- The Second Ottoman Empire: Political and Social Transformation in the Early Modern World
Baki Tezcan's innovative and ambitious new book will unquestionably provoke much discussion and debate in the Ottoman field. It is only very loosely based on his 2001 doctoral dissertation, which focused on the 1622 regicide of Sultan Osman II and its resonances in modern Turkey. Here, his purview is much broader, extending to the overall political culture of the Ottoman Empire in the period now characterized as one of "crisis and change" (what used to be labeled "decline") between the late sixteenth century and the beginnings of Westernizing reform in the early nineteenth century. He asserts, quite rightly, that while the decline paradigm has been convincingly overturned, no alternative metanarrative has emerged to take its place. He proposes a scheme of what he terms democratization as a result of widening political participation on the part of a variety of social groups inside and outside the palace, including Janissaries, ulema (Muslim scholar-officials), and long-distance merchants. This process, he argues, resembled in many ways the concurrent process in England and resulted in a complete transformation of the Ottoman Empire from a medieval, patrimonial, feudal emirate to an early modern, monetized [End Page 177] constitutional monarchy. This transformed polity was indeed a "second Ottoman Empire."
Tezcan sees this transformation proceeding on several different fronts, notably fiscal, dynastic, and military. Chapter 1 addresses the monetization of the Ottoman economy. This trend is, quite obviously, reflected in the shift away from the military "fiefs" known as timars and toward cash salaries for all military service and, more generally, in the spread of tax farming throughout Ottoman society in the course of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries (although the farming of urban operations such as port customs was already widespread in the sixteenth century). The legal underpinnings of this change are reflected in a shift away from the "feudal" sultanic law known as kānūn, which implicitly posits the sultan as the holder of all landed wealth, and toward Islamic canon law, or sharī'a, administered by an increasingly powerful class of market-oriented jurists whose decisions favored tax farming and the cash waqf (although the troublesome question of why the cash waqf never extended to the Ottoman Empire's Arab provinces is not addressed).
Chapter 2 covers the transformation of Ottoman dynastic succession from a struggle among princes culminating in royal fratricide to a seniority system in which unenthroned brothers remained in the palace harem. Here, Tezcan borrows from the historiography of early modern England the concept of a fundamental struggle throughout much of the seventeenth century between "absolutists" and "constitutionalists." In an Ottoman context, the latter appear to comprise the social elements attempting to expand political participation, notably jurists, Janissaries, craft guilds, merchants, and certain viziers (although a rural element is curiously absent in this analysis). In contrast, the court appears to be the chief source of absolutism. The author masterfully demonstrates how the highest echelon of jurists (whom he labels, in British fashion, "lords of the law"), and above all the chief mufti, deployed the sharī'a in such a way as to circumscribe the sultan's authority, thus making possible the enthronement in 1617 of Mustafa I, brother of the deceased Ahmed I (r. 1603-1617). In chapters 3 and 4, we see the court "striking back" with the enthronement of the teenaged Osman II (r. 1618-1622), whose schemes of moving the imperial capital to Asia and of building a new army of mercenaries to offset the influence of the Janissaries are interpreted as absolutist. Notwithstanding this, the sultan by himself does not encompass imperial absolutism; rather, his absolutist agenda is implemented by members of his court, notably the formidable Chief Harem Eunuch Mustafa Agha and the sultan's tutor Ömer Efendi. In this context, "law lords" [End Page 178] and viziers can play either an absolutist or a constitutionalist role. Their closeness to the court appears to be the main determinant...