Authority, State and National Character: The Civilizing Process in Austria and England, 1700–1900, 1st Edition (Paperback) book cover

Authority, State and National Character

The Civilizing Process in Austria and England, 1700–1900, 1st Edition

By Helmut Kuzmics, Roland Axtmann


376 pages

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This book presents a cross-disciplinary and methodologically innovative study, combining historical macro-sociology and a sociology of emotions with historical anthropology and cultural studies. Drawing on the concepts and theories of Norbert Elias on the Civilizing Process, it sets out to pin down and compare qualities that are simultaneously instantly recognisable and highly elusive, that is a kind of typical 'Englishness' and of 'Austrianness' that developed contemporaneously in the period up to the First World War. The authors chart the development of political authority structures in their varied historical manifestations, as well as their affective sedimentation as collective habitus ( national character ), comparing England and Austria from 1700 to 1900 as a case study. Their argument is based on an analysis of literary sources, mainly novels and plays, applying a sociology of literature approach. Axtmann and Kuzmics argue that the very different national characters formed in England and Austria during this time are related to differences in the affective experience of power and powerlessness, in short, of authority. They show that the formation of national character is determined partly by the different mixture of authoritative external constraints and milder self-restraint, and partly by the affective experience of human beings in uneven power balances. Specifically, they show how the formation of the bureaucratic state with strong patrimonial features in Austria, and of a self-organizing civil society with strong bourgeois-liberal features in England resulted both in different institutional structures of authority, and in different modes of the affective experience of this authority. Employing empirical detail of individual cases and texts to analyse and illuminate broad processes, the authors reach a clearer and deeper understanding of seemingly intangible and irrational aspects of national identity.


'This long-awaited book fully lives up to expectations. It is an outstanding example of comparative historical sociology at its subtlest, tackling the intriguing subject of differences in national character or habitus through a wealth of historical and literary evidence.' Eric Dunning, University of Leicester, UK 'In their Authority, State and National Character, Helmut Kuzmics and Roland Axtmann have produced a highly original comparative study of the development of English and Austrian habitus and social structure between 1700 and 1900. They creatively use the concepts and theories of Norbert Elias to shed light on their subject-matter, and their sociological use of literary sources is both path-breaking and exemplary. This book is a stunning achievement, quite literally a tour de force.' Stephen Mennell, University College Dublin. Ireland '…outstanding and methodologically innovative … Particularly original is the way in which literary texts have been convincingly adduced as evidence serving close sociological analysis. Through this subtle study of "Englishness" and "Austrianness'"a clearer and deeper understanding of seemingly intangible and irrational aspects of national identity has been reached. This is particularly welcome in an area where unthinking prejudice often forms part of the popular and even educated discourse on the subject.' Helen Chambers, St. Andrews University, UK

Table of Contents

Contents: General Editor's preface; Introduction; The formation of the English state and the sociogenesis of political authority; The formation of the Austrian state and the sociogenesis of political authority; Feudal patrimonialism and ecclesiastical coercion of conscience in Austria; Feudal paternalism in England: developments within the gentleman canon; The courtly element in the Austrian character: authority, pretence and servility; Proud detachment as an element of English authority relationships: 'indirect rule'; Bureaucratization as an Austrian civilizing process; Puritanism, book-keeping and the moralization of authority in the English habitus; Bibliography; Index.

About the Authors

Helmut Kuzmics is Professor of Sociology at the University of Graz, Austria. Roland Axtmann is Professor of Politics and International Relations at the University of Wales, Swansea, UK.

About the Series

Studies in European Cultural Transition

Studies in European Cultural Transition
The European dimension of research in the humanities has come into sharp focus over recent years, producing scholarship which ranges across disciplines and national boundaries. Until now there has been no major channel for such work. This series aims to provide one, and to unite the fields of cultural studies and traditional scholarship. It will publish the most exciting new writing in areas such as European history and literature, art history, archaeology, language and translation studies, political, cultural and gay studies, music, psychology, sociology and philosophy. The emphasis will be explicitly European and interdisciplinary, concentrating attention on the relativity of cultural perspectives, with a particular interest in issues of cultural transition.

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Subject Categories

BISAC Subject Codes/Headings:
HISTORY / General