Westphalian Eurocentrism in International Relations Theory

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In the past 10-15 years, an increasing number of revisionist scholars have rejected the most significant elements of the argument about the centrality of the Peace of Westphalia (1648) to the evolution and structure of international society. At the same time, the prominence of this argument has grown in the English School and constructivist international relations scholarship. I deconstruct the function of the Westphalian narrative to explain its pervasiveness and persistence. I argue that it was first developed by nineteenth century imperial international jurists and that the Westphalian narrative perpetuates a Eurocentric bias in international relations theory. This bias maintains that Westphalia created an international society, consolidating a normative divergence between European international relations and the rest of the international system. This dualism is predicated on the assumption that with Westphalia European states had solved the anarchy problem either through cultural or contractual evolution. Non-European states, lacking this European culture and social contract, remained in anarchy until the European states allowed them to join the international society upon their achievement of the "standards of civilization." This Westphalian narrative distorts the emergence of the modern international system and leads to misdiagnoses of major problems of contemporary international relations. Furthermore, their commitment to the Westphalian narrative prevents international relations scholars from adequately theorizing about international interdependencies and accommodating global pluralism.

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International Studies Review





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