Historicising the global : capitalism, territoriality and the international relations of modernity
The discipline of International Relations finds itself challenged by theorists who argue that processes of globalisation undermine the sovereignty of the territorial state, thereby eroding the basis for an autonomous science of 'the international'. This challenge assumes that traditional forms of state-centric IR theory were adequate until very recently, but need to be discarded now that a global society has replaced the territorial organisation of social life. This thesis argues that the assumption of a 'golden age' of state sovereignty is misleading as a description of modern international relations. Even before the current period of globalisation, states did not fully 'contain' society. The purpose of this thesis is to contribute to a theory of modern international relations that takes account of modernity's global aspects. The first part of the thesis analyses various critiques of state-centrism and shows that their historicisation of the modem international system is problematic because of an ahistorical conceptualisation of the relationship between politics and economics. The second part consists of a reconstruction of the historical materialist theory of the transition from feudalism to capitalism, which shows that the territorialisation of states and the modern separation of politics and economic did not coincide either temporally or structurally. This leads to a reinterpretation of the 'Westphalian system' that stresses its pre-modern nature and shows how the competitive dynamic of this system contributed to the universalisation of capitalism at the beginning of the nineteenth century. The third part inquires into the consequences of the emergence of capitalism within the context of a pre-existing system of territorial states. It shows how the entrenchment of the national state in the late nineteenth century mediates the contradictions of global capitalism. It suggests that the territoriality of modern political space has become 'internalised' by capitalism, though the relationship between national state and world market remains riven by contradictions. This requires a change of perspective in the globalisation debate: rather than to ask whether national sovereignty is undermined by globalisation, IR should inquire into the limits to global economic integration given the persistence of national sovereignty as the - currently - only effective way of regulating the economy and reproducing capital.