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Sunday, August 06, 2006

Domesday online....

Between segments on Raul Castro and the sexual life of spiders, last week's podcast of the CBC's Best of As It Happens had a piece on the posting of the entire Domesday Book on the internet (click here for down load of audio -- it is the last segment in the broadcast post). Now, that might not seem like a big deal to most (or actually any) of you, but for me it is a terrific opportunity to play up one of my favorite themes about the nature of modern accountability and the roots of modern governance.

Among my more obscure arguments (which typically bores my colleagues; see here and here) is that you can trace the roots of modern governance (and the modern state!)-- in practice, if not in theory -- back to 1086 and the creation of the Domesday Book by William I. The census itself is indeed important as a historical document, and it provides great insight into the life and time of England as it entered its Norman period, but when put in the context of conquest-based governance at the time, the Book and the Salisbury Oath (a now obscure event which I contend marked its first major use as a tool of governance are truly watershed events. Domesday and Salisbury mark the first use of accountability as the core factor in modern governance, and whether or not William intended it as such (which, of course, he probably didn't; cf here), they lie at the very foundations of the modern democratic state. It would be more than five hundred years before Hobbes would give this development theoretical expression, but after years of reading in and around that period of British and European history I am convinced that 1086 marks a turning point in English governance which became central to the Anglo-American model, and which has now been elevated to the dominant legal form of governance through economic globalization.

I know that is quite a claim, especially for someone whose depth of knowledge in law and history is pretty superficial. But it certainly keeps me interested in such things as the posting of the Domesday Book. Besides, every one has to have a hobby....


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