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The Clash of Civilizations: War-making and State Formation in Europe



The Clash of Civilizations: War-making and State Formation in Europe

Victor Lee Burke

ISBN: 978-0-745-61198-3 January 1997 Polity 224 Pages


From a tiny group of Germanic bands to the mightiest governmental system the world had ever known - what caused the momentous rise of the European states? Drawing on Toynbee's theory of civilizations, Victor Lee Burke develops an account of the origins and transformation of governments in Europe between the eighth and seventeenth centuries. Borrowing also from Charles Tilly's and Anthony Giddens's works, he shows the importance of wars in the rise of the European state system.

Burke provides a panoramic sociological history of the rise of European states. He relates the origins and development of European governments to the social conflict among the European, Viking, Islamic, Byzantine, Ottoman, and Mongol civilizations. He assesses the impact of the Crusades on the rise of the monarchy and the origins of democratic regimes. In contrast to European-centred interpretations of history, the author argues that the conflict among other civilizations forged the rise and growth of Western European governments.

The book will appeal to advanced undergraduate students and academics across all social sciences and particularly in political and economic sociology, social and political theory, European studies and Western civilization.


1. A Theory of the Modern European State System.

2. Early Foundations of Western European Civilization.

3. Early Feudalism and Competing Civilizations.

4. The Manor and Church: Internal and External Conflict.

5. The Renaissance, the Reformation and the European State System.

6. The Findings and their Implications for the Americas.




"Building on a tradition of analysis that goes back to Toynbee, Burke distinguishes above the macro level of social organization a supermacro level of interstate conflict, and above that a universal level of struggle among civilizations, clashing not only economically and militarily but in their cultural identities. He coordinates this analysis with the state-centered tendency in contemporary scholarship, which sees war-making capabilities as shaping the structure of modern states. Burke sets himself the question: how did 8th century tribal societies on the far western edge of more powerfully organized states on the Eurasian landmass, expand by the 17th century to the threshold of world domination? His most interesting hypothesis is that the failure of the eastward Crusades, and the westward expansion of Mongol and Ottoman civilizations, set off a legitimation crisis for the Papacy. The Protestant Reformation could not be put down because the Ottoman threat tied the hands of Catholic traditionalists, setting free the dynamics of bourgeois capitalism. And since expansion to the east was blocked, Europe was forced to turn westward, into an overseas empire that created the modern world system." Professor Randall Collins, University of California Riverside

"With unquenchable enthusiasm, commendable brevity, and admirable clarity, Victor Burke has fashioned a theoretically informed synthesis of European political history from the Roman Empire onward." Charles Tilly, Columbia University

* Analyses the reasons for the rise of the West as the dominant world civilization.
* Develops a novel account of the role of the clash of civilisations in history.
* Incorporates sociological thinking into historical research.