The Evolution of International Society by Adam Watson has been described as one of the most informative books on international relations. Watson had an impressive career in international relations as seen in the way he puts together theoretical and historical information in the book. The book is a summary of how international societies function over time, starting from the ancient Sumer original state system to the contemporary international system. From the book, it is evident that past systems were quite different from the present systems, but the achievements of the present system would not be possible without the contributions of the past systems.
In Chapter 18, Watson explores the politics of the 18 th century in Europe, starting from the Utrecht settlement to the French Revolution (Watson, 1992). The main point of the chapter is that 18 th century was a period of order and progress. A balance of power between states in a system accompanied by the balance of trade and multiple checks was created to safeguard all the interests of European nations, whether they were dominant or small nations. European nations in the 18 th century were no longer victims of religious and reckless ideological wars, and even he wars that occurred during the period were seen as minor wars of adjustment. Reason and enlightenment governed the system of leaders, states and rulers were seen as different entities.
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The main point in Chapter 19 is the international expansion of Europe into the rest of the world by conquest, settlement, and trade. Watson describes the internal expansion of Europe as a major event in international history, and that today’s society can be seen as a universalized European system. The chapter does not implicitly focus on the colonization process; rather how European nations used trade and trade ties to establish connections around the world. The European states were in competition with each other to form ties and expand into the new territories.
Chapter 20 of the book is titled, “The Napoleonic Era” (Watson, 1992). The chapter focuses on the impact on Napoleonic rule and the French revolution on Europe. The revolution encouraged self-assertion across Europe, and military action against the government. However, as Napoleon’s rule expanded across Europe, the people started questioning Napoleon’s motives. Napoleon Bonaparte was known for his military victories and his wisdom, he was considered a self- made prince unlike the others who inherited the kingship. However, his ambition and desire to conquer the entire Europe and create an empire did not sit well among other European leaders, and they allied against Napoleon in 1813 (Watson, 1992). Napoleonic rule inspired a new force of nationalism Europeans because they resented foreign conquest and did not want to be under the leadership of Napoleon.
Chapter 21 still focuses on the effects of Napoleon’s imperialism in Europe. Napoleon’s empire changed social structures in the western and central Europe, and altered men’s ideas of what was desirable and attainable (Watson, 1992). European leaders learned a lesson on international conquest, and the need to plan well to avoid failure like Napoleon. The chapter also focuses on the complex balance in Europe after Napoleon’s defeat. The Europeans were not keen on seeking the support of Russia to defeat Napoleon because it would put Russia in a strong position. Britain also emerged stronger after the Napoleonic war, and the five super powers that emerged had to resort to the old system of checks and balances to maintain peace in Europe.
In Chapter 22, Watson explores the events of the 19 th century, when Europe brought the whole world into a single net of economic and strategic relations. European system was expanded across the world, thanks to the invention of sailing ships and new forms of military technology. European nations pushed the boundaries in Asia, India and even in the new world. However, they found out that conquering developed systems in societies in Asia was hard. The expansion of Europe into the new world inspired a lot of changes politically; the new nations were fighting for their independence, while the European nations fought to hold onto the new nations for economic and political reasons.
Chapter 23 focuses on the collapse of European domination. Once the global system freed itself from the control of Europeans, new and different patterns in international relations were observed. In the early 20 th century, nations such as Japan and United States became key players in international relations. The chapter also explores World War 1 and World War 2 as two events that drastically changed the direction of international relations. By the end of World War 2, U.S. and Russia emerged as the greatest super powers as most European nations suffered financial setbacks in the two wars.
Chapter 24 still focuses on the changes in the international relations after the collapse of European domination. Russia and America became superpowers, and they occupied the places once occupied by the European powers. The drastic change in the international system created unfamiliar pressures, especially for the European nations. United States took the place of Britain in the system, while the damaged Soviet Russia became the other superpower. A bipolar society was created when the two super powers came to power. America became the champion of democracy while the Soviet Union became the symbol of autocratic leadership. America saw it necessary to abandon its isolationist notion to check the spreading of Russia’s ideology. The chapter also focuses on the role of the United Nations in keeping peace during tumultuous times. United Nations kept Russia and America in check, and fought for the rights of smaller powers.
In the last chapter, Watson explores the contemporary international society. The international society has gone through a rich political history that created today’s global system. Today’s society is more integrated than before, but it is still different from the 19 th century Euro-centric society. The changes are immense, such that nations in Asia, Africa and the Caribbean are now influential nations in the international society. The new society came into the picture after a radical break from the past, but it still inherited some of its concepts from its European predecessor. Small nations now have their independence, unlike in the past when they were explicitly controlled by the dominant powers; however, they are still relying on developed nations for political and economic support. Watson (1992) notes that powers like Japan and Germany are now considered dominant nations, and the world is moving to a more integrated system whereby dominant nations can work together.
In conclusion, chapter 18 to chapter 25 of the book explores European politics and its role in the creation of today’s system. When European world dominance ended, other new players such as the United States and Japan came into the picture. Eventually, the contemporary global political system was formed.
Watson, A. (1992). The Evolution of International Society. London: Routledge.