- Paperback: 360 pages
- Publisher: Cambridge University Press (June 23, 2008)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0521715334
- ISBN-13: 978-0521715331
- Product Dimensions: 6.1 x 0.8 x 9.2 inches
- Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 7 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,259,565 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Empire of Difference: The Ottomans in Comparative Perspective
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"If you want to understand how Empires are established, how they flourish and how they vanish, and if you're only reading one book, make it Barkey's Empire of Difference. Here, on impressive display are: an amazing command of six centuries of Ottoman history, a rare ability to illuminate the analysis with comparisons from neighboring empires, and, most important, a never-failing grasp of the theoretical questions that matter. The intellectual ambition of this enterprise is audacious; it is an ambition that is fully realized. It vindicates the promise of historical sociology at the highest level."
-James C. Scott, Yale University
"This book about the past has stunning relevance to the present - and to the future. Karen Barkey has not only contributed to our understanding of empire - she has derived from history lessons that are highly pertinent to the modern, post-imperial world. She combines the skills of an imaginative and disciplined scholar with an intimate personal knowledge of the Ottoman legacy as well as a natural talent for lucid explication and narrative verve. She explains how the longevity of the Ottomans' 'Abode of Peace' was a result of their ability to adapt to changing internal and external circumstances - and how the intercommunal peace itself resulted from Sultans' and viziers' efforts to make a virtue out of diversity. Her concept of a 'negotiated enterprise'-in effect, a social arrangement on a massive scale that relied as much on soft power as hard power-has direct application to the challenges and opportunities for both national and transnational governance today. Altogether an achievement of brilliance, accessibility, and contemporary utility."
-Strobe Talbott, president of the Brookings Institution and author of The Great Experiment
"The Ottoman Empire was one of the most successful and long-lasting examples of legitimate rule over a population characterized by extensive religious, linguistic, and cultural diversity. Karen Barkey convincingly argues that this achievement was due to the Ottomans' ability to maintain openness and tolerance. She draws from a rich literature to argue her compelling case. In retelling the story of the Empire's accomplishments and eventual demise, she greatly succeeds in introducing Ottoman history into the literatures in comparative history and historical sociology. The Ottoman case will now take its deserved place in the growing debate on empires. This book will be mandatory reading for any intelligent discussion on empire."
-Çağlar Keyder, Binghamton University, State University of New York and Boğaziçi University
This book is a comparative study of imperial organization and longevity in the Ottoman Empire. Barkey's research demonstrates that the flexible techniques by which the Ottomans maintained their legitimacy, the cooperation of their diverse elites, and their control over economic and human resources were responsible for the longevity of this "negotiated empire."
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Rebelling against the template of rise and decline, the author seeks to explain what enabled the Ottoman Empire to last from 1300 to the eve of WWI. She breaks down the stages of the Ottoman Empire into 3 periods: 1) the establishment of a vast geographic empire that tolerated and absorbed representatives from virtually all of the major mediterranean civilizations as well as many of Asia; 2) the long struggle to wage (and finance) innumerable wars in the 17th and 18th centuries, which saw the establishment of a more or less Sunni Islamic state that relied on the "privatization" of many essential state functions; 3) the failed transition from empire to nation-state, with the rise of extraordinary violence and exclusion as coherent political entities emerged.
Up to the end of the 16th C, the Ottoman Empire created a state that was ruled in a hub and spoke model, emanating from Istanbul. The Sultan essentially cultivated the elites of conquered territories - preserving their status, offering them some peace and justice, and in stark contrast to the Christian persecutions that were gaining momentum, tolerating and even encouraging religious and ethnic differences among its subjects. The elites were co-opted, but they also saw it in their self interest to accommodate the Ottomans. The religions were a fluid mix of Christian and Moslem variations, that were "syncretic", i.e. feeding off eachother and merging in their forms and even their beliefs; this reflected the balance of ethnicities over which the Ottomans presided, straddling Europe and the Near East. (This would bear serious and deeper investigation. It is genuinely inspiring.)
What is truly fascinating is how Barkey establishes the subtle balances that existed: the non-Muslims accepted an inferior status - a clear boundary - in exchange for autonomy and the designation of circumscribed areas for their own enterprise. Muslims controlled the military with all its booty and glory, the non-Muslims had trade, certain areas of administration, etc. Each community interacted only with the center and did not forge relations across their boundaries. Ottomans in their turn acted as "brokers" between interests, negotiating with extraordinary flexibility and pragmatism and choosing elite members of the communities who would cooperate and in their turn gain advantage. These boundaries also were somewhat porous, with conversion to Islam (exempting converts from taxation, for example) as well as entry by Christian youths into the elite Janissaries warrior class.
Once the Ottomans reached the apogee of their expansion, the world had changed in a number of ways. Other powers with new technologies and ideas, were constantly encroaching on their borders, which were increasingly costly to maintain by warfare. Perhaps more important, with the conquest of the old arab lands, the balance of population shifted decisively towards Sunni Islam, lessening the tolerance for which the empire had become known. This entailed severe restrictions of who could work in the Ottoman court, which lost much of its eclectic mix and flexibility. Nonetheless, even though medresses and an elite ulema were set up by Suleiman the Magnificent, Islam became more or less a tool of the state. Dissent in this period was not tolerated if it had an ideological character that, through ideas, might threaten the the incredible diversity of subtle balances that centuries of negotiation and accommodation had established between communities.
In another vein, the financial stresses of constant warfare led to a decisively important development in the administration of the Empire. To raise funds quickly, the Sultan sold rights to tax farmers, which created an entirely new class of autonomous elites that also moved into commercial trading at the moment that the industrial revolution was dawning. These elites, she says, created "horizontal" relations with each other, supporting the Sultan in many cases (as in his struggles against Janissaries allied with the conservative ulema for deadly shows of force), but also carving out their own areas of interest, injecting political ideas rather than merely territorial concerns into the dialogue with the state. This signaled the end of the hub and spoke model, delegating many state functions to regional actors who gained great power and autonomy while forging new alliances with each other.
Finally, in the 19C, the Ottoman state attempted to modernize itself with the administrative tools of the nation state. Unfortunately, with the many strains of reforms stances that emerged - Enlightenment oriented, Islamic, and nationalist-Turkic - the various nations and ethnic groups no longer felt a part of the compact of the Empire and sought increasingly to extricate themselves. This was 19C nationalism and it tore the Empire apart. The traditional toleration, which has made the Ottoman Empire a beacon of enlightened governance, died. But the world had also become a far more complex place than the command-economies that existed to the end of the 17C.
The author does clearly address the issue of Armenian genocide, which she sees as a product of the Young Turks and their attempts in the context of war with Russia to instill a pan-Turkic ideology (as a new basis of political legitimacy), in essence shamefully turning the violence of the state on "outsiders" within the Empire as a unifying threat. Her treatment of this is curiously muted and dryly academic, but she does not shrink from addressing it even though she is an emigrant from Turkey.
Interestingly, there is no question that Barkey could have written this differently in terms of style. In her introduction, she evokes the differences between her grandfather's attitude (who loved the bounded culture mix that still existed in the 19C empire) and that of her father, who was concerned with the modernization of the Turkish nation after WW!. She probably had to write the book with her sociologist colleagues in mind for obvious career considerations, which is a pity for the interested layman reader as her talent as a writer surpasses that of most academic sociologists.
Recommended with enthusiasm. This is one of the most interesting history books I have read this year.
She starts by proposing an "imperial model" (Part I of the book). Here, she uses a social network perspective and suggests that empires "broker" local networks and political units (such as nations etc); this "brokerage" is sustained via a number of institutions from the imperial center that exert indirect rule on the periphery. A counterintuitive conclusion is that empire fosters diversity and shelters difference, much more so than other political regimes (think about how nation-states try to erase religious or ethnic differences).
Then she delves into the transformation of the Ottoman Empire into a Nation-State (Part II). This, in itself, is highly informative. While I am not an expert on the Ottoman Empire, she obviously masters the topic. The empirical material is very well-exposed and confirms the theories exposed in the first part of the book.
The book received two awards in 2009, and rightly so:
The "J. David Greenstone Award" of the Politics and History Section, American Political Science Association
The "Barrington Moore Book Award" of the Comparative and Historical Sociology Section, American Sociological Association (co-winner)
The key takeaway of the book is, for me, as a sociologist, that "empire" is not necessarily something that should be discarded on ideological grounds, rather studied scientifically.
This is a must read for sociologists, political scientists, and historians who are interested in empires and do not fear to reconsider their presuppositions.