THE SINEWS OF POWER: War, Money and the English State, 1688-1783 by John Brewer

THE SINEWS OF POWER: War, Money and the English State, 1688-1783

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KIRKUS REVIEW

A lucid, incisive account of 18th-century Britain's development from a minor player on the periphery of the European theater to an imperial power through the evolution of the modern ""fiscal-military"" state. Brewer (Director, Clark Library and the Center for Seventeenth and Eighteenth Century Studies/ UCLA) examines the transformation through a focus on the bureaucracy that evolved to assess, collect, and channel tax monies. Three major factors are considered formative: the lack of an entrenched venal officier class, as in France; the absence of a large standing army independent of civil authority and the consequent emphasis on the navy; and the Common's check on the Crown's behavior through the power of the purse. Looking at methods of taxation used to finance the growth of war and Empire, Brewer points to the changeover from direct--i.e., land--tax to indirect excise taxes; a system of well-trained and efficient clerks and tax collectors, as opposed to tax fanning and factional sinecures; and the tendency of the population to accept taxation due to Parliament's participation in the process. The apparatus of the fiscal-military state created an environment that nurtured the growth of a private financial community and thus the tools of a modern economy and the development of deficit financing. A final chapter dealing with ""the politics of information"" considers the public's view of itself as part of the larger national economy due to the vogue for ""political arithmetic"" and the dissemination of ""useful knowledge"": statistics gathered and processed by the Bartlebys of the 18th century. Though aimed at the nonspecialist (much information will be familiar to students of the period's economic and military history), considerable background is required. Still, this is fluid, readable, and informative, and will reward anyone with an interest in the evolution of the modern state.

Pub Date: April 26th, 1989
ISBN: 0674809300
Publisher: Knopf