The transformation of international orders-from early modern times to present


Phillips, Andrews, War, Religion and Empire: the Transformation of International Orders (cambridge Studies in International Relations)
Cambridge, United Kingdom: Cambridge University Press, 2011


Cristopher Andrews brings us in his latest volume „War, Religion an Empire”an outspoken presentation of the international systems through the years and how these can be defended in the line of political violence and crises[1]. The volume started to catch shape as dissertation during author’s time at Cornell Univresity as he acknowledges himself. It seems that despite the changes in world politics in the last two thousand years, the realist paradigm still provides the best explaination to understand the contemporary international relations. Tracing its roots in the ancient writings of the greek scholars, realism has been widely perceived as the keystone of the discipline. The realist tradition has dominated both the academia and the policy making and despite the search for alternatives, it continues to provide a point of reference and benchmark of such explorations.

Christopher Andrews’s study examines the perpetual evolution of the international systems from the decay of the latin christiandom in the first millennium to today’s problems where jihadist movements influence the conduct of international relations. He thoroughly goes into an effort to demystify the traditional approaches to the analysis of the systems of power. Of the three „orders” he considers for the in-depth analysis, two are pre-modern: the Latin Christianity and Chinese. However the entire book is written taking into consideration their evolution into the future and the question whether the present international order can adapt itself and survive, taking into account the decay of the western influence together with the rise of the Chineese one and of other South Asian nations.

By drawing a detailed analysis of the historical evolution of the international order through history, Andrews builds a solid background for the analysis of the influence the jihadist international system has, and of what we should expect in the future. To the author, its important to give their rightful consideration to the two components of the book war – the realist one; and religion – the constructivist one. Even though most of the commenters would have argued the obsolence of a realist approach, Andrews gives it the appropriate dimension, balanced with the constructivist perspective. We should emphasize role played by the combination of Christianity’s religious polariazation during the Reformation, together with the so called „gunpowder revolution” which lead to the end of the decay of the latin Christian order. In the same manner in East Asia, China’s legitimacy and premience as the main military actor was overrun in the shade of Europe’s military power. Complexity would be the appropriate word to describe these situations, it’s a conscious choice to describe the framework of analysis which tries to comprehend the mechanisms that are leading to the transformations of the international orders.

In War, Religion and Empire, Andrews conducts an intense research in order to demonstrate us the normativity of the international orders which are accousomed by the raised awareness of the „holy” and „ordinary”, and distinguishes the importance of the fundamental cleavages between the two words. The study develops the paradigm of the antagonistic relationship between the „holy” and „ordinary”, „realism” and „constructivism”. This complexity suggests the difficulty of making a prediction, especially on the long term developments. Secondly, assumptions about world affairs resting on a sub-set of actors’ motivations and actions does not offer a valid representation of the reality of international relations. Just because sometimes relations between actors appear stable, should not occlude that more often than not exchanges are liable and non-linear.

A key point of Andrews’s analysis is the analysis concerning the Thirty Years War (1618-1648) as a indicator of the chaos caused by warfare, governmental collapse and the use of violence. He takes particular interest to the Siege of Magdebourg in which two-thirds of its inhabitants were killed. The Treaty of Westphalia don’t have the merit of settling the long-lasting rivalries or hatred, but provided the basis of a containment within acceptable margins. When the city of Nanjing fell to the Qing imperial forces in 1864, it ended history’s bloodiest civil war which had claimed the lives of 20 million people. With the collapse of the Sinosphere followed by the dynasty’s, Asia was plunged into a period of anarchy every bit as chaotic as that of mid-seventeenth-century Europe.

One of the many strong points of the book resides in the analysis of the decay, and the dismantling of the order under domestic and external aggression. The Chinese have been greatly influenced by the two Opium Wars and by the treaties imposed by the European Powers. However, regardless of these factors, the disintegration of a system comes always from the interior. The striking factor that demonted the Sinosphere was not the European economic advance but the normative clash – the Europeans had a different system of values which emphasized equlitarian soverignity which primoridially contradicted the traditional hierarchical systems in place in China at that time. Andrews demonstrates how the complex system of values built in generations can be reduced by a external system of values which seems to be more appealing. This analysis makes explicit the importance of both internal and external factors that shape a international system.

Today’s international system is characterized by the repositioning of the status of the great powers. The fading role of the western powers is (supposed) to be replaced) by the non-western BRICS states. The core of the international system is drifting away from the Atlantic Ocean for the first time. Special consideration is being given to the non-state actors and to the way they can influence today’s society. The phenomenon of global terrorism can generate a wave of symphaty around the globe and even melt a common position, putting Russia, China, India, together with the United States. Even though the first didn’t faced the same global threat as the United States, they have long fought their own wars against terror. However this consensus is a very weak one and it can disappear at the first friction, as it was the case of the military intervention in Iraq, or possible actions against Iran or North Korea.

In this book Phillip Andrews makes an important breakdown of the complexity of the international orders through history and to the study of the international relations. Significantly, his perception embodies distinct visions of the international systems which can’t secure their perpetuation in the absence of a coercive force which can sustain their system of beliefs against external beliefs. He argues that this can be successful only when the force to defence these values complies with the moral requirements and standards which belong to the international order it defends. At the same time, the analysis does not shy away from the challenging conceptual, methodological and policy issues attending the complexification of the study and the practice of international relations.

For the time being, however, Andrews has provided plenty of food for thought in his extremely erudite and thoughtful study of the ‘complexity’ of the complexity paradigm in world politics.

Teodora-Maria Daghie
[The University of Bucharest]


[1] Andrew Phillips, War, Religion and Empire: the Transformation of International Orders (cambridge Studies in International Relations) (Cambridge, United Kingdom: Cambridge University Press, 2011), prologue


TEODORA-MARIA DAGHIE este doctorand în Ştiinţe politice, Universitatea din Bucureşti Facultatea de Ştiinţe politice.




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