Dr Chrisopher Meckstroth is a ProFutura Scientia Fellow 2020-23. He will spend the first year of his Fellowship at the Swedish Collegium for Advanced Study in Uppsala, and the remaining two years in Cambridge.
The Invention of International Order: A History and Theory of General Peace Treaties, c. 1500-1914
This project reads the series of general peace treaties from Westphalia in 1648 through Vienna in 1815 and Paris in 1856 as core texts in the history of political thought. These treaties are usually studied instead in the history of international law, diplomacy, or international relations, where debates often focus on whether or not they inaugurated a world of sovereign nation states. But this obscures one of their most important innovations: starting with Westphalia, the model of the general treaty congress invented an entirely new source of legitimacy for a European legal order, one that no longer depended upon the inherited authority of canon and civil law under the Church and Holy Roman Empire. This new confederal order drew its legitimacy instead from mutual promises among powers who recognised each other, in the very act of promising, as co-authors of a shared legal order. Historians of political thought have devoted great attention to questions of legitimacy and the authority of law, but they have largely ignored this distinctive model because they have rarely considered these epochal treaties among their sources. This project brings together discussions in the history of international law, international relations, and the history of political thought. It draws out a distinctive model of international order that helps us rethink major historical debates over sovereignty, law, and the authority of interstate institutions, debates which continue even today.
Senior Lecturer on the History of Political Thought, University of Cambridge
Chris Meckstroth studied history, philosophy, and political theory at Harvard University before taking his PhD in Political Science from the University of Chicago in 2010. His PhD was supported by the Mellon Foundation and the American Council of Learned Societies, and he spent a year on exchange at Sciences-Po Paris, while conducting research at the Bibliothèque Nationale. After receiving his degree, he returned to Harvard, where he lectured for three years in the programme on Social Studies. In 2013 he took up a post as Lecturer on the History of Political Thought in the History Faculty of the University of Cambridge, and he was made Senior Lecturer in 2017.
Meckstroth’s work has combined the history of democracy and democratic thought with a particular focus on nineteenth-century German and French political philosophy, as they developed alongside reflection on the new sorts of popular politics unleashed by the French Revolution. His first monograph, The Struggle for Democracy: Paradoxes of Progress and the Politics of Change, was published by Oxford University Press in 2015. His articles have appeared in journals including Constellations, Political Theory, and The American Political Science Review. He is co-editor, with Samuel Moyn, of the third volume of The Cambridge History of Democracy, which covers the nineteenth and twentieth centuries and is currently under contract with Cambridge University Press.
As a Pro Futura Fellow, Meckstroth will be working on a project on ‘The Invention of International Order: A History and Theory of General Peace Treaties, c. 1500-1914’, which examines several centuries in the uneven development of a distinctively modern sort of federal approach to establishing order out of anarchy and the ruins of war.