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There are easy subjects, hard subjects, very hard subjects, and those precious few subjects that center around the question, "How did we become Modern"? In this last group, the "Glorious Revolution" of 1688 is a particularly tough one to get right, and Pincus succeeds both with the strength of his argument and the clarity (and ease) of his writing. He manages to explain what the old "Whig history" of Macaulay gets right, while also making clear what it gets wrong. The same goes for the more recent revisionist history, where he manages to pick out the very few grains of the revisionist critique that are correct. More than that, he paints a new picture of the events of 1685-1689 that are more vivid, richer, and more plausible than either of these views--this picture partly draws on the largely lost "Radical Whig" narrative, and partly on Pincus' own reading and assembly of the current evidence about the Revolution. In addition to simply being the best, most complete telling of the story of this period that I've read, there are three strengths and one weakness that are worth highlighting, I think:
Strength 1. What stands out in this book is Pincus' new theory of revolutions. Instead of seeing revolutions as a revolt of the new against the old, he argues that the *first* step is that the ruling regime *breaks* with the past to offer a new vision of a modernized state we can call "Model A". That is, the entrenched power structure begins a program of modernization on Model A. A revolution is the result of a new group, who have a different ideal for a modernized state, which we can call Model B, rising up against Model A, not the old traditional ways. In other words, The state does the heavy lifting of destroying traditional, conservative ways, so the revolutionaries only have to compete with an alternate program of modernity. In the case of 1688, James II tried to modernize England as an Absolutist Monarchy along the lines of Louis XIV's France. The revolutionaries rejected this approach, instead electing to "Go Dutch" as Lisa Jardine would have it--they imported a modernization scheme based on the open society of the United Provinces. Not only is this a great explanation of 1688, but this new way of looking at revolutions sparks all sorts of interesting ideas about other revolutions. There is a weakness buried in this strength, however--the book would have benefitted from a more fleshed-out, if still brief, discussion of why the English Civil War is not a "modern revolution" in his eyes.
Strength 2. Pincus does an excellent job of countering the recent narrative (pace Johnathan Israel and others) that the Glorious Revolution was essentially a Dutch invasion and hostile takeover of England (though this is closer to the truth in Scotland, and almost entirely correct in Ireland). Israel and others have done a marvelous job of showing that the old Whig narrative of a small elite inviting Willem van Oranje and Mary Stuart to accept the throne to protect The Protestant Religion and Willem altruistically crossing the channel to bloodlessly march to London and accept the crown on behalf of a grateful nation is horribly inadequate. Pincus adds to this, showing just what a major military operation this was, the fact that it was not bloodless, and that this was an enormous risk for Willem, who very definitely was prepared to fight. He also shows, however, that while he was prepared for great opposition from James, some loyalists, and the French and Irish, he expected to have the overwhelming support of the English people. Pincus is convincing that Willem never would have attempted a hostile takeover, while he was willing to take part in a popular, yet partially opposed, coup d'etat.
Strength 3. Pincus explains, in careful and eye-opening detail, what James II's program was, and what it was not, and what the opposition was concerned about, and what it was not. In particular, he demolishes the notion that this was, at the root, a confessional struggle, based either in unthinking anti-Catholicism on the part of Radical Whigs, or a pox-on-both-your-houses revolt of Anglican hard-liners against a Dissenter-Catholic alliance. James's program was Catholic, to be sure, but it was French Catholic Absolutism, and the "Catholic" was the least important of those three words, and "Absolutism" the most important. He catalogs exactly what Louis XIV's centralized, absolutist police state was, and how James was very successfully copying it in England from 1685-8. The picture painted is not one of Louis merely weakening the old French nobility of Versailles, but of Louis (and James) creating early versions that presage the authoritarian, and ultimately totalitarian states of the later modern centuries. For example, James' quadrupling of the size of the peacetime army and quartering these troops in pubs and private dwellings, while at the same time developing a huge domestic spy network, almost certainly felt to the English as a *massive* increase in military-governmental control of their lives, and a reduction of personal freedoms.
Weakness. While Pincus touches on this, his treatment of the Dutch system the revolutionaries were importing and the background to Willem's Great Gamble in Dutch history is too light to understand the Dutch part of the story. In other words, it's less clear what the revolutionaries thought they were fighting *for* in bringing over Willem and Mary than the Absolutist monarchy they thought they were fighting *against*. It's equally true that Pincus' description the strong support Willem knew he would receive on landing in England explains why he thought the adventure was likely to be successful, while it remains less clear why he was so anxious to try in the first place. If one knows 17th century Dutch history well, Pincus leaves enough breadcrumbs that you can "fill in the blanks", but if you don't, you might be forgiven for thinking that Willem just wanted more provinces to his name like a typical Medieval aristocrat. Without a detailed understanding of Willem II's refusal to disband the army in the 1640s, the near-siege of Amsterdam, and the Stadtholderless period, you can't understand why the willingness of the Staten Generaal to support the Glorious Revolution was so remarkable, and without a much better explanation of the Anglo-French invasion of the United Provinces in 1672 and the fiscal strains of that event, you can't understand why Willem saw this as a defensive maneuver, the only possible way to ensure the survival of the Dutch state and the "True Freedom" that the Dutch saw as their national identity. In telling a broader story in the "European context", Pincus did a fabulous job in explaining the English and French pieces of the puzzle that is the events of 1685-9, as well as the Scottish-Irish pieces, but the Dutch piece is a little light.
All of that said, the book is one of the best history books I've read in some time, and I think will establish the new standard view of this important topic, as well as spinning off other excellent books from Pincus and others that build on this foundation.