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Eighteenth-Century Studies 39.4 (2006) 537-541

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War, the State, and Society:

Recent Forays

College of Charleston
Philippe Contamine, ed., War and Competition between States (Oxford and New York: Clarendon Press, 2000) Pp. xi, 347. $78.00.
Jonathan R. Dull, The French Navy and the Seven Years' War (Lincoln and London: Univ. of Nebraska Press, 2005) Pp. xiii, 445. $35.00.
Janis Langins, Conserving the Enlightenment: French Military Engineering from Vauban to the Revolution (Cambridge, MA and London: The MIT Press, 2004) Pp. xiv, 532. $55.00.
Clive Wilkinson, The British Navy and the State in the Eighteenth Century (Rochester: The Boydell Press, 2004). Pp. x, 246. $85.00.

Exploring the connections between armed conflict and the origins of the state in the Enlightenment and how this had an impact on society in general has been a particular concern for military historians. A reflection of Clausewitz's concept of the trinity of war—army, government, and the people—such concerns received noteworthy treatment in Geoffrey Parker's The Military Revolution: Military Innovation and the Rise of the West, 1500–1800 (1992). The four books under review each follow this trend. Three basic themes stand out: 1) the role that armed forces and war played in the formation of the 'modern' bureaucratic state; 2) the way these states successfully/unsuccessfully utilized military instruments to further national and strategic goals; and 3) the relationship between war and the larger culture of early modern society. [End Page 537]

The first theme dominates the volume edited by Philippe Contamine, War and Competition between States. Sponsored by the European Science Foundation and based on one of seven working groups during a four-year-program on European state development, this collection of nine essays of synthesis by prominent European scholars entertains the martial origins of the modern state. By examining the multi-faceted components of state development—military institutions, resource mobilization, infrastructure, and international norms and standards for conflict—one readily observes the endemic influence that war had on state formation itself.

Maria Nadia Covini's chapter on the Italian state system (1200–1500) and Luis Ribot García's analysis of early modern Spanish armies respectively provide case studies of military institutions in southern Catholic Europe—the key geographic area of Parker's Military Revolution. Covini provides a cogent and convincing narrative and analysis of the role of the military in Italian state formation. The transition from communal armies based on the urban and rural populations of a city-state to professional forces coincided with the increased duration of warfare and the commutation of military service to a lump sum fee. As armies grew, they required more state resources. By the fourteenth century free companies emerged who sold their services to the highest bidder. Wars were now much longer and more widespread. By the fifteenth century the necessities of war put the prince condottieri and contract armies at the disposal of the Renaissance state. Thus, state needs drove military developments and military developments drove state formation.

For García the emergence of the modern army in Spain "was inseparably connected with the birth and evolution of the 'modern state'" (37). Agreeing ostensibly with Parker's thesis, he contends that the growth of armies depended upon many transformations apart from technology: permanency in military organization and the person of the sovereign to name just two. He then traces the development of the Spanish armed forces from the medieval bans to the tercios of Cordoba to the nation-in-arms during the Revolutionary period. The first important transition occurred in the sixteenth century when the nobles of Spain walked away from the profession of war, making it the purview of the common folk through contract service with the crown. This resulted in the increased use of mercenaries and military entrepreneurs by the seventeenth century and the dependence upon local militias for manpower pools. These needs of the Crown would engender the modern bureaucratic state in order to further raise, organize, and use armed forces.

The use of state authority to create an environment for...


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