Karl Polanyi

“This almost miraculous performance was due to the working of the balance of power, which here produced a result which is normally foreign to it. By its nature that balance effects an entirely different result, namely, the survival of the power units involved; in fact, it merely postulates that three or more units capable of exerting power will always behave in such a way as to combine the power of the weaker units against any increase in power of the strongest. In the realm of universal history balance of power was concerned with states whose independence it served to maintain. But it attained this end only by continuous war between changing partners. The practice of the ancient Greek or the Northern Italian city-states was such an instance; wars between shifting groups of combatants maintained the independence of those states over long stretches of time. The action of the same principle safeguarded for over two hundred years the sovereignty of the states forming Europe at the time of the Treaty of Minster and Westphalia (1648). When, seventy-five years later, in the Treaty of Utrecht, the signatories declared their formal adherence to this principle, they thereby embodied it in a system, and thus established mutual guarantees of survival for the strong and the weak alike through the medium of war. The fact that in the nineteenth century the same mechanism resulted in peace rather than war is a problem to challenge the historian.

The entirely new factor, we submit, was the emergence of an acute peace interest. Traditionally, such an interest was regarded as outside the scope of the state system. Peace with its corollaries of crafts and arts ranked among the mere adornments of life. The Church might pray for peace as for a bountiful harvest, but in the realm of state action it would nevertheless advocate armed intervention; governments subordinated peace to security and sovereignty, that is, to intents that could not be achieved otherwise than by recourse to the ultimate means. Few things were regarded as more detrimental to a community than the existence of an organized peace interest in its midst. As late as the second half of the eighteenth century, J. J. Rousseau arraigned trades people for their lack of patriotism because they were suspected of preferring peace to liberty.
After 1815 the change is sudden and complete. The backwash of the French Revolution reinforced the rising tide of the Industrial Revolution in establishing peaceful business as a universal interest. Metternich proclaimed that what the people of Europe wanted was not liberty but peace. Gentz called patriots the new barbarians. Church and throne started out on the denationalization of Europe. Their arguments found support both in the ferocity of the recent popular forms of warfare and in the tremendously enhanced value of peace under the nascent economies.”


Karl Polanyi, The Great Transformation: The Political and Economic Origins of Our Time
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The Great Transformation: The Political and Economic Origins of Our Time The Great Transformation: The Political and Economic Origins of Our Time by Karl Polanyi
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