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Agrarian Studies: Synthetic Work at the Cutting Edge

Agrarian Studies: Synthetic Work at the Cutting Edge

by James C. Scott (Editor), Nina Bhatt (Editor)
This book presents an account of an intellectual breakthrough in the study of rural society and agriculture. Its ten chapters, selected for their originality and synthesis from the colloquia of the Program in Agrarian Studies at yale University, encompass various disciplines, diverse historical periods, and several regions of the world. The contributors' fresh


This book presents an account of an intellectual breakthrough in the study of rural society and agriculture. Its ten chapters, selected for their originality and synthesis from the colloquia of the Program in Agrarian Studies at yale University, encompass various disciplines, diverse historical periods, and several regions of the world. The contributors' fresh analyses will broaden the perspectives of readers with interests as wide-ranging as rural sociology, environmentalism, political science, history, anthropology, economics, and art history.

The ten studies recast and expand what is known about rural society and agrarian issues, examining such topics as poverty, subsistence, cultivation, ecology, justice, art, custom, law, ritual life, cooperation, and state action. Each contribution provides a point of departure for new study, encouraging deeper thinking across disciplinary boundaries and frontiers.

Editorial Reviews

James C. McCann
A distinctive and distinguished collection, this volume includes the best work from the most interesting agrarian scholars.

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Yale University Press
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Yale Agrarian Studies Series
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Agrarian Studies



Copyright © 2001 Yale University
All right reserved.

ISBN: 978-0-300-08500-6

Chapter One

Some Ideological Aspects of the Articulation between Kin and Tribute: State Formation, Military System, and Social Life in Hesse-Cassel, 1688-1815


In 1962 Otto Büsch wrote about "social militarism" in order to describe how deeply eighteenth-century Prussian military institutions became entwined with German structures of authority at every level of society. Fifteen years later Michel Foucault connected the same developments in the entire Western world to a new technology of power he called "discipline." Much of the later work of Gerd Oestreich has elaborated on this theme for early modern territorial states in Germany. Despite the fruitfulness of this work, much of it remains limited to the dimension of what power holders intended and what they accomplished. Particularly true of Foucault's account (where even the forms and substance of "resistance" are controlled by the forces of discipline), this one-sidedness obscures the extent to which subaltern peoples adapted and adjusted their own ways of living to better fit and take advantage of what authorities were doing. The work of this chapter is to begin to rebalance the perspectives of socialmilitarism.

An example of the adaptation and adjustment to which I refer is noted by Hermann Rebel and appears in Theodor Adorno's comments on Eugen Kogon's observation that the cruelest guards in the German death camps could be identified as the dispossessed sons of peasants from Eastern and Central Europe. This Adorno attributed to the great cultural gap between town and country, and he called for a "debarbarization of the countryside." For him the barbarism of rural life was not the result of any failure to "modernize," rather it stemmed from the need of a capitalist society to provide an image and goal of "shelteredness" for workers in urban society. The ideological re-creation of the peasant family as a "stable" and "sheltered" world of gemütlichkeit, that is, an imagined escape from anomie in modern life, required, according to Adorno, that "surplus" children be cast out and cut off, that they be tragically sacrificed to the economic viability of rural households squeezed between state domination and economic exploitation. Thus, a peasant tendency to disadvantage some children as they ordered work and property through kinship was intensified by articulation with urban capitalism. According to Rebel, the historical experience of these sacrificed children resulted in "their exercise of pathologically debased and yet officially authorized forms of power." In this chapter, by telling the story of the emerging German territorial state of Hesse-Cassel between 1688 and 1815, I discuss a similar ideological articulation between groups that organize work differently. More generally, this account represents an exploration of the process of state formation as a process of articulation and rearticulation between a kin-ordered peasant society and a tribute-taking state.

The concept of "articulation" comes from theoretical work in Marxist social theory. In shifting the attention of Marxist social analysis back to social formations and modes of production, Eric Wolf made one of the most important theoretical contributions of the 1980s. What made this focus so interesting was the uncoupling of modes of production from set historical progressions (that is, feudalism to capitalism to socialism) so that it became possible to see historically existing social formations as encompassing different groups of people practicing different means of mobilizing, organizing, and distributing the benefits of social labor. This "articulation" of different modes of production within a single social formation enables a highly complex form of class analysis. The analyst may now see class formation as occurring simultaneously along as many axes as there are identifiable modes of production. Further, we now have the theoretical language to speak about the relation between classes practicing different organizations of social labor and to speak about individuals experiencing multiple class positions simultaneously. These class positions may either reinforce or contradict one another. Finally, these insights allow a far more sophisticated understanding of the relation between ideology and social formation-an understanding that escapes strictly determinist base-superstructure analogies and concepts of hegemony, which see dominant ideologies as products of single dominating classes.

Social Formation and State Formation in Hesse-Cassel, 1688-1815

By 1688 the process of state formation had been under way for more than a century in Hesse-Cassel. Although the rulers, or Landgraves, of the territory still acknowledged the nominal overlordship of the Holy Roman Empire and some of its legal and military institutions, they had established their rights to collect military taxes, had successfully claimed a monopoly on the military services of their subjects, and had created an officialdom who owed primary loyalty to them. Within their territory they still shared the aspects of sovereignty with a landed aristocracy that occasionally practiced demesne farming (Gutsherrschaft) but primarily lived from collected tributes as judicial overlords (Gerichtsherrn), as landlords (Grundherrn), and as important creditors of the Hessian peasantry. The aristocracy possessed a legal claim to control the amounts and means of taxation which it expressed through the Hessian Diet (Landtag). Many landed aristocrats added to their income, influence, and power by serving as officials in the Landgrave's government or as officers in his army, thus complicating the loyalties of his officialdom.

After 1688, Landgrave Karl accelerated the pace of state formation, thereby decisively eroding the corporate powers of the aristocracy. This gradual shift in balance resulted from the Landgrave's intensified participation in a developing market for trained military units. On the basis of "subsidy treaties," many princes of small and medium-sized territories (including both Austria and Prussia) received payment from Europe's great dynasties to raise, to equip, to train, and to officer many of the military units deployed in eighteenth-century warfare. The year 1688 saw Landgrave Karl begin a "subsidy" relationship with the English crown, which lasted until England withdrew from continental fighting in 1815. Here I shall not address the shifting articulation between the English and Hessian states but instead will focus on the changing relationship between the Hessian state and the peasant society that provided both the men and the wealth that made this system work. It is sufficient to say now that the subsidy markets drove those changes in social formation and ideology that are the subject of my account.

The wealth that the Hessian state acquired from the market in military units provided not only a motivation for further state formation but also financial means to do it. First, Landgraves used subsidy wealth as a patronage tool to forge a political consensus among Hessian elites in support of this peculiar set of institutions. The Hessian landed aristocracy continued their nearly unquestioned support of subsidy institutions well into the 1770s even though such practices eroded the Diet's control of the Landgrave's budget. They did so because the military system provided positions for their sons, credit for themselves, and general tax relief for the aristocracy. They cooperated by putting their own estate administrative apparatus at the service of the state for the purposes of recruitment and tax collection.

Second, subsidy wealth provided the means for the frequent administrative elaborations that recruitment and taxation among the Hessian peasantry required. In some measure, the political and financial independence gained from subsidy wealth made such reforms possible. Thus, the Landgrave's participation in the international subsidy market substantively influenced the three crucial dimensions of state formation: administrative elaboration, intensification of taxation, and the growth of military institutions.

Hesse-Cassel's peculiar path to state formation provoked little overt peasant resistance. Only during the War of the Spanish Succession and the Seven Years' War did officials report any substantial disobedience to recruitment and taxation measures. Despite participation in wars in every decade after 1730, only occasional reports surfaced of a slow hemorrhage of poor men fleeing to avoid military service. A new efficient tax system after the 1740s and 1750s and the formal introduction of conscription in 1762 seemed to ease the most obvious tensions by reducing favoritism among officials. Only in 1773, when the state intervened to forestall adjustment of peasant dynastic strategies concerning conscription, did the system come unglued enough to precipitate a crisis among both aristocrats and peasants. William IX resolved the crisis caused by his father only by completely overhauling the military system in the 1780s and 1790s.

The social impact of articulation between kin-ordered producers and tributary groups was most visible in the way Hessian peasants adjusted their dynastic strategies to the military system. Hessian practices of administration, recruitment, and taxation all seemed to fit well enough into the dynastic strategies of important villagers-peasant officials, holders of large tenures, church elders, and wealthy "retired" peasants-so that these members of the peasant elite continued to work with judicial overlords to deliver recruits to the militia and the standing army, and to enforce taxation. Precisely how some peasant dynasties found advantages in the earlier stages of subsidy state formation remained shrouded in the oblique explanations of reforms made by Frederick II (1760-1785) and his predecessor, William VIII (1730-1760). These laws implied that past administrators, their subalterns, and peasant village officials did not function without "partiality ... or from other moving causes." Rather, they turned administrative activity into a hierarchy of patron-client relationships that shifted the burden of taxes and recruitment onto poorer and less influential peasant dynasties. Thus, as in the system of domination (Herrschaft) that David Sabean has described for Württemburg, authorities exchanged protection (often from their own administrative actions) for obedience. Reform carried out under the auspices of "rationalizing" Enlightenment language sought to attack this mode of domination and replace it with another less partial and more efficient one. Throughout the eighteenth century such reforms foundered on the shoals of an administrative paradox-that is, in order to carry out the reforms, reformers needed to invoke the authority of the very system of patronage they hoped to neutralize. Despite the contradictions, in 1762 administrators created a wealth-based system of military service exemptions, which partly neutralized the operation of past patronage networks. In instituting administrative reforms, authorities posed as protectors of the needy, who, they claimed, bore an unfair burden of taxation and recruitment.

In response to the recruitment reform of 1762, rural heads of households married their children to different kinds of people and practiced partible property devolution more frequently than in the past. Their adjustments to the institution of selective conscription varied according to the classes of wealth established by the law itself. Peasants with three hectares or more were themselves exempted from service. Those who held eighteen or more hectares could exempt a single son whom they designated as their sole heir. Members of the peasant elite, whose heirs the law exempted, allowed their other sons to be drafted, whereas before they had sought marriages for them. Peasants without sufficient wealth to win exemptions for heirs began matching their sons earlier than in the past. In order that these young grooms acquire military exemptions, farmers divided their estates and bought the necessary plow teams to work them. These farmers needed to keep their sons close to home because they could not afford to hire farm labor as frequently as wealthier villagers could. Thus, the lesser peasant dynasties offered some manipulation of, and resistance to, state strategies of recruitment.

The patterns of adjustment to the 1762 law contributed to a crisis of intimate authority in the households and villages of Hesse-Cassel. Among lesser households, parents accomplished division of estates only by reducing the dowries of daughters, sacrificing the economic viability of their farms, and burdening their estates with debt. New couples on the mini-estates became increasingly dependent on their own wage labor and that of their children and so adopted reproductive strategies that maximized the number of births. The elder generation had lost an effective sanction that had kept land-household ratios in relative balance for more than fifty years, and as a result, population grew for more than a century.

Moreover, past marital practice had always meant that some brides from less wealthy dynasties married above their stations to the cadet sons of the peasant elite. This marriage planners accomplished as they concentrated credit and other resources to provide attractive dowries for their daughters. Such plans could no longer be easily enacted, as sons commanded a greater share of dynastic resources to acquire draft exemptions. Additionally, wealthy parents with cadet sons no longer provided these men with sufficient marriage portions to purchase an exemption-giving farm. Marriage alliances between such children had been a way of extending the influence of wealthy families over more property, while poorer families acquired protection and work in association with the wealthier family. With the institution of administratively "neutral" taxation and recruitment processes, the influence of the wealthy diminished in value, but such marriages became more risky for poorer parents as well. Cadet sons from wealthy households became specific targets of recruiters, and once a man entered military service, his regimental commander froze his assets, holding them as a surety against desertion. To wed a soldier or a potential soldier always involved some risk that the wealth of the bride's family could be frozen. Wealthier parents found that letting the dispossessed brothers of their heir enter the army delayed the need to provide large marriage portions for them, provided a potential source of income, and removed disgruntled presences from households. In pursuing this line of adjustments, peasants diminished the number of affinal ties between the wealthy and the poor and thus threatened the networks of authority on which they had previously based labor, marriage, and credit relationships. This prepared the way for sharpened class divisions within peasant communities and dynasties.


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Meet the Author

James C. Scott is Eugene Meyer Professor of Political Science, professor of anthropology, and director of the Program in Agrarian Studies at Yale University. He is the author of Seeing Like a State, Domination and the Arts of Resistance, Weapons of the Weak, and The Moral Economy of the Peasant, all published by Yale University Press. Nina Bhatt has worked as rural sociologist for the World Bank in Nepal and Washington, D.C., and as micro-enterprise consultant for the Ford Foundation in India.

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