From Personalism to Territoriality: State Authority and Foreign Policy in Medieval and Modern Europe
Gayton, Jeffrey T.
International Studies Association Conference
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This paper has two primary purposes – to develop a more sophisticated conceptualization of state authority relations and to demonstrate the utility of this conceptualization in explaining state behavior. It attempts to contribute to international relations theory by illustrating the contingent nature of territorial sovereignty. Territoriality is defined as a means of asserting, enforcing, and legitimating authority claims; authority claims are limited in terms of particular domains of human activity engaged in by humans within a particular space. This is contrasted with personal authority claims, which are limited in terms of particular domains of human activity engaged in by particular humans regardless of their location in space. When a state prohibits driving over a certain speed limit, it is using territoriality as a means of asserting, enforcing, and legitimating an authority claim. The claim is limited to a specific domain of human activity (speeding) engaged in by people within a particular space (the territory of the state). In contrast, when a religion prohibits sexual relations before marriage, it asserts, enforces, and legitimates its authority claims personally rather than territorially. The claim is limited to a specific domain of human activity (pre-marital sex) engaged in by adherents to the faith. The distinction between personal and territorial authority relations not only helps distinguish the state from other organizational forms, but helps distinguish different historical state forms. This paper argues that the medieval state, organized around feudal bonds of loyalty between lord and vassal, relied on personal rather than territorial authority claims. A preliminary exploration of the Hundred Years War demonstrates that the personal organization of medieval state authority relations helps explain certain “puzzles” of medieval state behavior that are inexplicable if the medieval state is viewed as territorial. This paper also suggests that the distinction between personal and territorial authority is also useful in understanding the behavior of modern states. Modern states are not entirely territorial; they rely in part on personal means of legitimating state authority. This latent personalism helps explain Russian claims of extra-territorial authority over ethnic Russians in the “near abroad” and the attempts by American citizens to bring suit against foreign nationals for human rights violations in other countries.