Reading the Contractor State

The idea of the ‘contractor state’ is a key concept informing the Fiscal-Military System Project. This research field is linked especially with the idea of state formation through war, but shifts the  focus from the fiscal power of  government (revenues), and instead examines the impact of expenditures through the perspectives of those actors more at the forefront of the organisation of war. This change of perspective to the expenditure side and the actors “in the field” allows for a de-centralisation of analysing state formation, and - especially welcome - a turn away from the 19th century idea of national armies, and soldiers fighting out of patriotic-national feelings. As such, the research on contractor states and/or military entrepreneurs seems to be based on a growing uncertainty with applying 19th century ideas to pre-modern history and a deeper understanding of different forms of political community beyond the nation state. Interestingly enough, the exact wording in such research often refer to an understanding of state as sovereigns ruling over defined territorial units (Harding/Solbes Ferri (2012), 9), or that the primary function of the state was to sustain its army (Torres Sánchez in Military Entrepreneurs and the Spanish Contractor State, 3). To me, that sounds like an unnecessary gap between the questions of contractors and private business, which are clearly influenced by recent discussions of premodern realms not being nation states or states in a Jellinek sense (one territory, one people, one law), and the wording used in this research publications on contractor states.  

One advantage of the concept of the contractor state is that it separates war and motives for war from more or less national-romantic ideas of patriotism, and accepts that war is a business. And what an astonishing business! The dimensions alone are incredible, and it is no wonder that war organisation and financing of war had been identified as one of the main reasons for more effective domestic economies and administration already in the traditional research on state formation. Adding in a focus on entrepreneurs and on the processes of how the business of war was done, i.e. the contracts between different actors, allows to expand the dimension even more, now in a more geographical and cultural breadth. Furthermore, looking at contractors changes the perspective on the state: no longer as a producer of war resources, but a consumer of them. Governments as clients of private contractors really brings into question the top-down orientation still prevalent in many political histories. 

There is much more to the contractor state, the fiscal-military state, and the broker state, so please start reading and contributing!  

Further literature: 

Bonney, Richard, The Rise of the Fiscal State in Europe, c.1200-1815 (Oxford, 1999). 

Bowen, Huw V., and A. Gonzáles Encisco (eds.), Mobilising resources for war: Britain and Spain at work during the early modern period (Pamplona: EUNSA, 2006). 

Brewer, John, The sinews of power. War, money and the English state 1688-1783 (New York, 1989). 

Fynn-Paul, Jeff; Marjolein t’Hart, and Griet Vermeesch: ‚Introduction. Entrepreneurs, Military Supply, and State Formation in the Late Medieval and Early Modern Periods: New Directions’, in: Fynn-Paul, Jeff (ed.), War, Entrepreneurs, and the State in Europe and the Mediterranean, 1300-1800. History of Warfare 97 (Leiden, Boston: Brill, 2014), pp. 1-12. 

Harding, Richard and Sergio Solbes Ferri (eds.), The Contractor States and its Implications (1659-1815) (Las Palmas de Gran Canaria, 2012). 

Kaspersen, Lars Bo, and Jeppe Strandsbjerg, Does War Make States?: Investigations of Charles Tilly’s Historical Sociology (Cambridge University Press, 2017). 

Tilly, Charles, Coercion, capital and European states AD990-1992 (Oxford, 1992). 

Torres Sánchez, Rafael, Military Entrepreneurs and the Spanish Contractor State in the Eighteenth Century (Oxford: OUP, 2016). 

Yun-Casalilla, Bartolomé, and Patrick K. O'Brien (eds.), The rise of fiscal states. A global history, 1500-1914 (Cambridge, 2012).