The Treaty of Westphalia in 1648 is widely interpreted as the foundation of modern international relations. Benno Teschke exposes this as a myth. In the process he provides a fresh re-interpretation of the making of modern international relations from the eighth to the eighteenth century. Inspired by the groundbreaking historical work of Robert Brenner, Teschke argues that social property relations provide the key to unlocking the changing meaning of "international" across the medieval, early modern, and modern periods. He traces how the long-term interaction of class conflict, economic development, and international rivalry effected the formation of the modern system of states. Yet instead of identifying a breakthrough to interstate modernity in the so-called "long sixteenth century" or in the period of intensified geopolitical competition during the seventeenth century, Teschke shows that geopolitics remained governed by dynastic and absolutist political communities, rooted in feudal property regimes.
The Myth of 1648 argues that the onset of specifically modern international relations only began with the conjunction of the rise of capitalism and modern state-formation in England. Thereafter, the English model caused the restructuring of the old regimes of the Continent. This was a long-term process of socially uneven development, not completed until World War I.
Benno Teschke is Lecturer in the Department of Politics and International Relations at the University of Sussex.