Eastphalia as the Perfection of Westphalia

Tom Ginsburg
Professor of Law
University of Chicago Law School

For at least three decades, it has been quite common in the United States to talk of the coming of the Asian century. Americans have been fascinated with the rise of Japan and then China, and the corresponding reports of the decline of the United States. This psychology may have intensified with the 2008-09 financial crisis and the understanding that China is now playing a central role in assuring global financial, and thereby political, stability. Notwithstanding some Orientalist hyperbole, there is no doubt that Asia has been, and will continue to be, a region of rising power, responsible for an increasing share of world output, innovation, and power, even as the United States declines in relative terms. What will the rise of Asia mean for global governance? Oddly, I believe that any “Eastphalian” world order will mean a return to Westphalia, at least as modern international lawyers understand the term. Drawing its name from the 1648 treaties ending the Thirty Years’ War and the Eighty Years’ War, Westphalia stands for principles of mutual noninterference, an emphasis on sovereignty, and formal equality of states. Eastphalia, should it materialize, will emphasize similar structures, putting an end to the brief interlude of European universalism and global constitutionalism that intensified after the Second World War.

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