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Has Academe Got it Wrong?


Achin Vanaik

THE MYTH OF 1648: CLASS, GEOPOLITICS AND THE MAKING OF MODERN INTERNATIONAL RELATIONS
By Benno Teschke
Verso, London, 2003, pp. 308, £35.00

VOLUME XXVIII NUMBER 2 February 2004

Of only a very few books can it be said that they are truly path-breaking. The Myth of 1648 is one of them and is a deserved co-recipient of the prestigious Isaac Deutscher Memorial Prize for 2003. The 1648 Westphalian Settlement of the Thirty Years War in Europe between the major Absolutist states is conventionally viewed in the disciplines of macro-history and International Relations (IR) as the inaugurating moment of the modern geopolitical order of sovereign, competing states. The imperial-colonial expansions and rivalries of the eighteenth, nineteenth and first half of the twentieth centuries, subsequent de-colonization, and more recently the collapse of Communism, are seen as affecting only the scale and composition (rising and declining powers) of the modern international system, but not its essential character. Capitalism and Geopolitics: Historical Sociology and IR:  Teschke completely destroys this claim showing that the Peace of Westphalia was a compact between pre-capitalist dynastic states practising a dynastic sovereignty not to be confused with modern capitalist sovereignty. The establishment of a geopolitical order of modern sovereign and competing states (most Absolutist states remained so till the middle, even late. nineteenth century) is a long drawn out process only now reaching its terminus. It starts with the emergence of England (revealingly left out of the 1648 Settlement) as the first capitalist country thereby having a distinctive foreign policy of determinedly balancing major continental powers against each other to prevent the rise of a single hegemon, yet equally determinedly rejecting such balance of power politics elsewhere, instead hungrily accumulating colonial possessions and control over key trade routes to maximize its capitalist-industrializing potential.       It was this growing and combined domestic and international power of a capitalist England from the late seventeenth century onwards that forces a host of other countries to carry out their own capitalist transformations ‘from above’, i.e., via the state. The emergence and consolidation of a modern geopolitical order is thus coeval with the story of the contradictory, uneven, combined, and resistance-filled development and expansion of capitalist social relations worldwide, continuing into our present. But Teschke also reminds us, that capitalism was ‘born into’ a pre-existing system of pre-capitalist states and did not create the then, and still prevailing, international pattern of multiple states.      There is much more at stake here than merely issues of correct chronology. For in explaining the why of getting 1648 wrong, Teschke launches a powerful theoretical and historical assault on two fronts – against ...


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