An Idea and Its Servants is a book from the alternative, parallel universe of UNESCO. That universe can be found in the original architects’ renderings of the UN complex as it was being designed and built. The images give impressions of mission, concentration, and important things being decided. Richard Hoggart was assistant director-general from 1971 to 1975 and reflects that epoch in this work; he also describes how UNESCO’s mission became side-tracked by politics.
Hoggart offers both idealism and accuracy when he reports what actually happens inside the UNESCO Secretariat. Readers may shrink from discussion of its bureaucracy, for the obvious reason that bureaucratic life is frequently mind-numbing. Hoggart reports that UNESCO’s secretariat is hopeless, observing that, "…bad practices within the Secretariat are very bad indeed…." and that it has "…an atmosphere too much shot through with petty or large dishonesties." Hoggart’s experiences remain relevant to our contemporary understanding of the world of multilateral organizations. While he reflects an earlier era in United Nations’ history, the book is also a reminder that agencies, like individuals, are not eternal. They are subject to ideology, nationalism, and sheer logrolling. Hoggart examines all of this with a clear-eyed insider perspective. John Bolton’s new introduction shows that the more one understands the insides of these entities, the less faith one can have that there is a long-term future in entrusting the affairs of human governance to them. Hoggart permits the reader to enjoy the talent of a great essayist and public servant, while Bolton tells us why we should remain properly skeptical of UNESCO in the twenty-first century.