The Politics of Aristocratic Empires is a study of a political order that prevailed throughout much of the world for many centuries without any major social conflict or change and with hardly any government in the modern sense. Although previously ignored by political science, powerful remnants of this old order still persist in modern politics.
The historical literature on aristocratic empires typically is descriptive and treats each empire as unique. By contrast, this work adopts an analytical, explanatory, and comparative approach and clearly distinguishes aristocratic empires from both primitive and more modern, commercialized societies. It develops generalizations that are supported and richly illustrated by data from many empires and demonstrates that a pattern of politics prevailed across time, space, and cultures from ancient Egypt five millennia ago to Saudi Arabia five decades ago, from China and Japan to Europe, from the Incas and the Aztecs to the Tutsi. Kautsky argues that aristocrats, because they live off the labor of peasants, must perform the primary governmental functions of taxation and warfare. Their performance is linked to particular values and beliefs, and both functions and ideologies in turn condition the stakes, the forms, and the arenas of intra-aristocratic conflict—the politics of the aristocracy.
The author also analyzes the roles of the peasantry and the townspeople in aristocratic politics and shows that peasant revolts on any large scale occur only after commercial modernization. He concludes with chapters on the modernization of aristocratic empires and on the importance in modern politics of institutional and ideological remnants of the old aristocratic order.