The Age of Absolutism: capitalism, the modern states-system and international relations
Understanding the origins of capitalism in terms of feudal crisis, agrarian class structures and economic development in Europe has been an enduring concern of a growing body of scholarship focusing on changes in social property relations. This work has been distinctive in highlighting long-term patterns of social property relations central to shaping late medieval and early modern Europe, variegated patterns of serfdom within feudalism, class conflicts intrinsic to the emergence of agrarian capitalism, and thus capitalist ‘transition’ through different paths of development. Most recently, the implications of a focus on social property relations have been drawn out in its relevance for International Relations (IR), expressly in terms of tracing specificities within the age of absolutism that shaped the expansion of the states-system and its relation to modernity. This article outlines and engages with past and present debates linked to the social property relations approach. It raises several problematics through an engagement with the theorising of political modernity by Antonio Gramsci and on this basis offers pointers towards future lines of enquiry from which further reflection on the conditions of historical and contemporary state formation and restructuring may proceed.
1 Earlier drafts of this article were presented at the 3rd International Conference on Gramscian Studies, co-hosted by La Fondazione Istituto Gramsci di Roma, Italia and the Benemérita Universidad Autónoma de Puebla, México (BUAP), held in Puebla, México (7–10 October 2003); at the workshop ‘ Images of Gramsci: Connections and Contentions in Political Theory and International Relations’, University of Nottingham (24–25 October 2003); and at the 28th Annual Conference of the British International Studies Association (BISA), University of Birmingham (15–17 December 2003). I would like to thank Andreas Bieler, Joe Buttigieg, Marcus Green, Kees van der Pijl, Benno Teschke, and the anonymous referees for their very helpful comments and suggestions.