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The Treaty of Westphalia – Lecture No 06 (1648 AD)

December 16, 2019


many people have a passport
we dutifully show it when we cross borders but do we take a moment to stop
and think about what it really means in fact that passport is visible proof
of how our world is organized now divided up into different territorial
units in this modern state system at least theoretically these units are
sovereign meaning that they possess their own authority they have supreme
and independent rights like the right to control their territory and make you
show your passport in order to enter their territory in this respect states
are equals on the international plain this is the world we know
and it almost sometimes seems like the natural or default mode of international
organization the sovereign state as a political powerhouse the actor on the
international stage indeed this concept is written into the
United Nations Charter of 1945 which declares the organization is based on
the principle of the sovereign equality of all of its members or think of
watching the Olympic Games where we see teams of athletes representing their
individual countries marchin following their individual national flags but how
did this international order come into being it was not always so in this
lecture we will examine a key turning point in international politics with a
global impact this turning point came at the end of the long and traumatic 30
Years War in Europe in the a in the year 1648 a war that itself came at the tail
end of about a century of religious slaughter and warfare in the Western
Christian world the peace settlement that ended the thirty years war called
the Peace of Westphalia pointed international politics in a new
direction this international order has been called
the Westphalian system denoting a system of sovereign states interacting with one
another now probably very few people think to
themselves in their daily lives well here I am living in a Westphalian
international system but it is worth thinking about what this means as in
fact it’s one of those hidden assumptions that actually structures our
world up to the present whether we’re aware of it or not in our course on
turning points then this is a different kind of turning point than many others
we’ve seen it is one caused not by willed or creative invention or
discovery rather it’s a turning point that came out of sheer exhaustion the
exhaustion of religious warfare as a result earlier appeals to religious
authority in politics were downgraded increasingly the initiative would pass
to new monarchies and some Republic’s as the source of authority in terms of how
contemporaries viewed the world after this turning point what their mental
maps look like increasingly the world appeared to be one of states in a
shifting balance of power instead of being subjected to one overarching
Universal Authority let’s consider in turn how Authority had
been understood before this point in Europe then view the horrific impact of
an age of religious warfare and then assess the peace of exhaustion itself
and its unexpected results much of earlier history is a contrast to
our current model today of divided sovereignties and divided authority
instead the ideal that had great appeal at the start of the modern age was that
of universal authority often expressed in Empire for much of human history
Empire has been a more common form of political organization that people have
lived under more common than a nation-state or a republic just look
back at the lectures from the start of our course we recall China’s Ming Empire
the central kingdom which was supposed to embody order and the Mandate of
Heaven and thus was seen as globally central and authoritative or the Roman
Empire surviving in the East in Constantinople until 1453 continuing the
glory that was Rome so – in the European Middle Ages Authority was seen as
divinely sanctioned and Universal in its claims and reach this link to the divine
gave tremendous legitimacy now that was theory the general mindset
practice would be much more complicated and messy inevitably in this period
church and state were intertwined in Europe because both appealed to the
source of divine authority and this would lead to conflicts to institutions
in the Middle Ages in particular had shown this earlier the Pope of the Roman
Catholic Church and the Holy Roman Empire Church and the Imperial state were
intertwined in a vivid way that would be unfamiliar to us in the present the
emperor often controlled who became Pope in Rome while only a pope could crown a
Holy Roman Emperor making his rule official who would dominate in this
relationship both sides sought to inherit the authority of the Roman
Empire which had expired in the west by 476 during the 11th and 12th centuries
as part of one of those frequent movements for reform a series of popes
made large claims to temporal authority creating what’s been called essentially
a papal monarchy so for instance in 1075 Pope Gregory the 7th had announced that
the Roman Church was founded by God alone and only the Pope can with right
be called universal and went on to claim that the Pope had the right to depose
the Emperor these claims led to the so called investiture controversy with the
Holy Roman Emperor in which ultimately the Emperor back down but not very
sincerely in the 12th century the Roman Catholic Church was at the very height
of its political and secular power when new monarchies arose to challenge that
power especially the King of France Pope Boniface the 8th in 1302 announced a
ringing assertion of papal power in the papal bull labeled unum sanctum he
declared the temporal Authority ought to be subject to the spiritual power and if
the earthly power airs it shall be judged by the spiritual power now
ironically this very expansive statement came just at the point when the Pope’s
position to become untenable because French soldiers arrested the Pope
later popes were pressured to rule under French supervision in Avignon rival
popes claimed authority as well at one point there were three rival popes at
once such scenes did much to damage the political credibility of the papacy
the Holy Roman Empire had its own claims and its own problems as well this
institution had been founded when Charlemagne was crowned by a pope in
Rome in the year 800 to revive the glories of the Roman Empire in the West
the name holy in Holy Roman Empire conveyed the spiritual power that was
ascribed to this Christian Empire theoretically thus the Emperor of the
Holy Roman Empire was to have primacy over all other kings and princes in the
rest of Christendom symbolically he might have but in practice the Holy
Roman Empire had weakened and weakened shrinking in its borders mostly just to
the German lands the throne of the Empire was not hereditary but rather an
elected office which gave a lot of power to the nobles who periodically elected
the Emperor at a time when kingdoms like England
France and Spain were trying to centralize this state the Holy Roman
Empire remained a futile jumble of overlapping and multiple principalities
kingdoms free cities territories of bishops and of monasteries and Noble
estates many of them tiny in size there were more than 300 of these units an
incredible diversity and decentralization so the Holy Roman
Emperor could make vast symbolic claims to authority in Europe but those claims
would be hard to enforce with this kind of power base no wonder that later
comedians would announce that the Holy Roman Empire in fact had been neither
holy nor Roman nor really an empire so in contrast to the papacy in the empire
in the early modern period monarchs of new centralizing kingdoms were on the
rise and they were not shy about reaching for religious legitimation
themselves so the monarchs of the spain called themselves the most catholic
monarchs the kings of france call themselves the most christian monarchs
and the English kings were known as the defenders of the faith
now add to this mix the explosive impact of the religious division of Christians
in Europe with the Reformation since the onset of the Reformation the breakdown
in the theoretical unity of Christianity religious wars were racking Europe and
even extended to other parts of the globe where European explorers or
traders ventured and ran into one another this sort of religious warfare
was not what Luther had expected at first when he had launched his message
of religious reform within the Catholic Church in 1517 at first the struggle was
a rhetorical one carried out from pulpits expressing different points of
view and especially in print using the new power of Gutenberg’s printing press
within weeks of Luther announcing his 95 theses printed copies were flying all
around Germany Luther’s writings were mass produced and then the opponents of
Luther in the Catholic Church produced their literature in turn and once saw a
war of Flyers in German the word for a flyer is flugplatz literally a flying
sheet of paper and these Flyers circulating throughout Germany often
decorated with vivid illustrations and easy to post on walls as handbills
really accelerated and increased the temperature in the debate the debate
then became even more complex when divisions appeared in the camp of the
Reformers as Calvinists urged a doctrine of predestination disagreeing with
interpretations of the Lutheran’s then faithfully this theological debate
in print erupted into warfare and once saw the scandalous spectacle of
Christians killing Christians over points of doctrine Germany was among the
places hit first as sort of the ground zero of this ferment a country divided
between Catholics and Protestants Protestant Prince’s banded together to
fight against the Catholic Emperor the war ended inconclusive
but the Emperor was forced in sort of a ceasefire to acknowledge the Lutheran
princes right to exist in Germany this happened with the so
called Peace of Augsburg in 1555 which established as official the formula of
in Latin kuia sadeghi Oh a osa Daniel whose rule that person’s religion the
prince gets to determine the religion of his territory a prince could choose
which faith Catholic or Lutheran to establish officially in his lands
Calvinists by contrast were not recognized and those who are of a
different faith could convert or could emigrate this severe formula at least
gave a temporary respite for some decades before conflict flared anew
France was next in line there the French Wars of Religion lasted from 1560 to to
1598 and included horrific atrocities like the famous st. Bartholomew’s Day
Massacre when thousands of French Calvinists were murdered in Paris
religiously inflected war also erupted in the Netherlands which had been under
Spanish rule the Calvinist Dutch population rose up in revolt against
their Catholic Spanish rulers in 1568 and this was the start of the so-called
eighty years war for independence for the Dutch which they finally only
achieved in 1648 at the Peace of Westphalia
so religious war and crusade were in the air even the disastrous launching of the
Spanish Armada against England in 1588 which failed was seen by the Spanish as
a kind of holy fight or crusade against English heretics then the thirty years
war broke out in earnest in the Holy Roman Empire and the German lands in
1618 you’ll be relieved to hear that I will spare you a blow-by-blow account of
this grinding unending and ultimately indecisive war in her classic history of
this war British historian Dame Veronica Wedgwood called it the outstanding
example of European in European history of meaningless conflict and if you know
something about European history you know that that’s really saying something
so let me just offer a brief overview the war started absurdly with Imperial
messengers being thrown out of a window in Prague by Protestant leaders in
Bohemia who were defying their Catholic emperor this is the famous
defenestration of Prague the throwing out of a window
the messengers by the way miraculously survived this ordeal and then the war
was on spreading from Bohemia into the German lands proper as Protestants and
Catholics rallied to their princes and war was engaged in the first years
things went so well for the Catholic Emperor that he must have been exalted
thinking that perhaps his universal claims to Authority might not be so
impractical after all if things continue to go this way but ironically precisely
because the emperor was doing well other outside powers got dragged in to balance
him the kingdoms of Denmark and Sweden entered the war as Protestant champions
to save their co-religionists fighting against the Emperor but increasingly
something strange was happening what had started as a religiously motivated
conflict mutated and over time became something less coherent rather than a
religious conflict with clear lines more of a multi-sided battle
the Exhibit A for this is that Catholic France also entered the war but not on
the Catholic side it entered the war against the Emperor and against Spain on
the side of Protestant allies eventually more than two hundred states great and
small were participating in the 30 Years War the war grew ever more muddled with
the Dutch Spanish war folded in as well and the conflict even extended beyond
Europe worldwide for instance there was fighting between the Dutch and the
Spanish in Brazil and a Dutch Admiral actually captured the famous Spanish
treasure fleet in harbour in Cuba in 1628 in a great victory and the war went
on and on and on so let me state the obvious
too many ordinary people caught up in this war the claims and counterclaims
political as well as religious seemed increasingly meaningless when set
against their own experience of suffering the German lands were
destroyed thoroughly in this man-made disaster Germany became the playground
for huge mercenary armies fighting no longer out of conviction but rather for
whoever would pay best and living off the land plundering pillaging raping and
killing these mercenaries by the way did leave one tiny cultural contribution
which indoors into our own times in fact men’s neckties originated with
correlation mercenaries who wore colorful cloths knotted around their
necks and in parts of Europe to this very day necks hyzer sometimes still
called cravats which simply means a Croatian or something in the Croatian
style in this war some million soldiers took
part and it’s estimated that about 1/3 of them died but keep this in mind the
civilian losses were far greater historians are still having a vigorous
debate today about just how hard Germany at the center of all this was ravaged by
the war but even if you take current lower estimates that still puts the
number of deaths at about 15 to 20 percent of the entire German population
of the time over 3 million people some areas were hit harder than others
when Swedish armies captured the hometown of Guttenberg mines that city
lost 40% of its people the city of Augsburg lost half its population many
cities were occupied repeatedly over and over again most notoriously when the
besieged city of Magdeburg held by the Protestants was captured by the Catholic
Imperial forces the population was put to the sword
so there’s no wonder that one anonymous German poet sighed with a deep deep
anguish that we can still hear in his verses today that the houses are burned
out the churches are destroyed the villages are looted the food has been
eaten one sees the cities the hopes of the land in flames no one can recognize
anymore the splendor of the land understandably a great and general
longing for peace grew because the war was not decided by one final and
conclusive victory that that gave decisive victory to one side or another
this would need to be ended by a piece of compromise and obviously it would
need to be based on principles other than the religious orthodoxies that had
sparked the conflict to begin with so negotiations opened in the West German
land of Westphalia in 1648 of mixed Catholic and Protestant population but
oddly enough the negotiations coincided with fighting the fighting continued
even as talks were going on which complicated the discussions immensely
you can imagine this if one side was winning it was a lot less likely to make
concessions and vice-versa so strangely enough war making and peacemaking
were going on at the same time the negotiations took place in two
separate towns Munster and osnabrück these towns were diplomatically exempted
from any further warfare the Empire’s negotiations with Sweden took place in
osnabrück and the negotiations with France and Spain in Munster running in
parallel some 200 rulers and thousands of diplomatic officials participated
these delegations could be huge and in fact the Swedes brought their own
personal shopper just to have him along and the negotiations dragged on for five
years as well in part this was because it was unprecedented nothing quite like
these negotiations had ever happened before this was a peace Congress for all
of Europe to establish a pox again Adonis a general peace diplomatic
ceremony and etiquette questions of who had precedents over whom in entering a
hall for instance were symbolic matters reflecting Authority that this age took
very seriously so the first six months were taken up
with these precedents questions for instance the representatives of the
Dutch Republic scandalized some old-fashioned diplomats by insisting on
being called excellency just like the representatives of Kings this seemed
outrageous to conservatives such disputes inevitably prolonged the
negotiations crucial however is to notice that this
conference was not presided over by a universally recognized Authority it was
not presided over by the Holy Roman Emperor after all he was one of the
parties to the war nor were these negotiations presided over by the Pope
because the Pope refused to recognize agreements with the Protestants who in
turn rejected his claims to Authority what a contrast to the way in which we
saw in an earlier lecture the way in which Spain and Portugal had called on
the Pope to settle a political question to mediate their treaty of tordesillas
in 1494 after Columbus’s voyages essentially to divide up the world the
claims to authority of the Emperor and the Pope clearly were not central to
these proceedings so what new order did emerge treaties that were arrived at confirmed
that rulers of territories would have superiority in all matters religious as
well as political in their own lands the religious compromise of this treaty
essentially repeated the formula of the Peace of Augsburg of 1555 almost a
century ago this must have been a sad thing for keen observers to recognize
there had been all this war and suffering and the result was essentially
something that had been arrived at about a century ago in fact the new formula
did recognize some changes the Calvinists for instance were included in
the settlement the settlement also guaranteed the ability of religious
minorities to the practice of their religion in territories so it already
represented a gesture towards recognizing the rights of minorities in
general these treaties move towards sovereign independence for territorial
rulers as a practical solution not as a theoretical model the United Provinces
and Switzerland were recognized as independent and within the Holy Roman
Empire the princes of the Empire were given the right to make peace or war at
will just not to make war against the Emperor all of this further weakened the
remaining structures the Holy Roman Empire as did the loss of German
territories to France and Sweden in many days juror in many ways Germany would
remain a power vacuum until it was nationally unified later in the 19th
century so it’s not a coincidence that Adolf Hitler and the Nazis would later
often rant about the 30 Years War and the unjust peace of westphalia as
Germany’s humiliation that must never be repeated and then of course the Nazis
went on to bring about just such a disaster themselves the negotiations
were followed anxiously by a general public and this further showed the
impact of the print revolution the first newspapers were started in Germany in
this time and they reported to a wider public how the peacemaking was going the
treaties were finally ceremonially signed on October 24th 1648 what
actually happened when news spread of the piece how do you end a 30 years span
of war in Prague in Bohemia today the Czech Republic where the war began the
church bells rang and rang and rang in long deafening peals of joy in Germany
in countless villages and towns assuming of course they were still standing
special celebration feasts were organized commemorative coins and prints
featured one symbol in particular the Dove with an olive branch a symbol for
peace that’s still current today but the good news travelled very slowly to
places that were further away in the Moluccas the Spice Islands the Dutch
actually beat the Spanish in a great battle in 1649 a year after the treaty
had been signed establishing peace because none of them had yet heard the
news from Europe when Pope Innocent learned of this treaty he condemned it
in the papal bull entitled Zelo Domus day he declared it quote null void
invalid iniquitous unjust damnable reprobate inane and devoid of meaning
for all time end quote that’s a pretty harsh review he didn’t
like it but this protest does not mean that the treaty produced a new secular
politics a some sort of total break with the past
in fact the opening text of the treaties started with the pious and shared hope
quote that there shall be a Christian and universal peace and a perpetual true
and sincere Amity end quote religion remained important so what was the
ultimate significance of this turning point first the Westphalian
international system as it’s been called involved the recognition that world
politics would not be under the rule of one universal authority whether the Pope
or the Holy Roman Empire instead there would be a constant shifting dynamic
interplay estates seeking to preserve their sovereignty and their own
advantage the negotiators had not aimed to create a new world around a new model
if you spoke to them about the West model they were creating they would not
have understood what you were talking about rather they were seeking a
pragmatic solution and yet their pragmatic solution pointed towards a new
conception of international order and authority now the worldview of
contemporaries increasingly saw international politics not in terms of a
divinely ordained hierarchy but rather in terms of balance the interaction of
these sovereign states the concept of the balance of power would be a key
model for how the world works politically up to our own times just
check the front pages of newspapers some scholars today ask whether we are now
moving past the Westphalian settlement some examples the European Union
involves seeding or pooling individual country’s sovereignty to achieve a more
perfect union or another example the internet and the forms of community that
can be built in cyberspace they’re no longer territorial so where does that
leave the sovereignty of the territorial state
other scholars posed questions about sovereignty itself sovereignty excludes
outside interference of other powers and domestic issues but what happens when a
sovereign state uses its powers to abuse people under its control or to commit
genocide may outside powers justifiably intervene or is there in fact as some
have suggested a duty to intervene and to protect these kinds of questions are
urgent in our own times and are still being worked out
second this turning point was not one that was carefully and consciously
planned the most immediate priority for the negotiators was just ending the
torment of their continent to craft a peace of exhaustion and end the scandal
of doctrinal slaughter the changes that they introduced happened not for
abstract theoretical reasons but out of pragmatism so the Peace of Westphalia
was not the singular moment where all of this happened at once rather it started
a movement toward sovereignty the movement toward sovereignty as a model
predated 1648 and continued afterwards this was not the case of an absolute and
clean break but it was nonetheless a turning point at the ground level for
ordinary people this new model of territorial sovereignty brought
Authority closer to their own lives but only slowly and over time to begin with
the main emotion of everyday people was simply relief that the war was over at
last third and finally the Peace of Westphalia had lasting effects as a
precedent for later peacemaking obviously the Peace of Westphalia did
not end future wars but it did give a template for how to negotiate the very
institution of an international peace Congress could now be duplicated and was
at the negotiations for the Treaty of Versailles after World War one or in
countless summit meetings in our own times the desire for peace and the will
for peace that had been powerfully demonstrated in 1648 remain relevant
also very relevant for peacemaking was the intellectual shift to the horrors of
or produced the very notion of using violence to impose and enforce religious
truth became increasingly D legitimized yes wars continued and religion remained
important but this shift was an important and necessary one to begin in
this lecture we surveyed a vital turning point that unbeknownst to most people
today still shapes how we live how international politics are done today
that’s big by contrast will consider the discovery
of small worlds especially as seen through the
revolutionary power of the microscope during the Dutch Golden Age in our next
lecture

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