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The Rise and Decline of the State [Paperback]

by Martin van Creveld
4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (10 customer reviews)

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Book Description

August 28, 1999 052165629X 978-0521656290
The state, which since the middle of the seventeenth century has been the most important of all modern institutions, is in decline. From Western Europe to Africa, many existing states are either combining into larger communities or falling apart. Many of their functions are likely to be taken over by a variety of organizations that, whatever their precise nature, are not states. In this unique volume Martin van Creveld traces the story of the state from its beginnings to its end. Starting with the simplest political organizations that ever existed, he guides the reader through the origins of the state, its development, its apotheosis during the two World Wars, and its spread from its original home in Western Europe to cover the globe. In doing so, he provides a fascinating history of government from its origins to the present day. This original book will of interest to historians, political scientists and sociologists.

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Editorial Reviews


"...this study offers two major scholarly contributions. First, the state is regarded as "merely one of the forms" the organization of government has assumed; therefore it is not eternal. Second, Van Creveld points out that development and spread of new institutions--"abstract organizations" in the author's words--since a quarter of century ago have started to take over some of the state functions..." X. Hu, Social and Behavioral Sciences

"Martin Van Creveld provides an insightful history of the state and the most lucid analysis to date of the contemporary challenges it faces...This is an important book." Peter Schwartz, Whole Earth

"This is a book which many more should read than will, such as anyone teaching 'Western Civilization' or 'Modern Europe', anyone interested in intellectual history, or anyone simply interested in the political condition of the modern world." Richard A. Oehling, H-Net Reviews

"'The Rise and Decline of the State'--a tight display of erudition counterpointed by occasional heavy-handed attempts at humor--makes the case." Washington Times

"Van Creveld's latest study is an important and wide-ranging scholarly work, in addition to being both beautifully written and a thoroughly engaging reading. It is crucial reading not only for students of military and political history, but also for those of Western utopian literature, since it clearly highlights throughout the links between fact and fiction. Besides its value to academics, this expansive and interesting review of the evolution of the nation-state worthwhile and enjoyable reading for anyone with an interest in political science and history." UTOPIAN STUDIES

"This study is not only brilliant history; it is insightful and brimming with scores of fascinating and plausible hypotheses..." The Journal of Interdisciplinary History

Book Description

The state, which since the middle of the seventeenth century has been the most important of all modern institutions, is in decline. From Western Europe to Africa, many existing states are either combining into larger communities or falling apart. In the future, Martin van Creveld argues, their functions are likely to be taken over by other organizations. This unique volume traces the history of the state from its beginnings to the present day. It will be invaluable to all who would understand the history of government, and its future.

Product Details

  • Paperback: 448 pages
  • Publisher: Cambridge University Press (August 28, 1999)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 052165629X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0521656290
  • Product Dimensions: 9 x 6 x 1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.5 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (10 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #982,072 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
54 of 57 people found the following review helpful
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
I will start my review with what I consider two weaknesses of this book.

First, one of the previous reviewers commented on questionable accuracy of the historical facts presented in the book. I found one minor factual error and one mistake with the events I personally witnessed (p. 375). The factual error is the statement that Andropov started campaign to tighten discipline and, as part of it, he launched a campaign against drunkenness. In reality, Andropov indeed started wide-spread disciplinary measures, but the "credit" for the disastrous anti-drunkenness campaign of 1985 goes to Gorbachev.
The mistake is van Creveld's statement that after Afghanistan "adventure ended in defeat, in 1988, the Soviet leadership was left without an armed force which could have imposed unity on the country." This is nonsense. It is equivalent of saying that as a result of defeat in Vietnam, the US Army was destroyed. In fact, Soviet Army was used successfully afterwards exactly for the purpose of maintaining internal stability: in January of 1990 26,000 Soviet troops stormed overnight Baku (the capital of Azerbaijan) effectively "restoring the order" and killing 130 and injuring 700 people in the process. Also, in 1991-1992 the 14th Army under the command of General Lebed had effectively stopped the civil war between Moldova and Transdnistria and restored peace in the region. Only several years later, by murdering General Rokhlin and starting the First Chechen War, KGB started in earnest the destruction of Soviet Army as a fighting machine and political force (General Lebed was killed later).

The second weakness of this book is its writing style.
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47 of 53 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Brilliant December 25, 2000
Every once in a while you come across a book that goes beyond being interesting or thought-provoking, but is a veritable five lane intellectual super-highway. Martin van Creveld's The Rise and Decline of the State is such a book.
Prof. van Creveld's work revolves around this point: prior to the seventeenth century (with some exceptions) rule was seen as personal. The monarch personally ruled over a given region and the people owed him their loyalty. The state was not the abstract entity that it was to become. The change from personal to abstract rule brought with it profound consequences in virtually all aspects of life.
Along the path from personal to abstract rule, many thinkers and rulers played a role, but Hobbes was decisive. [p. 179.] Also important were Locke, Montesquieu and Rousseau.
Of course, personal rule didn't guarantee that you would live in a libertarian paradise. Nonetheless, personal rule carried with it certain obligations: the sovereign (generally as a servant of God) was under the law and his powers were limited. The modern, bureaucratic state has almost unlimited powers. Even worse, the total state often leads to total war. In earlier times, wars between "states" were really quarrels between ruling houses and the common man could escape involvement. Not so with the modern state: you are a citizen of the state and owe it your exclusive allegiance. [p. 185.]
There is a lot more a reviewer could comment on in this book. Prof. van Creveld has all sorts of interesting things to say about the rise of the state and changes in crime, education, war, and the economy.
I do have one quarrel with the book. On page 178, Prof. van Creveld says that Christianity teaches that God "is believed to possess no fewer than three different bodies." Since Prof. van Creveld is not (so far as I can tell) a Mormon, I'm at a loss to see how he came up with that idea.
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27 of 30 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A brilliant book August 11, 2000
In this book, Van Crevald gives a synopsis of the rise in importance of the state and then a synopsis of forces that could (or will) lead to its decline. As a work of political history, I suggest that this work is invaluable-- both to students who lean toward institutionalism and neorealism.... For a book of political science, this book is relatively a fun read: I don't want to say it is impossible to put down, but damned close!
I would suggest that this book is a MUST read for anyone who has been conditioned to think politically along the line leading from Morganthou to Waltz because it MIGHT hint at things that are to come, especially (and initially) for non first or second tier states.
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20 of 25 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Insightful! November 2, 2001
In this comprehensive history of the modern state, author Martin Van Creveld weaves together disparate threads and illuminates hidden connections in forceful, energetic language. Thus, his book is both scholarly and entertaining. Van Creveld takes a generally dim view of governments and the state. The greater the state's power, the more he regards it as a monstrosity, and he's not shy about saying so. The anti-government political right will like this book, but Van Creveld's greatest contempt is reserved for nationalism, militarism and the state at war, which ought to entertain the left. He sees the state as a dubious, archaic institution and, as his narrative shows, his position transcends notions of conservative and liberal. Readers are likely to think of their nations differently after reading this book, which we [...] recommend primarily to students of politics and government and policy makers.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Great read
I thoroughly enjoy this book and more importantly the price I got it for on Amazon. It arrived in great condition as well.
Published 4 months ago by Happy
3.0 out of 5 stars an essential synthesis that morphs into thatcherite screed
The first 3/4 of this book - on the rise of the state - is a fascinating, if occasionally dry, historical look at the organization of power to form the administrative, territorial... Read more
Published on June 25, 2011 by Robert J. Crawford
4.0 out of 5 stars Complementary readings to this book
There are already some good reviews so I will only suggest reading the following books instead of, or in addition to this -somehow deficient- work: 1) "War in Human Civilization"... Read more
Published on June 11, 2009 by César González Rouco
3.0 out of 5 stars Intresting, but is it reliable?
Lots of good thoughts here, and an interesting historical account of the rise of various types of governance. Read more
Published on September 12, 2002 by Stephen M. St Onge
5.0 out of 5 stars the coming new world disorder
This work illustrates that Martin van Creveld is more than one of our premier military historians and theorists. Read more
Published on March 10, 2002 by Morgan H. Norval
5.0 out of 5 stars Historical Pessimism Absent Recommendations for Change
Anything Martin van Crevald writes is a five, and this book, although over-priced (...), is as as good as history can get. Read more
Published on November 12, 2001 by Robert David STEELE Vivas
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