Western Assumptions about International Order

Christopher A. Ford

in The Mind of Empire

Published by University Press of Kentucky

Published in print April 2010 | ISBN: 9780813192635
Published online September 2011 | e-ISBN: 9780813135519 | DOI:
Western Assumptions about International Order

Show Summary Details


Like China, Europe suffered through crucial formative periods of uncertainty and strife, beginning with the “discovery” and conquest of the New World at the close of the fifteenth century. From 1500 to 1800, Europe went through a long and perilous ordeal of identity formation and contestation. These tribulations destroyed the remnant institutions and assumptions of medieval governance and, ultimately, produced a domestic and international order based on entirely new concepts. These dynamics formed a powerfully pluralist conception of world order in which sovereign states existed side by side in relationships of formal equality and independence. The pervasiveness of this concept, called Western pluralism, can be seen in the writings of European scholars, including Francisco de Vitoria, Francisco Suarez, Alberico Gentili, and Hugo Grotius, that touch on the conceptions of international order. This Westphalian notion of world politics forms a powerful and fascinating counterpoint to Sinic universalism. Whereas Europe emerged from feudalism through the crucible of bitter zero-sum warfare into a postimperial world of formally coequal sovereign powers, China—albeit nearly two millennia earlier—drew precisely opposite conclusions from its own period of interstate struggle. An understanding of these sharply contrasting conceptual paths is necessary to appreciate the tensions that lie at the heart of China's ambivalent modern relationship to international law and the states system.

Keywords: Europe; international order; state sovereignty; Westphalian pluralism; Sinic universalism; European intellectual tradition; international legal positivism

Chapter.  7690 words. 

Subjects: International Relations

Full text: subscription required

How to subscribe Recommend to my Librarian

Buy this work at University Press of Kentucky »

Users without a subscription are not able to see the full content. Please, subscribe or login to access all content.