July 12, 2006
Today I am reading The Sinews of Power by John Brewer, which is about the development of the fiscal-military state in eighteenth-century Britain. Brewer argues that Britain's eighteenth-century military successes depended not only on wealth and manpower, but on the centralized state administrative structures that allowed the state to mobilize that wealth and manpower in its own service. Further, he argues that resistance to state centralization and bureaucratization forced the government to be transparent and accountable, which made it more legitimate and hence more effective. This legitimacy allowed the state to gain hegemony in the sense that its subjects acknowledged Parliament's right to tax them and thus willingly paid their taxes. Brewer acknowledges, however, that this hegemony weakened with greater distance from the metropole, and that, although the expanding state avoided autocracy at home, it did rule its peripheries autocratically. It is a convincing argument, and I did not expect a book about taxation to be so engaging!
Here are some key words (in reverse alphabetical order):
venal: (adj) 1a. Open to bribery; mercenary; b. Capable of betraying honor, duty, or scruples for a price; corruptible; 2. Marked by corrupt dealings, especially bribery; 3. Obtainable for a price.
sinew: (n) 1. A tendon; 2. Vigorous strength; muscular power; 3. The source or mainstay of vitality and strength.
sinecure: (n) 1. A position or office that requires little or no work but provides a salary; 2. An ecclesiastical benefice not attached to the spiritual duties of a parish.
excise: (n) 1. An internal tax imposed on the production, sale, or consumption of a commodity or the use of a service within a country; 2. A licensing charge or fee levied for certain privileges.
customs: (n) 1a. Duties or taxes imposed on imported and, less commonly, exported goods; b. The governmental agency authroized to collect these duties; c. The procedure for inspecting goods and baggage enteringa country; 2. Tribute, service, or rent paid by a feudal tenant to a lord.
bureaucracy: (n) 1a. Administration of a government chiefly through bureaus or departments staffed with nonelected officials; b. The departments and their officials as a group; 2a. Management or administration marked by hierarchical authority among numerous offices and by fixed procedures; b. The administrative structure of a large or complex organization; 3. An administrative system in which the need or inclination to follow rigid or complex procedures impedes effective action.
Posted by eklanche at July 12, 2006 11:03 AM