It seems to me that the Middle-Ages/Renaissance observed a paradigm shift between the source of political power in Western Europe.

Indeed, in the High Middle-Ages, Kings were ruling surrounded by councelors who happened to be military leaders, warriors, or of military fame. For example, that page explains that

At the court Charlemagne relied upon aristocratic / military leaders as well as senior members of the clergy to ensure that all parts of his empire were run according to his wishes (Roberts, 1996 p. 110)

For the time being, I would ignore the presence of the Church.

Reading the novel Le Grand Coeur (French) about Jacques Coeur [1395-1456] and watching a related documentary, as well as reading the Wikipedia's page, all those sources seems to concur to a somewhat revolutionary approach of Charles VII of France by introducing merchants as "close" councillors. This, of course, happened after the demise of the French nobility in battles like Agincourt or Crecy.

Further in time, one can see that after the English Civil War and following Glorious Revolution of the 17th Century, the power struggle was between the King and the parliament. The 18th Century shows an increase in the role of the Parliament of britain in politics. In particular the House of Commons, composed of Land owners (more interested in economics than military). Walpole was noble, but his policies were

[...] for peace, lower taxes, growing exports [...]

At the end of the 18th Century, Washington was the first president of the USA and if he was of Noble ancestry, he didn't have a title himself. And following the French revolution, all government posts were occupied by non-noble members, most coming from merchant and/or land-owners families.

I thus see a trend shifting the political power from people whose primary concern were military to those mostly focusing on economy and finance.

I would like to know when did this shift in power paradigm occur?

From the Charles VII, Jacques Coeur part, it seems that it really started to happened at the end of the 100 years war, but I think it did not happened just yet.

Or am I reducing it to oversimplistic views?

  • I tried to illustrate it by looking "at the extremes": to my knowledge, personalities like Charlemagne were surrounded by knights, warriors, and little to no people who's primary concern were economic (merchants, etc.). In the 19th Century, industrials, land owners, etc. were at the code of the political power. To me that seems to indicate a shift. I'd like to know when it happened? If I had research result on it, I would not be asking the question. – clem steredenn Jun 10 '15 at 8:30
  • Maybe to illustrate my last paragraph, I watched a documentary and read a novel about Jacques Coeur [1385-1456], who was part of a "revolution" made by Charles VII of France, to actually let non-noble "decide" on the policies of the country. Granted, the sources may not be very thorough, which is why I thought about asking the question here. – clem steredenn Jun 10 '15 at 8:37
  • @MarkC.Wallace I tried to modify my question. I hope the aim is thus more clear..? – clem steredenn Jun 10 '15 at 10:48
  • @MarkC.Wallace good for me! Looking forward to it. On the otherhand, there are now two downvote. Assuming Mark is one (from his earlier comment), could the other care to explain, so that I can try to improve my question? – clem steredenn Jun 10 '15 at 11:50
  • This is not the right forum for asking about complex political theories with highly subjective criteria. – Tyler Durden Jun 10 '15 at 13:21

I think you are talking about the rise of mercantilism. Mercantilism can be thought of as an outgrowth of military competition. As armies became more expensive (due in part to the culmination of bastard feudalism), rulers in the 16th century realized that they needed to improve state revenues. However, existing modes of governance really were not up to the task--and so the additional expense of building a competent administrative bureaucracy was added to the expense of paying soldiers. This would take time, as European rulers had little understanding of how markets functioned or how to engage in economic regulation.

By the 17th century, some of the most important advisers to kings were economic advisers. Most famous is Jean-Baptiste Colbert. In the 18th century, you begin to see formal bodies of knowledge about the economy emerge. The Physiocrats may have been wrong about most things, but without them there is no modern economics.

In short, the paradigm shift occurred over centuries, and it occurred in parallel with the rise of the modern state (starting roughly in the 15th century). Mercantilism was an important intermediate step on the road, superseded in many Western countries in the 19th century by liberal forms of economic governance which are, mutatis mutandis, still with us in the 21st century.

  • 1
    This is much more what I had in mind when asking the question. Actually giving it more thoughts, my question should probably be more when was the feudal economy so supplanted by commerce that the highest power consider worthwhile to expand on it. And yes mercantilism is, IMHO, a consequence of that earlier transformation. – clem steredenn Jun 10 '15 at 13:45
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    Excellent answer! Better argued, better sourced, better all around. – Mark C. Wallace Jun 10 '15 at 13:47

There are a few assumptions here that, in my opinion, muddy the waters.

Let me quickly rephrase.

In the time of Charlemagne, governance was exercised by a king and his military advisers. Currently governance is exercised by a state supported by economic advisers.

First, your premise is false. Charlemagne was supported by non-military advisers - ignoring Alcuin and the Church renders all other analysis meaningless. Second, Charlemagne's court was comprised of economic and military advisers, but at that time there was no distinction between them. Great Lords and churchmen were both military powers and the major landholders. Given that their economy was very primitive, economics was functionally equivalent to holding land. The only way to be a military leader was to be an economic powerhouse and vice versa (you could not muster large levy unless you had lots of land and lots of economic power). Charlemagne's advisers advised him on their best interests which were a combination of economic, military and idiosyncratic.

Second, "economics" undergoes a couple of phase changes in the period. First, the downfall of the ancien regime because the governance of France rejected any and all competent economic advisers. Then Adam Smith articulates real economics for the first time. Before that, economics was idiots in a sandbox with sharp knives. (I am doing a disservice to brilliant men who overthrew the Corn Laws and a dozen other geniuses who happened on the right answer without any of the tools, but I'm writing an H:SE answer, not a book.)

Then John Maynard Keynes articulates macroeconomics for the first time. This is the real inflection point that answers your question - a practical, testable theory of economics that can be used to improve governance.

Third response - which is the second response in a slightly different form. In the beginning of this period, land was wealth and wealth was land. Production was intended for consumption and the concept of "investment" was .... nebulous. Investment meant planting a crop like olives or wine that might not return a harvest for many years. (and was largely the province of the church) Over time the middle class rose and began to contribute value. The middle class is the first class that can invest - they can create tools that make work easier in the future. They can use money to set aside value for the future. But the tools to understand and manipulate wealth are ill understood. At some point the value produced by industry exceeds that produced by land. At that point it is proper and necessary for governance to include economic advice. Somewhere around this point we enter Mercantilism, which is one of the most destructive heresies outside religion. Eventually that transforms into the modern economy.

Washington (who may not have had a title, but was definitely a 1%er) had no clue about economics. The Articles of Confederation managed to absolutely destroy the economy of the colonies. Hamilton barely salvaged an economy from Jefferson (who was quite possibly the worst economist in the history of the United States - he makes Hoover and Coolidge look like geniuses). These are the times that prove that economists are needed for good governance.

Fourth, with a hat tip to @twosheds, there is an evolution to total war that begins (arguably) with the French Revolution, is reinforced by the US civil war and is absolutely clear by WWI - war is no longer won by military leadership, but by the ability of society to transform industrial output to military logistics. This is a book length theme, but twosheds is right - the conclusion is inescapable that economics trumps military today.

Finally your thesis is flawed in that today the Department of Defense, the Department of State and the Department of Homeland Security are far more important advisers than the Department of Commerce. Military advisers still trump economic advice.

  • re: your last paragraph, Commerce isn't an important post, but the Council of Economic Advisers definitely is. Plus, there is Clinton's famous quote: "You mean to tell me that the success of the economic program and my re-election hinges on the Federal Reserve and a bunch of ****ing bond traders?" Modern militaries are expensive, and a nation's military capacity falls with its ability to tax and fund it. Economy reigns supreme. – two sheds Jun 10 '15 at 13:01
  • Good points -arguable, (I think that DHS can take the CEA with both hands tied behind its back, and I think DHS is the red headed stepchild). The Federal Reserve is an excellent point, but that is outside the scope of this question. And now we're into politics rather than history - Next time we're in the same pub, I'm happy to discuss this further. – Mark C. Wallace Jun 10 '15 at 13:03
  • Agreed: youtube.com/watch?v=mXlyYSNAACM – two sheds Jun 10 '15 at 13:05
  • I don't agree with a lot of your statements, but I realise how bad must my question be. Anyway, thanks for your effort in trying to explain on which grounds that was. And as it is not a discussion forum but a Q&A site and as pointed out in a comment, I am probably off-topic on H:SE. So, accepted and closed. – clem steredenn Jun 10 '15 at 13:38
  • Exactly - you needed economic surplus to be able to feed an army in order to wield military power. The two were one and the same in that time. Even later, lords and kings were sources of capital for trading and manufacturing enterprises. – Oldcat Jun 10 '15 at 23:20

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