Vous êtes sur la page 1sur 10

a

s
h
g
a
t
e
.
c
o
m

a
s
h
g
a
t
e
.
c
o
m

a
s
h
g
a
t
e
.
c
o
m

a
s
h
g
a
t
e
.
c
o
m

a
s
h
g
a
t
e
.
c
o
m

a
s
h
g
a
t
e
.
c
o
m

a
s
h
g
a
t
e
.
c
o
m

Copyrighted Material
Copyrighted Material
Te Limits of Empire: An Introduction
Tonio Andrade and William Reger
Te chapters here were all written by scholars whom Parker has infuenced
some as students, others as colleagues. All the authors have benefted from
his warm and generous help at one time or another. Tey focus on a myriad
diferent topicsmarriage, war, diplomacy, drunken brawling. Tey treat
many diferent parts of the worldLithuania, Central America, Indonesia.
And they adopt diferent approachesgender history, military history,
religious history. But all share a Parkerian focus on the limits of empire,
which is to say that they all seek to understand the centrifugal forcessacral,
dynastic, military, diplomatic, geographical, informationalthat plagued
imperial formations in the early modern period. Tey also share Parkers
curiosity about the workings of empire, the ways that states dealt withor
failed to deal withthe challenges that beset them.
What limits to empire do they examine? One of the most important is
religion, and we see a remarkably nuanced view emerge in this book: religion
not just as an imperial tool or, on the contrary, just a tool of resistance, but as
one of many areas of interplay in the complex and ofen precarious balance of
authority within empires. In his bold reinterpretation of the famous Catalan
Revolt of the 1640s, when communities in Spains Catalan province rebelled
against Habsburg imperial control, Andrew Mitchell (one of Parkers former
PhD students) uses religious sermonsthere is a rich corpus of them, and they
have been largely unstudied, in contrast to Protestant sermons in northern
Europe and the North American coloniesto show how the rebels used
religious imagery and Catholic theology to legitimate their movement, even as
the authorities they rebelled against used religious discourse to oppose them.
Each side made competing claims of religious legitimacy, and Mitchell evokes
Parkers discussion of Philip IIs messianic mindset, Philip having been fond of
referring to Gods will, and mine, which are the same.
1
Mitchell describes this
1
Geofrey Parker, Te Grand Strategy of Philip II (New Haven: Yale University Press,
2000), 75, cited in Mitchell, Por Dios, Por Patria: Te Sacral Limits of Empire as Seen in
Catalan Political Sermons, 16301641.
a
s
h
g
a
t
e
.
c
o
m

a
s
h
g
a
t
e
.
c
o
m

a
s
h
g
a
t
e
.
c
o
m

a
s
h
g
a
t
e
.
c
o
m

a
s
h
g
a
t
e
.
c
o
m

a
s
h
g
a
t
e
.
c
o
m

a
s
h
g
a
t
e
.
c
o
m

Copyrighted Material
Copyrighted Material
Te Limits of Empire 2
wrestling over religious legitimacy as the sacral limits of empire, and the limits
were ofen challenging: no imperial formation could achieve a monopoly over
the legitimate use of religion.
2
Whereas Mitchells analysis is discursive, historian Andrea Smidt adopts a
more institutional approach but comes to similar conclusions. Examining the
Spanish empires failed eforts towards absolutism in the eighteenth century, a sort
of absolutist grand strategy, she shows that a key failure was the crowns inability
to exert control over religion. In the complex balance of countervailing forces
each with its own agendaimperial pretensions to religious absolutism ultimately
swirled into inefectiveness. Te Spanish crown ended up deferring to Rome and
thus promoted, in the end, the traditional image of the Spanish monarchy as
defender of the faith rather than as a religious authority in its own right.
3
Mary Sprunger approaches the theme of religion from a diferent angle,
showing how the Mennonites of the Netherlands could not ofer their full
support to the maritime empire, but rather limited their participation in the
engines of empire.
4
Mennonites in other areas, such as Switzerland, responded
to religious persecution by maintaining a strict separation between state and
faith. But the Dutch Mennonites lived in a diferent sort of society. Te Dutch
Republic was commercialistic, capitalistic, and globalizing. Referencing Parkers
infuential work on success and failure in the Protestant Reformation as well
as his lesser-known but equally fascinating article about the Scottish Reformed
Church (in which he argued that the Scottish Kirk became the handmaiden
of nascent capitalism), Sprunger examines how Dutch Mennonites tried to
navigate carefully between faith and participation in empire.
5
Despite their
religious devotion to nonviolence, Dutch Mennonites invested in the Dutch
East and West India Companies, both of which organizations used violence in
pursuit of trade. Yet their faith also impelled them at times to condemn armed
trade practices, particularly when they were in positions of responsibility within
their faith community. Tus, even within one relatively tight-knit group there
were countervailing claims of religious legitimacy, which afected the ways that
that group viewed empire and participated in it.
2
Mitchell, Por Dios, Por Patria, 31.
3
Andrea Smidt, Enlightened Absolutism and New Frontiers for Political Authority:
Building towards a State Religion in Eighteenth-Century Spain, 34.
4
Mary Sprunger, Te Limits of Faith in a Maritime Empire: Mennonites, Trade and
Politics in the Dutch Golden Age, 59.
5
Geofrey Parker, Success and Failure during the First Century of the Reformation
and Te Kirk by Law Established and the Taming of Scotland: St Andrews, 15591600,
in Success is Never Final: Empire, War, and Faith in Early Modern Europe (New York: Basic
Books, 2002), 282; quotation is from the latter, which is cited in Sprunger, 60.
a
s
h
g
a
t
e
.
c
o
m

a
s
h
g
a
t
e
.
c
o
m

a
s
h
g
a
t
e
.
c
o
m

a
s
h
g
a
t
e
.
c
o
m

a
s
h
g
a
t
e
.
c
o
m

a
s
h
g
a
t
e
.
c
o
m

a
s
h
g
a
t
e
.
c
o
m

Copyrighted Material
Copyrighted Material
Te Limits of Empire: An Introduction 3
Another key limit to empire was geopolitics: the increasingly complex
system of interstate interactions that began to set Europe apart from other
areas of Eurasia in the early modern period. Tese new networks provided
one of the greatest challenges to empires because they in a sense handed the
advantage to smaller state actors, who were ofen able to move more nimbly.
Denice Fett shows in her piece on early modern European diplomacy that the
intelligence networks that empires built up so painstakingly, with their coded
messages and multiple copies of dispatches (some of which were intended to
fall into unfriendly hands and thus contained the sort of informationor
misinformationthat one wanted the enemy to believe), had a tendency to
go wrong, and although empires had more resources than smaller states, their
intelligence networks were correspondingly larger and more unwieldy. Fetts
comparative analysis of French, Portuguese, and British diplomatic reports in
the late sixteenth century draws on Parkers extensive work on Philip II to show
how imperial intelligence networks could go bad and what factors lay behind
robust and successful networks.
6
Aside from their tendency to not work, imperial intelligence networks had
another problem: they generated huge amounts of information, a challenge
that Paul Dover examines in his chapter about information overload. In Grand
Strategy of Philip II, Parker marveled at Philips unprecedented intelligence
network, which brought dispatches from all over the world to the kings desks
in Madrid and Valladolid. But what puzzled Parkerand what also puzzles
Doveris a simple question: Why did Philip fail to translate so much
knowledge into irresistible power?
7
Parker ofers a many-factored answer:
Philips controlling personality, his messianic ideology, and the sheer volume of
the information. Dover builds on this last point: It is my contention, he writes,
that among the defning features of the early modern age were the challenges
of coping with greater quantities of data,
8
and he shows that although the rapid
increase of information was an occasion for wonder, it also brought anxiety and
intellectual dislocation.
9
Te quantity of information was disorienting; but
it was the problem of assessing its quality that was most daunting, and Dover
draws convincing parallels between the early modern age, when rumor-ridden
pamphlets and broadsheets fowed out of the presses in unprecedented numbers,
6
Denice Fett, Information, Gossip and Rumor: Te Limits of Intelligence at the
Early Modern Court, 15581585, 81.
7
Cited in Paul Dover, Philip II, Information Overload, and the Early Modern
Moment, 99.
8
Paul Dover, Philip II, Information Overload, and the Early Modern Moment, 100.
9
Ibid., 116.
a
s
h
g
a
t
e
.
c
o
m

a
s
h
g
a
t
e
.
c
o
m

a
s
h
g
a
t
e
.
c
o
m

a
s
h
g
a
t
e
.
c
o
m

a
s
h
g
a
t
e
.
c
o
m

a
s
h
g
a
t
e
.
c
o
m

a
s
h
g
a
t
e
.
c
o
m

Copyrighted Material
Copyrighted Material
Te Limits of Empire 4
and our own, when the Internet provides an anxiety-provoking surfeit of dubious
information. Early moderns even warned of the dangers of multitasking, that
unhealthy wish to dip frst into one book and then into another, which Seneca,
the classical hero of Renaissance authors, denounced as the sign of an overnice
appetite to toy with many dishes; for when they are manifold and varied they
cloy but do not nourish.
10
Te complex systems of diplomacy that produced much of this surfeit of
information were born in Italy, and Michael Levins chapter cleverly shows how
Spains imperial pretentions were challenged there. He, too, starts with Parkers
Grand Strategy of Philip II. Parker asserts that Philip was relatively successful
in Italy, and that Philip II managed to create a sort of pax hispanica in the
peninsula. Levin disagrees. Drawing on an exploding literature on early modern
Italy, he shows convincingly that the Italian states that Spain tried to dominate
were extremely efective at manipulating their nominal overlord, and that
Spanish dominance in Italy, such as it was, was actually the result of a process of
negotiation, a sort of interactive dominance, which he renames a pax hispano-
italica.
11
Empire was always negotiated. Imperial formations were contingent.
Te dance of mutual accommodation was precarious, particularly since
sovereignty in the early modern period could be ambiguous. Parker has drawn
attention in his work to the fact that in early modern Europe divided sovereignty
was more the rule than the exception. It is a theme running through his book
Europe in Crisis, and it draws on J.H. Elliots work on the composite monarchy,
which has deeply infuenced our understanding of early modern Europe.
12

Te composite monarchy was a common political arrangement in which one
ruler wore several crowns. Each crown was supposed to bear with it diferent
perspectives and agendas. Certainly that is what the subjects of the crown hoped
for, and they made their feelings clearsometimes in direct remonstrations
with rulers and, if this failed, sometimes in outright rebellion. In this way, the
political will of the sovereign was limited by the local laws and customs of his
various domains whose citizens saw themselves as members of a political unit
with its own history and institutions, whose interests were not identical to those
of the imperium at large.
It may come as a surprise, then, that the composite monarchy could actually
be a source of stability rather than centrifugism. Tis is the fascinating argument
of historian Robert I. Frost, who frst became interested in the composite
10
Cited ibid., 118.
11
Michael J. Levin, Italy and the Limits of the Spanish Empire, 121.
12
J.H. Elliot, A Europe of Composite Monarchies, Past and Present, 137 (1992):
4871.
a
s
h
g
a
t
e
.
c
o
m

a
s
h
g
a
t
e
.
c
o
m

a
s
h
g
a
t
e
.
c
o
m

a
s
h
g
a
t
e
.
c
o
m

a
s
h
g
a
t
e
.
c
o
m

a
s
h
g
a
t
e
.
c
o
m

a
s
h
g
a
t
e
.
c
o
m

Copyrighted Material
Copyrighted Material
Te Limits of Empire: An Introduction 5
monarchy when he was a student of Parkers at St Andrews. Frosts subject is
the composite monarchy of Poland and Lithuania, and he argues that the two
crowns benefted from their subjects awareness of the advantages of their being
worn by the same sovereign. Te composite monarchy was not, therefore,
simply a matter for monarchs.
13
Rather, diferent political communities were
alive to the potential benefts of union.
14
Frost calls on historians to pay more
attention to the political communities participating in the enterprise of empire.
Once again we are thrown back on the idea of empires as complex interplays of
rulers and ruled.
Te complex interplays were hard to manage, of course. A tendency toward
political entropy continually challenged imperial structures, and their rulers
were always seeking strategies to build stability. Not all of them had a grand
strategy, but most sought to maintain and extend their empires, and the tactics
they used to do so were as various as the forces they had to overcome.
One strategy was military force. Tonio Andrades article builds on Parkers
work on the military revolution, specifcally on a seminal article Parker published
in 2000, whose argument is telegraphed in its title: Te Artillery Fortress as
an Engine of European Overseas Expansion.
15
Parkers article asserted that
European expansion was greatly aided by the new Italian fortresses, which were
extremely difcult to dislodge and which thus undergirded European power
throughout the world. Te idea has come under attack, most notably by Jeremy
Black, but Andrade uses Chinese and European sources about the Sino-Dutch
War of 16611668 to argue that the artillery fortress deserves its reputation as
an engine of expansion. (Andrade also draws on the award-winning work of
another of Parkers mentees, military historian Jamel Ostwald.
16
) Although the
Chinese won the war, they had great difculty dislodging the Dutch from two
powerful artillery fortresses on Taiwan. Te tactics the Chinese usedand their
reaction to repeated failuresindicate that they did not at frst understand the
trace italiennes peculiar capacity for defense in depth. Tey adapted, but the
learning curve was slow and costly.
13
Robert Frost, Te Limits of Dynastic Power: Poland-Lithuania, Sweden and the
Problem of Composite Monarchy in the Age of the Vasas, 15621668, 153.
14
Ibid., 152.
15
Geofrey Parker, Te Artillery Fortress as an Engine of European Overseas
Expansion, 14801750, in James D. Tracy, ed., City Walls: Te Urban Enceinte in Global
Perspective (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2000), 386416.
16
Jamel Ostwald, Vauban Under Siege: Engineering Efciency and Martial Vigor in the
War of the Spanish Succession (Leiden: Brill, 2007).
a
s
h
g
a
t
e
.
c
o
m

a
s
h
g
a
t
e
.
c
o
m

a
s
h
g
a
t
e
.
c
o
m

a
s
h
g
a
t
e
.
c
o
m

a
s
h
g
a
t
e
.
c
o
m

a
s
h
g
a
t
e
.
c
o
m

a
s
h
g
a
t
e
.
c
o
m

Copyrighted Material
Copyrighted Material
Te Limits of Empire 6
Of course, as Parker has written, success is never fnal.
17
Military conquest
was just the frst step in expansion. A far more difcult step was consolidation,
maintaining a hold on imperial subjects. Rulers used various tactics.
One tactic was lying. Matt Romaniello looks at the way the Russian
Empire deployed symbols of unity to portray its empire as stronger than it was.
Constructing an empire, he writes, was a process of maintaining a faade of
success.
18
Not only did this involve ceremonial celebration and the acquisition
of the imperial title (tsar) for Ivan the Terrible, it also meant constructing a
tenuously closed border made up of small settlements and fortifed points across
routes of ingress and egress between territory conquered and what was beyond.
Tis line through the steppes was more symbolic, however, than militarily
efcacious: it was a material representation of the inclusion of the conquered
territory into the Russian empire, a visible sign of the tsars claim over his
new territory.
19
Yet Romaniello concludes that this strategy actually worked.
Creating an appearance of success is a vital ingredient of efective statecraf.
Playing with appearances was also a key pursuit for diplomats, as Richard
Lundell shows in his supple exploration of Habsburg diplomacy. Lundell evokes
Parkers discussion of strategic overstretch in the Habsburg Empire, but suggests
that the Habsburgs were able to use diplomacy to maintain stability in their
variegated domains. Lundells theme is dissimulation, and he fnds plenty of
it in the career of Eustache Chapuys, the famous Habsburg ambassador to the
English court. Lundell argues that we must pay close attention to the motivations
of the diplomats themselves, and the multiple audiences they were trying to
afect: Masks conceal, he writes, but they also present what one wishes to
present.
20
Teasing out the complex web of motives and interests in diplomacy
is a difcult task, and Lundell does it with aplomb, detailing how Chapuys and
other ambassadors sought on the one hand to perceive facts and on the other to
obstruct or infuence their perception and transmission.
21
Dissimulation was also used by agents of empire in the Habsburgs far-fung
colonies, and Bethany Arams article shows how Spanish ofcials in Central
America exploited the many possibilities of misinformation that naturally
arose in an imperial system in which it took a year or more to receive a reply to
17
Geofrey Parker, Success is Never Final: Empire, War, and Faith in Early Modern
Europe (New York: Basic Books, 2002).
18
Matthew Romaniello, Te Faade of Order: Claiming Imperial Space in Early
Modern Russia, 197.
19
Ibid., 200.
20
Richard Lundell, Renaissance Diplomacy and the Limits of Empire: Eustace
Chapuys, Habsburg Imperialisms, and Dissimulation as Method, 206.
21
Ibid., 206.
a
s
h
g
a
t
e
.
c
o
m

a
s
h
g
a
t
e
.
c
o
m

a
s
h
g
a
t
e
.
c
o
m

a
s
h
g
a
t
e
.
c
o
m

a
s
h
g
a
t
e
.
c
o
m

a
s
h
g
a
t
e
.
c
o
m

a
s
h
g
a
t
e
.
c
o
m

Copyrighted Material
Copyrighted Material
Te Limits of Empire: An Introduction 7
a report. Aram draws on Parkers work on the tyranny of distance, an empires
Enemy Number One, and details the precise times it took for dispatches to reach
the colonies and for reports to make it back, pointing out that travel time was not
the only problem: bureaucracy also slowed communication, as scribes and clerks
struggled to cope with an avalanche of paperwork. What is most intriguing
about Arams piece, however, is her demonstration that Spanish leaders in
the colonies exploited the productive and pernicious fctions facilitating
conquest.
22
Strategic or opportunistic misinformation gave local authorities
cover to disregard or delay the enforcement of royal decrees. Tey also span
locally gathered intelligence into narratives that helped them achieve their ends,
for example exaggerating rumors of gold and silver mines (the El Dorado efect).
In this way, local authorities legitimated the expansion of their own privileges
and prerogatives.
23
Distance from the metropole was not a problem just for the Habsburgs,
of course. Pam McVay explores the problem in the Dutch Empire in her
comparison of two colonies on opposite sides of the globe: one in Indonesia
and one in todays New York State. Her main focus is the practice of brawling,
but she is interested in how the administrators of empire tried to control the
brawlers. Tese ordinary (and ofen drunk) men were the main face of empire
to the indigenous peoples in both colonies. Administrators struggled to make
them behave themselves according to proper cultural standards.
24
Yet on the
edge of empire, the small governing bodies and tiny legal bureaucracies had
scarcely enough resources to manage diplomatic and trade relations.
25
Tey
found it difcult to keep their employees and common citizens from drinking
and fghting. Dutch imperial authorities used legal mechanisms to try to control
their employees penchant for interpersonal violence, but they were not very
successful.
We have discussed lying as a tool of empire. Another tool was sex. Cristina
Beltrn argues that in the early modern world matrimonial politics were still
the most efective instruments of [monarchies] political struggles. In this
she follows Parker, who devotes considerable attention to the phenomenon in
his work on Philip II, particularly in Grand Strategy. Beltrn points out that
matrimonial dynasticism was a risky game to play because the contingencies
of biology and diplomacy limited its efectiveness. For one thing, the very
22
Bethany Aram, Distance and Misinformation in the Conquest of America, 224.
23
Ibid., 228.
24
Pamela McVay, Brawling Behaviors in the Dutch Colonial Empire: Changing
Norms of Fairness? 237.
25
Ibid., 1.
a
s
h
g
a
t
e
.
c
o
m

a
s
h
g
a
t
e
.
c
o
m

a
s
h
g
a
t
e
.
c
o
m

a
s
h
g
a
t
e
.
c
o
m

a
s
h
g
a
t
e
.
c
o
m

a
s
h
g
a
t
e
.
c
o
m

a
s
h
g
a
t
e
.
c
o
m

Copyrighted Material
Copyrighted Material
Te Limits of Empire 8
tools of this policy were the dynasts own personages, along with those of
their family members.
26
For another, the monarch seeking to make such
connections had to navigate difcult diplomatic, religious, legal, and even
geographic waters; and, as Beltrn argues, the success and even the very
power of the Spanish monarchy made the work of marrying of the Spanish
princesses more difcult.
27
Edward Tenace takes up the theme in his own exploration of Philip IIs
matrimonial dynasticism, which examines the myriad ways Philip tried to
pair his daughter with various eligible mates. Referencing Parkers work
on Philip II, he notes Philips messianic imperialism, which led him at
times to expect divine aid when none was forthcoming. Yet Tenace shows
convincingly that this messianic outlook did not keep the king from making a
sort of Machiavellian dynasticism a priority in his relations with France. Te
messianic vision helped drive Philips imperial ambitions, but it was combined
with an at times hard realism: a divinely inspired realpolitik.
28
Nonetheless,
Philip ultimately failed to achieve his ends, thwarted by biology, politics, and
death. Tese articles, disparate in topic and approach, share an underlying
perspective: empire, being one of the most important and enduring types of
political structure in human history, deserves to be studied on its own terms,
with as few value judgments as possible.
For half a century it has been considered in rather bad taste, at least within
the academy, to focus on the rulers of empires and the decisions they tried
to make, on the grounds that such a perspective is a hallmark of traditional
historiographys focus on dead white men. Tis view started during the social
historical turn of the 1960s and 1970s and continued through the rise of
postmodern studies in the 1980s and 1990s. A history PhD student could
expect to build a better career by writing a dissertation on orientalism or
colonial discourse than on the diplomacy of Charles V or Philip II. Tis is
beginning to change. In the past decade, as American and British interventions
overseas have thrust the discussion of empire onto editorial pages, scholars
within the academy are becoming more willing to examine imperial structures
on their own terms.
Indeed, today the study of empire is in productive ferment, with a
proliferation of new scholarship that adopts more supple understandings of
26
Cristina Borreguero Beltrn, Isabel Clara Eugenia: Daughter of the Spanish
Empire, 257.
27
Ibid., 259.
28
Edward Shannon Tenace, Messianic Imperialism or Traditional Dynasticism? Te
Grand Strategy of Philip II and the Spanish Failure in the Wars of the 1590s, 282.
a
s
h
g
a
t
e
.
c
o
m

a
s
h
g
a
t
e
.
c
o
m

a
s
h
g
a
t
e
.
c
o
m

a
s
h
g
a
t
e
.
c
o
m

a
s
h
g
a
t
e
.
c
o
m

a
s
h
g
a
t
e
.
c
o
m

a
s
h
g
a
t
e
.
c
o
m

Copyrighted Material
Copyrighted Material
Te Limits of Empire: An Introduction 9
empires as they actually functioned. Rigid conceptions of colonizercolonized
are being increasingly replaced by conceptions of complex interplays between
coalitions of rulers and ruled because it has become clear that empires simply
could not exist without the at least partial consent of their imperial subjects, or
at least signifcant groups of those subjects. Tis was as true of the British Raj as
it was of Imperial China or Imperial Russia.
A mark of these changing attitudes is that the term empire itself is
being more widely used. It used to be reserved primarily for western powers
or states that looked like western states, such as Ottoman, Chinese, and
Mughal structures. But now historians apply the term in contexts one
might never have guessed it could be used.
29
In 2009, the Bancrof Prize in
American History went to Pekka Hmlinens book Te Comanche Empire,
which treats the Comanche Indians of North America as a powerful empire
that eclipsed European rivals.
30
As David Cannadine has recently quipped,
historians are starting to realize that empire might not necessarily be wholly
and intrinsically and irredeemably bad.
31
Geofrey Parker, of course, knew this before it was fashionable. He is a fan of
social history, deeply infuenced by the Braudelian Revolution, but he has never been
comfortable with the Braudelian view of human actions as immaterial to history,
as froth on the surface of the sea. So although his work has always acknowledged
the deep forcesenvironmental, cultural, economic, and technologicalthat
underlie human history, he has also always kept in mind that history is composed
of humans whose actions are ofen crucial to the outcome of events. We should
focus on the poor, the disadvantaged, the marginalized, of course; but we cannot
ignore the powerful, particularly kings and queens and generals. He has passed on
that perspective to his students and mentees.
Tus the essays in this book keep a frm focus on human beings, great and
lowly: the king reading memorials late into the night; the diplomat forging a
letter; the royal father conniving to marry his daughter; the clerk struggling to
keep up with an avalanche of paperwork. And, on the other side of the imperial
equation, those who resisted empire or insisted on accommodating it on their
own terms: Mennonites who struggled to remain true to ideals of nonviolence
even as they invested in overseas imperialism; settlers who drank and fought and
29
Some scholars prefer alternate terms. See, for example, Ann Stoler, Imperial
Formations (Santa Fe: School for Advanced Research Press, 2007).
30
Pekka Hmlinen, Te Comanche Empire (New Haven: Yale University Press,
2009).
31
David Cannadine, Big Tent historiography: Transatlantic obstacles and
opportunities in writing the history of empire, Common Knowledge 11, no 2 (2005): 375
92, quote at 388.
a
s
h
g
a
t
e
.
c
o
m

a
s
h
g
a
t
e
.
c
o
m

a
s
h
g
a
t
e
.
c
o
m

a
s
h
g
a
t
e
.
c
o
m

a
s
h
g
a
t
e
.
c
o
m

a
s
h
g
a
t
e
.
c
o
m

a
s
h
g
a
t
e
.
c
o
m

Copyrighted Material
Copyrighted Material
Te Limits of Empire 10
settled their diferences in their own way in the colonies; nomads who sought to
evade imperial restrictions on travel; priests who wrote incendiary sermons; and
bishops who disobeyed royal orders. Te result of all this focus on human action
is a picture of empires as contingent, evolving, constantly changing structures,
perpetually running up against limits and trying out new strategies.
Te human factor is a central fact of empires, and focusing on it helps keep us
aware of how dynamic empires were, even as it makes us aware of how misleading
appearances can be. Powerful, dynamic, and growing empireslike those
of Spain, Britain, or Russiacould conceal great weaknesses and were more
precarious than they appeared on surface. Similarly, empires that seemed weak
or cobbled togethersuch as the Spanish Empire in the eighteenth century
or the combined crowns of Poland-Lithuaniaofen displayed remarkable
fexibility, persistence, and adaptability. Te case of early modern Japan,
which Parker focuses on in his upcoming book about the global crisis, is a key
example. What once looked like economic weaknessanemic growth, a lower
rate of population increase, etc.turns out in retrospect to have been a system
that presciently managed a complex society with an awareness of ecological
limits. Perhaps the future will look more like early modern Japan than like the
precipitously growing societies and economies of modernity.
But perhaps the deepest lesson of this book and, indeed, of Parkers work in
general, is that things can shif quickly. Te best-laid plans of the most powerful
rulers have a tendency to go wrong. Success is never fnal. Te world can change
in the blink of an eye.
Tats something we should keep in mind.