Dr. Peter Schröder


Fellow am Max-Weber-Kolleg
von September 2016 bis August 2017



Trust and Mistrust in Early Eighteenth Century International Political Thought, 1713-1763

My project builds on my previous work Trust in Early Modern International Political Thought, 1598-1713 (forthcoming with Cambridge University Press in spring 2017) to explore the role of trust and mistrust between European states in the emergence of international political thought through the first half of the 18th century, from the Peace of Utrecht in 1713 to the Peace of Paris in 1763. My aim now is to complexify the picture by also looking at a) the relations between commerce and peace in this period, and b) the world beyond Europe and the relations between European and non-European actors and their interests. Multi-faceted arguments concerning trust in interstate relations circulated within Europe during the 18th century – a historical situation where war and conflict were rife and trust between states was volatile. If the relations between sovereign states were inherently antagonistic, could there ever be trust between states? What were the political and economic incentives to trust? To what extent did 18th-century discourses and doctrines of international law and balance of power, or the projects to establish federal structures and institutions to achieve peace and stability rely on trust? Or, to what extent did these different concepts help to improve conditions in order to foster trust?

Given the mutual fear and suspicion of European states, trust remained precarious even as a system of interstate relations was beginning to take shape. The structural deficiencies of this emergent system made the concept of trust a key issue. Looking at trust as a principle underlying the 18th-century discourses of interstate relations shows that references to trust – or to fides, good faith, Vertrauen and confiance – were deployed as a tool in political conflicts. Certain thematic questions recur in discussions in the period I am investigating: Are the political and economic interests of sovereign states mutually exclusive? How can order among states be achieved? How do other agents like trading companies fit into this framework? Trust is not something that can simply be demanded or enforced by another. A risky advance needs to be made by one side in order to gain the trust of the other. The arguments regarding trust and mistrust help us to organise and better understand the different approaches to interstate relations, but the concept of trust itself was not foundational for international political thought. Balance-of-power thinking regarded trust as purely strategic, whereas the proponents of designs for peace proposed institutional solutions to make trust among states possible. They perceived trust as an essential aim. To achieve it, the existing anarchical situation between states had to be changed fundamentally by introducing federative structures. Implementing the necessary requirements for trust would mean establishing the conditions for peace between states. My study will re-evaluate these programs and the key concepts of 18th-century international political thought that operated through the prism of trust. This study hopes to be not only of interest to the specialists and students of the early modern period, but also to all those thinking about ways of overcoming conflicts, which are aggravated by