Dissertation Project

My thesis, “National Identity and Early State Development,” investigates how sixteenth- and seventeenth-century officials’ conduct during the reigns of Henri III, Henri IV, and Louis XIII were influenced by their belief in France’s historical mission. It asks how early modern bureaucrats were able to achieve a sense of collective identity that was sufficiently strong to enable them to solve the coordination problems inherent in state-building. In France, these bureaucrats were responsible not only for implementing centralized taxation, but also for instituting a religiously exclusionary criminal justice system and for developing the first modern theories of sovereignty. These observations suggest a strong link between early French bureaucrats’ legal and religious philosophies and their drive to build a centralized state.

To complete this research my dissertation will draw on both comparative historical and history of political thought literatures. My central case studies are the work of legal theorist Jean Bodin (1529/30-1596) and his influence on the subsequent development of French administrative theory. By exploring the exclusionary nationalist underpinnings of Bodin’s theory of sovereignty this research project helps reassess the ongoing debate about whether strong states or nationalist movements were the primary factors behind the rise of the European nation-state. My research indicates that the initial impetus may be located a small group of early modern French bureaucrats who sought ways to build a stronger state in order to spread their nationalist ideology and legal theory more widely.

I contend that new insights into the way that nation-building was historically conjoined to the development of a legal theory of exclusionary state sovereignty remain relevant today in settler and post-colonial states such as Canada. This is because nationalist bureaucrats used the state apparatus not only to sustain independence movements but also to essentialize and repress Indigenous peoples in the name of creating ethno-culturally homogeneous national identities.