Please join us for a talk being given by Jonah Stuart Brundage from the University of California, Berkeley.
The Social Sources of Geopolitical Power: Elite Habitus and State Legitimacy in Europe, 1689–1789
What are the determinants of geopolitical hegemony? That is, why do some states shape and govern the rules of the game in world politics while other states fail to do so? Traditional explanations emphasize the military and economic power of states. Such accounts are unable to explain cases in which states that are militarily and economically dominant nonetheless fail to convert their dominance into transnational governance. This talk focuses on one such state: eighteenth-century Britain. As I show, Britain enjoyed military and economic primacy in the eighteenth-century world system yet failed to exercise hegemony over its own European neighbors. Accordingly, I argue that while material dominance is a necessary condition, hegemony depends further on the symbolic capacity of a state to secure external recognition of its legitimacy. I also posit conditions for symbolic capacity itself: a state tends to appear as legitimate if the elites who shape and enact its foreign policies share social dispositions—or habitus—with the elites of rival states. Employing extensive archival sources of diplomatic correspondence, I show that eighteenth-century Britain failed to translate its material dominance into geopolitical hegemony because British foreign policy elites embodied a habitus that clashed with the cultural codes and taken-for-granted assumptions of continental European elites.