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This very interesting and provocative book is an effort to explain the genesis of recurrent rebellions/revolutions in early modern Europe and comparable other Eurasian societies. It is based on careful reading of the enormous literature surrounding 17th century Europe, the French Revolution, the Ottoman Empire, the Ming-Qing transition, and the fall of the Tokugawa shogunate. Goldstone is also a clear writer who presents his ideas very well.
Rather than taking on the whole issue of revolution, Goldstone begins by restricting himself largely to a smaller but crucial question; what was responsible for state failure in the early modern world? Goldstone introduces a multifactorial model with 3 key components; inability of the state to raise sufficient revenues to finance itself, fissured elites, and disaffected marginal popular groups that could be mobilized for violence. This sounds fairly vague but Goldstone introduces a single driving force that generates the 3 key components; demographic expansion. In Goldstone's model, population growth in these pre-industrial economies leads to inflation with subsequent erosion of state (and individual) purchasing power. Coupled with the increasing real costs of important state activities like the costs of warfare, this leads to fiscal crises for the state. Population growth, often accompanied by considerable turnover of the upper classes, leads to increased competition among elites for privileged positions, especially state patronage which the financially strapped states cannot accomodate. The resulting insecurity among and competition among elites often leads to an adversarial relationship to the state at it seeks to improve its revenue base.Read more ›
I found Jack A. Goldstone's Revolution and Rebellion in the Early Modern World was an incredibly informative piece of literature about a very complicated topic in which Goldstone's book does much to de-mystify. I thoroughly enjoyed my first foray into comparative political economics. As a Bachelor of Science in Economics, of which I haven't done much with since college, it was a fun return to the world of statistics and econometrics.
In Michael Richard's review of Goldstone's opus he notes that Goldstone takes a lot from previous sociological disciplines including the works of Moore and Skocpol but states it "goes well beyond both works;" which it does . It is hard to imagine any book could take a more detailed examination of revolutions that Goldstone does in Revolution and Rebellion in the Early Modern World. It is worth noting that both this review and a review of the book by R. Albin, cite demographic expansion as the main operandi of state breakdown. However, the R. Albin review notes that demographic expansion is only a part of a "multifactorial model with three key components: inability of the state to raise sufficient revenues to finance itself, fissured elites and disaffected marginal popular groups that could be mobilized for violence" . While Goldstone makes it clear that demographic expansion was definitively a driving force behind state breakdown, the effects of demographic change within the state and the certain cost-benefit analysis and changes in expectations that accompanied that demographic change are what Goldstone is hypothesizing are the facilitators of revolution.Read more ›
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