David Onnekink and Gijs Rommelse, editors. Ideology and Foreign Policy in Early Modern Europe (1650-1750). Politics and Culture in Europe, 1650-1750 series. Farnham, England: Ashgate, 2001. ISBN 978-1-4094-1913-6. Figures. Notes. Index. Pp. xiii, 320. $134.00.
Dr David Onnekink, an Assistant Professor of the Early Modern History of International Relations at the University of Utrecht, and Dr Gijs Rommelse, a Research Assistant at the Netherlands Institute of Military History in The Hague, have edited a selection of twelve essays written by international historians that stress the importance of ideology in the foreign policy of European states from the mid-seventeenth to the mid-eighteenth centuries.
Most historians believe that the Peace of Westphalia (1648) and Peace of the Pyrenees (1659) established the modern European State System. The sovereign state was the dominant actor in this system, and, according to Onnekink and Rommelse, foreign policy, international relations, and warfare “seemed to be guided by interests of state, cynical and rational calculation” (p.2). Early modern historians have taken the view that the major principle in foreign policy was the pursuit of dynastic and national interests. Onnekink and Rommelse stress that historians over the last forty years have approached foreign policy through the realist perspective. “International relations,” so write the editors, “were dominated by the theme that realists hold as an axiom: the quest for power, whether military or economic” (p.3). They have downplayed the role of religion and ideology in their studies of foreign affairs from 1650 to 1750.
There are a wide variety of essays in this volume. I will mention just a few here. In his essay, Gijs Rommelse believes that mercantilist ideology was a crucial element in the political and economic rivalry between England and the United Provinces, resulting in three Anglo-Dutch wars (1652-1654, 1665-1667, and 1672-1674). David Onnekink investigates the ideological issues concerning Dutch foreign policy that led to the French invasion of the United Provinces and the Orange Revolution in 1672. Wout Troost examines William III’s views concerning the struggle to “restore and preserve liberty” (or the balance of power), and contain the French threat in the late seventeenth century. Steve Pincus explores the ideological debate between the Whig continental commitment and Tory blue-water strategies in English foreign policy in the 1690s. Stéphane Jettot looks at several English diplomats during the late seventeenth century and depicts the difficulties they had in separating royal and parliamentary interests in the pursuit of foreign policy. Gary Evans examines how partisan politics, promoting Whig and Tory agendas, resulted in biased historical writings on English foreign policy to influence parliamentary debates and public opinion in the early eighteenth century. Andrew C. Thompson writes on the concept of the balance of power in British foreign policy in the early eighteenth century. Benedict Wagner-Rundell explores the difficulties that ambitious Poland-Lithuanian monarchs had in making and carrying out foreign policy when opposed by the nobility seeking to protect constitutional rights in the late seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries.
These essays attempt to show that political and economic ideology played a role in foreign policy following the Peace of Westphalia. They point out that this era saw the rise of new theories on political economy, the emergence of partisan ideology, the idea of a balance of power in Europe, a significant rise in the number of newspapers and pamphlets that influenced public opinion, and the continuing importance of religion in European conflicts. The purpose of this study is to highlight some of the current research and ideas, challenge traditional historical viewpoints, and start a debate about the role of ideology in foreign policy. Let the debate begin!
Dr William Young
University of North Dakota
Grand Forks, North Dakota