The balance of power in Europe in the eighteenth century was destroying itself
The balance of power can be simply defined in modern terms as: a doctrine and an arrangement whereby the power of one state (or group of states) is checked by the countervailing power of other states. The balance of power in the eighteenth century had been in existance since at least the Peace of Westphalia in 1648 with France as the most important actor locked in a cycle of wars with Britain and Austria. However after the seven years war the balance of power became more destructive to itself destroying actors it was supposed to protect and in the process destroying a vital part of the system. Schroeder’s book The Transformation of European Politics 1763-1848 is to show the change from a destructive balance of power system that would eventually destroy itself to a constructive system of negotiation and peace rather than belligerence and war.
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Changing views of the needs of states within the system
In the late 17th century, particularly for Louis XIV, the wars were primarily fought for gloire, prestige and renown gained through victory, gaining territory was not a necessity, except to show that the state had won.[[John A. Lynn, The Wars of Louis XIV: 1667 – 1714, Longman, London, 1999, pp.30-32.]] However by the late 18th century this had changed; territorial gains were judged in terms of geopolitics, economics and population.[[Michael Hochedlinger, Austria’s Wars or Emergence: 1683-1797, Longman, London, 2003, p360]] This created the principle of ‘compensation’ in which a gain made by one state should be matched by gains for competing states.[[Evan Luard, The Balance of Power: The System of international relations, 1648-1815, Macmillian, Basingstoke, 1992, p.201.]] Similarly there was a principle of indemnities, the loser should pay the victors costs and allies should pay for any aid they received leading to grandiose partition schemes. This meant that the balance of power was as much the problem in international relations as a solution.[[Paul W. Schroeder, The Transformation of European Politics 1763-1848, (Oxford University Press, Oxford, 1996), pp.6-7.]]
It is unclear precisely how this means the balance of power was destroying itself.
The problems identified seem to be:
1) Louis the XIV had access to power and resources other nations did not.
2) Louis the XIV abused this by starting wars unnecessarily.
Perhaps there are additional policy problems with "partition schemes," but it is both unclear what these schemes are and why they are harmful.
This point seems more of an argument FOR balance of power than against it.
Seeing as raison d'etat was only invented in the 17th century by Richelieu under Louis XIII, it is hard to believe that the "balance of power" system was out of control by the end of that same century.
Perhaps a more illuminating analysis is that France implemented an aggressive campaign of national interest in the early part of the 17th century, which the rest of Europe neither expected nor prepared for. The result was a dominant Louis XIV.
Had the concept of balance of power existed EARLIER and been MORE PREVALENT. It is unlikely that Richelieu ever would have succeeded in fragmenting the German states, and that France would have been able to expand without facing a strong European coalition concerned with maintaining the balance.
edit by booji: im not going to delete this but please read the comment as while this point is factually more or less correct it is not particularly relevent to my point as it is talking about the wrong century.
Elimination of weaker actors
A major consequence of these principles was the elimination of smaller powers in Europe; they were given away as compensation.[[Luard, Balance, p.202.]] The main weak factors in the system were, Poland, the Ottoman Empire, The Holy Roman Empire and to a lesser extent Italy. The main change at the end of the 18th Century was the extent of compensation, as represented by the division of Poland. The polish partition was the first partition not to be the result of either defeat in war or extinction of a ruling house.[[Hochedlinger, Emergence, p.356.]] Frederick seized upon a minor Austrian occupation: “If we thus look at the realities of the position, the question is no longer one of keeping Poland intact, since the Austrians want to truncate it, but of preventing this dismemberment from upsetting that balance”1[[Frederick to Privy Councillor of Legation Count von Solms at St Peatersburg, 20/2/1771, C.A. Macartney, The Habsburg and Hohenzollern Dynasties in the seventeenth and Eighteenth Centuries, Macmillan, London, 1970, p.357.]]
Intermediary bodies needed for stability
Austria had already realised the dangers to itself of preying on weaker powers, Poland and other intermediary bodies were needed for stability. The 2nd partition of Poland destroyed Poland’s value for Austria by creating a direct border with Russia.[[Schroeder, Transformation, pp.77, 122]] “The partition that erased it [Poland] from among the nations was the prelude to, in part the cause of, and perhaps to some extent the excuse for, these upheavals to which Europe has been prey.”[[Charles Maurice de Talleyrand, Letter to Metternich, 19/12/1814, ‘Mémoires, documents et écrits divers laissés par le Prince de Metternich, Paris 1880-4. pp524-9, extract in wright, pp.98-104, p.101.]] Once France recovered, Germany was almost certain to become the scene of partitions. Alternatively the Holy Roman Empire would be destroyed by war as the other buffer states disappeared the stability in the system would be lost creating structural wars.
A downward spiral
“If might is right, if convenience is a title, what security will other states henceforth enjoy? A new combination is supplanting that system of general equilibrium. Three powers [Austria, Prussia, Russia] endeavour to establish a particular one; they found it on the equality of their usurpations. Thus they cause the balance of power to lean strongly in their favour. There is no reason to think that their avarice is yet fully satisfied”[[Charles Gravier, comte de Vergennes, Memoir of M. de Vergennes at the beginning of the reign of Louis XVI, in 1774, ‘Œuvres completes de M. le Comte de Ségur, Politique des cabinets de l’Europe’, Paris 1825. pp.146-58. extract from wright, pp.81-86, pp.81,83.]] Under the normal rules of the system Vergennes’ France would also want compensation that would most likely have had to come out of Germany or Italy, however France had been weakened too much by the seven years war to take part in a possible war in Poland.[[Schroeder, Transformation, p15]] Vergennes also realised the likelihood of partitions continuing and that “The second- and third-rate powers are without support, and likely to find themselves engulfed by those now predominant, when the latter see fit to partition them.”[[Vergennes, p.84]] The problem that the system faced was a continuing cycle of partitions.
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Balance of power seen as a good thing
The permanent condition of suspicion between states was necessary as it created a mechanism of rivalry that protected peace and prevented the oppression of one people by another.[[John G. Gagliardo, Reich and Nation: The Holy Roman Empire as Idea and Reality, 1763-1806, Indiana university press, bloomington & London, 1980, p84]] As shown by Vattel’s view:“It is simpler, easier, and more just to have recourse to the method just referred to, of forming alliances in order to make a stand against a very powerful sovereign and prevent him from dominating.”[[Emmerich de Vattel, ‘The law of Nations or The Principles of Natural Law Applied to the Conduct and to the Affairs of Nations and of Sovereigns’, 1758, extract in Moorhead Wright, Theory and Practice of the Balance of Power 1486-1914: Selected European Writings, J.M. Dent & Sons Ltd, London, 1975, pp.71-74, p72]]The balance of power was seen as a foreign policy goal that should be worked for, it was morally right to defend the balance of power against aggressors.
not necessarily; where there are philosophes there is an argument:
Johann H. G. Justi attacked the whole idea of a balance of power arguing that it rested upon the axiom that power could in some way be compared. Quite the contrary he argued that there was various sorts of power and that these could not be measured against each other, further even the same types of power were difficult to compare. Thus shown to be based upon a false premise he went on to point out how it should be made obsolete. He argued a state could accrue great additional strength without territorial expansion through internal reform, the ration of the less enlightened would be to try and set this back thus the balance of power would operate contrary to the spirit of Human progress. [[Per Maurseth, 'Balance of Power thinking from the Renaissance to the French revolution' Journal of Peace Research, Vol.1, No.2. (1964) pp.120-136: pp.131-2]]
Similarly, Immanuel Kant asked ‘the restoration of freedom to certain states’ thus requiring the partitioning powers to disgorge their gains even after the fact.
[[Immanuel Kant, ‘On the Common Saying: ‘This May be True in Theory, but it does not Apply in Practice’ pp.61-92 in Political Writings, Reiss, Hans (ed.) and Nisbet, H. R. (trans.) (Cambridge, 1991) p.92]]
It is notable that both were writing after Vattel.
Ideal conditions for a self sustaining balance of power
These were greater divisions between classes within a country than between people of the same class in different countries; a European cosmopolitanism was created that, under the traditional view, facilitated limited diplomacy and militarism. There were no ideological or national issues to complicate the balance of power, this allowed the alliances to be flexible and states could be compensated with territories from anywhere in Europe. Conflicts were limited; rulers could not rely on popular support for a protracted struggle to the finish.[[Richard Rosecrance, International Relations: Peace or War? 1973, McGraw-Hill, New York, p.26.]] Some theorists such as Rousseau believed that a balance of power was automatically created without anyone in particular wishing for it: “we are not to suppose that the boasted balance of power in Europe has actually been deliberately established: or that anyone has done anything really with a view to support it.”[[Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Project for Perpetual Peace 1761,‘The Works of J.-J. Rousseau’, x. Edinburgh, 1774. pp.182-91 extract in Wright, pp.74-80, p.77.]]This lead to the eighteenth century belief was that the balance of power was a self-sustaining system.[[ Michael Sheehan, The Balance of Power: History and Theory, Routledge, London, 1996, p.105. ]]
What do you think?