Different models of political sovereignty affected the relationship among states and between states and individuals.
Between 1648 and 1815, the sovereign state was consolidated as the principal form of political organization across Europe. Justified and rationalized by theories of political sovereignty, states adopted a variety of methods to acquire the human, fiscal, and material resources essential for the promotion of their interests. Although challenged and sometimes effectively resisted by various social groups and institutions, the typical state of the period, best exemplified by the rule of Louis XIV in France, asserted claims to absolute authority within its borders. A few states, most notably England and the Dutch Republic, gradually developed governments in which the authority of the executive was restricted by legislative bodies protecting the interests of the landowning and commercial classes.
Between the Peace of Westphalia (1648) and the Congress of Vienna (1814–1815), European states managed their external affairs within a balance of power system. In this system, diplomacy became a major component of the relations among states. Most of the wars of the period, including conflicts fought outside of Europe, stemmed from attempts either to preserve or disturb the balance of power among European states. While European monarchs continued to view their affairs in dynastic terms, increasingly, reasons of state influenced policy.
The French Revolution was the most formidable challenge to traditional politics and diplomacy during this period. Inspired in part by Enlightenment ideas, the revolution introduced mass politics, led to the creation of numerous political and social ideologies, and remained the touchstone for those advocating radical reform in subsequent decades. The French Revolution was part of a larger revolutionary impulse that, as a transatlantic movement, influenced revolutions in Spanish America and the Haitian slave revolt. Napoleon Bonaparte built upon the gains of the revolution and attempted to exploit the resources of the continent in the interests of France and his own dynasty. Napoleon’s revolutionary state imposed French hegemony throughout Europe, but eventually a coalition of European powers overthrew French domination and restored, as much as possible, a balance of power within the European state system. At the same time, the conservative powers attempted to suppress the ideologies inspired by the French Revolution.
Sub-Concept 1: In much of Europe, absolute monarchy was established over the course of the 17th and 18th centuries.
Sub-Concept 2: Challenges to absolutism resulted in alternative political systems.
Sub-Concept 3: After 1648, dynastic and state interests, along with Europe's expanding colonial empires, influenced the diplomacy of European states and frequently led to war.
Sub-Concept 4: The French Revolution posed a fundamental challenge to Europe's existing political and social order.
Sub-Concept 5: Claiming to defend the ideals of the French Revolution, Napoleon Bonaparte imposed French control over much of the European continent that eventually provoked a nationalistic reaction.