The Global Covenant: Human Conduct in a World of States

By Robert Jackson | Go to book overview

7 The Pluralist Architecture of World Politics

This chapter locates the previous discussion in a broader historical and theoretical context with a view to bringing the first part of the book to a close. It opens with a brief recollection of the arrangement of authority during the medieval era in Europe. It proceeds to review some important events surrounding the Peace of Westphalia which is generally regarded as marking, symbolically more than literally, the ending of the solidarist Middle Ages and the beginning of the pluralist era of modern state-centred politics. It goes on to indicate how a societas of sovereign states involves a complementary ethics of statecraft and it examines four distinctive political responsibilities of independent statespeople. The final section comprehends modern international society as an institutional arrangement that affirms and seeks to uphold normative pluralism in world politics.


Before Sovereignty

Because it is so easy to take our world of states for granted as a given of political life it may be useful to recollect, if only in brief outline, the European world before sovereignty became a standard of conduct in the relations of monarchies, principalities (ecclesiastical as well as political), republics, confederations—what we refer to as states and the states system. The transformation from medieval to modern involved religious ideas and institutions, specifically Christian ones, not incidentally but fundamentally. The medieval world was arranged and its governance was conducted in terms of Christian ideas and beliefs which were political as well as personal. The formation of the modern European society of sovereign states is, in a very significant way, a religious transformation: the Protestant Reformation. Ultimately, it is a move away from religion, both Protestant and Catholic, in the creation of a secular political world. The important role of religion in our subject is not always recognized by contemporary international relations scholars. If we can understand what that transformation basically involved we should be in a better position to grasp the deeper normative meaning and significance of modern international society.

Sovereignty can be defined briefly, at the outset, as a single governing authority which is acknowledged to be supreme over all other authorities within a certain

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