Natasha Wheatley on the Transformation of Empire into Democracy
In Conversation with Andrew Keen on Keen On
Hosted by Andrew Keen, Keen On features conversations with some of the world’s leading thinkers and writers about the economic, political, and technological issues being discussed in the news, right now.
In this episode, Andrew talks to Natasha Wheatley, the author of The Life and Death of States, about the Central Europe and the transformation of modern sovereignty from empire to democracy
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Assistant Professor of History at Princeton, Natasha Wheatley is an historian of modern European and international history, with broad interests in intellectual and legal history, Central Europe, and the history of international law. Her book The Life and Death of States: Central Europe and the Transformation of Modern Sovereignty was published by Princeton University Press in spring 2023. It recovers Habsburg Central Europe as a crucible for modern statehood and modern legal thought. The radical mismatch between theories of singular sovereignty and the empire’s plural, layered legal order pushed politicians as well as scholars like Hans Kelsen toward bold new conceptions of the state and the nature of law. The book follows a recurring set of questions about the juridical birth, death, and survival of states through the creative experiments of Austro-Hungarian constitutional order and into the domain of international law following the empire’s collapse in 1918. Tracing the problem of states-in-time from the mid-19th century through to the mid-20th, it presents an unfamiliar pre-history of the international law of decolonization, as well as new ways of understanding Central Europe in the world. Wheatley has published research on multiple facets of the interwar international order—including the League of Nations, the mandates system, and the minorities regime—in Past & Present and elsewhere. Her interest in methodology, historical epistemology, and the philosophy of history has led to essays in History and Theory and the edited volume Power and Time. Her article “Spectral Legal Personality in Interwar International Law” received the Surrency Prize from the American Society for Legal History in 2018. Her chapter “Legal Pluralism as Temporal Pluralism” was awarded the 2021 Scholarship Prize from the American Society of International Law’s International Legal Theory Group. Supported by a Humboldt fellowship and a Remarque fellowship, she is currently at work on a new project titled Laws of Water, Air, Earth, and Fire: Sovereignty Among the Elements. Wheatley received her Ph.D. with distinction from Columbia University in 2016. Before joining the Princeton faculty, she was an ARC Postdoctoral Fellow in the Laureate Research Program in International History at the University of Sydney. She has held fellowships in Vienna, Berlin, and Cambridge, and her research has been supported by the Doris G. Quinn Foundation, the Austrian Agency for International Cooperation in Education and Research, the Central European History Society, and the Australian Academy of the Humanities, among others. She was a Fellow at the Wissenschaftskolleg in Berlin for the 2019-20 academic year.