The image of a peaceful, orderly world where men and nations resolve their differences without war, where the lion lies down with the lamb, has haunted humankind for millennia. Roman law expressed the gulf between the ideal and the reality concisely by contrasting the condition of man living under the ius naturale, the natural law, a world of peace and harmony, with the human condition as it actually was under the ius gentium, the law of nations, a condition that included war and conflict. The very creation of government at the lowest level was the beginning of efforts to create order at least within a small area, to establish an order within which people could live peacefully with one another by accepting a set of rules that shaped their relations with one another. At the next level, there is the need to create rules that enable neighboring societies to get along with one another. At the ultimate level, there was the desire to create a peaceful world order that would bring all the nations of the world into a peaceful, harmonious relationship.
In the history of the Western world, there is a long tradition of attempts to create some kind of international order. One of the major obstacles to the creation of such an order stemmed from the fact that ancient political thought identified the small, independent city-state as the ideal environment for the development of the human personality. The freedom associated in theory with life in the city-state, however, posed a threat to order because of the wars among these states. On the other hand, there were empires, powerful states consisting of a ruling group dominating a number of conquered societies and maintaining order but at a price that the Greeks would not accept.
From a modern perspective, the Greek world, violent and even chaotic as it often was, was superior to the orderly Persian world because it was associated with freedom, democracy, and creativity. Yet the golden age of Athens ended in a disastrous war, and the age of creativity and democracy died with it. A lesson that the Greek experience might teach is that empires last longer and maintain an orderly world longer than small city-states can, but they do so at a price that many would deem too high.
The Greek and Roman World
The Greek world did produce one solution to the tension between freedom and order, that is between city-state and empire, when Philip of Macedon (d. 336 b.c.e.) and his son, Alexander the Great (d. 323 b.c.e.), created a great empire stretching from Greece to the Indus Valley. At the core of that empire were the Greek city-states that Philip had conquered and united. He saw himself as bringing the Greek world to the fullest stage of development, creating a unified world order under Greek leadership. According to his biographer Arrian (second century c.e.) writing several centuries later, Alexander aimed at creating an empire that brought peace to the regions he had conquered but that would be administered by the Greeks. The goal was to create a cosmos polis, a world community in which all the members shared the sense of unity and brotherhood that the members of a traditional city-state shared. If Alexander had lived, he might have created a vast peaceful and orderly world community under a single imperial ruler. His early death, however, destroyed any possibility that such a community would actually be created. In the years after Alexander the Great's death, one school of Greek philosophers, the Stoics, followers of Zeno of Citium (c. 335–c. 263 b.c.e.), did develop the concept of mankind as forming a single community. This concept flourished subsequently among the Romans and, apparently, even helped shape the Christian notion of mankind as ultimately forming a single community.
The most extensive example of a stable international order in the ancient Western world was the Roman Empire. In the course of its history, first as the Roman Republic expanding to bring all of Italy south of the Po River under a single government and then in a series of wars, first against the Carthaginians in the West and then against the Macedonians and Greeks in the East, the Romans brought the entire Mediterranean basin under their control. By the time of the first emperor, Augustus (r. 27 b.c.e.–14 c.e.), Roman jurisdiction ran from northern England to the Syrian Desert and from the Rhine River south to the Atlas Mountains and the Sahara. The network of roads that the Romans constructed enabled them to keep the peace within the empire by dispatching troops rapidly when rebellion arose among the conquered peoples.
The Roman imperial order, the Pax Romana, succeeded because it relied not simply on Roman troops but on the Roman ability to obtain the cooperation of the leaders of the societies that they conquered. The peace treaty signed at the end of a war with Rome often held out to the leading men among the conquered people the possibility of Roman citizenship, that is membership in the ruling elite of the Roman world, to those who accepted the new order. This practice gave many of the conquered peoples a vested interest in keeping the peace. At the same time, the Romans generally abstained from interfering in the internal affairs of the states that they conquered, thus reducing possible points of conflict.
The gradual decline of the Roman Empire in the West beginning in the fourth century meant the end of the Pax Romana. Any possibility of a stable international order was lost as the Roman government collapsed and new populations moved into the lands that the Romans once ruled. The Carolingian Empire of the eighth and ninth centuries was a failed attempt to restore the peaceful order of the ancient Roman imperial world on Christian principles. In reality, however, there was no longer any possibility of a single dominant power exercising jurisdiction over a large region.
The Medieval Christian Conception of International Order
As a series of small kingdoms emerged in Europe out of the ruins of the Carolingian world, a new conception of international order emerged, the notion that there is a natural right order of the world that human understanding could comprehend. This new approach conceived of human society as hierarchical, with lesser societies subordinate to higher ones. Recognition of the natural right order and the acceptance of a society's place within that order was the key to international harmony. To a great extent those who saw the world in these terms differed only on the issue of who would head the hierarchical structure and mediate international conflicts, the Holy Roman Emperor or the pope. Supporters of the imperial position argued that the Christian Roman emperor was the true dominus mundi, the Lord of the World, and the kings of Europe were rulers of what were in effect provinces of the empire. The other view was that the pope as the spiritual head of Christian society was the head of an international society and that he was the ultimate regulator of international order. These competing views about the leadership of Christian society provided one of the fundamental elements of the medieval church-state conflict.
By the thirteenth century, the papal vision of a Christian world order came to dominate, because the emperors could not impose their claim to suzerainty over the kings of Europe. Increasingly kings claimed that within their own kingdoms they possessed the powers attributed to the emperor in the empire, that is they were claiming to be sovereign and therefore not subject to any other temporal ruler. They could not, however, claim exemption from papal jurisdiction. The papal legal system, the canon law, operated throughout the entire Western Christian world, and the pope acted as the judex omnium, the judge of all Christians, even emperors and kings. With regard to international order, the papal approach assumed that all serious issues fell under the jurisdiction of the canon law so that international conflicts, clearly among the most serious of issues, should be brought to the papal court for adjudication. One consequence of the papal conception of the world was that several thirteenth-century popes intervened in conflicts between Christian kings in order to prevent wars and to keep the peace. Another aspect of medieval thought on international order concerned Christian relations with non-Christian societies, especially Muslim societies. The emergence of Islam in seventh-century Arabia led to the creation of the Dar al-Islam ("the abode of Islam"), a Muslim cultural and social order that contended with Christendom militarily and spiritually for the next thousand years along a line that stretched from eastern Europe, through the Near East, and across North Africa and into Spain. Was it possible for Christians to live at peace with such neighbors? In practice, throughout the Middle Ages, Christians and Muslims engaged in trade throughout the Mediterranean, demonstrating that peaceful relations were possible under some conditions. Furthermore, until the eleventh century, Christian pilgrims were generally able to go on pilgrimage to the Holy Land and visit the places associated with the life of Christ, even though Palestine had been in Muslim hands since the fall of Jerusalem in 638.
The call for a crusade to free the Holy Land in 1095 was a crucial turning point in relations between Christians and Muslims, because Christians claimed the right to regain possession of Christian lands previously conquered by the Muslims as well as the right to protect themselves against advancing Muslim armies. The crusade was also seen as a means for developing a peaceful Christian world by diverting the violent to the frontier with the Muslims. At the same time, however, the crusaders also contributed to the deepening split within the Christian world between the Latin Church of Europe and the Greek Church of the Byzantine Empire. They did this by refusing to restore the lands they conquered from the Muslims to Byzantine control and by imposing the Latin ritual and Latin bishops on the Christian peoples of the East, peoples that adhered to versions of Christianity deemed heretical by the papacy.
In the mid-thirteenth century, Pope Innocent IV (r. 1243–1254), a leading canon lawyer, outlined a kind of world legal order under papal direction. He argued that the pope was the ultimate judge of all humankind, judging men and women according to the law to which they were subject. Thus, the pope judged Christians according to the canon law, Jews according to the Law of Moses, and all other people by the terms of the natural law that is accessible to all rational human beings. Such a vision was impossible to realize even within Christian Europe, but the canon lawyers may have been the first thinkers to conceive of all humankind as ultimately forming a community with a universal legal order and therefore the first thinkers to suggest the possibility of a formal set of rules to regulate international relations. Subsequently, a leading ecclesiastical thinker, Nicholas of Cusa (1401–1464), published his De Concordantia Catholica, an outline of the medieval Christian conception of an orderly world, a world in which every kingdom and principality, Christian and non-Christian, functioned within its proper place.
A second medieval approach to the problem of international order appeared in the De Monarchia of the poet Dante Alighieri (1265–1321). Like the ecclesiastical conception of world order, Dante conceived of mankind as a single community but under the jurisdiction of the Holy Roman Emperor who was, according to Roman Law, the dominus mundi, the Lord of the World. Dante's primary interest was in regulating relations among the European states in order to end the constant round of wars.
During the Middle Ages, discussions of world order did not progress beyond the theoretical level. These theories assumed that humankind potentially formed a single human community subject to enforceable universal legal standards and functionally organized in a hierarchically constructed system under papal or imperial leadership. Such theories were based on a limited knowledge of the actual geography of the earth and its inhabitants. Around 1500, two events radically undermined these medieval theories of world order: the voyages of Columbus and the Protestant Reformation. Columbus's voyages revealed to Europeans for the first time the vastness of the sea and the diversity of the earth's population. The Protestant Reformers rejected the papacy and the entire ecclesiastical structure that the popes headed and therefore rejected the hierarchical conception of world order associated with it. These developments reshaped discussions of world order, dividing discussion into several distinct topics. These included: order among the nations of Europe; access to and jurisdiction over the sea; and the rights of the peoples of the New World in the face of European expansion.
The New World in the European International Order
The initial attempt to create a stable international order after Columbus's first voyage came in the form of three papal bulls that Pope Alexander VI (1492–1503) issued in 1493. These bulls, known by the opening words of the first of them, Inter caetera, divided the world along a line from the North Pole to the South Pole one hundred leagues west of the Azores and the Cape Verde Islands. To the east of that line, the pope granted the Portuguese complete jurisdiction, authorizing them to occupy lands held by the Muslim enemies of the Christian world and to support missionary efforts among the newly encountered peoples. In order to support these efforts, the Portuguese were granted a monopoly of trade with the peoples of these lands and of the route to Asia by way of circumnavigating Africa. The Spanish were granted the same privileges west of the line, guaranteeing them a monopoly of what was then believed to be the westward route to Asia. No other Christian could enter these regions without the express permission of the ruler to whom the region was assigned.
Inter caetera was only the latest in a series of bulls going back to 1420 that had sought to regulate relations between the Portuguese and the Spanish as they expanded out into the Atlantic, seeking a route to Asia. During the fifteenth century, these two kingdoms had fought a series of wars that spilled over into the Atlantic, where both kingdoms laid claim to various island chains. In the course of settling these disputes, a series of popes had issued bulls regulating relations between these kingdoms in the Atlantic, assigning responsibility for specific islands to each kingdom and making each ruler responsible for Christianizing the peoples encountered there. Inter caetera did the same thing on a larger scale. Alexander VI's bulls also provided a justification for the European conquest of the New World. If the inhabitants interfered with Europeans who came peacefully to trade or to preach the Christian faith or if they engaged in practices that violated the natural law, European rulers had the right to send in troops to protect the merchants and missionaries and to punish violations of the natural law.
The Catholic position on world order received its fullest exposition in the works of a number of Spanish theologians, philosophers, and lawyers in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. The most famous of these authors were Francisco Vitoria O. P. (1486–1546) and Francisco Suarez S. J. (1548–1617). Vitoria approached the problem of international order from a position that we would now associate with human rights. That is, did the Europeans have the legal right to conquer and occupy the Americas, or did the inhabitants of the New World have legal right to their lands and did they have the right to govern themselves free of outside intervention? Finally, even if the inhabitants of the New World did have rights, were they subject to the natural law and could their violations of that law justify their conquest?
By challenging the papacy's conception of a hierarchically constructed Christendom, Protestant Reformers provided a basis for reconsidering the nature of international order. In the first place, the religious wars of the Reformation spelled the end of both papal and imperial claims to some form of leadership of European and even world society. The Peace of Westphalia (1648) ending 150 years of German wars of religion had no role for the pope and reduced the imperial office to a ghost of its former self. The notion of a unified Christendom ended, replaced by a group of what came to be identified as sovereign nation-states. These states rejected any notion of overlordship, papal or imperial, in their own internal affairs. Peace among the states of Europe would be achieved by political arrangements that the participating governments made among themselves. The key to such arrangements was the balance of power, that is, alliance networks designed to prevent any one country from dominating Europe.
International Order and the Law of the Sea
The second area of concern was jurisdiction over the seas. Could the sea be owned or, at the very least, could anyone assert jurisdiction over the sea in order to prevent others from entering as Alexander VI had asserted in Inter caetera ? The debate about possession of the sea drew the most attention from European scholars, because the discovery of the size and extent of the world's oceans significantly changed the nature of the debate about world order. Instead of armies of foot soldiers conquering new lands, the new empires of the early modern world, with the exception of Spain, were primarily concerned with trade and not with the acquisition of large amounts of territory. They were seaborne empires. Alexander VI's allocation of spheres of responsibility to the Portuguese and Spanish, if accepted by all European rulers, would have blocked overseas expansion except for those whom these two nations allowed into the regions allotted to them. The early years of the seventeenth century saw the publication of a number of legal treatises on the law of the sea. The Portuguese scholar Serafim de Freitas (c. 1570–1633) wrote a lengthy treatise on the legitimacy of Portuguese claims to monopoly of trade in the Indian Ocean on the basis of the papal grant. John Selden (1584–1684), an English scholar, argued that although the pope had no right to allot the seas to specific Christian monarchs, various European states had long-standing claims to possess parts of the sea. The most important work on the topic of the sea was Hugo Grotius's (1583–1645) Mare liberum (The freedom of the seas; 1609). Obviously defending Dutch claims to the right to travel anywhere in the peaceful pursuit of trade, Grotius argued that the seas were open to all and that no ruler had the right to exclude anyone from any sea.
International Order and Sovereign Nation-States
Like Alexander VI, Grotius's goal was to reduce the conflicts among the various European nations that were beginning to assemble overseas empires but without recourse to a universal ruler such as the pope or the Holy Roman Emperor. His De iure belli ac pacis (Concerning the law of war and peace; 1625) was a lengthy analysis of the causes of war that ultimately proposed rules for international relations that would not end all wars but, if followed, reduce their number. Increasingly, the issues associated with international order and dealt with in terms of international law came to focus almost exclusively on relations among European nations to the exclusion of any participation by other nations in the creation of international order. The building blocks of this international order were the sovereign nation-states that were developing in Europe and were expected to work in concert to maintain that order. Grotius's work marked a withdrawal from the conception of all mankind forming a single community subject to the terms of the natural law under the leadership of emperor or pope.
During the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries a number of important European thinkers developed theories of international law designed to mitigate if not end the horrors of war. These theorists, Samuel Pufendorf (1632–1694), Emmerich de Vattel (1714–1767), Immanuel Kant (1724–1804), to name only the most famous, sought to create an international order that did not depend on belief in God but on a purely rational analysis of the human situation in keeping with the secular rationalism of the Enlightenment.
During the nineteenth century a new stage of thinking and practice regarding international order developed. At the Congress of Vienna (1814–1815) the major powers, England, Prussia, Russia, Austria (later joined by France), formed the Quadruple Alliance and claimed responsibility for maintaining peace in Europe. Seeing the possibility of revolutions influenced by French revolutionary thought as the greatest threat to peace, these countries asserted the right to restore rulers ousted by revolutionary means as a way of stabilizing European politics. A series of congresses between 1818 and 1822 settled peacefully disputes that might otherwise have led to war, but these efforts faded after 1822 when the English withdrew from participation. Toward the end of the nineteenth century, however, Otto von Bismarck, the German chancellor, sponsored a conference in Berlin (1884–1885) to regulate European entry into Africa so that the rush to obtain African land did not lead to wars among the competing European states. This was the last gasp of the European congress system for regulating international affairs.
International Order in the Twentieth Century
In 1898, Tsar Nicholas II of Russia called for a meeting of the leaders of nations in order to develop a process for peacefully resolving international disputes. For the first time, the nations considered suitable for inclusion within the international legal order included non-European states such as the United States and Japan. Representatives of twenty-six nations met the next year at The Hague and signed an agreement promising to seek peaceful resolution of conflicts and established the International Court of Arbitration as a vehicle for achieving this. They also entered into an agreement regarding the laws of war. In 1907 there was a second meeting to discuss other issues. One of the fears motivating this interest in peaceful resolution of interstate conflicts was the growth of alliance networks that eventually divided Europe into two major blocs, one headed by Germany, the other led by France and England. Because of these alliance networks, what might have been a conflict between two states could escalate into a large-scale war as the countries involved called upon their allies to support them, something that did occur in August 1914. The weakness of the Hague meetings was that recourse to the court established there relied on the willingness of the parties to take that route rather than war. The court lacked any power to force states to come before it or, for that matter, to enforce any decisions it might reach.
During the twentieth century, the theory and the practice of international order attempted to reconcile several conflicting issues. The first of these dealt with the tension between a desire to incorporate all the nations of the earth into a single coherent system for the settlement of international disputes and a recognition of the fact that a few nations dominated international affairs militarily and politically. A second conflict arose from the desire to enforce adherence to internationally recognized standards of state behavior even in internal matters while recognizing the sovereign status of every state. Finally, there was the difficulty of determining generally acceptable standards of state behavior in a world composed of states with quite different cultural traditions.
The most famous twentieth-century approach to world order came out of the Versailles Peace Conference after World War I. President Woodrow Wilson, whose 14 Points outlined what he believed to be the causes of the war and what he saw as the steps necessary to prevent such a war from occurring again, proposed as the key to world peace a League of Nations that would be open to all states throughout the world and would be capable of enforcing peace. Although egalitarian at the level of the General Assembly in which each member state had one vote, at the highest level there was a council composed of representatives of the five great powers—France, England, Italy, Japan, and the United States—supplemented by representatives of four other powers elected by the General Assembly. Wilson's plans for an international order were frustrated by the national interests of the various countries involved, by the refusal of the U.S. Senate to vote in support of membership in the League, and by the refusal to admit Germany and Russia. This meant that three of the most powerful countries in the world were outside of the orderly world network that the League of Nations was supposed to create.
During the 1920s, there were various attempts to create a peaceful international order by executing treaties that would bind nations to seek peaceful solutions to conflicts. Germany, for example, signed a series of treaties that bound it to accept the borders established at the end of World War I and to accept arbitration in those cases where there were conflicts with neighboring countries. The Kellogg-Briand Pact (1927) bound signatories to use arbitration to settle disputes, and, in 1930, the major naval powers signed a treaty in London to regulate the size of navies and regulating submarine warfare. These treaties and others entered into during the 1920s suggested to some observers that a legally based international order was coming into being. No means were created, however, for enforcing adherence to these treaties.
In addition to resolving conflicts among European nations, the post–World War I era saw the development of efforts to regulate relations among the nations of the rest of the world and to assist in the development of these nations. Former German colonies in Africa were assigned to various European powers. Other areas, lost to the collapsing Ottoman Empire, Syria and Iraq, for example, became independent states but under the supervision of France and England, respectively. These arrangements were made under the direction or mandate of the League of Nations and were expected to end once these countries had become fully developed modern states and therefore capable of participation in the network of states that controlled international order.
The experience of the 1930s, however, demonstrated that international order, especially where it concerned the interests of the major nations, could not be secured without the use of force. The failure of the French to secure support for the occupation of the Ruhr in 1923 marked the last attempt to use force to ensure German adherence to the terms of the Versailles Treaty. When Adolf Hitler repudiated the treaty's limitations on the size of the German armed forces in 1935, the League of Nations took no steps to enforce adherence to the treaty. Likewise, there was no forceful reaction the following year when the Germans reoccupied the demilitarized Rhineland in violation of the treaty.
The efforts at establishing international order that were made after World War II were designed to avoid the problems associated with the post–World War I settlement. The United Nations (UN), formally created in October 1945, was established to maintain the unity of the countries that won the war. Like the League of Nations, the United Nations consisted of two houses, the General Assembly where each nation had one vote and the Security Council that consisted of five permanent members and six elected by the General Assembly. Membership in the UN grew rapidly from the initial 51 members to more than 160 in 2003. Some saw the UN as paving the way for a world government that would maintain world order, but there were a number of forces that worked against such an outcome, above all, the division of the world into two large political blocs identified with the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) and the Warsaw Pact. These two large military and political blocs in turn not only confronted one another directly, they also competed for support from the so-called Third World nations of Asia and Africa. To a great extent, world order in the post–World War II era was created by the tension between the two great power blocs.
In the face of increasing demands for independence and self-government, a number of new states emerged. Decolonization, as this process was termed, was expected to lead to the creation of new sovereign states that would easily fit into the state-based international order that was being constructed under the aegis of the United Nations. The UN was actively involved in efforts to resolve border disputes generated by the collapse of the colonial empires, Some of these interventions succeeded in avoiding war by partitioning the disputed territory between the two claimants and then using troops from neutral countries as a permanent buffer between the conflicting groups.
The demolition of the Berlin Wall in 1989 marked the end of the division of the world into two large blocs and generated a great deal of discussion of what some termed a New World Order. In political terms, this meant the victory of Western liberal, capitalistic democracy; in practice, it meant uncontested American world leadership. Francis Fukuyama's The End of History and the Last Man (1992) articulated the view that with the fall of the Berlin Wall, the "end point of mankind's ideological evolution" had been reached, as liberal democracy survived the greatest challenge it had ever faced. One implication of this argument was that as all the nations of the world adopted the liberal democratic and capitalistic way of life, a stable, orderly world of political order composed of nation-states along European lines would emerge. In reality, of course, this has not happened. In contrast to the vision of a peaceful international order that Fukuyama presented, Samuel Huntington has argued that the twenty-first century will see conflict not between nation-states but between cultural blocs with different conceptions of international order.
The beginning of the twenty-first century reveals several kinds of development relevant to the formation of a peaceful world order. The first of these is the unchallenged role of the United States in world affairs. President George W. Bush asserted American responsibility for maintaining a terrorist-free international order and a willingness to act alone if necessary. Detractors increasingly labeled the United States an empire with all of the negative meanings attached to that term. At one level, the expansion of the European Union is a response to American power, unifying European states into a bloc capable of playing a significant role in the international order.
There is also renewed emphasis on humankind as forming a world community subject to universally applicable and enforceable standards of humanitarian behavior. In some cases, UN judgments are enforced by troops of member nations operating under the UN flag. In other cases, however, elements of this development operate separately from the United Nations. The establishment of an International Criminal Court at The Hague in 1998 is one sign of an effort to enforce universal standards outside of the UN framework. This court deals not with states but with individual officials, military and civilian, whose actions violated international standards and follows in the steps of the war crimes trials held at Nuremberg and Tokyo at the end of World War II.
The current trend is toward some form of international order that enforces adherence to standards of behavior through a legal and institutional structure that includes all humankind, a somewhat hierarchical structure that reflects the realities of political power. The power and leadership role of the United States is recognized, but these are restrained by the existence of the United Nations and the international legal order. Furthermore, the sovereignty of states, a fundamental element of international law since the seventeenth century, has been undermined as the United Nations has issued documents on human rights. These documents charge the UN with defending the rights of citizens when their rulers oppress them, even authorizing humanitarian intervention under UN auspices to protect the citizens from their own government. It remains to be seen, however, whether these various elements of international order will coalesce into a formal, permanent structure providing both order and freedom for all humanity.
See also Christianity ; Empire and Imperialism ; Hierarchy and Order ; Nationalism ; Peace ; War .
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Bull, Hedley, Benedict Kingsbury, and Adam Roberts, eds. Hugo Grotius and International Relations. Oxford: Clarendon, 1990.
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Huntington, Samuel P. The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of World Order. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1996.
Keene, Edward. Beyond the Anarchical Society: Grotius, Colonialism and Order in World Politics. Cambridge, U.K., and New York: Cambridge University Press, 2002.
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Murphy, Cornelius F., Jr. Theories of World Governance: A Study in the History of Ideas. Washington, D.C.: Catholic University of America Press, 1999.
Sewell, Sarah B., and Carl Kaysen. The United States and the International Criminal Court: National Security and International Law. Lanham, Md.: Rowman and Littlefield, 2000.
"International Order." New Dictionary of the History of Ideas. . Encyclopedia.com. (November 8, 2018). https://www.encyclopedia.com/history/dictionaries-thesauruses-pictures-and-press-releases/international-order
"International Order." New Dictionary of the History of Ideas. . Retrieved November 08, 2018 from Encyclopedia.com: https://www.encyclopedia.com/history/dictionaries-thesauruses-pictures-and-press-releases/international-order
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