Offering a fascinating survey of Elias's life and writings, Dennis Smith traces the growth of his reputation. He is the first author to confront Elias's work with the contrasting theories of Talcott Parsons, Hannah Arendt, Michel Foucault and Zygmunt Bauman. He also illustrates how Elias's insights can be applied to understand Western modernity and social and political change. Smith shows why Elias is important for sociology, but he is also clear sighted about the limitations of Elias's approach.
Chapter 7: Europe
Americans in Paris
Elias did not write directly about the sociogenesis of the European movement.1 However, The Court Society provides us with some important clues to understanding that process. In The Court Society, Elias argues that the structure and organization of key political institutions are shaped by the struggles that bring them into existence. The victors use these institutions to try and stabilize their supremacy and keep the upper hand. As Elias puts it, ‘Every form of rule is the precipitate of a social conflict – it consolidates the distribution of power corresponding to its outcome’ (Elias 1983, 146). As we have seen already, Elias develops this argument in the case of France in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries.
During the interminable religious wars of the sixteenth ...