Political Power in the Early Modern European and Islamic Worlds

Funding: Academy of Finland
Principal investigator: Vasileios Syros
Post Doctoral Fellows:
Jeremy Kleidosty (PhD, University of St Andrews)


The present project argues that debates on the role of the model advisor and minister gained momentum in the early modern era (16th to 18th centuries) in both Europe (Italy, Spain, and France) and the Islamic world, especially in the Ottoman Empire, and inspired a profusion of political writings on these themes by prominent political and intellectual figures. These themes pervade most political works and treatises on the principles of leadership, rightful government, and the attributes, skills, and function of the perfect ruler, usually subsumed under the rubric “mirrors-of-princes.” However, the project argues that the 16th century witnessed the genesis and efflorescence of a new genre of works and memoranda that deal explicitly with the figure of the courtier, advisor, or minister. The primary objective is to show that these sources, although retaining the normative character, structure, and themes of the mirrors-of- princes, mark a shift of focus to the role of the advisor and to the effective exercise of power from the perspective of the government officials; and that they had a lasting impact on subsequent political speculation, serving as a catalyst for the birth of ideas that converge in the advocacy of limitation of royal/sultanic authority.

The simultaneous proliferation of these works in both Europe and the Ottoman Empire points to broader affinities between the modes of conceptualizing consultation and delegation of authority. These commonalities can be explained against the background of contemporaneous societal and political changes, the expansion of state bureaucracy, the increasing awareness of the hazards associated with absolute rule, the emergence of new cycles of authority and the concomitant need for distribution of power and competencies. Building on the strengths and expertise of an international team of experts in Comparative Political Thought, Intellectual History, and Comparative Literature, and a formidable network of domestic and international partners and resource persons, the proposed project undertakes a systematic and historical examination of early modern European and Islamic political thought. It will produce a series of journal articles and monographs that will constitute state-of-art thinking on the theme of limitation of power.