Politics and War: European Conflict from Philip II to Hitler

Politics and War: European Conflict from Philip II to Hitler

Politics and War: European Conflict from Philip II to Hitler

Politics and War: European Conflict from Philip II to Hitler

Excerpt

This book treats an old topic from a new perspective. The study of European war has occupied historians at least since the time of Leopold von Ranke, and although the focus of professional historians has largely shifted away from politics and diplomacy in recent decades, general treatments of European war in the modern era have continued to appear. The overwhelming majority of such treatments have taken a broadly similar approach. They generally treat every era of European war as an attempt by one power or coalition of powers to conquer most or all of Europe, and focus upon the reasons for the failure of such attempts. They pay relatively little detailed attention to the sources of European international conflict, implicitly considering war a normal phenomenon or assuming that states naturally try to expand. For all these reasons, most discussions of different eras of European war from the sixteenth through the twentieth centuries have an essential similarity.

Here I argue instead that the sources and consequences of European international conflict differ radically from one era to another, and that they can be understood only in the context of contemporary European domestic and international politics. In four distinct periods of European history—1559–1659, 1661–1713, 1792–1815, and 1914–1945—war became a natural function of politics, an inevitable result of contemporary political behavior. The wars of these eras must be understood within their political, eco-

1. The most recent example of this tendency is Paul Kennedy, The Rise and Fall of the Great Powers: Economic Change and Military Conflict from 1500 to 2000 (New York, 1987).

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