The Political Systems of Empires

The Political Systems of Empires

The Political Systems of Empires

The Political Systems of Empires

Excerpt

The publication of The Political Systems of Empires in a paperback edition provides a good opportunity for recapitulating some of the major points of the analysis presented in the book and for placing this analysis within a broader framework of comparative political sociology.

The book deals with one type of historical, premodern political system -- the Imperial System -- or, to be more precise, with the system of the centralized bureaucratic empires which, among the major historical premodern systems -- the various types of tribal federations, of feudal systems, and of city-states or patrimonial regimes or mixtures thereof -- have constituted the most compact, continuous, and enduring entities. The majority of these empires developed from one or another of the other types of premodern political systems mentioned above, and their different origins have necessarily greatly influenced the differential course of their history -- the exact nature of the political symbolism, their international setting, and their "longevity" or "continuity," as well as the directions of their change.

But, despite the great variety of historical and cultural settings from which these empires developed, they shared some common basic characteristics, which are analyzed in greater detail, especially in Chapter 2 of this book. The most general of these characteristics which, as we shall see, distinguish them from other premodern societies, was that they encompass wide, relatively highly centralized territories, in which the center, as embodied both in the person of the emperor and in the central political institutions, constituted an autonomous entity. These characteristics were usually forged in the first stages of the establishment of these empires, in which also, despite the great variety of historical origins and cultural settings, some common features can be found.

The initiative for the establishment of these polities has come from emperors, kings, or some members of a patrician ruling élite (such as the more active and dynamic element of the patrician ruling élite in republican Rome). In most cases these rulers either came from established patrician, patrimonial, tribal, or feudal families, or they were usurpers, coming from lower class families, who attempted to establish new dynasties or to conquer new territories. In some cases they were conquerors who attempted to establish their rule over various territories.

In most cases such rulers arose in periods of unrest, turmoil, acute strife, or dismemberment of the existing political system. Usually their aim was the re-establishment of peace and order. They did not, however, attempt to restore the old order in its entirety, although for propagandist and opportunist reasons they sometimes upheld such restoration as political ideology or slogan. They always had some vision of the distinctly political goals of a unified polity. They aimed to . . .

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