The Big Bangs of IR: The Myths That Your Teachers Still Tell You about 1648 and
1919, Benjamin de Carvalho
*key words: empire, eurocentrism, first great debate, historiography, historical
sociology, IR Theory, textbooks, Westphalia
- International relations as we know them emerged through the peace of
Westphalia, and the discipline of International Relations emerged in 1919 and
developed through a First Great Debate between idealists and realists
- The article talks about how historical scholarship has demolished these myths
(Westphalia and the First Great Debate), the problems of IR being too reliant on
‘mythical’ origins, why there has been little revisionist insight, and what
possibilities there are for enhancing this dialogue.
- 1648 and 1919 are known as the big bangs of the discipline, these were presented
as the origin of the discipline as if it were carved in stone.
- Through the years, there has been an evolution of the discipline and thus, there
have been revisionists attempts to try to rethink 1648 and 1919 as nothing more
than sacrilegious myths. 2
- It doesn’t help the fact that the learning tools and readings of student lack
revisionist works and as a result it creates a cycle whereby myths are perpetuated
into the minds of generations.
- There is a lack of dialogue between mainstream scholars and revisionists, and it is
detrimental to the discipline. Specifically, with making sense of 1919 and 1648.
- 1648: is detrimental because it provides a distorted view of how the modern
sovereign state and states-system came into being. 1919: is detrimental because 1)
it provides an outdated view of the discipline 2) provides Eurocentric/racist
foundations of the discipline 3) exaggerated assumption that IR was birthed
simply overnight in 1919 following the European wars. 3
The Myth of 1648 Treatise of Westphalia:
- Mainstream IR has dated ontological emergence of the sovereign state, the state-
system and the end of the suzerain states to Treatise of Westphalia. 4
- Classic revisionist theories suggest that the modern state nor the anarchic states-
systems were founded in 1648 and that the in