THE COURT SOCIETY by Norbert Elias


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Readers who were entertained or edified by social philosopher Elias' two previously translated studies in his series ""The Civilizing Process"" (The History of Manners and Power and Civility) may want to skip whole chunks of this tedious offering. Otherwise, those who survive the 35-pp. introduction on ""Sociology and History""--how much weight, for instance, to give what kind of individuals in which historical models--will run smack into a second chapter entitled ""Preliminaries""; and may opt out before getting to anything of substance. Even then, the substance is often simpler than Elias' prose. Court society, he says, is a type of social ""figuration""--where, as in all such, the key is the interdependencies between individuals. So we get a lot of detail on the lives and lifestyles of the court of Louis XIV, the archetypal court. There, the monarch and the nobility elaborately reinforced one another. The king's bedchamber was the scene for a morning ritual that involved six different groups--with some members called on to perform specific acts. (""The maitre de la garderobe pulled his nightshirt by the right sleeve, the first servant of the wardrobe by the left; his dayshirt was brought by the Lord Chamberlain or one of the king's sons who happened to be present."") Any change in status was immediately reflected in the symbolism of etiquette. Thus, Saint-Simon, whose memoirs are an important source here as they were in Power and Civility, received only one task to perform in the three years after he fell into minor disfavor with the king. Rank and social standing determined everything: many a noble went bankrupt keeping a house that corresponded to his rank, rather than his wealth; but a duke's house had to be a duke's house, not one that could be mistaken for a mere count's. Ruined nobles were forced into moving into the grand palace at Versailles, where the king was able to control the nobility more effectively, and where, as in the nobles' new townhouses, the nobility developed the first romantic worldview, looking back to a rural, warrior-noble past with longing. Elias titus points to the development of court society as a precursor to urbanization. An appendix carries Elias' analysis of the king's rule via the skillful playing-off of factions to Hitler's regime, countering interpretations of Nazism that emphasize its homogeneous character and showing the comparative relevance of this study. But Elias' insights into urbanism, romanticism, and the rest don't make up for the more commonplace observations made here repetitively and turgidly.

Pub Date: Jan. 9th, 1983
ISBN: 1904558402
Publisher: Pantheon