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State Cash Resources and State Building in Europe 13th-18th century

 | 
Katia Béguin
, 
Anne L. Murphy

Political Construction and the Management of Public Resources

Introduction

Christine Lebeau

Texte intégral

  • 1 Richard Bonney (ed.), Systèmes économiques et finances publiques, Paris, Presses universitaires de (...)
  • 2 Jean-Philippe Genet, ‘L’État moderne: un modèle opératoire?’, in L’État moderne: genèse. Bilans et (...)
  • 3 Jean Andreau, Gérard Béaur and Jean-Yves Grenier (ed.), La dette publique dans l’histoire, Paris, C (...)

1In 1996, Richard Bonney drew attention to a paradigm shift in work on public finance in Europe.1 The model of the transition from the feudal system to capitalism thus had to give way to that of the fiscal/military state. From military revolution to financial revolution, the state was back in the form of a modern state that maximized its revenues and whose borrowing or debt capacity was a fully-fledged source of income.2 Out of the many studies produced in a national context – often at odds with the context of ancient Europe – which examined the origin and management of the public debt to varying degrees and tried to reconstruct elusive financial balance sheets, there emerged the great story of success and failure in controlling the sovereign debt: a comprehensive history of debt.3

2Based on the reconstruction of liabilities, interest rates and defaults, the story of the public debt has thus focused in recent decades on a few main topics, at the intersection of history, economics and political science, all of which are equally interested in credit and in the political structures that it creates or reveals.

  • 4 Jean-Claude Hocquet, ‘Cités-États et économie marchande’, in R. Bonney (ed.), Systèmes économiques…(...)
  • 5 Philippe Braunstein, ‘L’État, tel qu’en lui-même enfin la cité se change….’, Annales HSS, 52 (2), 1 (...)
  • 6 More generally, J. D. Tracy, A financial revolution in the Habsburg Netherlands: renten and renteni (...)

3For the earliest period, attention focused on the city-state, the political creation of a commercial centre which, through war, diplomacy and purchases, managed to expand the territory of the old urban commune.4 Historians have been able to argue for the irreducible singularity of this political form, distinct from states with the ‘appearance of a city’.5 Financial commitment originated in the defence of the community, and civic behaviour acts here as an element of a political structure operating in the opposite way from a princely urban network where the town borrowed to meet the demands of the state.6 The political form does not influence recourse to borrowing, but rather the way in which it is managed. Again, it was in Venice and Genoa that the change was made from the forced loan, a disguised tax on wealth, to consolidated debt (long-term debt which could be assigned in return for payment and passed on) and the securities market, though the chronology of this is still being debated.

  • 7 Jean-Philippe Genet, ‘La genèse de l’État moderne. Les enjeux d’un programme de recherche’, Actes d (...)
  • 8 For France, Philippe Hamon, L’argent du roi. Les finances sous François Ier, Paris, Comité pour l’h (...)
  • 9 Charles Tilly, The formation of national states in western Europe, Princeton, Princeton University (...)

4Debt still retained its diverse character, as a result of varying political, economic and social contexts which merit close examination. While private persons are structurally connected with the finances of the city-states and what is therefore public debt, the great kingdoms are deemed to follow a totally different pattern. Seeking to identify the transition from the feudal state to the fiscal and territorial state leads us to link state-building to the development of the tax authority.7 Estate revenues and extraordinary taxes delay recourse to credit, which is still royal credit in the sixteenth or even the seventeenth century.8 However, war creates the need to find other resources. Once viewed as disastrous and extravagant, it becomes a major instrument in the strengthening of the state. The history of the fiscal and military state, which has become a standard of the post-modern age, is an epic account of modernization and centralization.9

  • 10 Douglass North and Barry Weingast, ‘Constitutions and commitment: the evolution of institutions gov (...)
  • 11 David Stasavage, Public debt and the birth of the democratic state: France and Great Britain, 1688– (...)
  • 12 David Stasavage, States of credit: size, power and the development of European polities, Princeton, (...)

5The link between political form and the use of credit is also at the heart of the analysis of confidence proposed by the institutional economists. In a famous article, Douglass North and Barry Weingast based their analysis of the confidence mechanism on the English example. The British crown was able to sustain a considerable war effort and ultimately to defeat France, not only because it succeeded in mobilizing substantial sums of money, but primarily because it obtained cheaper interest rates than those granted to its adversaries, and avoided bankruptcy. The limitation of powers and representative government would seem to be a key explanatory factor.10 Since then, other factors have been suggested: the delegation of power to administrators and the creation of a central bank, and finally the interaction of opposing parties and interests.11 True, the focus on representative government is to some extent anachronistic in Europe which had its diets. However, that model was developed both to measure the relative financial performance of France and England, and to enhance the role of the lenders and demonstrate the union between politics and economics. According to the latest proposal by David Stasavage, it is less a question of concentrating on the comparison between England and France than of thinking about the relationship between institutions and the size of the state: a representative assembly thus seems more difficult to achieve in a large state, and a lasting political structure is created by integration as much as by domination, by the circulation of information and the control of commitments rather than coercion, which would explain the resilience of the city-states compared with the territorial states.12 More generally, we therefore need to examine the legal and political systems, and their power of constraint, though without taking the easy route of a linear or teleological chronology.

  • 13 Alain Guéry, ‘L’historien, la crise et l’État’, Annales HSS, 52 (2), 1997, pp. 233–256.

6The question of the connection between types of political regime and the ability to mobilize resources at the lowest cost was worth asking in broader terms. The state is only one of the forms of the organization of powers and objectives that make up society.13 The contributions that follow dip into the toolbox, changing established practice and revisiting the chronology.

  • 14 See the contribution by Adrian R. Bell, Chris Brooks and Tony K. Moore in this volume.
  • 15 See the contributions by Mauro Carboni and Regina Grafe in this volume.

7Debt is still denounced in the modern age and continues to ‘undermine’ states. It is in fact entrenched in political and social systems. Debt is not created against the will of the rulers, any more than absolutism. Whatever the political form, it requires consent and cooperation. Studying debt implies taking account of the many factors involved, such as creditors, guarantors, security, borrowers and intermediaries, and opening up the field by taking a trans-national perspective.14 Historians also need to shed light on transfers and displacement, the complex interactions between winners and losers. Debt is also built up on the periphery, as a complement to tax. We should probably question a central approach and think about the scale on which policies are implemented and the many intermediaries involved.15

  • 16 See the contribution by Luciano Pezzolo in this volume.

8Political construction is ultimately a multi-faceted, evolving process which cannot be reduced to just a few forms: the states of the Ancien Régime are all in their own way monstrum simile. It is probably time to escape from the nominalism of political forms which persist without ever overlapping.16 The history of debt is thus – beyond the models – a particularly good area for observing the birth of politics and statecraft.

Notes

1 Richard Bonney (ed.), Systèmes économiques et finances publiques, Paris, Presses universitaires de France, 1996, preface, p. 15.

2 Jean-Philippe Genet, ‘L’État moderne: un modèle opératoire?’, in L’État moderne: genèse. Bilans et perspectives, Paris, CNRS éditions, 1990.

3 Jean Andreau, Gérard Béaur and Jean-Yves Grenier (ed.), La dette publique dans l’histoire, Paris, Comité pour l’histoire économique et financière de la France, 2001, ‘Introduction: dettes d’État, dette publique’, pp. 1–19, p. 1.

4 Jean-Claude Hocquet, ‘Cités-États et économie marchande’, in R. Bonney (ed.), Systèmes économiques…, op. cit., pp. 67–86.

5 Philippe Braunstein, ‘L’État, tel qu’en lui-même enfin la cité se change….’, Annales HSS, 52 (2), 1997, pp. 257–264, p. 264. James D. Tracy, ‘On the dual origins of long-term urban debt in medieval Europe’, in Mark Boone, Karel Davids and Paul Janssens (ed.), Urban public debts. Urban government and the market for annuities in western Europe (14th–18th centuries), Turnhout, Brepols, 2003, pp. 13–24.

6 More generally, J. D. Tracy, A financial revolution in the Habsburg Netherlands: renten and renteniers in the country of Holland 1515–1565, Berkeley, University of California Press, 1985.

7 Jean-Philippe Genet, ‘La genèse de l’État moderne. Les enjeux d’un programme de recherche’, Actes de la recherche en sciences sociales, 118, 1997, pp. 3–18; Stephan R. Epstein, Freedom and growth: the rise of states and markets in Europe 1300–1750, London, Routledge, 2000.

8 For France, Philippe Hamon, L’argent du roi. Les finances sous François Ier, Paris, Comité pour l’histoire économique et financière de la France, 1994. For Spain, Anne Dubet, ‘Finances et réformes financières dans la monarchie espagnole (mi-XVIe–début XVIIIe siècle): pour un état de la question’, Bulletin de la Société d’histoire moderne et contemporaine, 3–4, 2000, pp. 56–83.

9 Charles Tilly, The formation of national states in western Europe, Princeton, Princeton University Press, 1975; idem, Coercion, capital and European states, AD 990–1990, Cambridge (Mass.), Basil Blackwell, 1990; John Brewer, The sinews of power. War, money and the English state 1688–1783, London, Unwin Hyman, 1989. To see this topic in perspective, I. A. A. Thompson, ‘Money, money and yet more money! Finance, the fiscal state and the military revolution’, in C. J. Rogers (ed.), The military revolution debate: readings on the military transformation of early modern Europe, Boulder, Westview Press, 1995, pp. 273–298; and more generally Wolfgang Reinhard, Papauté, confessions et modernité, Paris, EHESS Éditions, 1998, and Geschichte der Staatsgewalt. Eine vergleichende Verfassungsgeschichte Europas von den Anfängen bis zur Gegenwart, Munich, C. H. Beck Verlag, 1999.

10 Douglass North and Barry Weingast, ‘Constitutions and commitment: the evolution of institutions governing public choice in seventeenth century England’, Journal of Economic History, 49, 1989, pp. 803–832.

11 David Stasavage, Public debt and the birth of the democratic state: France and Great Britain, 1688–1789, Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 2003; and the review by Martin Daunton, American Historical Review, 109 (4), 2004, pp. 1305–1306.

12 David Stasavage, States of credit: size, power and the development of European polities, Princeton, Princeton University Press, 2011.

13 Alain Guéry, ‘L’historien, la crise et l’État’, Annales HSS, 52 (2), 1997, pp. 233–256.

14 See the contribution by Adrian R. Bell, Chris Brooks and Tony K. Moore in this volume.

15 See the contributions by Mauro Carboni and Regina Grafe in this volume.

16 See the contribution by Luciano Pezzolo in this volume.

Auteur

Professor of Modern History at the University of Paris 1 Panthéon-Sorbonne, Chistrine Lebeau is a specialist in the political and social history of the Habsburg monarchy during the eighteenth century. She focuses on the emergence and circulation of knowledge regarding the State during the eighteenth century. Her notable publications in this area include: ‘Circulations internationales and savoirs d’État au XVIIIe siècle’, in Pierre-Yves Beaurepaire and Pierrick Pourchasse (eds.), Les circulations internationales en Europe années 1680-années 1780, Rennes, Presses universitaires de Rennes, 2010, pp. 169–179; ‘Chiffres privés, chiffres politiques: l’inconcevable publication des bilans de Pietro Verri (État de Milan, deuxième moitié du XVIIIe siècle)’, in Dominique Margairaz and Philippe Minard (eds.), L’information économique. Production and circulation, Paris, Comité pour l’histoire économique and financière de la France, 2008, pp. 201–225; ‘Regional exchanges and patterns of taxation in 18th-century Europe: the case of the Italian cadastres’, in Holger Nehring and Florian Schui (eds.), Global debates about taxation, Basingstoke, Palgrave Macmillan, 2007, pp. 21–35.

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