chapter  2
35 Pages

Theorizing Medieval Geopolitics: Scope, Context, Historiography, Concepts

All but the most presentist IR scholars accept the importance of understanding historical “international” systems, even if they do so for very different reasons. As a result, there is now a reasonably mature literature dealing with the state and it’s derivative “international” institutions in ancient Greece, Renaissance Italy, early modern Europe and high modern international society. Yet we currently lack a similarly well-developed body of scholarship on medieval “international” relations. On the one hand, broad comparativehistorical surveys of the history of international systems-such as Christian Reus-Smit’s Moral Theory of the State, Justin Rosenberg’s Empire of Civil Society and Barry Buzan and Richard Little’s International Systems in World History-typically fail to address systematically the “hard” case of medieval geopolitical relations; on the other, those scholarly works that do grapple directly with medieval geopolitics are typically far too limited in focus to provide an adequate systemic or structural account of this phenomenon.1 This neglect has had two unfortunate consequences. First, the failure to theorize the medieval geopolitical system has left a gap in our knowledge of an era in the history of “international relations”—an era, I would suggest, that in its own right is every bit as important to the study of IR as Antiquity, the Renaissance or the early modern period. Second, to the extent that implicit or explicit beliefs about medieval geopolitics inform a number of debates within the discipline of IR, the failure to isolate, theorize and historicize the medieval geopolitical order with some degree of rigor necessarily impedes our ability to work our way through those debates. The purpose of this study is to begin to address these shortcomings by providing a theoretically governed yet historically grounded account of one of the most fundamental and distinctive elements of medieval geopolitics: “war.”