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In the high Middle Ages both elite kinship groups and polities became formalized, conceptually as well as legally. Since interdependence continued, there is a connection between the formalization and stabilization of elite families and the growth of more stable and durable polities. As the ruling strata of society became public, visible and relatively transparent, more durable political institutions could be formed. This chapter supports the link between formalized elite families and formalized polities. Kings and queens devoted considerable energies to ruling their realms through the nobility, for example by approving and arranging marriages. The realm depended upon magnate dynasties and their economic, military and political resources. Successful rulers collaborated with nobles. Attempts to forcibly subdue them often resulted in civil war, deposition of the monarch and even more rights for the nobility. This teaches us that collaboration, rather than coercion, is a key to polity formation.
This chapter summarizes the book and advances a synthetic theory on the development and maintenance of political orders. It argues that theories of political order in general and the state in particular have been one-sided in their emphasis on coercive power and the monopoly of violence. This books shows that coercion and violence must be complemented by consent, co-operation and integration as preconditions of stability in order to create more comprehensive social science theories of political order. Concerning modernity, there was no single path to the secular and egalitarian societies that developed in the West during the twentieth century. We could have ended up with societies that were administratively and technically modern but not egalitarian and democratic. Thereby the book problematizes the idea that premodern and modern forms of political orders are the timeless concepts claimed by modernization theory.
This chapter demonstrates how old the idea that families do not belong to political orders is in Western thinking. This idea has dominated anthropology, political science and sociology. Despite its popularity, the idea of an opposition between kinship and states is built on problematic notions about the state and kinship and it ignores empirical evidence. The ambition to describe kinship-based groups as obstacles to political development began with early modern thinkers like Jean Bodin and Thomas Hobbes but it was reinforced in the nineteenth century by sociologists as well as anthropologists. Understanding how the expulsion of kinship from our ideas of political order was essentially a political project, not the result of academic analysis, helps us to view European and Middle Eastern history with fresh eyes.
This chapter presents the theories used in the empirical chapters. The book uses theories that emphasize that stable polities need consent and collaboration, not just coercion. Power is not only how the strong dominate the weak but also a function of how groups can work together and the institutions that help them integrate. Finally, I discuss how political order is more than just the sovereign state. Political order is a general category of order that does not presuppose a monopoly of violence but capabilities for warfare, a common identity and a way to act as a collective.
The empires of the first centuries of Islam depended on kinship as a principle of legitimacy. Descent from the extended family of the Prophet Muhammad was necessary in order to become Caliph, the political and spiritual leader of the faithful. Consequently, both the Umayyad and the Abbasid dynasties legitimated their rule by reference to blood relations to the Prophet's family. There were also numerous aristocratic families similar to the European nobility but with the important difference that the former were never formalized. Nevertheless, the Arab empires had an ambivalent attitude to hereditary power. Imperial rulers often tried to break the power of the hereditary elites instead of embedding them in a stable system. The result was that few elites trusted the political system and opted for ‘exit’ rather than ‘loyalty’ in times of crisis and war. This also destroyed the Arab empires as rulers had to import foreign mercenaries.
Classically, the Ottoman Empire was considered as a polity that broke aristocracies by raising armies and bureaucracies of slaves beholden only to the sultan and an ideology both of equality and subjugation. In this interpretation, conflict between the ‘state’ and kinship characterized the empire. In fact, the empire contained numerous kinship-based elites, both formally recognized and informal. The empire’s longevity and several of its main conflicts can be understood by studying the charismatic power and legitimacy of its most central kinship group: the Ottoman dynasty. However, kinship-based elites were (a) mostly informal, (b) kept isolated by the imperial centre and (c) dealt with in an improvised ad hoc manner rather than through institutionalized procedures and organizations. Kinship elites were central to the empire and to its legitimacy but they remained without a legitimizing framework. Thus, the most successful Islamic polity collaborated with its many kinship-based elites.
The early Middle Ages is often portrayed as a time when families, not political structures, ruled. In contrast, I demonstrate that noble kinship groups and networks were integrated into institutions and ideas of a common political order. Dependence worked both ways. Kings were dependent upon major noble networks and nobles were legitimated by their roles as public actors and public warriors. Towards the end of this period, we also see the growth of a sense of responsibility for the common polity, the realm, even in the absence of kings. The chapter concludes that there was no principled opposition between kinship groups and the polity, between the aristocracy and the king – rather they were mutually dependent. However, since kinship groups were so informal, political institutions were also very informal and elusive. This teaches us that formalization of families was a key to the formalization of political structures.
This chapter analyses the survival of aristocratic elite families in European polities during the nineteenth century. I show that aristocracy and monarchy survived and even prospered by adapting to modern politics until the beginning of World War One. Certainly strong liberal, nationalist and socialist forces challenge hereditary power but they were only successful in Britain and France. The Central European, Ottoman and Russian monarchies and aristocracies were ousted only because of their defeat in World War One. The capacity of monarchies and aristocracies to survive even in the century of modernization means that the idea that kinship and political order are incompatible is weakened further. It is possible to have modern states ruled by elite families and legitimated by hereditary rule. However, it is not possible to build democracies on such foundations.
Political scientists and historians generally consider the early modern period as the era when sovereign states appeared. Older scholarship has associated state growth with the obsolescence and defeat of the aristocracy. However, the nobility remained fundamental to the political system despite the establishment of bureaucracies and standing armies. Although the period saw a number of rebellions by nobles, kings and nobles continued to depend on each other. Far from being opposed to royal order the nobility complemented the rule of kings. Although the nobility adapted to growing state structures, this period strengthens the connection between formalization of elite families and the formalization of political institutions. This chapter shows how international politics was also dynastic politics. The internal wars of succession of the Middle Ages became international wars of succession. The chapter maps different forms of succession and their corresponding wars.
This chapter deals with empires created by Turkic-speaking peoples in Western Eurasia between c.500 and 1200. It focuses on the empire of the Seljuk Turks and the Mongol Empire. Although vast in size, most Turkic polities were very short-lived. All empires were torn between the desire to centralize rule and the need to manage their multitude of different peoples. Generally, rulers that tried to impose a centralized, top-down order and break the power of local aristocratic orders soon saw their empires fail. Similarly to medieval Europe, successful rulers managed the multitude of sub-rulers and peoples by accepting a looser form of empire. Eventually, the steppe polities disintegrated because of their lack of embedding institutions. These findings support my argument that successful polity formation seems to hinge on developing political forms based on negotiation and shared rule – a pattern visible in Europe but not in the Middle East.
The Ottoman Empire is the most long-lived Islamic polity in world history. It is of particular interest to understanding if kinship is incompatible with or in fact central to stable political order. A long tradition in Western political and social thought argues that the Ottoman Empire terminated hereditary elite groups and established an impersonal despotic state in which all subjects, from the most exulted vizir to the most humble Anatolian peasant, were slaves of the sultan. This is also the image given by Ottoman political theory. Since the Renaissance Western social and political thought has tended to cast the Ottoman Empire as the radical ‘other’ of European realms. The efficiency and seemingly absolute rule of the sultans were originally the envy of European observers. To them, the Ottoman Empire differed from Europe where hereditary lords were essential and without whose support kings were powerless (Machiavelli, 1993:30–1; Çirakman, 2002:62ff; Bisaha, 2004). Later, the image of the Ottomans shifted. In the nineteenth century the weakened Empire was often portrayed as the ‘sick man of Europe’.
Since the seventeenth century, scholars have argued that kinship as an organizing principle and political order are antithetical. This book shows that this was simply not the case. Kinship, as a principle of legitimacy and in the shape of dynasties, was fundamental to political order. Throughout the last one and a half millennia of European and Middle Eastern history, elite families and polities evolved in symbiosis. By demonstrating this symbiosis as a basis for successful polities, Peter Haldén unravels long-standing theories of the state and of modernity. Most social scientists focus on coercion as a central facet of the state and indeed of power. Instead, Halden argues that much more attention must be given to collaboration, consent and common identity and institutions as elements of political order. He also demonstrates that democracy and individualism are not necessary features of modernity.