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The Eastern Question and the fallacy of modernity on the premodern origins of the modern inter-state order in southeastern Europe

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posted on 2023-06-07, 15:20 authored by Clemens M Hoffmann
The ‘eastern question’ of the 19th century is conventionally understood as the power-vacuum created by the decay of the geostrategically important Ottoman Empire in the context of a highly competitive and expansionary European inter-state system. Conventional approaches to International Relations argue that the eastern question was solved by creating multiple, legitimate, sovereign national states in lieu of Ottoman rule as the outcome of an expanding European modernity, replacing the outdated, illegitimate and despotic rule of Oriental princes. However, this assumption entails a tension between the supposedly universal scope of European modernity and its fractured, multi-national form of transmission. This contradiction, implicit in International Relations theory, is the subject of this thesis. Examining this problem in the light of the eastern question, this thesis offers a historical sociological reconstruction of the social transformations that produced the supposedly ‘modern’ geopolitical ‘order’ in Southeastern Europe. The critical re-reading and positive reconstruction of the Ottoman trajectory from the end of territorial expansion in 1683 to the Greek secession in 1821, problematizes in how far territorial fragmentation of political rule can be understood as the ‘logical’ result of the expansion of ‘modern’ social and political relations. It is argued that, instead of understanding these developments as a teleological and predetermined process of Westernization, the key for understanding the emergence of the post-Ottoman state system lies in deciphering the dialectic between a ‘domestic’ social struggle among pre-capitalist classes and an intensifying pan-European geopolitical dynamic. Hence, rather than understanding the process of nation-formation as the inevitable result of the expansion of ‘modern’ international relations, it is necessary to emphasize the specificity of the Ottoman, like any other transformation. This in turn helps illuminating the unnatural and malleable nature of ‘modern’ territorial inter-national ‘orders’. Rather than implementing a just, natural or finite domestic and geopolitical order, ‘national’ fragmentations result from specific, materially conditioned social struggles. This raises generic problems with static and ahistorical understandings of social and geopolitical relations. It is suggested that a theoretically open historical materialist sociology of International Relations can provide a remedy. In consequence, it is argued that the ‘eastern question’, far from being solved by the formation of national states, still remains open to this day.


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