Maritime Violence, Markets, and the State. Conflicting Interpretations between Middle Ages and Early Modern
Until recently, research on maritime violence has been determined by concepts of the emergence of the state: By fighting pirates and smugglers, authorities are said to have enforced their monopoly on violence. But the historical change of conflict management at sea could also be conceived as an outcome of economic competition between primarily coequal actors. In this, claiming to be fighting criminality was only one possible means of enforcing one’s own interests. All actors used violence to gain access to markets and resources. “smuggling” and “piracy” were merely categories used to disqualify competitors and exclude them from access. Stately authority we ascribe retrospectively to those actors who prevailed.
Generally, legal anthropology has come to dispute the idea of a successive restriction of individual violence by the emergence of the modern state. In economic history, the transition from the later middle ages to the early modern is described as an ongoing formation and integration of markets. But this “commercial revolution” is not seen as a pacifying process anymore, either. Both approaches could best be understood as disputes on access and belonging. The suggested shift from a political to an economic narrative thus mirrors conflicting interpretations of the present age.
But both approaches tend to construe historical change teleologically in retrospect: inherent in narratives of state building are concepts of progress on the way to modernity, while to explain transition referring to economic competition means to impute long lasting intentions to actors, which very presumably are only projections ex post. So, how could we describe the emergence of an early modern violence regime without referring to the paradigm of state building?