To Order the Minds of Scholars: The Discourse of the Peace of Westphalia in International Relations Literature


  •  I would like to thank Mark Ashley, Constantin Fasolt, Daragh Grant, Rosemary Kelanic, Charles Lipson, Jennifer Mitzen, Jason Petrucci, Duncan Snidal, John Stevenson, Konstantinos Travlos, the participants of the Program on International Politics, Economics and Security (PIPES) workshop at the University of Chicago, the participants at the 2009 Midwest Political Science Association conference, and the anonymous reviewers for helpful comments on earlier versions of this paper.


References to the Peace of Westphalia have played an important role in the discourse of international relations. Originally referred to as a concrete historical event and associated with a variety of meanings, such as the triumph of state sovereignty, the establishment of a community of states, and even the beginnings of collective security, the Peace was later transformed into a conceptualization of the international system. Beginning in the late 1960s, phrases like “Westphalian system” came to convey a package of ideas about international politics limited to the supremacy of state sovereignty, territoriality, and nonintervention, to the exclusion of other meanings. This conceptualization serves as a popular and convenient contrast to a more globalized order, but there are problems with its use: first, because the Westphalian system is an ideal-type that might never have actually existed, the impact of globalization may be exaggerated by scholars who employ it. Second, its use implies a linear progression from some Westphalian configuration toward some “post-Westphalian” state of affairs, whereas actual system change is likely to be more complex.