A World of Paper

A World of Paper: Louis XIV, Colbert de Torcy, and the Rise of the Information State

JOHN C. RULE
BEN S. TROTTER
Copyright Date: 2014
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctt7zszs4
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  • Book Info
    A World of Paper
    Book Description:

    Historians and social scientists have long identified bureaucracy as the modern state's foundation and the reign of France's Louis XIV as a model for its development. A World of Paper offers a fresh interpretation of bureaucracy through a close examination of the department of the Sun King's last foreign secretary, Jean-Baptiste Colbert de Torcy. Torcy, who served as foreign secretary from 1696-1715, is widely regarded as one of the most brilliant foreign ministers of the ancien regime. Building on the work of his predecessors, he fashioned a skilled team of collaborators as he managed the complex issues of war and peace during the turbulent final decades of Louis XIV's reign. John Rule and Ben Trotter examine Torcy's department to depict administrative structures as they emerged through the circulating stream of paper that connected his office with provincial administrators and diplomats abroad. They explore the collection and centralization of information during Torcy's tenure through the creation of a modern state archive, discreet intelligence gathering, and the surveillance and management of the French mails. They also study the postal carriers, couriers, household officers of the royal court, genealogists hired for research, and an informal "brain trust" of experts, and advisors who carried vital information in and out of the department every day. A remarkable reconstruction of the department of Jean-Baptiste Colbert de Torcy, A World of Paper demystifies bureaucracy and explores the ways in which the modern information state developed from his labours.

    eISBN: 978-0-7735-9214-8
    Subjects: History
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Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents (pp. v-vi)
  3. Tables (pp. vii-viii)
  4. Figures (pp. ix-xii)
  5. Preface (pp. xiii-2)
  6. Introduction (pp. 3-13)

    Love it, hate it, or merely tolerate it, bureaucracy, which for better or for worse is indeed “a structure of domination,”¹ is nevertheless ubiquitous in today’s world and unlikely to disappear.² For generations, historians and social scientists, whatever their feelings about it, have identified bureaucracy as the foundation of the modern state and have focused on the reign of Louis XIV of France as a model both then and later for developing a bureaucracy. In this book, the administrative department presided over by the Sun King’s last foreign secretary, Jean-Baptiste Colbert de Torcy, is examined in detail. In recreating the...

  7. 1 Louis XIV, Roi-Bureaucrate (pp. 14-43)

    The intertwined issues of war and peace and the concomitant necessity of finding the funds to pursue both remained the most important concerns of early modern Europe’s dynastically minded monarchs¹ as they moved from traditional ways of governing to means often identified with the “modern state.” War and diplomacy were both managed increasingly in what is classically described as a bureaucratic fashion, and France’sroi-bureaucrateLouis XIV presided over an administration that became the model for much of Europe. While past historians often examined his government for antiquarian or propagandistic purposes (the rise of France as a unified nation is...

  8. 2 Torcy’s Preparation for and Rise to Power (pp. 44-93)

    The life of Jean-Baptiste Colbert de Torcy (14 September 1665–2 September 1746) reveals not only an efficient administrator, distinguished diplomat, and celebrated statesman, but a man of wit, probity, and humanity, qualities that served him well in the early years of the Enlightenment. These traits were the fruit of a carefully prepared and guided education in which his family played a significant part. As well as being immersed in both the Greek and Roman classics, he formally studied law and experienced a thorough-going schooling in aesthetics. With access to the incomparable libraries amassed by members of the Colbert circle,...

  9. 3 Mentorship and Testing (pp. 94-137)

    Before Torcy could place his personal stamp on his department’s personnel, administrative policies, and organization he first had to step into what was a foreign secretary’s chief and most perilous role: guiding the negotiations that could either end or prolong a war. This could only be accomplished through continuing collaboration with the diplomatic organization and personnel both at home and abroad inherited from his father. Even so, his personal leadership of that department was crucial to its effective operation. Moreover, the policy decisions Torcy and Pomponne persuaded the king and his Conseil to adopt and the negotiations he guided or...

  10. 4 The Department of Secretary of State Torcy (pp. 138-169)

    From humble beginnings as domestic clerks in the royal household writing for their master and trusted with any secrets he put to paper, the four secretaries of state were by the end of the sixteenth century among the most powerful and intimate members of the monarch’s administrative apparatus.¹ Their powers and responsibilities ranged far and wide over collections of provinces and specialized tasks that shifted over time, often depending on who held the secretaryship, but eventually stabilized somewhat around core specialties such as war, foreign affairs, and the royal household. Although a secretary of state charged with foreign affairs had...

  11. 5 The Department’s Structures and Personnel (pp. 170-224)

    Structural charts of organization are often misleading because they provide a paper image of how things aresupposedto work that typically falls short of how theyactuallyoperate, a gap the modern world has thus far been unable to transcend. Charting the early modern state’s structures, however, is even more daunting. Although we have drawn up organizational charts that attempt to portray the foreign office’s structure under Louis XIV’s foreign secretaries, we do so fully aware of their limitations and perils. In the first place, they are not literal representations of formally designed and prescribed outlines of responsibilities and...

  12. 6 The Triumph of the Commis (pp. 225-281)

    Clerks of all stripes, targets of growing anti-bureaucratic invective during the eighteenth century, nonetheless gave life to the evolving organization of the foreign ministry and were major contributors to its glory then and later. As Louis XIV himself noted in regard to himself, “Not all the reputation of great men is formed by great actions. Since the most menial ones are performed the most often, it is on them that our true inclinations are judged.”¹ This was equally true of Torcy’s clerks as seen in the tasks they performed within the ministry’s bureaus and in the personal networks they drew...

  13. 7 Finances and Rewards (pp. 282-319)

    Louis XIV knew well that it was “finances [that] move and activate the whole great body of the monarchy.”¹ Cicero maintained that “the sinews of War are infinite money,”² but he might have added that the same was true of diplomacy, although it was always outdistanced by war in its funding. By its very nature, diplomacy is an expensive business requiring the maintenance of a variety of representatives and agents abroad. For those who acted in public, there were the costs of staffing an embassy and the obligatory opulence entailed in advertising the wealth and power of the ruler they...

  14. 8 Preserving, Deploying, and Controlling Information (pp. 320-353)

    Cicero’s apt use of a bodily image in his assertion that “the sinews of war are infinite money” could be extended to other of the state’s limbs and rephrased to assert that the sinews of war as well as diplomacy are infinite information. Similarly, Weber claims that “[b] ureaucratic administration means fundamentally domination through knowledge.”¹ One of the hallmarks of the organizational and technical expertise of the clerks of the foreign office was their control over specialized, valuable knowledge and their ability to process and then place it in the king’s hands to be acted upon.² The ability of the...

  15. 9 Ambassadors in Paris and Abroad (pp. 354-370)

    The growing field dubbed the “New Diplomatic History” has challenged and moved beyond the traditional nationalistic teleology and chronology centred on narrating the march toward a modern system of permanent diplomatic representation. Instead, this new approach ranges across disciplines and seeks to embed diplomatic history in the wider cultural histories of which it was a significant and inseparable part.¹ Lucien Bély’s work, which offers “an intricate and sensitive blending of social and international history with the history of ideas,” represents this fresh approach at its best.² This wider perspective shows that diplomacy was only “a privileged aspect of general systems...

  16. 10 Information and the Formulation of Foreign Policy (pp. 371-434)

    Even as the health of the nearly seventy-seven-year-old Louis XIV steadily deteriorated during June and especially August, ending in his death on 1 September 1715, he nonetheless valiantly attempted to show himself to his court and maintain the regal routines that marked his long reign. Thus, while in pain but still lucid, he met with his Conseil until he no longer could, as August and his own life steadily waned. This was in part a symbolic display of the monarch still taking counsel, as he personally presided over the affairs of state, but for Louis, who from 1661 had decided...

  17. 11 Domestic Administration (pp. 435-459)

    Dangeau recorded in his journal for 16 November 1699 that Mme de Torcy had come down with smallpox. It was not her devoted husband, however, who stayed by her bedside until she recovered, but her brother, Abbé Pomponne. Indicative of his strong sense of duty to his royal master rather than of any disregard for his wife, Torcy did not visit his infected wife and thus was able to continue attending council meetings.¹ From 1661 the highest levels of policy formulation and application took place in three royal councils. As we have seen, the Conseil focused on foreign policy and...

  18. Conclusion (pp. 460-472)

    Louis XIV played many roles as monarch – the soldier-king, the royal builder, the kingly collector of art and curiosities, the master of court ceremonial – but perhaps his most influential was that ofroi-bureaucrate,supervising a bureaucratic apparatus of remarkable sophistication and reach. Not only did he preside over this expanding system of government bureaucracy and public administration – an emerging “world of paper” – but he was intimately involved in its creation and articulation. Historians have been loath to portray Louisquatorzian bureaucracy as fitting too closely the Weberian ideal type of “modern” bureaucracy, wisely choosing not to ignore the importance, for example,...

  19. Abbreviations (pp. 473-474)
  20. Notes (pp. 475-716)
  21. Bibliography (pp. 717-772)
  22. Index (pp. 773-830)

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