Taking a fresh look at the pivotal events of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries--including the Schmalkaldic War, the Dutch Revolt, and the Thirty Years' War--Nexon argues that early modern "composite" political communities had more in common with empires than with modern states, and introduces a theory of imperial dynamics that explains how religious movements altered Europe's balance of power. He shows how the Reformations gave rise to crosscutting religious networks that undermined the ability of early modern European rulers to divide and contain local resistance to their authority. In doing so, the Reformations produced a series of crises in the European order and crippled the Habsburg bid for hegemony.
Nexon's account of these processes provides a theoretical and analytic framework that not only challenges the way international relations scholars think about state formation and international change, but enables us to better understand global politics today.
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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.