The Treaty of Westphalia
All who have studied, let the most superficial way, International Relations know that the world order in which we still live humanity is called Westphalian. This expression has become commonplace, but it is still worth recalling – what exactly is the Treaty of Versailles, concluded on October 24, 1648.
On this day, in Münster and Osnabrück, an agreement was concluded between the leading European powers to end the Thirty Years’ War. In European history, the Thirty Years War is seen as the border between the medieval order and the full-fledged onset of modern times. This was the last war to be fought under the banner of religion. Catholic countries fought against Protestant ones. The main question that was being decided: who will win – the Reformation or the Counter-Reformation?
The model of medieval politics and ideology in this war was represented by the powers of the European South, who fought under the banner of Catholicism and the Austrian Empire.
Protestant countries – primarily England and the Scandinavian states, as well as Luther’s supporters in other parts of Europe – opposed the rule of the popes and the rule of the Empire. Due to the traditional hatred of the Habsburgs, a formally Catholic, but already deeply modernized France fought on the side of the Protestants.
The war took away up to a third of the European population, and some areas lost more than 70% of the population. It was a real-world war, as it affected not only the territory of Old Europe but also the colonies.
The forces in the war were almost equal, and not one of the sides, despite huge losses, failed to achieve a decisive advantage. This balance was fixed by the Peace of Westphalia, which recognized the rights of both warring camps.
Although the Catholic south managed to defend its position in the face of the Protestant offensive, and the Habsburg Empire retained itself and its influence, albeit, in a truncated form, it was the Protestant north that achieved its goal. The Protestant countries initially insisted that in European politics there should be no instance that would stand above national sovereignty – neither the power of the Roman Church nor the power of the Austrian Empire. It was then that the principle of the State-Nation, Etat-Nation, and national sovereignty was finally recognized by all.
Although Catholicism and the Empire survived, they were henceforth recognized not as supranational institutions, but as separate European states along with everyone else. The empire was reduced to the level of one of the European states, and the status of the Pope was preserved exclusively in the zone of Catholic countries and then as a purely religious authority. That is, although the Protestants (and the French who joined them, who were in many ways the initiators) did not completely defeat the opponents, they managed to impose their idea of normative policy on the whole of Europe. It is this order that is called Westphalian: it is based on the principle of national sovereignty, above which no authorities and authorities, neither religious nor imperial, are recognized. From now on, the issues of religion, political structure, and social order became the business of every national state, and no one could influence it on behalf of any supranational structure.
The Peace of Westphalia coincided with the rise of the bourgeoisie, which at that time was waging fierce battles against the medieval order, where society was headed by the estates of priests and the military aristocracy. The European bourgeoisie, in the person of the popes, attacked the priesthood, and in the person of the Austrian Empire – the caste of the military aristocracy. Yes, this was not yet a full-fledged bourgeois democracy, since all Protestant countries remained monarchies. But these were monarchies of a new type – a kind of bourgeois monarchies.
And although Roman Catholicism and the Habsburgs tried to preserve the old European order on their territories, they were forced to accept the Westphalian rules of the game. In these rules, it was the national state that became normative, which, in its ideology, had already contributed to the growth of the bourgeoisie and the departure from the Middle Ages. Not only in Protestant countries but also in Catholic ones. It is significant that in England itself, a year after the Peace of Westphalia, during the Civil War, which began even earlier, King Charles I was executed. France will follow the same path of regicide and the seizure of power by representatives of the bourgeois oligarchy in the next eighteenth century. Catholic countries adhered to the old order farther than others, and the bourgeoisie finally triumphed in them only in the twentieth century.
Thus, the Peace of Westphalia marks the historic victory of the secular bourgeoisie in the class-based Christian-imperial order. It was then that nationalism emerged as the most important weapon of the European bourgeoisie in the battle against the sacred medieval order. The Peace of Westphalia laid the foundation for nation-states. Later, the bourgeoisie began to feel burdened by nationalism and at the same time abandon nation-states – an example of this is the modern European Union. So gradually the Westphalian peace began to be dismantled by the same forces that built it. But this is already the next page in the history of political ideologies and International Relations. In comparison with modern globalism, the National State has not gone anywhere, but already in its origins, it is something dubious and anti-traditional since it is something bourgeois. Equally dubious and fraught with insoluble contradictions is nationalism, which must be overcome.
Not a nation, but an Empire. Not the bourgeois Peace of Westphalia, but the sacred order of a large space.