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Impersonal Power. History and Theory of the Bourgeois State, Heide Gerstenberger, translated by David Fernbach, Historical Materialism Book Series, Leiden: Brill 2007.

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Heide Gerstenberger’s book offers a comparative view of the origins and emergence of the bourgeois state in England and France. Both, according to her, emerged out of ancien-régime type structures which were themselves distinct from feudalism. Whilst recognising the value of Gerstenberger’s attempt to avoid economic reductionism when explaining changing power-structures, it is suggested that analytical tools such as ‘class’, ‘mode of production’ and the ‘state’, which she confines to capitalism, do have considerable utility for the analysis of precapitalist régimes. More importantly, it is suggested that her attempt to maintain that in England, as in France, an ancien-régime type society endured at least to the end of the eighteenth century obscures the fundamentally divergent paths taken by the two countries. This is compounded by her rejection of the idea of a French absolutism and an underestimation of the extent to which power-structures in England were modified by the precocious development of capitalism. Whilst suggesting that a bourgeois public space was able to develop in the interstices of structures of the ancien régime, Gersternberger fails to recognise the extent to which this had transformed the English polity by the mid-seventeenth century.

Affiliations: 1: University of Leeds, Email:


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