From the book, World Order by Henry Kissinger
The Thirty Years War
[Cardinal] Richelieu saw the turmoil in Central Europe not as a call to arms to defend the Church but as a means to check imperial Hapsburg preeminence. Though France’s King had been styled as the Rex Catholicissimus, or the “Most Catholic King,” since the fourteenth century, France moved – at first unobtrusively, then openly – to support the Protestant coalition (of Sweden, Prussia, and the North German princes) on the basis of cold national-interest calculation.
To outraged complaints that, as a cardinal, he owed a duty to the universal and eternal Catholic Church – which would imply an alignment against the rebellious Protestant princes of Northern and Central Europe – Richelieu cited his duties as a minister to a temporal, yet vulnerable, political entity. Salvation might be his personal objective, but as a statesman he was responsible for a political entity that did not have an eternal soul to be redeemed. ‘Man is immortal, his salvation is hereafter,’ he said. ‘The state has no immortality, its salvation is now or never.’
This development, early in the Thirty Years War, is worth noting as it is the first time a politician implements the raison d’ etat of Machiavelli. At the end of the Thirty Years War it is France that emerges as the powerhouse of Europe. This important lesson of history would not be forgotten. It is safe to say it continues to be the operating principle of statecraft to this day.
The Peace of Westphalia
The Peace of Westphalia that emerged from these convoluted discussions is probably the most frequently cited diplomatic document in European history, though in fact no single treaty exists to embody its terms. Nor did the delegates ever meet in a single plenary session to adopt it.
… Both of the main multilateral treaties proclaimed their intent as “a Christian, universal, perpetual, true, and sincere peace and friendship” for “the glory of God and the security of Christendom.” The operative terms were not substantially different from other documents of the period. Yet the mechanisms through which they were to be reached were unprecedented. The war had shattered pretensions to universality or confessional solidarity. Begun as a struggle against the Catholic Holy Roman Empire it had turned into a free-for-all of shifting and conflicting alliances. Much like the Middle Eastern conflagrations of our own period, sectarian alignments were invoked for solidarity and motivation in battle but were just as often discarded, trumped by clashes of geopolitical interests or simply the ambitions of outsized personalities. Every party had been abandoned at some point during the war by its “natural” allies; none signed the documents under the illusion that it was doing anything but advancing its own interests and prestige.
Paradoxically, this general exhaustion and cynicism allowed the participants to transform the practical means of ending a particular war into general concepts of world order. With dozens of battle-hardened parties meeting to secure hard-won gains, old forms of hierarchical deference were quietly discarded. The inherent equality of sovereign states, regardless of their power of domestic system, was instituted. Newly arrived powers, such as Sweden and the Dutch Republic, were granted protocol treatment equal to that of established great powers like France and Austria. All kings were referred to as “majesty” and all ambassadors “excellency.”
… The Peace of Westphalia became a turning point in the history of nations because the elements it set in place were as uncomplicated as they were sweeping. The state, not the empire, dynasty, or religious confession, was affirmed as the building block of European order. The concept of state sovereignty was established. The right of each signatory to choose its own domestic structure and religious orientation free from intervention was affirmed, while novel clauses ensured that minority sects could practice their faith in peace and be free from the prospect of forced conversion. Beyond the immediate demands of the moment, the principles of a system of “international relations” were taking shape, motivated by the common desire to avoid a recurrence of total war on the Continent. Diplomatic exchanges, including the stationing of resident representatives in the capitals of fellow states were designed to regulate relations and promote the arts of peace. The parties envisioned future conferences and consultations on the Westphalian model as forums for settling disputes before they led to conflict. International law, developed by traveling scholar-advisors such as Hugo de Groot (Grotius) during the war, was treated as an expandable body of agreed doctrine aimed at the cultivation of harmony, with the Westphalian treaties themselves at its heart.
The genius of this system, and the reason it spread across the world, was that its provisions were procedural, not substantive. If a state would accept these basic requirements, it could be recognized as an international citizen able to maintain its own culture, politics, religion, and internal policies, shielded by the international system from outside intervention. The ideal of imperial or religious unity – the operating premise of Europe’s and most other regions’ historical orders – had implied that in theory only one center of power could be fully legitimate. The Westphalian concept took multiplicity as its starting point and drew a variety of multiple societies, each accepted as a reality, into a common search for order. By the mid-twentieth century, this international system was in place on every continent; it remains the scaffolding of international order such as it now exists.
The German philosopher Immanuel Kant, probably the greatest philosopher of the Enlightenment period, … developed a concept for a permanent peaceful world order. Pondering the world from the former Prussian capital of Konigsberg, casting his gaze on the period of the Seven Year’s War, the American Revolutionary War, and the French Revolution, Kant dared to see in the general upheaval the faint beginnings of a new, more peaceful international order.
Humanity, Kant reasoned, was characterized by a distinctive “unsocial sociability”: the “tendency to come together in society, coupled, however, with a continual resistance which constantly threatens to break this society up.” The problem of order, particularly international order, was “the most difficult and the last to be solved by the human race.” Men formed states to constrain their passions, but like individuals in the state of nature each state sought to preserve its absolute freedom, even at the cost of “a lawless state of savagery.” But the “devastations, upheavals and even complete inner exhaustion of their powers” arising from interstate clashes would in time oblige men to contemplate an alternative. Humanity faced either the peace of “the vast graveyard of the human race” or peace by reasoned design.
The answer, Kant held, was a voluntary federation of republics pledged to non-hostility and transparent domestic and international conduct. Their citizens would cultivate peace because, unlike despotic rulers, when considering hostilities, they would be deliberating about “calling down on themselves all the miseries of war.” Over time the attractions of this compact would become apparent, opening the way toward its gradual expansion into a peaceful world order. It was Nature’s purpose that humanity eventually reason its way toward “a system of united power, hence a cosmopolitan system of general political security” and “a perfect civil union of mankind.”