In the global history of human rights in the twentieth century, decolonization is one of the most interesting fields to study. The independence of practically all of Africa’s and Asia’s nations, gained in the almost miraculously short span of the two decades after the Second World War, was one of the most dramatic processes of political emancipation in world history.
As Mazower would himself likely concede, there is in a sense nothing new in his case against the global governance project; one of the themes of Governing the World is that while the technology may change (airplanes one day, drones the next), some of the basic issues at stake in arguments about international law really do not change much from one era to another
Less well-known, at least until Governing the World, however, is the extent to which this human rights revolution also wreaked havoc on the intellectual coherence of American internationalists traditionally thought of as liberals.
Yet more than lead the charge for a reform of the world monetary system and the global economy, with all it entailed, the United States in the mid- to late 1970s also found a way to discredit much of the Third World’s anti-American, anti-Western discourse by creating new counter-discourses and institutions that bypassed the General Assembly.
Yet as Mazower has emphasized in his earlier 2009 No Enchanted Palace, this was not our UN. Many of the men who played a crucial role in the formation of the organization, from Roosevelt to Churchill to Jan Smuts to Alfred Zimmern (not to mention Stalin) were keenly attuned to the realities of Great Power politics.
Prognoses of American decline were already in vogue prior to the attacks on the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi, but ever since the wave of such terrorist attacks and protests across the Muslim World in early September, the Obama Administration has seemed rudderless in articulating what it wants, not just in its relations with Muslim-majority countries, but in terms of international order more broadly. Administration advocates for the Libyan adventure like Samantha Power have been nowhere to be heard from in some time.
Watch here in the coming days for Timothy Nunan's review of Mark Mazower, Governing the World: The History of an Idea (New York, 2012). The review will appear on this blog in five installments, which we look forward to bringing you.
Our new issue is a dossier on social rights in the twentieth century, beautifully curated by Małgorzata Mazurek, Paul Betts, Andreas Eckert, Stefan-Ludwig Hoffmann, and Sandrine Kott. Start by reading the preface by Mazurek and Betts, and don't miss Fred Cooper's concluding reflections on the essays.
The 1970s are remembered in the Global North as a time of stagflation, malaise, and political drift. But from the point of view of much of the Global South, this same epoch was a time of unprecedented economic prosperity and political ambition. Particularly for primary producers in the wake of the OPEC oil price hikes, the 1970s were a time of unparalleled hopes for a rebalancing of global power relations and institutional authority. One manifestation of the new global mood was a profound shift in the understanding of global responsibilities for achieving development in the South.
Ayça Çubukçu: Considering the impressive common ground shared by what you differentiate as liberal and antiliberal ideologies of empire, why would it be incorrect to interpret what you name an anti-liberal ideology of empire as an articulation internal to liberal imperialism? What are your criteria for distinguishing between liberal and antiliberal ideologies of empire on the one hand, and “techniques” and “ideologies” of imperial practice, on the other?