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The Rise and Decline of the State Hardcover – Aug 28 1999


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 448 pages
  • Publisher: Cambridge University Press (Aug. 28 1999)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0521651905
  • ISBN-13: 978-0521651905
  • Product Dimensions: 24 x 16 x 3 cm
  • Shipping Weight: 848 g
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (6 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #2,788,835 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
  • See Complete Table of Contents


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Definitions of the state have varied widely. Read the first page
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By Stephen M. St Onge on Sept. 12 2002
Format: Hardcover
Lots of good thoughts here, and an interesting historical account of the rise of various types of governance. Unfortunately, when van Creveld talks about things I know about already, he gets a lot of them wrong -- for instance, p222, where he asserts that by 1939, 'every American' was 'issued his or her social security card', and that 'the Dept. of Health and Human Services had been created.' HHS was created in the 1970s, under Carter, and to this day not every citizen has a Soc. Sec. card.
So if so many details are wrong where I know the facts, what about the places where I don't? And if the details are wrong, how good is the big picture?
This book makes you think, and has a lot of good references, but I don't trust its conclusions.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Rolf Dobelli on Nov. 2 2001
Format: Paperback
In this comprehensive history of the modern state, author Martin Van Creveld weaves together disparate threads and illuminates hidden connections in forceful, energetic language. Thus, his book is both scholarly and entertaining. Van Creveld takes a generally dim view of governments and the state. The greater the state's power, the more he regards it as a monstrosity, and he's not shy about saying so. The anti-government political right will like this book, but Van Creveld's greatest contempt is reserved for nationalism, militarism and the state at war, which ought to entertain the left. He sees the state as a dubious, archaic institution and, as his narrative shows, his position transcends notions of conservative and liberal. Readers are likely to think of their nations differently after reading this book, which we [...] recommend primarily to students of politics and government and policy makers.
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By Steve Jackson on Dec 25 2000
Format: Paperback
Every once in a while you come across a book that goes beyond being interesting or thought-provoking, but is a veritable five lane intellectual super-highway. Martin van Creveld's The Rise and Decline of the State is such a book.
Prof. van Creveld's work revolves around this point: prior to the seventeenth century (with some exceptions) rule was seen as personal. The monarch personally ruled over a given region and the people owed him their loyalty. The state was not the abstract entity that it was to become. The change from personal to abstract rule brought with it profound consequences in virtually all aspects of life.
Along the path from personal to abstract rule, many thinkers and rulers played a role, but Hobbes was decisive. [p. 179.] Also important were Locke, Montesquieu and Rousseau.
Of course, personal rule didn't guarantee that you would live in a libertarian paradise. Nonetheless, personal rule carried with it certain obligations: the sovereign (generally as a servant of God) was under the law and his powers were limited. The modern, bureaucratic state has almost unlimited powers. Even worse, the total state often leads to total war. In earlier times, wars between "states" were really quarrels between ruling houses and the common man could escape involvement. Not so with the modern state: you are a citizen of the state and owe it your exclusive allegiance. [p. 185.]
There is a lot more a reviewer could comment on in this book. Prof. van Creveld has all sorts of interesting things to say about the rise of the state and changes in crime, education, war, and the economy.
I do have one quarrel with the book. On page 178, Prof. van Creveld says that Christianity teaches that God "is believed to possess no fewer than three different bodies." Since Prof. van Creveld is not (so far as I can tell) a Mormon, I'm at a loss to see how he came up with that idea.
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