Fiscal Crises, Liberty, and Representative Government, 1450-1789
Philip T. Hoffman, Kathryn Norberg
Stanford University Press, 1994 - History - 392 pages
Only recently have historians of early modern Europe begun to link the seemingly arcane details of state finance with the development of political ideas and institutions. These essays contribute to this new fiscal history by focusing on the growth of representative institutions and the mechanics of European state finance from the end of the Middle Ages to the French Revolution.
This was a period in which European states were engaged in nearly continuous warfare, which in turn produced periodic fiscal crises as the costs of warfare outran the income available to rulers from royal lands and taxation. In order to raise additional revenues to meet their needs, rulers were forced to enter into new fiscal arrangements with their subjects - in return for which their subjects demanded, and often received, a greater share of political power. In some instances, the eventual result was truly representative government. In others, the ruler reasserted his supremacy and absolutism prevailed. But whatever the outcome, the fiscal crises marked turning points along the path of both fiscal and political development.
The volume begins with two essays on England. David Harris Sacks traces the politics of government finance from the fifteenth century to the eve of the Civil War, and J. R. Jones carries the story forward into the eighteenth century, when representative government was jeopardized by new and powerful financial interests. The third essay, by Augustus J. Veenendaal, Jr., explains why the Netherlands' exceptional ability to raise money by taxes and loans allowed them to wage war without the severe financial difficulties experienced by other European powers. Two essays on Spain by I. A. A. Thompson follow the changing fortunes of the Cortes of Castile, relating its role to the desperate manipulation of Spanish fiscal policy as it came into conflict with the dearly held liberties of Castilian citizens.
The two final essays deal with the consequences of absolutism in France. Philip T. Hoffman details the fiscal effect of noble privileges and explores the political ramifications of the country's repeated financial crises, and Kathryn Norberg explains why the fiscal crisis of 1789 finally brought down the monarchy. A Conclusion by Hoffman and Norberg presents a comparative analysis of the four countries considered in the volume and draws some general lessons about the relationship between state finance and political development.
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