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date: 17 February 2020

Abstract and Keywords

This chapter charts the evolution of a great power system between the fall of Constantinople in 1453 and the end of the Napoleonic Wars in 1815. It shows that while the contest absorbed ever greater parts of the continent, and soon spread overseas, its main focus lay in Central Europe. Conceptually, there was tension between powers with universal claims on ideological grounds and ‘great powers’ who were pursuing a narrower state interest. There was also a demand for a ‘balance of power’ to ensure that no single actor became a danger to the overall system. Another important distinction was between ‘revolutionary’ powers and ‘status quo’ powers. Despite being severely challenged by power shifts, however, the system remained capable of accommodating rising powers. It was also a world where intervention into the internal affairs of other states was considered legitimate, if the maintenance of stability in the system required it.

Keywords: Balance of power, Christendom, Holy Roman empire, norms, Peace of Westphalia, revolutionary powers, rising powers, status quo powers, state system, society of states

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