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A non-sovereign modernity: attempts to engineer stability in the Balkans 1820–90


Social theory almost invariably equates modernity with the sovereign state. This equation must be nuanced because the modern era and modern strategies of international stability have contained non-sovereign units. In the nineteenth century, the Great Powers tried to create international stability by engineering forms of rule in Europe. These strategies built on distinctively modern ideas: the possibility of radically breaking with the past, redesigning political organisations, and actively controlling political events through rational planning. Throughout the century the Great Powers alternated between creating non-sovereign units and creating sovereign units as instruments in these stabilising strategies. The degree of trust between the Great Powers accounts for the shift between the two strategies: they tended to create non-sovereign units when mutual trust was high and sovereign ones when trust was low. This article analyses Great Power strategies of designing forms of rule in the Balkans between 1820 and 1878. Like in previous centuries, nineteenth-century Europe actually consisted of two parallel but connected systems: the egalitarian system of sovereign states and a system of non-sovereign entities. Non-sovereign units disappeared only late in the century and this process was affected by the increasing rivalry and mistrust between the sovereign states.

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1 Bartelson, Jens, The Critique of the State (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2001), especially pp. 182–8. For example, World Polity theory claims that modern world society constructs states as sovereign and rational subjects. Meyer, John W., Boli, John, Thomas, George M., and Ramirez, Francisco O., ‘World Society and the Nation State’, American Journal of Sociology, 103:1 (July 1997), pp. 144–81.

2 Krasner, Stephen D., Sovereignty: Organized Hypocrisy (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1999); Buzan, Barry and Albert, Mathias, ‘Differentiation: a sociological approach to international relations theory’, European Journal of International Relations, 16:3 (2010), p. 330; Ruggie, John Gerard, Constructing the World Polity: Essays on International Institutionalism (London: Routledge, 1998).

3 For ‘forms of rule’ as a generic term see Poggi, Gianfranco, The Development of the Modern State: a Sociological Introduction (London: Hutchinson, 1978).

4 For isomorphism, see DiMaggio, Paul J. and Powell, Walter W., ‘The Iron Cage Revisited- Institutional Isomorphism and Collective Rationality in Organizational Fields’, American Sociological Review, 48:2 (1983), pp. 147–68.

5 Austria, Britain, France, and Russia.

6 Austria, Britain, France, Germany, Italy, and Russia.

7 See Hoffmann, Clemens, ‘The Balkanization of Ottoman Rule Premodern Origins of the Modern International System in Southeastern Europe’, Cooperation and Conflict, 43:4 (2008), pp. 373–96; Jelavich, Charles and Jelavich, Barbara, The Establishment of the Balkan National States, 1804–1920 (Seattle: University of Washington Press 1977).

8 Giddens, Anthony, The Consequences of Modernity (Cambridge: Polity, 1990), p. 38; Weber, Max, Economy and Society: an Outline of Interpretive Sociology (Berkeley, CA: University. of California Press, 1978), pp. 36–8; Bauman, Zygmunt, Modernity and Ambivalence (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1991).

9 Koselleck, Reinhardt, ‘Historia Magistra Vitae. The Dissolution of the Topos into the Perspective of a Modernized Historical Process’, in Koselleck, Reinhardt (ed.), Futures Past. On the Semantics of Historical Time (New York: Columbia University Press, 2004), pp. 2643; and ‘Historical Criteria of the Modern Concept of Revolution’, in Koselleck (ed.), Futures Past, pp. 43–58.

10 Woolf, Stuart Joseph, Napoleon's integration of Europe (London: Routledge, 1991).

11 Schroeder, Paul W., The Transformation of European Politics 1763–1848 (Oxford: Clarendon Press, Oxford, 1994), pp. 575–82.

12 For the centrality of control to modernity see Giddens, Anthony, Modernity and Self-Identity: Self and Society in the Late Modern Age (Cambridge: Polity Press, 1991), pp. 149–50.

13 Buzan and Albert, ‘Differentiation’, p. 318 See also Luhmann, Niklas, Die Gesellschaft der Gesellschaft (Frankfurt am Main: Suhrkamp 1997), pp. 613–18.

14 Donnelly, Jack, ‘The differentiation of international societies: an approach to structural international theory’, European Journal of International Relations. Published online before print (23 August 2011), doi: 10.1177/1354066111411208, p. 3.

15 Donnelly, ‘The differentiation’, p. 4.

16 The principles that characterise a society alternate in being dominant, or having ‘greater constititive effect’ than others. Onuf, Nicholas Greenwood, The Republican Legacy in International Thought, (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1998), p. 173.

17 Tilly, Charles, Coercion, Capital, and European States, AD 990–1992 (Oxford: Blackwell, 1992); Ertman, Thomas, Birth of the Leviathan: Building States and Regimes in Medieval and Early Modern Europe (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1997).

18 For the idea that international politics consists of ‘like units’ see Waltz, Kenneth N., Theory of International Politics (New York: McGraw-Hill, 1979). Concerning the nineteenth century, see Donnelly, Jack, ‘Sovereign Inequalities and Hierarchy in Anarchy: American Power and International Society’, European Journal of International Relations, 12:2 (2006), pp. 139–70; and Donnelly, Jack, Realism and International Relations (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2000).

19 Lake, David A., Hierarchy in International Relations (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 2009), p. 309. Studies dealing with similar discrepancies have focused on the relation between the European and overseas imperial systems. Keene, Edward, Beyond the anarchical society: Grotius, colonialism and order in World politics (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2002); Schmitt, Carl and Ulmen, G. L., The Nomos of the Earth in the International Law of the Jus Publicum Europaeum (New York: Telos Press 2003). Some topics within the English School, touch upon but do not directly address this issue. Examples include the expansion of international society: Naff, Thomas, ‘The Ottoman Empire and the European States System’, in Bull, Hedley and Watson, Adam (eds), The Expansion of International Society (Oxford: Oxford University Press.1984); Yurdusev, Nuri, ‘The Middle East and Its Encounter with the Expansion of European International Society’, in Buzan, Barry and Gonzalea-Pelaez, Ana (eds), International Society and the Middle East: English School Theory at the Regional Level (Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2008) and relations between ancient states-systems and suzerain systems: Wight, Martin, Systems of States (Leicester: Leicester University Press, 1977), pp. 2933; and Buzan, Barry and Little, Richard, International Systems in World History: Remaking the Study of International Relations (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2000), pp. 235–6.

20 Angelow, Jürgen, Der Deutsche Bund (Darmstadt: Wissenschaftliche Buchgesellschaft: 2003).

21 Jussila, Osmo, Hentilä, Seppo, and Nevakivi, Jukka, From Grand Duchy to a Modern State: a Political History of Finland since 1809 (London: Hurst 1999).

22 Mayall, James, Nationalism and international society (Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 1990), p. 22.

23 Buzan, Barry and Wæver, Ole, Regions and Powers: the Structure of International Security (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2003), pp. 41, 483–7, 489, 490.

24 Watson, Adam, The Limits of Independence: Relations between States in the Modern World (London: Routledge, 1997).

25 Thomas, George M., ‘Differentiation, Rationalization, and Actorhood in New Systems and World Culture Theories’, in Albert, Mathias, Cederman, Lars-Erik, and Wendt, Alexander (eds), New systems theories of world politics (Palgrave Macmillan, Basingstoke, 2010), pp. 220–48.

26 Niklas Luhmann, Vertrauen: ein Mechanismus der Reduktion sozialer Komplexität (Stuttgart, 1968); Luhmann, Niklas, ‘Familiarity, Confidence, Trust: Problems and Alternatives’, in Gambetta, Diego (ed.), Trust: Making and Breaking Cooperative Relations, electronic edition, Department of Sociology, University of Oxford (2000), chap. 6, pp. 94107, available at: {}. Giddens, Anthony, The consequences of modernity (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1990). The following discussion is based on constructivist and historical sociology, rather than abstract tests and the civic and legalist/rational choice positions dominating political science. See, respectively, Axelrod, Robert, The evolution of cooperation (New York: Basic Books, 1984); Maloy, J. S., ‘Two Concepts of Trust’, The Journal of Politics, 71:492 (2009), p. 505.

27 Luhmann, ‘Familiarity, Confidence, Trust’, p. 99.

28 Trust and the need for trust can only exist if there is risk involved. Luhmann ‘Familiarity, Confidence, Trust’, pp. 96, 98.

29 René Albrecht-Carrié, A diplomatic history of Europe since the congress of Vienna (London, 1958).

30 Luhmann, Vertrauen, p. 7.

31 Reinhardt Koselleck, ‘Space of Experience and Horizon of Expectation: Two Historical Categories’, in Koselleck (ed.), Futures Past (1985), pp. 267–88.

32 Stavrianos, Leften Stavros, The Balkans since 1453 (New York: Rinehart, 1958), pp. 187–92.

33 Motyl, Alexander J., Revolutions, Nations, Empires: Conceptual Limits and Theoretical Possibilities (New York, NY: Columbia University Press 1999), p. 124; Quataert, Donald, The Ottoman Empire, 1700–1922 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2000), pp. 25–7, 31–4; Bennison, Amira K., ‘The Ottoman Empire and its Precedents from the Perspective of English School Theory’, in Buzan, Barry and Gonzalez-Pelaez, Ana (eds), International Society and the Middle East: English School Theory at the Regional Level (Basingstoke: Palgrave, 2009), pp. 4569; Urdusev, ‘The Middle East’, p. 74. Maria Todorova emphasises that the Ottomans did not aim for integration. The Ottoman Legacy in the Balkans’, in Brown, L. Carl (ed.), Imperial Legacy: The Ottoman Imprint in the Balkans and the Middle East (New York: Columbia University Press, 1995), pp. 45–7, p. 48. Concerning the Balkans see Stavrianos, The Balkans, pp. 101–3.

34 Inalcik, Halil, ‘Ottoman Methods of Conquest’, Studia Islamica, 2 (1954), pp. 103–29. p. 107–8.

35 Neumann, Iver B., Uses of the other: ‘the East’ in European identity formation (Manchester: Manchester University Press 1999), p. 54; Glenny, Misha, The Balkans 1804–1999: Nationalism, War and the Great Powers (London: Granta 1999), p. 36–7.

36 Bitis, Alexander, Russia and the Eastern Question: Army, Government and Society, 1815–1833 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2006), pp. 161–2, Schroeder, Transformation, p. 660.

37 Dakin, Douglas, The Greek Struggle for Independence 1821–1833 (London: Batsford, 1973), p. 150.

38 Jelavich, Barbara, Russia's Balkan Entanglements: 1806–1914 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1991), pp. 29, 79; Bitis, Russia and the Eastern question, pp. 374, 477.

39 Bitis, Russia and the Eastern question, p. 163, Dakin, The Greek Struggle, p. 153.

40 Protocol relative to the Affairs of Greece, Signed at St. Petersburg, 4 April 1826, cited in HC Deb, 31 January 1828, vol. 18, cc 86–93; Dakin, The Greek Struggle, p. 179, §1.

41 ‘Treaty for the Pacification of Greece, between his Majesty, the Most Christian King, and the Emperor of all the Russias’ (London, 6 July 1827), cited in HC Deb, 31 January 1828 vol. 18, cc 86–93, §2.

42 Bayly, Chrisopher Alan, The birth of the modern world, 1780–1914: global connections and comparisons (Oxford: Blackwell, 2004), p. 213.

43 Schroeder, Transformation, pp. 622, 625, 638, 640.

44 Ibid., p. 640.

45 Ibid., pp. 591, 619–21, 644.

46 Jelavic Russia's Balkan entanglements, p. 82.

47 Bitis Russia and the Eastern question, p. 186, 353.

48 Luhmann, Vertrauen, pp. 69–76; Gambetta, ‘Can we trust trust?’

49 Bitis Russia and the Eastern question, pp. 361–72.

50 Bitis Russia and the Eastern question, p. 372; Dakin, The Greek Struggle, pp. 155, 257.

51 Ibid., pp. 257, 272.

52 Quatert The Ottoman Empire, p. 58; Dakin, The Greek Struggle, pp. 272, 277. Greece was recognised internationally only in 1832. Dakin, The Greek Struggle, p. 290.

53 Glenny, The Balkans, pp. 37–9; Jelavich, The Establishment, pp. 69, 78.

54 Dakin The Greek Struggle, p. 262.

55 Buzan and Wæver, Regions and Powers, pp. 41, 483–7, 489, 490.

56 Lord Palmerston in HC Deb, 16 February 1830, vol. 22, cc 544–68.

57 Sir J. Mackintosh and Lord Palmerston in HC Deb, 16 February 1830, vol. 22, cc 544–68.

58 Reid, James J., Crisis of the Ottoman empire: Prelude to Collapse, 1839–1878 (Stuttgart: Steiner, 2000), pp. 242–47; Smith Anderson, Matthew, The Eastern Question 1774–1923: a Study in International Relations (London: Macmillan, 1966), p. 125.

59 Taylor, A. J. P., The Struggle for Mastery in Europe 1848–1918 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1971), pp. 65–6.

60 Anderson, The Eastern Question, pp. 141–8.

61 Onuf, Nicholas Greenwood, The Republican Legacy in International Thought (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1998).

62 Rosenne, Shabtai (ed.), United Nations. International Law Commission The International Law Commission's Draft Articles on State Responsibility (Dordrecht: Martinus Nijhoff, 1991), p. 300; Oppenheim, Lassa, International Law: a Treatise (Clark, NJ: Lawbook Exchange, 2005 [orig. pub. 1920]), p. 162; Hannum, HurstAutonomy, Sovereignty, and Self-Determination: the Accommodation of Conflicting Rights (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1996), p. 17.

63 Hitchins, Keith, Rumania: 1866–1947 (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1994), p. 49.

64 Motyl, Revolutions, p. 13; Doyle, Michael W., Empires (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1986), pp. 19, 21, 32–4.

65 Mosse, Werner Eugen, The Rise and Fall of the Crimean System 1855–71: the Story of a Peace Settlement (London, 1963), pp. 37, 167; Taylor, The Struggle, pp. 79–80.

66 Buzan, Barry and Little, Richard, International Systems in World History: Remaking the Study of International Relations (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2000).

67 Treaty of Paris 1856 in Holland, Thomas Erskine (ed.), The European Concert in the Eastern Question: a Collection of Treaties and other Public Acts (AalenScientia, 1979 [orig. pub. 1885]), pp. 241–55, art. VII.

68 Treaty of Paris 1856, Art. XXII, p. 251.

69 As Scott, Organizations, p. 187 says, ‘organizational boundaries are co-terminus with activity control’.

70 For Serbia, see Treaty of Paris 1856, Art. XXVII, p. 252.

71 Treaty of Paris, Art. XXVII, p. 252 ‘[n]o armed intervention can take place between previous agreement between these Powers’. Treaty of Paris, Art. XXIX, p. 252–3 (Serbia).

72 Treaty of Paris, Art. XXII, p. 251; Art. XXVII, p. 252.

73 Treaty of Paris, Art. XXVI, p. 252.

74 The Earl of Derby, 5 May 1856; HL Deb, 5 May 1856 vol. 141, cc 1947–2028.

75 Taylor, The Struggle, p. 59; Mosse, The Rise and Fall, p. 51.

76 Giddens, Modernity.

77 Treaty of Paris, Art. XXII.

78 Treaty of Paris, Art. XXIV, p. 252.

79 Treaty of Paris, Art. XXV, p. 252.

80 Krasner, Sovereignty, p. 169.

81 Seconded by Seymore Fitzgerald (conservative), Lord John Russell (Whig), and Benjamin Disraeli (Conservative Chancellor of the Exchequer) HC Deb, 4 May 1858, vol. 150. cc 44–106.

82 Viscount Palmerston, HC Deb, 4 May 1858, vol. 150, cc 44–106.

83 Gladstone HC Deb, 4 May 1858, vol. 150, cc 44–106.

84 Temperley, Harold, ‘The Treaty of Paris and Its Execution’, The Journal of Modern History, 4:3 (1932), pp. 387414, pp. 389–90.

85 Schroeder, Paul, ‘Bruck versus Buol: The Dispute over Austrian Eastern Policy, 1853–55’, The Journal of Modern History, 40:2 (1968), pp. 193217.

86 Mosse, The Rise and Fall, p. 3; Stavrianos, The Balkans, p. 337.

87 Taylor, The Struggle, pp. 99–126.

88 Hitchins, Rumania, pp. 11–37.

89 Mosse, The Rise and Fall, p. 198.

90 Bayly, The Birth of the Modern, p. 212.

91 Jelavich, The Establishment, pp. 141–57.

92 Hitchins, Rumania, p. 30; Krasner, Sovereignty; The Treaty of Berlin of 13 July 1878 in Holland, The European Concert, pp. 277–307. Articles XXV–XXVI, XXX (Montenegro), Articles XXXIV–XXXV, XXXIX (Serbia) and Articles XLIV (Rumania) This requirement also applied to Bulgaria (Treaty of Berlin, Articles IV, V pp. 282–3.

93 Dickinson, Edwin De Witt, The Equality of States in International Law (New York: Arno Press, 1920), p. 238; Treaty of Berlin, Art. I, p. 279.

94 Treaty of Berlin, Art. IX, p. 284. Bulgaria never fulfilled either obligation. Dickinson, The Equality of States, p. 238. To ensure that Bulgaria would be free from external influence no member of a ruling house of Europe could become Prince of Bulgaria. Treaty of Berlin, Art. III, p. 283.

95 Treaty of Berlin, Art. VI, p. 283.

96 Treaty of Berlin, Art. XV, p. 289.

97 Hyde, Arthur May, A Diplomatic History of Bulgaria 1879–1886 (Urbana: University of Illinois Press 1928), pp. 144, 150, 152.

98 Taylor, The Struggle, p. 91.

99 British references to the European interest in relation to Balkan affairs were frequent. The Duke of Argyll, HL Deb, 7 March 1878, vol. 258, cc 830–71.

100 Gall, Lothar, Bismarck: der weiße Revolutionär (Frankfurt am Main: Propyläen, 1980), pp. 504, 509.

101 Anderson, The Eastern Question, p. 188; Gall, Bismarck, p. 511.

102 Power for its own sake, not values, principles, goals or systemic stability was the preponderant value. Gall, Bismarck, p. 523, Kratochwil, Friedrich, ‘On the Notion of “Interest” in International Relations’, International Organization, 36:1 (1982), pp. 130, pp. 21–2.

103 Quoted in Gall, Bismarck, p. 514.

104 Doering-Manteuffel, Anselm, Die Deutsche Frage und das Europäische Staatensystem 1815–1871 (München, Oldenburg 2001); Mosse, The Rise and Fall; Schroeder The Transformation, pp. 6–7.

105 Treaty of Berlin, Art. XXV, p. 292; Mommsen, Wolfgang J., Grossmachtstellung und Weltpolitik. Die Außenpolitik des Deutschen Reiches 1870–1914 (Frankfurt am Main: Ullstein 1993), pp. 36, 38. Britain had secured Cyprus in the preliminary negotiations.

106 Lord Edmond Fitzmaurice, HC Deb, 31 July 1876, vol. 231, cc 126–225; Gladstone, who believed that Rumania had become independent in 1866, concurred, Mr. Gladstone, Hc Deb, 31 July 1876, vol. 231, cc 126–225.

107 Mr. Forsyth, HC Deb, 31 July 1876, vol. 231, cc 126–225.

108 Sir H. Drummond Wolff, HC Deb, 31 July 1876, vol. 231, cc 126–225. Two years later noted polemically by Mr. Gladstone, HC Deb, 30 July 1878, vol. 242, cc 644–763. Approvingly by Viscount Sandon and Mr. Asheton Cross, HC Deb, 30 July 1878, vol. 242, cc 644–763.

109 Vicount Sandon, HC Deb, 30 July 1878, vol. 242, cc 644–763.

110 Tilly, Coercion, capital, and European states; Spruyt, Henrik, The Sovereign State and its Competitors (Princeton: Princeton University Press 1994); Marten, Kimberly, ‘Statebuilding and force. The proper role of foreign militaries’, in Chandler, David (ed.), Statebuilding and Intervention: Policies, Practices and Paradigms (London: Routledge 2009), pp. 123–39, p. 128.

111 This description possibly fits some late medieval examples like Burgundy (absorbed by France), but as much for dynastic reasons as for warfare.

112 Gambetta, ‘Can we trust trust?’

* I want to express my gratitude to the editors and three anonymous reviewers for their careful reading and their comments and suggestions on successive drafts. They have improved this article and broadened my horizons considerably. Any mistakes and errors are, as always, entirely my own. I also want to thank Mats Hallenberg, Dan Johansson, and Biörn Tjällén of the Department of History at Stockholm University for their comments on early drafts. The research for this article was generously founded by a post-doc grant from the Swedish Research Council (435-2008-613).

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