Coercion, Capital and European States, A.D.990-1990, Paperback Book

Coercion, Capital and European States, A.D.990-1990 Paperback

Part of the Studies in Social Discontinuity series

4 out of 5 (1 rating)


This is at once an account and an explanation of the evolution of European states during the present millennium.

The central problem addressed by the author concerns the great variety in the kinds of state that have prevailed in Europe since AD 990.

Professor Tilly shows how interactions between the wielders of power on the one hand and the manipulators of capital on the other resulted in three state formations each of which prevailed over long periods - tribute-taking empires, systems of fragmented sovereignty, and national states.

He argues that to conceive European state development as a simple, unilinear process is untenable, and further that relations between the states themselves are a big factor in their formation and evolution.

The final part of the book then applies these insights to the history of Third World states since 1945.

For the paperback edition the author has made minor revisions throughout and provided an additional section on the rapid changes that have recently taken place in Central and Eastern Europe. 'An important, provocative theory, with much originality and richly is extremely well written, despite containing both theory and a wealth of empirical information. It caries substantial learning lightly' - Michael Mann, "American Journal of Sociology". 'Admirable...Thoughtful and scrupulous' - Basil Davidson, "Journal of International Affairs". 'Admirers of Charles Tilly's work on European history will now have even more to admire - another genuine breakthrough...Straightforward, enlightened, and powerful' - Jack A.

Goldstone, "Contemporary Sociology".


  • Format: Paperback
  • Pages: 288 pages, 0
  • Publisher: John Wiley and Sons Ltd
  • Publication Date:
  • Category: European history
  • ISBN: 9781557863683



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I really enjoyed this title. Tilly starts off by stating that his goal is to understand the origins of the national state in Europe. Now, first off, when I initially read that I thought that national state was a typo for nation-state (no al suffix), but he clearly delineates between the two (as does Anderson): - National State: governs multiple regions/cities via “centralized, differentiated, and autonomous structures.”- Nation-State: people within share “strong linguistic, religious, and symbolic identity.”When using those definitions, a national state is territorially fat (so not like a city-state à la Athens circa 500BC) and has reinforcing institutions (so not an empire à la Alexander 323BC). Notice that in this meaning, national states can be nation-states and vice versa, but that seems to be rare, for how often does a larger national state really meet the requirements of “strong linguistic, religious, and symbolic identity”—not so often really. This has made me realize that in the past when I used the term nation-state I probably should have said national state. In everyday life, though, I do not think it really matters which one I use to refer to an entity like the USA. But for the political science world, it is most definitely better to start internalizing these hair-splitting definitions.Anyhow…So where did Europe get their plethora of national states? Well, Tilly's analysis boils down to two main factors: war and economy (hence the title of the book Coercion, Capital, and European States). In his estimation they have mutually reinforced each other in Europe for years and have had the capacity to make—if not directly lead to—the formation of numerous national states. What I enjoyed so much about this piece is that though this may seem reductionist, in some way one does have to whittle down to the most relevant factors if he or she is going to try and explain 1,000 years in 271 pages. In that sense the argument has a Jared Diamond feel about it.War can be thought of as a process of accumulation and concentration of coercion towards the growth of a state, whilst the economy can be seen as a process of accumulation and concentration of capital towards the growth of cities. It is then when these two, the state and the city, become more dependent on each other that one sees the formation of national states within the geopolitical arena. Concepts like human agency and class are taken as less relevant (though Tilly does address those).The real joy of the book though is not so much in his answer to the question Whence the state? as postulated above, but in the awesome whirlwind tour of Europe from 990AD to 1990AD that he provides as evidence for his claim. That is really the heart of the book. After the initial chapter where he outlines his main idea above, he runs through the following: how wars made states and vice versa, states and their citizens, lineages of the national state, the European state system, and ends with a discussion on soldiers and states in the modern world.This formulation of Charles Tilly is clearly ambitious and was not published until the last decade of his career. Criticisms do abound for his explanation, but most of them have been leveled at the particulars. What would make a more fruitful criticism—what I want to read for myself as well—would be one that encompasses the same scope as Tilly’s argument. That, too, would make an awesome read.

Also in the Studies in Social Discontinuity series