Governing the World: The History of an Idea

Governing the World: The History of an Idea

by Mark Mazower
     
 

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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

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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 Publishing Group
Publication date:
09/13/2012
Pages:
416
Product dimensions:
6.62(w) x 9.30(h) x 1.52(d)

What People are saying about this

Fritz Stern
A prodigious work: a master historian's reconstruction of how individuals and nations since 1815 have sought to promote national interests in ever more complicated international settings. A dramatic, novel account of ideas and institutions in collision with hard realities. Indispensable also for its full and subtle account of American policies since 1917, always with a fine touch for the hitherto neglected person or little noticed moment that illuminates historic processes. Profound, relevant, and morally instructive—and a pleasure to read.
—Fritz Stern
Ian Buruma
Governing Europe, and then the whole world, for the greater good of mankind, an idea spanning almost two centuries, at once noble and megalomaniacal, visionary and delusional, and ultimately doomed to failure: this idea has found its perfect chronicler in Mark Mazower, whose perceptions are cosmopolitan, humane, learned, and properly skeptical. What is more, his history is written in clear, elegant prose. Essential reading not just for historians, but anyone interested in the troubled world we live in.
—Ian Buruma
From the Publisher
One of Financial Times' Best Books of 2012

"A significant contribution to historical scholarship, with the chapters on the 19th century's remarkable swirl of politics, ideas and organisations being particularly original and valuable... Simply for giving us this lucid account, Mazower deserves our gratitude. But Governing the World is also an intriguing read because of the strong argument he places within it... This new work certainly gave this reviewer an awful lot to think about—to an author, there may be no greater praise than that."
—Paul Kennedy, Financial Times

"Mazower has strengthened his claim to be the preeminent historian of a generation. Combining breathtaking originality with meticulous and gloriously eclectic research, he offers the most convincing explanation yet articulated for the exaggerated, even hysterical, expectations of the 1990s and the subsequent collapse of optimism after the Millennium now translated into a fear that grips large parts of the Western world. On rare occasions, a work of history emerges that not only fundamentally refashions our understanding of the past, it enables us to reassess the present and, with luck, influence our future. I advise everyone who is concerned about our precarious situation to learn from and absorb Mazower's remarkable achievement."
—Misha Glenny

"Governing Europe, and then the whole world... This idea has found its perfect chronicler in Mark Mazower, whose perceptions are cosmopolitan, humane, learned, and properly skeptical. What is more, his history is written in clear, elegant prose. Essential reading not just for historians, but anyone interested in the troubled world we live in."
—Ian Buruma

"A prodigious work: a master historian's reconstruction of how individuals and nations since 1815 have sought to promote national interests in ever more complicated international settings. A dramatic, novel account of ideas and institutions in collision with hard realities. Indispensable also for its full and subtle account of American policies since 1917, always with a fine touch for the hitherto neglected person or little noticed moment that illuminates historic processes. Profound, relevant, and morally instructive—and a pleasure to read."
—Fritz Stern

"This is a book that needed to be written ... [Governing the World] is truly illuminating ... The story is a fascinating one, and Mazower tells it with authority and verve."
—Adam Zamoyski, Literary Review

"The idea of global government has entranced the world for centuries. Mark Mazower's brilliant book shows how much effort has gone into this idea—and how futile it has mostly been in an era of individualism and growing divisiveness."
—Alan Brinkley

"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."
Kirkus

Misha Glenny
Mark Mazower has strengthened his claim to be the preeminent historian of a generation. Combining breathtaking originality with meticulous and gloriously eclectic research, he offers the most convincing explanation yet articulated for the exaggerated, even hysterical, expectations of the 1990s and the subsequent collapse of optimism after the Millennium now translated into a fear that grips large parts of the Western world. On rare occasions, a work of history emerges that not only fundamentally refashions our understanding of the past, it enables us to reassess the present and, with luck, influence our future. I advise everyone who is concerned about our precarious situation to learn from and absorb Mazower's remarkable achievement.
—Misha Glenny
Alan Brinkley
The idea of global government has entranced the world for centuries. Mark Mazower's brilliant book shows how much effort has gone into this idea—and how futile it has mostly been in an era of individualism and growing divisiveness.
—Alan Brinkley

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