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Ecology, Economy and State Formation in Early Modern Germany

Author(s):Warde, Paul
Reviewer(s):Volckart, Oliver

Published by EH.NET (May 2007)

Paul Warde, Ecology, Economy and State Formation in Early Modern Germany. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2006. xvi + 392 pp. $99 (cloth), ISBN: 0-521-83192-X.

Reviewed for EH.NET by Oliver Volckart, Institute of Economic History, Humboldt University.

At first sight, Paul Warde’s study concerns the management of forests in some districts of late fifteenth- to early eighteenth-century W?rttemberg. A closer look reveals that the author presents a meticulously researched study of South-West German social, economic and administrative history. The book contains a wealth of detailed information on subjects such as the workings of village communities, the social structure of towns, economic policies, governmental regulation and the implementation of governmental measures at the micro-level. Warde is careful to point out local variations and changes over time, without denying that in many respects, social and economic conditions were surprisingly stable during the period of time he analyses.

While the book leaves few things to be desired as far as the presentation of archival findings is concerned, reading it is a less than satisfactory experience ? at least for a reader who was socialized among economists and expects a stringent analysis structured along arguments based on economic theory. Warde approaches his subject from the point of view of ‘landscape ecology’ and ‘philosophical ecological thought’ and makes use of concepts apparently grounded in sociological systems theory. Basically, he treats systems (economies, societies, ecologies, etc.) less as the intentional or unintended result of choices made by individuals, than as holistic entities which are subject to ‘integrity’ and ‘disturbances’ (cf. pp. 13 f.). Before the background of this approach, Warde employs concepts from diverse strands of social theory: Thus, modern economic concepts and tenets taken from Marxism are eclectically used side by side. How this is supposed to help in explaining change or stability still mystifies the reviewer. In fact, it is difficult to discover any clear-cut explanations in this book. For example, where Warde discusses the intensity of forest regulation, he describes dozens of individual occurrences or events and even mentions developments such as the growth or decline of population. However, he nowhere systematically explores how population developments influenced relative factor prices, and how changes in this field may have affected the incentives, which political actors engaged in regulating the forest economy faced (he does realize that relative factor prices are important, cf. p. 303). Generally, what is lacking in the book is a systematic analysis of who faced which incentives under the institutional system of early modern W?rttemberg, and of how such incentives changed over time. Also, Warde nowhere explains what exactly state formation is (is it just a rise in the intensity of regulation coupled with an improved ability to implement laws and ordinances?), still less does he provide an integrated approach to state formation and economic change. Instead, the author develops a concept of ‘two ecologies’ (‘territorial’ and ‘transformational,’ pp. 283 ff.), which leaves the reader guessing at which causal mechanisms may actually have been at work.

Warde’s book will be read with enjoyment by anybody interested in detailed descriptions of the early modern economy and society of South-West Germany. As far as explanations are concerned, the reader puts it aside with a feeling of deep dissatisfaction.

Oliver Volckart’s research focuses on late medieval and early modern financial history, in particular on questions related to the efficiency and integration of financial markets. Recent publications include (with Nikolaus Wolf), “Estimating Financial Integration in the Middle Ages: What Can We Learn from a TAR-model?” Journal of Economic History (2006). Beginning in September, he will be at the Economic History Department, London School of Economics.

Subject(s):Government, Law and Regulation, Public Finance
Geographic Area(s):Europe
Time Period(s):Medieval