Beyond War and Contracts: The Medieval and Religious Roots of the European State

Where does the state come from? Two canonical answers have been interstate wars and contracts between rulers and the ruled in the early modern period. New scholarship has pushed back the historical origins of the European state to the Middle Ages, and focused on domestic institutions such as parliaments, universities, the law, inheritance rules, and cities. It has left open questions of the causes of territorial fragmentation, the structural similarities in state administrations, and the policy preoccupations of the state. One answer is a powerful but neglected force in state formation: the medieval Church, which served as a rival for sovereignty, and a template for institutional innovations in court administrations, the law, and the formation of human capital. Church influence further helps to explain why territorial fragmentation in the Middle Ages persisted, why royal courts adopted similar administrative solutions, and why secular states remain concerned with morality and social discipline.