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History and Theory of the Bourgeois State
The point of departure of Heide Gerstenberger’s path-breaking work is a critique of structural-functionalist theory of the state, in both its modernisation theory and materialist variants. Prof. Gerstenberger opposes to these a historical-theoretical explanation that proceeds from the long-term structuring effect of concrete social practice. This is elucidated by detailed investigation of the development of bourgeois state power in the two key examples of England and France. The different complexions that the bourgeois state assumed are presented as the results of processes of social and cultural formation, and thus irreducible to a simple function of capitalism. This approach culminates in the thesis that the bourgeois form of capitalist state power arose only where capitalist societies developed out of already rationalised structures of the Ancien Régime type.


While the overview concerning debates on bourgeois revolutions is impressive, it cannot elucidate the theoretical concept of bourgeois revolutions. Neil Davidson’s own suggestion centres on the removal of hindrances to the breakthrough of capitalism, especially the pre-capitalist state. This formalistic definition is based on the assumption that revolutions occurred when the superstructure became a hindrance to the further development of productive forces. It deprives the theoretical concept of bourgeois revolutions of any concrete historical content. This paper suggests restricting the use of the theoretical concept ‘bourgeois revolution’ to those revolutionary changes of domination and appropriation which occurred in European societies of the ancien régime.

In: Historical Materialism