chapter  8
38 Pages

The Freaks of History: The State of Laws and Britain’s Culture of Power and Governance

Thus far the cultures of power and historical experiences of governance surveyed indicate that most of the major civilizations and powers in Eurasia took varied paths to becoming continental bureaucratic empires. In some cases this process unfolded thousands of years ago while in others, such as Japan, Western Europe or Russia, the development of bureaucratic states is a relatively recent phenomenon. These states, as we have seen, were and are very diverse in their details but refl ect an underlying unity in that they came to rely on centralized or concentrated hierarchies of servants to govern their settled areas. There is, however, a very important exception that has exerted great infl uence on governance structures and practices on a global scale during the modern period. That exception is Britain and the emergence on British soil of a freakishly diff erent solution to the problems of order, justice and fi nancial administration amidst demographic pressure. That solution, in the form of the state of laws and a culture of power that consciously and subconsciously sought to minimize arbitrary power, diff use authority, and encourage autonomous institutions, is in many respects the antithesis of the continental bureaucratic empire with its mania for arbitrariness, tendency towards either centralization or breakdown, and reliance on servile instruments. The eff ort here is to identify how a state of laws came into existence in Britain, what enabled it to survive, and what were/are the implications of this divergent evolution for history.