn how many millions of them died.
But this was the image,
that the big person is there to protect you, and that his glory
is your glory. But along with this conceptual
framework, provided by none other than
Thomas Hobbs in England, who had lived through the
English Civil War and thought that you shouldn’t mess around
with this rights business, you need some sort of big
powerful monarch there–but there was a sense inherent in
all of this. This will be important to try
and understand the French Revolution,
La Révolution française,
that there’s a difference between absolutism and
despotism. And that even conceptually,
theoretically, if the monarch goes too far
against the weight of the past that there is inherent in this
the idea that he or she might well go.
Of course,
you can imagine the thoughts of Louis XVI as they were cutting
back his hair to await the fall of the guillotine on the 21^(st)
of January, 1793. In the cabarets and the
estaminets, the bars of Paris of which
there are many, many, many–happily so–in
1789, when ordinary people are
drinking to the Third Estate, and talking about despotism,
and finding examples from what they saw around them as
representing despotic behavior. That line had clearly been
crossed and helps explain why it was that in a country in which
there weren’t ten people who wanted a republic in 1789.
It was possible to imagine life
without a king. Imagine that.
So, that’s there as well.
Now, let’s characterize–oh,
geez. we’ve got to move here.
Let’s characterize absolute
rule. Now, you did have,
in many of these countries, diets, or parliaments,
or some representative bodies. Again, the king doesn’t have to
call them. In the case of France again,
since we’re talking so much about Louis XIV,
they call the Estates General, which is to represent all the
provinces after the assassination of Henry IV in
1610 or 1612. Appropriately enough,
he was stabbed to death in a traffic jam in Paris when his
carriage gets blocked in the center of Paris,
and this mad monk sticks a big knife into him.
So, they call the Estates
General then, but the king never calls it
again until 1789. So, you have these diets and
you have these parliaments, but one of the characteristics
of absolute rule is that you don’t have to call these bodies,
because the king is the big person.
Now, in the case of England,
one of the causes of the English Civil War is the refusal
of the kings to pay any attention,
to recognize the rights of parliament that people in the
British imaginaire, in the British collective
memory–I believe started on June 15^(th),
which is my birthday, 1215, although I wasn’t born
yet in 1215. And, so, the idea of the
freeborn Englishperson, Englishman is what they would
have said in those days, meant that rights of parliament
had to be respected. When it looks like those kings
are going to restore Catholicism,
at least have lots of paintings of swooning cherubs,
and cupids, and Baroque Italian art in
Windsor, and London, and these other places,
then you’ve got a revolution. So, absolute rulers didn’t
really have to pay attention to these assemblies.
The best example I can think of
offhand, I should let this wait,
but Peter the Great, the czar of the Russians,
who may or may not have beaten his son to death,
at least he ordered him tortured.
Peter the Great was a huge sort
of power-forward-sized guy at a time when people were very
small. He had this thing called the
drunken assembly, which was in a way kind of a
mockery of parliamentary representations where his
cronies would come and just get wasted and would make all sorts
of flamboyant proclamations that seemed to represent what a real
parliament would do. But in fact,
Peter the Great listened to whom he wanted to and ignored
the others. And sometimes had them killed
if he had to, if he thought that’s what he
should do, because there wasn’t any sort of challenge to his
authority. That, my friends,
is part of what it meant. So, I already mentioned about
how nobles become junior partners in absolutism.
That’s not a bad phrase,
junior partners in absolutism. So, what happens?
Two ways of measuring how this
happened and what difference it made is to realize,
to return to what I said earlier,
that big state structures involve bureaucracies.
So, the king’s representatives
go out in the name of the king. They give out justice,
or the lack of justice, or they send armies in,
or taxes, or this stuff. Now, the Renaissance
city-states of Italy had relatively efficient
administrations, to be sure.
But these are royal
bureaucracies that expand dramatically in size.
Even though decentralized
England expands its bureaucracy and collected taxes much more
efficiently than across the channel in France,
state-making involved more officials there.
So, in order to raise money,
you have to enforce taxes. So, you may farm taxes out to
someone. They’ll keep as much of the cut
as they can possibly steal. Or to make money you’ll sell
noble titles. This gets the French kings into
trouble. Or you sell monopolies.
Peter the Great had a monopoly
on dice, because people gambled a lot.
The nobles gambled all the time.
You could gamble serfs,
real people. You could gamble them.
You could lose them with a bad
hand. This was Russia.
So, the monopoly on dice he
sells. He sells the monopoly on salt.
Salt was a big commodity,
obviously, for storing meat. That monopoly is sold in
various places. So, these officials,
nobles get these kinds of officials, and really,
they could rake it in, get these titles and they are
representing the king. They’re governors,
or intendants you call them in France.
And it expands the number of
officials dramatically. Then there’s warfare.
There is nothing more
symptomatic of the growth of absolute rule than the growth of
powerful armies. Again, when you traveling
around Europe, if you’re lucky to do that,
you’ll see these big fortified towns.
In the case of France again,
they are the work of a brilliant military engineer
called Vauban, V-A-U-B-A-N.
You go to a place like
Perpignan or Lille or Montmédy,
they’re all over the place. And these are fortress-like
defenses in an age of essentially defensive warfare.
But if you’re going to have a
big old fort, and you’re going to have lots
of cannon that you hope to use against your craven,
reptile enemies that would want to get in your way,
you’ve got to have people to try out the cannon.
You have to have people who
live in these fortifications. So, the size of the armies for
these megalomaniac wars, these dynastic wars between
Austria and France–and then they changed partners in 1756,
and all of this business. You can read about that.
But the big story is huge,
huge, huge amount of troops. During the sixteenth century,
the peacetime armies of the Continental Powers were about
10,000 to 20,000 soldiers–very, very little.
By the 1690s, 150,000 soldiers.
The French army,
which was then in the 1690s 180,000 people.
That’s twice the Michigan
football stadium. Can you imagine a stadium
packed with soldiers and all that?
How boring.
But, anyway,
it rose to 350,000 soldiers, the largest in Europe.
I think I have in this edition
a table the size of European armies.
Habsburg empire, 1690,50,000;
1756,200,000. A polyglot army,
too, because of all the different nationalities.
Prussia identified with the
Junkers, the nobles who were army
officers, the dueling scars that they
had–that Bismarck would have in a unified Germany,
a mere 30,000 people in 1690; 195,000 people during the Seven
Years’ War; in 1789,190,000;
in 1812, as they’re fighting Napoleon, 270,000 people.
This is in a state that barely
extends beyond Brandenburg and Pomerania in what now is Western
Poland, and still Prussia in the unified Germany.
Even Sweden,
100 at the time of the Battle of Poltava.
Forget it.
Well, don’t forget it,
but read about. In 1709, that’s when Sweden
loses to Russia. The Swedish army was 110,000
people, soldiers. That’s an awful lot.
So, that’s one of the things
that happens. The modern state in action,
the absolute state in action is the army.
Even in peacetime,
military expenditures take up almost half of the budget of any
European state, and in times of war,
eighty percent. Having said all that,
let me just–oops, try to turn this baby on.
Did that go on?
Why didn’t that go on?
Oh, I’ve got to put this thing
down. That’s it.
Again, these just illustrate my
point, which is: Why did nobles and even other
people agree to all of this? If they’re being exploited,
they’ve got big armies that can crush them like grapes if they
get in the way. But one argument that can be
made is that things were so terrible and so out of control
in the earlier period that the strengthening of the state is
something that people saw as beneficial.
Again, Hobbes is over the top.
Hobbes wants this sort of
dictatorship to keep people from brawling in the state of nature.
Again, the elite in Britain
were scared, because you’ve got all these
Ranter groups and Levelers and people who believe that
everybody ought to have the right to vote,
whether they have property or not and people that believe in
the right of women. This is pretty scary.
So, people like Hobbes thought,
“Well, we need a really strong state.”
But that’s not the outcome of
the English Civil War. But how did this work in other
places? Theodore Rabb’s argument is
basically that the terrible wars of religion that had ripped
central Europe apart in the middle of the nineteenth century
led people to look for the kinds of safety provided by a strong
ruler. That what had begun,
and we’ll see this in a minute, as a war between protestants
and Catholics, a war that began in Prague when
somebody gets defenestrated, which is a fancy word for
throwing somebody out of a window,
that this ended up being a war fought by just vicious
mercenaries who slaughtered the populations of central Europe.
It didn’t matter if they were
Protestants or Catholics or anything else.
They simply killed them.
And that this terrified elites
in much of Europe and had the same equivalent of what the
Fronde did for scaring elites in France.
One of the arguments that he
makes, and I can’t make it as strongly because I don’t know
enough about it, is the scientific revolution.
What I know about it is what
you’re kind enough to read. It was hard to piece all of
this stuff together. But there is this sort of sense
of uncertainty that you see in someone like Descartes,
who finally just goes back to basics and says,
“I think, therefore I am.”
Here I am.
They go from there to a
methodology of science, a methodology of trying to
study things in a rational way, to get rid of the kinds of
blind faith that seem to have led to this,
this utter catastrophe of mass slaughter in Europe.
There are signs all over the
place that this has happened. “I think,
therefore I am.” There is a return to these
kinds of theoretical defenses of absolutism that even preceded
the growth of the absolute state as I’ve described it.
Absolutism did not simply just
emerge out of this turmoil. As I already suggested,
and I would insist upon this again,
that the consolidation of territorial rulers had already
given the basis to an expanding, more formalized state
structure, even in England.
This is for sure.
It all just doesn’t start like
that. Louis XIV was preceded in
number by Louis XIII. Louis XIII helped expand the
compelling course of structures of the French state.
But yet when you look at all of
this, you can see that the kind of
chaos, the political upheavals finds
in response in the growth of central government authority and
the growth of bureaucracies. It wasn’t only in Sweden,
Austria, Russia, France, etc.
where you found this.
Even in smaller states like
Württemberg, a state in Germany which was a
sort of middle-sized state. Even there you see the same
phenomenon on a very lower, smaller level,
at least in terms of the size of the state,
where people are giving up, willing to compromise on their
privileges in order for the protection of the ruler of
Württemberg, who would never be confused
with Louis XIV or Peter the Great.
So, this really becomes a sort
of European-wide phenomenon. You can apply this also to the
Glorious Revolution in England as well.
People are happy to have a
monarch back who is going to reassert control.
In the case of England,
they’re very happy to have a monarch back who was not
threatening to turn England again into a Catholic state.
So, this is the sort of
argument that you can make, even in a state that had a
constitutional monarch such as England.
Let me just give you a couple
examples of what one can mean here.
Again, these are painters that
you may have come across. It doesn’t matter if you’ve
never heard of them or if you never think of them again–but,
Titian. The famous Titian.
This is his picture of Charles
V at a battle in Germany in 1648.
This is a pretty dramatic
representation of war. This is like Clint Eastwood,
The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly. This
is a guy, he’s armored up; he’s ready to go.
He’s somebody to be emulated
from the point of view of the viewer.
But at the same time,
this is slightly earlier, this is a painting–thanks,
Dan–this is a painting of Bruegel the Elder.
The first is the Triumph of
Death, where you see what happens in
real battle when people are just sort of slaughtered,
and the commanders are off at a safe distance.
Here again, the massacre of the
innocents, where villages are just being executed because they
are there. The Triumph of Death,
the dialogue of the mathematician Pascal is quoted
by Rabb. “Why are you killing me
for your own benefit? I am unarmed.”
You do not live on the other
side of the water, my friend.
If you lived on this side,
I should be a murderer. But since you live on the other
side, I’m a brave man and it is right that I kill you.”
When the Swedes get into the
act, Gustavus Adolphus brings this
huge old Swedish army down and they do a lot of damage,
too, and people are absolutely being
devastated. Here’s Reubens’ The Horror
of War. There’s a reason why the first
attempt to even write about international law comes at this
period. Again, this is before the
course, but why not? Hugo Grotius writes the Law
of War and Peace. He publishes it in 1625.
The goal was to stop stuff like
this, to try to create a legal
framework in which states could resolve their kind of
differences without kind of butchering each other.
So, there we go.
But somewhat here in war and
peace of battle is slowly being relegated to the background.
But let me give you another
example. Here’s the famous Spanish
painter. Again, don’t worry about it.
Velazquez, who died in 1610,
I think. No, it’s 1660, sorry.
This is his portrait of Mars.
Mars is the god of war.
Now, how different that is than
the portrait of Charles that you saw by Titian.
Here, this guy looks like kind
of an overweight NFL player who hasn’t really gotten ready for
the drill. He’s very human.
There’s nothing admirable about
him. It’s just war is being dissed
by those people that are just so tired of the killing.
And Mars has this sort of
human, flabby torso that’s not–it’s sympathetic,
but it’s a different portrayal of war.
People are getting tired of the
whole damn thing. He’s dull.
He’s uncouth and he’s extremely
human. Now, one of the reasons why
people would–it’s unthinkable for someone like me or for
probably most of you to imagine giving up your rights to a kind
of absolute rule, though we seem to be in a
situation like that, where that’s happened quite a
lot recently, even in this own country.
But these are just
illustrations that come out of the Thirty Years’ War,
which people are trying to put behind them.
This is a French painter,
drawer, lithographer called Jacques Callot.
These are just many ways that
people died during the Thirty Years’ War.
This is simply The
Execution. You don’t even need the formal
titles of these. But these get around.
Peddlers who had these big,
big leather bags that would go around Europe and sell things
like pins and miraculous images of the Virgin Mary and the
stories of saints and all this kind of stuff and Joan of Arc or
Robin Hood, in the case of England,
become part of the collective memory.
These kinds of images do get
around of the horrors of war that the misfortunes and horrors
of war, which is basically what he
calls this entire series. Here’s the people sort of
standing around watching this execution.
This is somebody being tortured
at the stake for merely existing, for having not
confessed to being a Protestant or a Catholic or whatever.
I’ll tell you,
in the south of France near where we live,
when there was a lot of resistance in World War II
against the Germans, there were some Protestant
villages there that were noteworthy for their resistance.
A lot of Catholics resisted,
too. But one of the interesting
things about some of the villages that I know down there
is that there were big mission crosses that were put out after
the wars of religion that were sort of symbols of conquest by
the all-Catholic king. Is it in the collective memory
that people remember three centuries later that the
Catholic Church was identified, at least as a hierarchy,
with the Vichy Regime in World War II?
That’s interesting,
a fascinating subject. But, anyway,
this poor guy’s not doing very well up there and becomes this
sort of big spectacle. These are dying soldiers along
the side of the road. It’s sort of a sympathetic look
at–that’s the name of this–of these expiring dudes there.
Here’s the attack on a
stagecoach. The point of this is it didn’t
matter who you were. If you were in the wrong place
at the wrong time, you were history.
That was all.
There were new ways to be
killed. Certainly in Europe,
not until the massacres of the Armenians,
and arguably some Napoleonic atrocities,
and Napoleon’s armies’ atrocities in Palestine,
or in the south of Italy, or in Spain as well.
But there was nothing like this
really, including World War I. There were some atrocities at
the beginning of World War I, but there was nothing like this
again until World War II and, of course, Bosnia.
The point is this is why lots
of people thought, “I don’t like this guy
sending people around and taking my taxes,
but I don’t want to get offed by some marauders.
Just hang ‘em high,
hang ‘em all high.” These were real ways that
people were executed–stakes, massacres, and this sort of
business. There’s a convent,
church that’s going to go. It’s a Catholic church.
You can tell from the top.
So, maybe these are Protestant
mercenaries. It didn’t matter,
because the Protestant armies had Catholic mercenaries and the
Catholic armies had Protestant mercenaries.
Everybody had Dalmatians,
people from the Dalmatian coast, and Swiss.
You have to imagine a time when
Switzerland wasn’t extremely wealthy.
Swiss were great,
famous mercenaries fighting in these armies.
Again, the Swedish,
the “Swedish cocktail”
was sort of suffocating people by stuffing manure down their
throat until they died. This was a nasty time.
I guess this is what Hobbes
meant by “nasty, short, and brutish,”
or whatever the fourth was. I don’t remember,
but what life was in the Thirty Years’ War, that was the way it
was. Now, out of all of this,
again to repeat, we are not making the argument
that the Thirty Years’ War itself led to absolute rule,
that the growth of state structures can be seen in the
beginning and the late medieval period with the consolidation of
these territorial monarchies. There were already bureaucrats
representing the royal will. There were already armies.
But many, particularly
two–bureaucracies and powerful standing military forces–are
characteristics of modern states.
And to try to explain why it
was that absolute rule came to Europe at the time it did,
one has to not only look at the particular structures of states,
but one has to look at the overview and the sheer horror of
it all. The boy king,
Louis XIV, hearing the crowd shouting outside of his room.
He goes out to Versailles and
creates this noble theme park and sort of a Euro Disney for
nobles where he can watch these nobles.
They agree to be junior
partners of absolute rule and they weren’t the only ones.
The great power struggles of
the eighteenth century would be very different than this
bloodletting of civilians that had preceded it.
There were professional kinds
of armies and all of that. But those are more themes for
future lectures. Wednesday I’m going to talk
about exceptions to absolutism, what the Dutch and what the
English had in common that gave them very different political
outcomes. That’s important,
too, in the emergence of the country in which many of you
live. See you.

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