Fiscal-Military State

Mark Knights

in Atlantic History

ISBN: 9780199730414
Published online May 2010 | | DOI:
Fiscal-Military State

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  • History of the Americas
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A fiscal-military state was one capable of sustaining large-scale warfare through taxation and fiscal innovation, such as the creation of a national debt or credit-providing institutions. As armies and navies grew in size and sophistication, and the theater of war extended globally, so the cost of warfare spiraled; and the ability of states to pay for this determined their status as a “great power” in European or global affairs. Although it had its origins in the 16th- and 17th-century so-called military revolution, this process was a particular feature of 18th-century states. But the type and success of fiscal-military states varied: some, such as Britain, claimed to raise resources through consensual means, but others, such as Prussia or Russia, levied taxation more autocratically. The development of fiscal-military states of the 18th century was particularly important in an Atlantic context, since rivalry between Britain, France, and Spain was often fought out in a global theater that required huge resources and abilities. In turn, the colonies had a major impact on the character of the fiscal-military states. Spain’s decline in the 17th century arguably had much to do with the bullion from South America that had enabled the mother country to wage war for so long: but this approach also sidelined fiscal innovation and the growth of trade. And in the 18th century the cost of defending America placed a huge strain on the British state’s capacity, forcing it to adopt policies that precipitated conflict and to rethink economic policy. At the end of the 18th century the wars with France in some ways not only accentuated the trend toward fiscal-military muscle, they also led to an appreciation that concerted diplomacy was also a vital tool if a balance of power was to be maintained peacefully. The conceptualization of the fiscal-military state owes much to historians working on 18th-century Britain, which was in some ways precocious and different from other nations. The result is that much of the work on the character of the fiscal-military state (as opposed to the absolutist-bureaucratic military state) has been focused on Britain (and its empire). The sections that follow reflect that bias, but Comparative Studies and Imperial Conflict point to more specific European and global treatments.

Article.  7709 words. 

Subjects: History of the Americas ; European History ; African History ; History ; Regional and National History

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