Too often we think of the modern political state as a universal institution, the inevitable product of History rather than a specific creation of a very particular history. Bertrand Badie and Pierre Birnbaum here persuasively argue that the origin of the state is a social fact, arising out of the peculiar sociohistorical context of Western Europe. Drawing on historical materials and bringing sociological insights to bear on a field long abandoned to jurists and political scientists, the authors lay the foundations for a strikingly original theory of the birth and subsequent diffusion of the state.
The book opens with a review of the principal evolutionary theories concerning the origin of the institution proposed by such thinkers as Marx, Durkheim, and Weber. Rejecting these views, the authors set forward and defend their thesis that the state was an "invention" rather than a necessary consequence of any other process. Once invented, the state was disseminated outside its Western European birthplace either through imposition or imitation. The study concludes with concrete analyses of the differences in actual state institutions in France, Prussia, Great Britain, the United States, and Switzerland.