Theorizing the Westphalian System of States: International Relations from Absolutism to Capitalism

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This article provides a new approach, revolving around contested property relations, for theorizing the constitution, operation and transformation of geopolitical systems, exemplified with reference to early modern international relations. Against the cross-paradigmatic IR consensus that equates the Westphalian Settlement with the codification of modern international relations, the article shows to which degree 17th and 18th century European geopolitics remained tied to rather unique pre-modern practices. These cannot be understood on the basis of realist or constructivist premises. In contrast, the theoretical argument is that the proprietary and personalized character of dynastic sovereignty was predicated on pre-capitalist property relations. Dynasticism, in turn, translated into historically specific patterns of conflict and cooperation that were fundamentally governed by the competitive logic of geopolitical accumulation. The decisive break to international modernity comes with the rise of the first modern state - England. After the establishment of a capitalist agrarian property regime and the transformation of the English state in the 17th century, post-1688 Britain starts to restructure international relations in a long-term process of geopolitically combined and socially uneven development.

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