International Studies Quarterly (2011) 55, 601–623
To Order the Minds of Scholars: The Discourse of the Peace of Westphalia in International Relations Literature1
Sebastian Schmidt The University of Chicago
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 idealtype 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.
Throughout the history of international relations scholarship, the Peace of Westphalia has served as a touchstone for analyses of the international system. This phenomenon has not escaped the attention of scholars; Stephen Krasner (1993:235) has noted that the Peace concluded more than 350 years ago has become an ‘‘icon’’ of International Relations (IR) scholarship. Since the end of the Cold War, there has been a remarkable surge in the number of publications which refer in one way or another to the Peace.