The Struggle for Power in Early Modern Europe: Religious Conflict, Dynastic Empires, and International Change

Princeton University Press
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Scholars have long argued over whether the 1648 Peace of Westphalia, which ended more than a century of religious conflict arising from the Protestant Reformations, inaugurated the modern sovereign-state system. But they largely ignore a more fundamental question: why did the emergence of new forms of religious heterodoxy during the Reformations spark such violent upheaval and nearly topple the old political order? In this book, Daniel Nexon demonstrates that the answer lies in understanding how the mobilization of transnational religious movements intersects with--and can destabilize--imperial forms of rule.

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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About the author

Daniel H. Nexon is assistant professor of government and foreign service at Georgetown University.
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Additional Information

Publisher
Princeton University Press
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Published on
Mar 31, 2009
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Pages
408
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ISBN
9781400830800
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Language
English
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Genres
History / Europe / General
Political Science / History & Theory
Political Science / International Relations / General
Religion / Religion, Politics & State
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Content Protection
This content is DRM protected.
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Available on Android devices
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Eligible for Family Library

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How did the world come to be organized into sovereign states? Daniel Philpott argues that two historical revolutions in ideas are responsible. First, the Protestant Reformation ended medieval Christendom and brought a system of sovereign states in Europe, culminating at the Peace of Westphalia in 1648. Second, ideas of equality and colonial nationalism brought a sweeping end to colonial empires around 1960, spreading the sovereign states system to the rest of the globe. In both cases, revolutions in ideas about legitimate political authority profoundly altered the "constitution" that establishes basic authority in the international system.

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.

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