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New York Times Book Review[Mazower] has identified a gigantic contradiction in the United Nations' very DNA that may explain how the ambitious, well-intentioned body evolved into Mess-on-East River.
— Marc Tracy
No Enchanted Palace traces the origins and early development of the United Nations, one of the most influential yet perhaps least understood organizations active in the world today. Acclaimed historian Mark Mazower forces us to set aside the popular myth that the UN miraculously rose from the ashes of World War II as the guardian of a new and peaceful global order, offering instead a strikingly original interpretation of the UN's ideological roots, early history, and changing ...
No Enchanted Palace traces the origins and early development of the United Nations, one of the most influential yet perhaps least understood organizations active in the world today. Acclaimed historian Mark Mazower forces us to set aside the popular myth that the UN miraculously rose from the ashes of World War II as the guardian of a new and peaceful global order, offering instead a strikingly original interpretation of the UN's ideological roots, early history, and changing role in world affairs.
Mazower brings the founding of the UN brilliantly to life. He shows how the UN's creators envisioned a world organization that would protect the interests of empire, yet how this imperial vision was decisively reshaped by the postwar reaffirmation of national sovereignty and the unanticipated rise of India and other former colonial powers. This is a story told through the clash of personalities, such as South African statesman Jan Smuts, who saw in the UN a means to protect the old imperial and racial order; Raphael Lemkin and Joseph Schechtman, Jewish intellectuals at odds over how the UN should combat genocide and other atrocities; and Jawaharlal Nehru, India's first prime minister, who helped transform the UN from an instrument of empire into a forum for ending it.
A much-needed historical reappraisal of the early development of this vital world institution, No Enchanted Palace reveals how the UN outgrew its origins and has exhibited an extraordinary flexibility that has enabled it to endure to the present day.
"This is a sophisticated work of intellectual history with implications for international institutional law. Mazower forces the discipline to rethink one of the premises on which the paradigmatic theory of functionalism rests. . . . Mazower's work provides a solid and intellectually stimulating basis for trying to re-think this fundamental starting point."—Jan Klabbers, European Journal of International Law
"No Enchanted Palace is a model of the new international history. Forceful and engaged, it will likely provoke a wide range of readers. . . . Short, readable, and challenging, No Enchanted Palace would make an ideal book for courses on internationalism, empire, global politics, and human rights."—J. P. Daughton, H-Net Reviews
"Mark Mazower is one of the most original and interesting historians at work on Europe's modern history. In this book, he turns his attention to the broader theme of world order, and to the various ways in which it was being reimagined at the moment when the United Nations was created in 1945. The result is a lucid, perceptive, and indispensable study."—John Darwin, American Historical Review
In the closing days of the Second World War, the representatives of fifty nations-led by the Big Three victors over Nazism-met in San Francisco to establish the United Nations as a permanent peacetime organization. Field Marshal Jan Smuts, the South African prime minister, was one of the oldest delegates at the conference-he had the unique distinction among those present of having been centrally involved in setting up the League of Nations more than twenty years earlier. Now, like the others there, he was determined that the new organization should not fail as the League had done. On May 1-the day after Hitler committed suicide-Smuts galvanized the delegates in the San Francisco Opera House. "For the human race," he intoned, "the hour has struck. Mankind has arrived at the crisis of its fate, the fate of its future as a civilized world." Victory in the war must be crowned by "a halt to the pilgrimage of death." The alternative, too terrifying to contemplate, was a third global conflagration. He praised the League of Nations, criticizing "the fashion to belittle or even sneer at it," but noted the "spirit of realism" animating those who had drafted the original version of the UN Charter seven months earlier at Dumbarton Oaks. It was reasonable to recognize, as they had done, the special responsibilities of the great powers, and it was right that they had done whatever was necessary to ensure that the latter support the new world body. Smuts had only one reservation: "The new Charter should not be a mere legalistic document for the prevention of war." Rather it should contain at its outset a declaration articulating the lofty values that had sustained the Allied peoples in their bitter and prolonged struggle. This had been above all a moral struggle, of "faith in justice and the resolve to vindicate the fundamental rights of man." His rhetoric soared. The war against Nazism had been waged "for the eternal values which sustain the spirit of man in its upward struggle toward the light."
The peroration was true-as we will see-to Smuts's long-standing suspicion of legalism in international affairs and to the conviction that he shared with many previous supporters of the League of Nations that world peace was essentially an ethical struggle for the soul of man. But it was also a little misleading. Smuts had come to San Francisco uneasy about what he termed its "strong humanitarian tendency" and the attendant possibility of embarrassment for his own country, South Africa. Fortunately for his peace of mind, the doubts soon vanished and publicly he was feted, hailed as the lone leading survivor of the Paris peace conference, and honored by being made president of one of the commissions. The seventy-five-year-old field marshal still cut a trim, upright figure. Straight-backed, fresh from invigorating walks on the slopes of Mount Tamalpais, he possessed abundant reserves of energy. It was not hard to imagine him as he had been four decades earlier, leading his commandos against the British, a copy of Immanuel Kant in his knapsack.
Smuts was above all a figure of empire-of the British Empire at the very height of its global power. The towering figure in South African politics from the time the Boer War ended, he had produced the constitution of the Union of South Africa and helped to ensure the wartorn country's reincorporation into the British imperial system. Between 1910 and 1924 the former Boer leader was constantly in office, the last five years as premier. Then he was minister of justice before leading the country into a second world war as premier for a second time. In a strange twist of fate, the erstwhile guerrilla was clasped to the bosom of the British establishment. He became a trusted member of the Imperial War Cabinet in the First World War, the creator of the British Royal Air Force, and-above all-ideologue for the new British Commonwealth.
And it is just here-in his thinking about the Commonwealth and its wider meanings for the world-that one starts to see Smuts's relevance to a neglected aspect of the spread of internationalism in the twentieth century. If modern colonial empires were the work of a single late nineteenth-century generation, as the historian W. Roger Louis has suggested, Smuts was a leading member of the generation that followed, who sought to prolong the life of an empire of white rule through international cooperation. There is, to be crude about it, a straight-if unexplored-line that takes us from the constitutional reconfiguration of the British Empire in its final decades to the UN. Could it be, in short, that the United Nations started out life not as the instrument to end colonialism, but rather-at least in the minds of men like Smuts-as the means to preserve it?
* * *
From the Boer War onward, a trend toward what was increasingly known as "internationalism" had become evident on both sides of the Atlantic. There were in fact many kinds of internationalism. There were those who believed in codifying and standardizing international law, and giving it much greater weight in diplomacy, relying on states to turn to the lawyers to arbitrate their disputes and ward off the threat of war. Such ideas were particularly strong on the European continent and in the United States where successive secretaries of state before 1914 saw this as an issue calling for American leadership. But in trusting the judgment and impartiality of lawyers, this approach was too apolitical and elitist to garner much broad political support and the radicalizing impact of the outbreak of the First World War left them behind. The real intellectual future of early twentieth-century internationalism lay rather in the hands of self-professed democrats, who believed that an expanded suffrage would take power out of the hands of warmongers and allow the peace-loving instincts of the masses to assert themselves. The radical peace movement in Britain and the United States called for the emergence of an international "civic principle" that would supersede nationalism and guarantee world peace. Today we might call this cosmopolitanism. Recasting much older evangelical ideas, figures like the sociologist Leonard Hobhouse argued that humanity should overcome "artificial units of loyalty" like the nation and join in "international union." The American pacifist Crystal Eastman foresaw a trend toward "unnationalism" in which people would-in a Kantian vein-act directly, not through their governments.
Others disagreed profoundly with this approach and wanted to get to the same destination by another route; they felt that nationalism was not bad in itself, merely in the wrong hands. The British radical, J. A. Hobson, a fierce critic of "imperialism," saw "democratic nationalism" as "a plain highway to internationalism." In 1912 he discussed the idea that "a federation of civilized states" might be powerful enough to keep order in the world. In fact, he regarded as "the supreme test of modern civilisation" whether such a federation would be a force for good, or simply "a variant of the older empires," enforcing a parasitic pax Europaea on the world rather than acting in the interests of humanity. Hobhouse praised Hobson's imperial federation project, differing in details but suggesting in his turn that a British imperial federation might serve as a model for the world. "Physically the world is one," he wrote, "and its unity must ultimately be reflected in political institutions." Federalism inside the British Empire would lead eventually to a "world state." What is striking is thus the degree to which even the most radical of British internationalists accepted the imperial framework of world politics.
Elsewhere in the English-speaking intellectual world, a rather different group was thinking along surprisingly similar lines-not so much for the sake of world harmony as out of concern at the state of the British Empire itself. Among British commentators, there had been talk of a federation of white settler nations since the 1880s, although this had run out of steam by the century's end amid accusations of impracticality. But as first the Boer War and then the First World War revealed the fragility of the British Empire's constitutional arrangements, the topic emerged once more. After the Boer War ended, many of the new federationists began to think through the future of the South African colonies and of Africa in general. The high commissioner, Sir Alfred Milner, mapped out the future of Southern Africa in terms of a kind of manifest destiny, seeking to establish "a great and progressive community, one from Cape Town to the Zambezi." The clever young men in his entourage-his so-called "Kindergarten"-were ardent Hegelians from Oxford with confidence in the power of the state to create this new political entity; they prioritized white union-healing divisions between Afrikaners and English-speakers in particular-while urging a tougher line towards non-Europeans. Thus the language of the civilizing mission now acquired an unmistakably racial coloration. "The fact is," wrote Lionel Curtis in 1907, one of Milner's most influential young followers, "we have all been moving steadily from the Cape idea of mixing up white, brown and black and developing the different grades of culture strictly on the lines of European civilization, to the very opposite conception of encouraging as far as possible the black man to separate from the white and to develop a civilization, as he is beginning to do in Basutoland, on his own lines." Milner himself spoke of "race patriotism," and regarded "blood" as the glue binding the empire together. One sees in such words, to be sure, the abandonment of belief in assimilation and a more sharply racialized politics; the more important point is that this new racialization of colonial rule formed a key element in the imperial internationalism that was emerging at this time. Unconcerned with the rights of native Africans, Whitehall was deeply anxious about the political claims of its white settler colonies and their sense of nationalism, which it recognized in 1907 when it granted self-governing Dominion status to them. Three years later, the Union of South Africa was formed, a manifestation of the new federal spirit, and Jan Smuts emerged as a leading proponent of a unified South African nationalism.
As he struggled to overcome the trauma of the Boer War and create a new national consciousness back home, Smuts naturally aligned himself with those who promoted internationalism because they were nationalists. Nationalism was a real force in the world, and-in his view-a good one in the African context where it brought whites together and promoted their civilizing mission in the Dark Continent. The question was how to make it peaceful, to prevent it leading to instability, war, or what he called "imperialism"-in other words, unregulated landgrabs at the expense of the reasonable claims of other European powers. One answer was to look to the idea of a commonwealth of nations.
Some of Milner's more idealistic and unrealistic disciples took their belief in a strong state to the point of advocating an imperial government-and later a strong world government too. But Smuts's viewpoint was more sensitive to national loyalties and ultimately more influential. He too identified wholly with the idea of British leadership. But he insisted on the need to recognize the empire's member-nations; this was why, during the First World War, he demanded that the autonomy of the Dominions be explicitly recognized. Hoping to unify imperial defense and to get colonial politicians to shoulder more of the burden, Whitehall had been moving in that direction before the war-at the 1907 Imperial Conference it had ceased referring to Canada and Australia as colonies and the term dominions was also extended to New Zealand and to South Africa in 1910. The Dominion viewpoint was a special one: increasingly racist, settler politicians well understood the need to band together. Suspicious of Whitehall though they were, the Dominion politician did not feel confident going it alone. Australia and New Zealand could not, unaided, withstand the "Yellow Peril" of Asian immigration, for instance.
As for the new Union of South Africa, the greatest threat to the European mission in its Milnerite incarnation-to civilize the region-was not black nationalism but dissension among whites. The Boer War had shown the danger, and the outbreak of war in Europe in 1914 reopened the old wound: the English supported the government's decision to enter the war on the British side; most Afrikaners did not. Smuts managed to keep the country together, but only by presenting the war as being fought in the name of a higher ideal-not just the old alliances or power politics but a moral struggle to create a better world, a world embodying and preserving the ascendancy of European civilization. For Smuts, the Great War showed just how easily the old alliance politics inside Europe could disrupt Europe's civilizing task outside it. After the war, some new form of international arrangement would have to be reached.
Smuts exploited the war and the formation of an Imperial War Conference to transform constitutional relations between the Dominions and London, boosting the power of the former within an essentially informal organizational framework. But the emergent British Commonwealth of Nations, in Smuts's view-even more than in that of the Australians, Canadians, or New Zealanders, and much more than for most in England itself-would need a still wider League of Nations to keep it together. Smuts believed it was essential to make the British realize their empire would be better off, not worse, with a postwar international body to supervise world order and to cement the alliance between Britain and the United States, which would be so necessary to provide leadership. (Twenty years later, he still believed this, arguing that Commonwealth states would back Britain if they were fellow-members of a common world organization but not if they were simply asked to defend the old balance of power.) But the world would be better off too. In 1917, he argued passionately that military victory must be followed by "moral victory" if "military Imperialism" was to be permanently destroyed-an imperialism "which has drifted from the past like a monstrous iceberg into our modern life." Force had to be replaced by international cooperation in order to keep the peace, and so Smuts argued, this transition from force to cooperation could already be seen happening in "the British Empire, which I prefer to call (from its principal constituent state) the British Commonwealth of Nations." He went on to describe the Commonwealth as a kind of blueprint for something even vaster:
the elements of the future World Government, which will no longer rest on the Imperial ideas adopted from Roman law, are already in operation in our Commonwealth of Nations.... As the Roman ideas guided European civilisation for almost two thousand years, so the newer ideas embedded in the British constitutional and Colonial system may, when carried to their full development, guide the future civilisation for ages to come.
He hailed the British Empire as "the only successful experiment in international government" and called for it to be extended on a world scale. What he meant by this became clearer in 1921 when he joyfully greeted the Irish settlement and the emergence of an independent Republic of Ireland as another Dominion of the empire: "The old British Empire has once more proved its wonderful power of combining, as it does, the complete freedom and independence of each state with close association in a worldwide group of free states. It satisfies both the sentiment of nationality and the tendency towards international cooperation which are the two most powerful forces of our time." In a similar vein, Smuts made it clear what the real virtue of the British Commonwealth of Nations was: it did not stand for standardization or denationalization, but "for the fuller, richer and more various life of all the nations that are composed in it." It was, in short, the "only embryo league of nations." In this mighty struggle between reaction and advance, between virtuous empire and vicious imperialism, the Germans were the arch-enemies. Smuts had initially hoped that the Habsburgs might free themselves from the grip of their German allies and conjure up a similarly beneficial commonwealth of national states in Eastern Europe but their rigidity had prevented this from happening. The British, on the other hand, had ensured their rightful predominance by showing that they could turn themselves from an empire into a league of free nations.
Excerpted from No Enchanted Palace by Mark Mazower Copyright © 2009 by Mark Mazower. Excerpted by permission.
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