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The presentation argues that understanding of contemporary diagnoses of ‘crisis’ of and in world politics, and particularly the ‘liberal world order’, must be seen against the background of an historically enduring variety of organising authority in world politics. Contemporary world politics might be more ‘Westphalian’ than ever since 1649 – just not in the sense of the stylized ‘Westphalian model’ propagated in IR thought. The talk proceeds in three steps: First, it demonstrates how the Peace of Westphalia itself was indicative not of the establishment of one, but of a variety of ordering principles. Second, it argues that in this sense the contemporary system of world politics is probably more Westphalian than assumed by many challenges of the notion. It is however more akin to the problems faced in, and partially reproduced with, the 1648 settlement, rather than the simplistic depictions of that system. In a third step it then argues how a range of developments that are construed as contemporary challenges to the stylised version of Westphalia can in fact be reconstructed as outcomes of tensions and asynchronicities between the different forms of organising political authority present in the system. These three steps provide the necessary background for contextualising the ‘liberal world order’ as a waxing and waning form of organising political authority in the systems of world politics. It is neither on its ‘way out’ completely, but in turn historically never had the level of dominance vs.-a-vs. other forms of organising political authority that it is often ascribed.
Mathias Albert is Professor of Political Science at Bielefeld University, Germany. He specialises in the sociological and historical analysis of world politics. Examples of his work on that, over the years, include Identities, Borders, Orders: Rethinking International Relations Theory (ed. with D. Jacobson and Y. Lapid, University of Minnesota Press, 2001); New Systems Theories of World Politics (ed. with L. E. Cedermann and A. Wendt, Palgrave, 2010); and A Theory of World Politics (Cambridge University Press, 2016). Mathias has also been active in youth research for almost two decades as well as, more recently, the politics of the polar regions.