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November 21, 2011

Westphalia Peace Treaty

A source (Heywood 2007) in one of the core readings of the literature on the state writes about a certain ‘Westphalia Peace Treaty’ that was allegedly formalised in 1648.

This is factually incorrect and makes it obvious that the author writing about it has never actually read the original text. This is because there is more than one treaty that was signed at the peace conference. There were in fact two treaties – the Treaty of Münster and the Treaty of Osnabrück – that constituted the peace agreement. The peace that was signed however never really was. The Great Plague of Vienna hit the city in 1679 and soon thereafter the Turks were found at the city gates.

The importance of this event is furthermore very open for debate. Why, for example, do political scientists not focus on the Treaty of Tordesillas (translation or the Peace of Augsburg (translation of fragment: or even the Treaty of Nerchinsk in 1689? Surely such treaties had an equally if not more important effect on the historical development of the nation state?

The importance of such treaties are all embedded in a much more overarching concept of mathematically defined territorial borders. Why then, the question begs, not focus on the Cartesian rupture from Greek geometry or the historical development of spatial-politics more generally?


A. Heywood (2007) Politics: Chapter 5 (pp. 89-106). Basingstoke: Palgrave.

For more on the nation state and the myth of 1648, see:

- Osiander, A. (2001), “Sovereignty, International Relations, and the Westphalian Myth”, International Organization 55 (2), pp. 251–287
- Teschke, B. (2009) “The Myth of 1648: Class, Geopolitics, and the Making of Modern International Relations”. London: Verso.

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