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States and state systems: democratic, Westphalian or both?

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  01 October 2007


Two rival accounts have come to dominate discussion of the origins and character of the contemporary international system. One, closely associated with the English School and the traditional account, places its origins with the appearance, and acceptance, of the centralised authority of the modern state. We might call this ‘the Westphalia version’. In this account, the modern state system is often represented in terms of what it is not. It is not a feudal regnum with a multiplicity of functionally distinct authorities. It is not a theocratic imperium where one power aimed at ‘the control and protection of Christendom’. It is a society of sovereigns, of de jure equals, each of whom accorded the others’ right to exist, and whose common ideological quantum is low. The rival is located within democratic transition theory. It postulates the modern state system as an extension of the liberal democratic state. The liberal state is not sovereign in the Westphalian sense: liberal authority is diffuse. Moreover, the liberal state produces its own, distinctive, international impulses that distance it in significant ways from the Westphalian pattern. Both see the state system as ‘produced’ by the state, as an immanent effect of stateness, but the account of the state’s trajectory differs radically.

Research Article
Copyright © British International Studies Association 2007

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