English history, and indeed much English historical writing, is strikingly self-referential. References to ‘English exceptionalism’ are legion, and reflect a widely accepted orthodoxy that state and society developed differently in England.1 At one level, of course, this emphasis on English exceptionalism is neither surprising nor objectionable: there is no one master-narrative of state formation but, rather, many historically specific experiences of it. Indeed, the more closely one probes the processes through which public institutions and political cultures are shaped, the more contingent such processes appear. When we begin to anatomize the political cultures of different societies, it rapidly becomes apparent that cultural formation is a dialectic of the generic and the unique. At one level, modern Europe — or at least modern Western Europe — might be said to have developed a common, or converging, political culture. Representative institutions, through which state power is legitimized in terms of popular sovereignty, are the norm. Pervasive bureaucratic systems regulate, provide, coerce, and arbitrate. Governments seek delicately to balance a commitment to market ideologies on the one hand, with their own desire to control and a rhetoric of popular accountability on the other.
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