Premodern Non-State Agency: The Theoretical, Historical, and Legal Challenge

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter

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Scholars now use the term ‘new diplomatic history’ to describe a range of scholarly investigations. The common denominator is a turn from diplomatic ends—alliances, settlements, and treaties—to the processes for achieving those ends. Diplomacy appears less as a gateway to understanding interstate relations than as a socially and culturally significant phenomenon in its own right. The diplomat and his, and occasionally her, relationship to sovereign power, have acquired a new visibility. So has every stage of diplomatic encounter: the courtly ceremonies surrounding the commission and reception of diplomats, the gifts they presented and received, the music that entertained them, and the literature that they inspired and often created. As scholars interested in foreign policy, the history and prehistory of modern international relations, and political theory, we welcome this apparently ever-expanding range of inquiry. But this paper argues that it is also time for new diplomatic historians to ground their work in a more rigorous interrogation of such key terms as the ‘state’ and ‘diplomacy’ itself. It introduces the problem of early modern non-state agency as the ideal place to begin this interrogation. Thus far, scholars continue to narrate the diplomat past from realist perspective that privileges states themselves as the primary actors in the international system. The paper suggests adopting instead the perspectives of complex interdependence theory, with its greater attention to such non-state agents as missionaries, merchants, and transnational religious organization, as a better approach to the range of premodern diplomatic activities.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Title of host publicationRulers and Elites
EditorsMaurits A. Ebben, Louis Sicking
PublisherBrill Academic Publishers
Number of pages19
StatePublished - 2021

Publication series

NameRulers and Elites
ISSN (Print)2211-4610
ISSN (Electronic)2211-4629

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2021 Brill Academic Publishers. All rights reserved.


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