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The History of an Idea

by Mark Mazower

Pub Date: Sept. 17th, 2012
ISBN: 978-1-59420-349-7
Publisher: Penguin Press

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.