Blaney & Inayatullah  2000
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Blaney & Inayatullah 2000

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The Westphalian Deferral

David L. Blaney
Macalester College

Naeem Inayatullah1

Ithaca College

There may be no rational way to convert to our point of view
people who honestly hold other positions, but we cannot short-
circuit such disagreements. Instead, we should live with them, as
further evidence of the diversity of human life. Later on, these
differences may be resolved by further shared experience, which
allows different schools to converge. In advance of this experi-
ence, we must accept this diversity of views in a spirit of toler-
ation. Tolerating the resulting plurality, ambiguity, or the lack of
certainty is no error, let alone a sin.

—Stephen Toulmin (1990:30)

Only fairly recently has sovereignty appeared to us once again as apuzzle. A review of academic and popular discourse suggests that thepolitical and ethical certainties associated with the nation-state are under
assault by, variously, the inexorable forces of globalization, the transnational
mobilization of environmental and human rights activists, the progressive emer-

1This essay is a shortened version of a longer paper and a small part of a larger
manuscript. We thank Kurt Burch, Zillah Eisenstein, Chip Gagnon, Patrick Thaddeus
Jackson, Alexander Moon, Nicholas Onuf, and members of the IR Colloquium at the
University of Minnesota for helpful comments on an earlier draft.

© 2000 International Studies Association
Published by Blackwell Publishers, 350 Main Street, Malden, MA 02148, USA, and 108 Cowley Road, Oxford OX4 1JF, UK.

gence of global governance, and the persuasive deconstruction of borders and
identities.2 The sense that humankind is thereby facing an uncharted future has
also generated historical and theoretical interest in “Westphalia,” with the expec-
tation that critical reflection on the origins, principles, and purposes of the state
system might help us identify the materials and strategies by which we can
re-make the world (see Walker 1993; Spruyt 1994; Ferguson and Mansbach
1996; Ruggie 1998; Onuf 1998; and Van Creveld 1999).

We share the supposition that a return to the puzzle of sovereignty is impor-
tant for political and ethical inquiry. Cutting against the grain of much contem-
porary academic practice, however, we believe that sovereignty—as theory and
practice—remains a site of political and ethical possibilities. Rather than being
simply an ethical dead end or a site of political closure, the problems posed by
sovereignty contain opportunities that extend, stretch, divide, and revise more
than they fully transcend sovereignty as conventionally located and under-
stood.3 One such problem, the focus of this paper, concerns the way the prin-
ciple of formal equality among states—central to sovereignty and implied in
Westphalia—intensifies the difficulties we face in responding to differences in
culture, religion, and mode of life. How does this “problem of difference” emerge
with Westphalia?

Perhaps ironically, differences in culture or way of life may remain less of
a problem in an age of empire where the principle of hierarchy reigns supreme.
As Michael Walzer (1997:15) suggests, “[i]mperial rule is historically the most
successful way of incorporating difference and facilitating (requiring is more
accurate) peaceful coexistence.” Subjugated peoples, though excluded from the
apex of the social order and usually marked as inferior, paradoxically may find
a kind of sufferance of their way of life, religious practices, and distinct cus-
toms. Walzer (1997:14–16) argues that this form of tolerance is partly rooted
in a sense of “minimal fairness” that the imperial center extends to the con-
quered, but is largely a practical matter: as long as imperial rule is respected—
taxes are paid and imperial authority is acknowledged—further subordination
is unnecessary, except in the case of threats to internal order. Preserving the
peace of the empire may entail not only imperial sufferance, but also enforce-

2 Popular accounts include Barber (1995), Greider (1997), and Friedman (1999).
The academic literature is increasingly drawn to such conclusions. See MacMillan and
Linklater (1995), Lyons and Mastanduno (1995), Falk (1995), Lipschutz and Mayer
(1996), Weiss and Gordenker (1996), Weber and Biersteker (1996), and Shapiro and
Alker (1996).

3 Our earlier work (Inayatullah and Blaney, 1995; Blaney and Inayatullah, 1996)
reflects and represents a defense of this belief.

30 Blaney and Inayatullah

ment of peaceful coexistence among the “authority structures and customary
practices” of the various conquered groups. And, though tolerance is extended
primarily to groups rather than individuals (this is not a liberal world!), indi-
viduals may to some degree escape the pressures for communal conformity in
the more cosmopolitan cities of the empire.

These days we are less comfortable with hierarchy and we cannot sanction
imperial practice. Relatively speaking, the rise of the principle of equality serves
to de-legitimate and break the hold of the monopoly of social and political
power of a restricted group. But where groups of all sorts and persuasions are
placed on more equal (legal, if not social) footing, the imperial solution of
sufferance of the subservient “other” is mostly foreclosed. When the equality of
the “other” is acknowledged, we require the affirmation of the “other” to secure
our own status. However, the presence of differences in way of life, values, and
visions also challenges the givenness of our particular social practices and threat-
ens the certainty of our sense of self (Benjamin 1988: chapter 2). Michael
Walzer (1983:249–54) also points in this direction, explaining that hierarchical
orders resolve the problem of recognition by giving everyone a fixed place in
the social order. Whenever such a ranking is absent or breaks down, we are
presented with a potential challenge to our sense of our own value and become
unsure of our relations to others. In this way, the problem of difference inten-
sifies as it emerges under modern conditions of relative equality, leading often
to the re-assertion of (illicit or informal) forms of social hierarchy—the mark-
ing of the “other” as inferior and thereby less of a threat. How then should we
reconcile need and threat? How do we achieve equality with difference? This
problem remains central to modernity (Todorov 1986; Fraser 1997: chapter 1).

Reading back from this contemporary angle, in section two we examine the
Peace of Westphalia in its historical context: as a response to the “religious
cleansing” and material and psychological devastation of the Thirty Years’ War.
We characterize the Thirty Years’ War as a crusade against difference, involv-
ing an equation of difference and inferiority that justifies efforts to assimilate or
eliminate the “other.” 4 Though Westphalia is conventionally understood as mark-
ing a transition to a secular and more tolerant modern order, we argue that the
settlements of the time represent only an initial and foundering effort to address
the problem of difference. The Peace of Westphalia, in our reading, was little
more than an acknowledgement that the attempt to eradicate the religious “other”
had reached an impasse. While the settlement fostered an external détente among

4 We draw this formulation from Todorov (1986). We have examined Todorov’s
work at much greater length elsewhere (Blaney and Inayatullah, 1994; Inayatullah and
Blaney, 1996).

The Westphalian Deferral 31

states—a restraint supported by a relative balance of forces and the moral injunc-
tion of mutual restraint among sovereigns—it did little to break the conception
and practical delineation of difference as an inferiority to be eradicated. Rather,
the Peace was an attempt to formally contain difference within states so as to
avoid the destruction of international war. The price of this move was to sanc-
tify the continuation of conquest, purification, and conversion within a ruler’s
realm. More strongly perhaps, Westphalia appears as an act