Lecture 33: New Forms of the State
I want to turn for the next four lectures to the changing role of the state in the era of
globalization. I will discuss its economic aspects—whether the economic role of the State is
changing in the era of globalization, its political aspects—how whether the political role of the state
is changing in this era—and its cultural aspects—whether the role of the state in defining culture is
changing. As I do so, I’ll start to fill in some of the cultural aspects of globalization I went past
earlier in the course.
The Westphalian Era.
To set the stage, I first want to describe the rise of the state
between 1648 and 1914. Before this period, the state—then referred to as the kingdom—had to
share the stage with entities smaller than itself—the feudal fiefs—and with larger entities, the Holy
Roman Empire and the Papacy. The change that took place in the mid-seventeenth century was
that the smaller and larger entities were eliminated, laeving the states as the only important actors
on the geopolitical stage.
If you go back to the year 1200, let’s say, there were many different levels and kinds of
authority to whom allegiance of one sort or another was due. There was the local landowner,
probably a lower rank of nobility, like Baron, to whom allegiance was due in the first instance; and
not only allegiance, but taxes and rents—in fact the two were more or less indistinguishable; rents
and taxes supported armed men who kept the Baron in power. The local nobility ran the local court
system, appointed what local officials there were, and from the point of view of the commoner was
the most present and most important layer of government. Above the Baron would be the higher
nobility, the Duke or Marquis, to whom the lower nobility owed allegiance, and more than that,
armed assistance in times of trouble. It was also from the upper nobility that the common people
took their political identity, insofar as there was political identity larger than the village. In the
present territory of France, people thought of themselves, not as French, but as Bretons or Normans
or Gascons or whatever, and the noble landowner holding title to that level of allegiance would be
the Duke of Brittany or Normandy or whatever.
Above the great territorial nobles was the king, to whom everyone on down owed
allegiance. But this obligation was not absolute, in several senses. The king owed duties to the
nobility, just as they owed duties to him. In addition, and maybe more to the point, the king’s