Q. Discuss the dominant feature of the absolutist state in Europe (2008).
Perry Anderson in
lineages of the absolutist state
calls the rise of the absolutist
state in Western Europe in the sixteenth century the final outcome of political
convulsions that marred the period. The centralized monarchies that emerged
marked a break from the feudal, pyramidal and parcelised sovereignty.
The nature of these monarchies has been a question of debate ever since Engels
called the state a kind of mediator between the feudal nobility and the emerging
bourgeoisie class and it acquires a certain independence from both. According
to Marx and Engels assumptions, the absolutist state seems to be a bourgeois
instrument, reflected mainly from the administrative structures. Anderson
questions the assumption that the characteristics of the absolutist state appear
‘pre-eminently capitalist’, as the emergence of these features coincides with the
end of serfdom, a core symbol of the feudal mode of production.
Anderson disagrees with this viewpoint and argues that the Absolutist state in
the west was ‘redeployed and recharged apparatus of feudal domination’
designed to clamp down the peasants back to their traditional social position. It
was neither an arbiter nor an instrument of the emerging bureaucracy against
the nobility. It was a new political shield for the threatened nobility. He says that
even when the rural surplus began to be extracted in money rent rather than
labour rent, as long as the aristocracy blocked a free market in land and there
was no mobility of labour, production relations remained feudal.
Anderson has analyzed the absolutist state and its characteristics in Europe to
reveal that the whole structure of the absolutist monarchies had a surface
modernity which betrayed a “subterranean archaism”.
Anderson states two reasons that motivated the rise of absolutism. The first is
identified as the class struggle between the nobility and the peasantry. The
generalized commutation of dues into money rent would ultimately lead to ‘free
labour’ and ‘wage contract’. This meant that the cellular unity of the political
and economic oppression of the peasants was threatened; the feudal lords knew
that their class power was at stake with end of serfdom. Classical feudal polity
combined both political and economic exploitation but the appearance of
money changed this. As a result, the feudal lords displaced political power to
upwards to a centralized, militarized summit- the absolutist state. At the same
time, there was an economic consolidation of the units of feudal nobility
beneath this political apex. There was a strengthening of the titles of property of