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  • The Disciplinary Revolution: Calvinism and the Rise of the State in Early Modern Europe
  • Robert M. Kingdon
Philip S. Gorski . The Disciplinary Revolution: Calvinism and the Rise of the State in Early Modern Europe. Chicago and London: The University of Chicago Press, 2003. xviii + 249 pp. index. illus. tbls. bibl. $52 (cl), $21 (pbk). ISBN: 0–226–30483–3 (cl), 0–226–30484–1 (pbk).

This book offers an explanation of the rise of the state in early modern Europe, roughly between 1500 and 1800. It carefully analyzes previous explanations of this important phenomenon, as offered by both sociologists and historians, [End Page 204] and finds them incomplete. Gorski finds that most sociologists have overlooked religious components in this rise and that most historians have overlooked significant differences among different forms of religion in this period. For him the key ingredient in explaining the rise of strong states is the emergence of discipline for religious reasons at every level of society, and the most intensive form of this discipline is the one developed by Calvinists.

He begins with a chapter containing careful and judicious analyses of theories on this subject offered by scholars from a variety of disciplines. He then offers two chapters, each containing a case study of states that became unusually strong in the period: the Netherlands and Brandenburg-Prussia. In the Netherlands he finds a state that became strong by discipline emerging from below. In Brandenburg-Prussia he finds a state that became strong by imposing discipline from above from the electoral government. In each state Calvinist churches played an important role in introducing discipline — in the Netherlands as a favored church in a relatively pluralistic society, in Brandenburg-Prussia as a minority church favored by a governing elite. This discipline was ecclesiastical, as administered by Calvinist consistories, social, as applied in agencies of poor relief, and political, in controlling the creation of cadres of administrators and the drilling of armies.

Gorski then offers a chapter comparing a number of additional states possessing Lutheran, Catholic, and Calvinist confessional commitments, with special attention to the types of discipline they developed. In almost every case he finds discipline more intensive in countries influenced by Calvinism, and thus capable of producing stronger governments. He wraps the argument up with a brief summary and conclusion that even raise a few parallels of contemporary relevance.

In general I found the argument neatly organized, tightly reasoned, closely documented, and persuasive. In fact, I think it could even be strengthened at points. Gorski might have added that most Calvinist churches in different nations made "discipline" one of three formal "marks" of a true church in the confessions summarizing their beliefs, and in this deliberately broke with a two-mark formula preferred by Lutherans, and a multimark formula favored by Catholics. Theology supported practice on this crucial point. In any event, this is a very important book that deserves close attention from all scholars interested in its subject.

Robert M. Kingdon
University of Wisconsin, Madison


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pp. 204-205
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Archived 2009
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