Governing the World: The History of an Idea

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The story of global cooperation between nations and peoples is a tale of dreamers goading us to find common cause in remedying humanity’s worst problems.  But international institutions have also provided a tool for the powers that be to advance their own interests and stamp their imprint on the world.  Mark Mazower’s Governing the World tells the epic story of that inevitable and irresolvable tension—the unstable and often surprising alchemy between ideas and power.

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Governing the World: The History of an Idea, 1815 to the Present

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Overview

The story of global cooperation between nations and peoples is a tale of dreamers goading us to find common cause in remedying humanity’s worst problems.  But international institutions have also provided a tool for the powers that be to advance their own interests and stamp their imprint on the world.  Mark Mazower’s Governing the World tells the epic story of that inevitable and irresolvable tension—the unstable and often surprising alchemy between ideas and power.

From the beginning, the willingness of national leaders to cooperate has been spurred by crisis: the book opens in 1815, amid the rubble of the Napoleonic Empire, as the Concert of Europe was assembled with an avowed mission to prevent any single power from dominating the continent and to stamp out revolutionary agitation before it could lead to war. But if the Concert was a response to Napoleon, internationalism was a response to the Concert, and as courts and monarchs disintegrated they were replaced by revolutionaries and bureaucrats.

19th century internationalists included bomb-throwing anarchists and the secret policemen who fought them, Marxist revolutionaries and respectable free marketeers. But they all embraced nationalism, the age’s most powerful transformative political creed, and assumed that nationalism and internationalism would go hand in hand. The wars of the twentieth century saw the birth of institutions that enshrined many of those ideals in durable structures of authority, most notably the League of Nations in World War I and the United Nations after World War II. 

Throughout this history, we see that international institutions are only as strong as the great powers of the moment allow them to be. The League was intended to prop up the British empire. With Washington taking over world leadership from Whitehall, the United Nations became a useful extension of American power.  But as Mazower shows us, from the late 1960s on, America lost control over the dialogue and the rise of the independent Third World saw a marked shift away from the United Nations and toward more pliable tools such as the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund.  From the 1990s to 2007, Governing the World centers on a new regime of global coordination built upon economic rule-making by central bankers and finance ministers, a regime in which the interests of citizens and workers are trumped by the iron logic of markets.

Now, the era of Western dominance of international life is fast coming to an end and a new multi-centered global balance of forces is emerging. We are living in a time of extreme confusion about the purpose and durability of our international institutions.  History is not prophecy, but Mark Mazower shows us why the current dialectic between ideals and power politics in the international arena is just another stage in an epic two-hundred-year story.

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Editorial Reviews

Library Journal
Director of the Center for International History at Columbia University, award-winning author Mazower seems good and ready to discuss world government from the post-Napoleonic era forward. Go for it, history fans.
Kirkus Reviews
Mazower (History/Columbia Univ. Hitler's Empire: How the Nazis Ruled Europe, 2008, etc.) explores the evolution of internationalism. The idea is essentially a Western creation, originating from the "Concert of Europe" in 1815 by the great powers in the wake of Napoleon's defeat, and marking an important effort to keep sovereigns in check and create a more just "brotherhood" of nations. While the "Big Four" nations (Austria, Russia, Britain and Prussia) were more interested in policing revolutionary insurrections and restoring the principles of monarchy, they still recognized that there was too much at stake not to work together at "fundamental rules of the game." Avoiding lawlessness and anarchy was the impulse, and many leaders sought to embrace the promotion of a law of nations and universal peace. Mazower considers some fascinating mid-19th-century currents flowing from the international groundswell--e.g., in futuristic literature (foreshadowing H.G. Wells), the peace movement, free trade, Giuseppe Mazzini's influential notion of nationalism, communism, the founding of the Red Cross, the arbitration movement and the hope that science could develop universal humanitarian standards. After tracing the early strands of internationalism, Mazower moves into the modern's era complex convergence of political and economic factors in forging what Mikhail Gorbachev called a "new world order." The peacetime League of Nations, despite its failures, would "marry the democratic idea of a society of nations with the reality of Great Power hegemony." Finally, Mazower brings us to the present, as a European union has been achieved, but has been driven by a "bureaucratic elite" with little sense of "principles of social solidarity and human dignity," except perhaps by noted philanthropists. A well-articulated, meticulously supported study.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781594203497
  • Publisher: Penguin Group (USA)
  • Publication date: 9/13/2012
  • Pages: 416
  • Product dimensions: 6.62 (w) x 9.30 (h) x 1.52 (d)

Meet the Author

Mark Mazower is the Ira D. Wallach Professor of History at Columbia University. He is the author of Hitler’s Greece: The Experience of Occupation, 1941-44, Dark Continent: Europe’s Twentieth Century, The Balkans: A Short History (which won the Wolfson Prize for History), Salonica: City of Ghosts (which won both the Duff Cooper Prize and the Runciman Award), and Hitler’s Empire: Nazi Rule in Occupied Europe. He has also taught at Birkbeck College, University of London, Sussex University and Princeton. He lives in New York.

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Table of Contents

Introduction xi

I The Era of Internationalism

Prologue: The Concert of Europe, 1815-1914 3

Chapter 1 Under the Sign of the International 13

Chapter 2 Brotherhood 31

Chapter 3 The Empire of Law 65

Chapter 4 Science the Unifier 94

Chapter 5 The League of Nations 116

Chapter 6 The Battle of Ideologies 154

II Governing the World the American Way

Chapter 7 "The League Is Dead. Long Live the United Nations." 191

Chapter 8 Cold War Realities, 1945-49 214

Chapter 9 The Second World, and the Third 244

Chapter 10 Development as World-Making, 1949-73 273

Chapter 11 The United States in Opposition 305

Chapter 12 The Real New International Economic Order 343

Chapter 13 Humanity's Law 378

Chapter 14 What Remains: The Crisis in Europe and After 406

Notes 429

Index 457

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