Reus-Smit argues that international societies are shaped by deep constitutional structures that are based on prevailing beliefs about the moral purpose of the state, the organizing principle of sovereignty, and the norm of procedural justice. These structures inform the imaginations of institutional architects as they develop and adjust institutional arrangements between states. As he shows with detailed reference to ancient Greece, Renaissance Italy, absolutist Europe, and the modern world, different cultural and historical contexts lead to profoundly different constitutional structures and institutional practices. The first major study of its kind, this book is a significant addition to our theoretical and empirical understanding of international relations, past and present.
Ideas exercised influence first by shaping popular identities, then by exercising social power upon the elites who could bring about new international constitutions. Swaths of early modern Europeans, for instance, arrived at Protestant beliefs, then fought against the temporal powers of the Church on behalf of the sovereignty of secular princes, who could overthrow the formidable remains of a unified medieval Christendom. In the second revolution, colonial nationalists, domestic opponents of empire, and rival superpowers pressured European cabinets to relinquish their colonies in the name of equality and nationalism, resulting in a global system of sovereign states. Bringing new theoretical and historical depth to the study of international relations, Philpott demonstrates that while shifts in military, economic, and other forms of material power cannot be overlooked, only ideas can explain how the world came to be organized into a system of sovereign states.
John Owen examines more than two hundred cases of forcible regime promotion over the past five centuries, offering the first systematic study of this common state practice. He looks at conflicts between Catholicism and Protestantism between 1520 and the 1680s; republicanism and monarchy between 1770 and 1850; and communism, fascism, and liberal democracy from 1917 until the late 1980s. He shows how regime promotion can follow regime unrest in the eventual target state or a war involving a great power, and how this can provoke elites across states to polarize according to ideology. Owen traces how conflicts arise and ultimately fade as one ideology wins favor with more elites in more countries, and he demonstrates how the struggle between secularism and Islamism in Muslim countries today reflects broader transnational trends in world history.
Political leaders have usually but not always honored international legal sovereignty, the principle that international recognition should be accorded only to juridically independent sovereign states, while treating Westphalian sovereignty, the principle that states have the right to exclude external authority from their own territory, in a much more provisional way. In some instances violations of the principles of sovereignty have been coercive, as in the imposition of minority rights on newly created states after the First World War or the successor states of Yugoslavia after 1990; at other times cooperative, as in the European Human Rights regime or conditionality agreements with the International Monetary Fund.
The author looks at various issues areas to make his argument: minority rights, human rights, sovereign lending, and state creation in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Differences in national power and interests, he concludes, not international norms, continue to be the most powerful explanation for the behavior of states.