Nepasiskel busioji imperija. Lietuvos Didžioji Kunigaikštija lyginamosios istorinės imperijų sociologijos požiūriu by Zenonas Norkus (review)
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Reviewed by
Zenonas Norkus, Nepasiskel busioji imperija. Lietuvos Didžioji Kunigaikštija lyginamosios istorinės imperijų sociologijos požiūriu (Vilnius: Aidai, 2009). 476 pp. ISBN: 978-9955-656-73-9.

This monograph, Unproclaimed Empire: The Grand Duchy of Lithuania from the Viewpoint of Comparative Historical Sociology, endeavors, via modern theories of international relations, to determine how the present and the futures of nations are joined with their pasts. The author is a sociologist whose extensive academic achievements consist of works that connect many overlapping research disciplines, both in their subject matter and the methods applied, including sociology, the philosophy of science, history (especially historical methodology), and political science. 1

In this work, Norkus has applied theoretical concepts of modern comparative political science to research on the history of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania. The author himself concedes that his book is not a description of the history of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania up to the year 1569, at least not in a traditional sense. Rather, it is [End Page 370] a reinterpretation of well-known facts of Old Lithuania's geopolitical conditions. The catalyst for this study was public debates about the character of Old Lithuania that took place during preparations for the thousandth anniversary of the Lithuanian state. A prominent facet of Lithuanian historiography is the so-called Old Lithuanian Empire, or the Lithuanian power during the reign of Vytautas. However, what a contemporary Lithuanian remembers most is Vytautas's failure to gain the crown and the idea that the country frequently fell victim to its neighbors (Russians, Poles, Germans), who pursued expansionist policies at various points in time. Following contemporary authors such as Arthur Eckstein, Stuart Kaufman, Richard Little, and Thomas Barfield, who apply the theories of international relations to analyze many political phenomena in the premodern period (before 1648), Norkus scrutinizes the history of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania to change the memory of it.

In addition to an introduction, conclusion and supplemental material (a vast bibliography and indexes), Norkus has divided his book into three parts, each coherent, albeit differing in style. The third part is the most important because here, by building from the material of the previous sections, the author is able to answer key questions he had set himself: (1) Was the Grand Duchy of Lithuania an empire in the Middle Ages? (2) Why is the answer to the first question positive? (3) What kind of empire was the Grand Duchy of Lithuania? (4) In the modern period, into what form of state was the Grand Duchy transformed?

The first part, an overview (Pp. 23-71), briefly presents two issues: the development of the idea of empire in European political and legal thought (from the Roman Republic until the present) and portrayals of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania that either depict the Duchy as an empire or question this idea. That modern connotations of empire and imperialism are so disparate enables the author to conclude that at present the word "empire" is no longer considered negative. The question, however, is whether, in today's tumultuous political climate, talking about an empire evokes negative connotations for anybody? Is this the reason why, as the author suggests, the question of the Lithuanian monarchy's imperial past only arose in Lithuanian historical literature and publications during the past decade? The effective imperialism that Lithuanians had undergone quite recently, along with their admission into the European Union, after only experiencing full sovereignty for a dozen years, might as well give rise to questions about Old Lithuania's greatness and, as a result, could provoke a discussion about its historical legacy. [End Page 371]

The second part of the book is of a methodological nature (Pp. 75-203). In six chapters the author investigates the research methodology of modern comparative political science and theories of international relations in order to categorize notions defining and classifying empires. In the social sciences, disputes about how to properly define these concepts might cause as much confusion as the disagreements about the ideologization of science. Therefore, Norkus does not try to create another definition of empire but rather points out which definitions are better than others and...