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17 of 17 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars 'The institutions of governance stand in urgent need of renovation'
'Somewhere between world government and no government', writes Mark Mazower, 'lies a vision of organised cooperation among nations'. He goes on to credit such a vision with the inspiration of the United Nations, the EU, and other multilateral organisations. They all have in common, he asserts, the vision of a better future for mankind, one that promises our collective...
Published on 7 Dec. 2012 by Lost John

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0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Not my usual cup of tea....
...but it was certainly full of interesting tidbits. It would appear that far more goes on behind the scenes than most people would imagine, and that almost all international politics is about preservation of national power. Even those organizations devoted to advancing mankind (UN being the best example) have been designed or subverted into the instruments of big-power...
Published 17 months ago by M. Smith


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17 of 17 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars 'The institutions of governance stand in urgent need of renovation', 7 Dec. 2012
By 
Lost John (Devon, England) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Governing the World: The History of an Idea (Allen Lane History) (Hardcover)
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'Somewhere between world government and no government', writes Mark Mazower, 'lies a vision of organised cooperation among nations'. He goes on to credit such a vision with the inspiration of the United Nations, the EU, and other multilateral organisations. They all have in common, he asserts, the vision of a better future for mankind, one that promises our collective emancipation.

The declared aim of his book is to explore the historical evolution of such institutions, to show how some of them have shaped realities, and to ask what is left of them today. Thus he embarks on a journey that begins with the Concert of Europe, set up following the 1815 defeat of Napoleon; continues to the League of Nations, established after the First World War; The United Nations, whose genesis began even whilst the Second World War was still being fought; the European Union, begun modestly in 1956 but even then with the definite aim of making war between its founder members unthinkable; and concludes with a discussion of some of the financial, global warming and other problems with which we wrestle today that seem not to be susceptible to effective solution by the international institutions as they are at present constituted.

Mark Mazower is a historian, but his book also has a lot of content relevant to readers whose primary interest is in politics, even economics. In fact, some prior knowledge in all those areas is almost a pre-requisite to reading the book. A huge range of historical figures and events is referred to, usually with half a line of biographical or other information about the more obscure attached, but, if the great majority are entirely new to you, you are likely to find the book hard going.

That being said, for me, an economist with a lifelong interest in European and American history and politics, the book is a major treat.

In essence, it's an extended essay; a romp that takes in two Russian Tsars, Metternich, Woodrow Wilson, Lenin, Stalin, Franklin Roosevelt, Churchill, Daniel Patrick Moynihan, Kissinger, and a great many more. The United Nations and its agencies (WHO, ILO, IMF, World Bank, WTO, etc., etc.) take up around half the book. Mazower is not impressed by the showboating that passes for the annual September General Assembly, but has great respect for the work of many of the agencies other than the last three named above. Interestingly, he is cautious of philanthropic foundations such as that of Bill and Melinda Gates that target their own agendas, with little or no reference to established UN agencies already working in the same areas. Pleased as many of us are to see some of the money we pay for Microsoft products (or of which George Soros in 1992 relieved the British Government) go to good causes, Mazower's critique of the philanthropists' activities is worth reading.

By contrast, Mazower is very appreciative of the support that both John D and David Rockefeller have given the UN.

He ends on a note of sadness that the WTO's Doha Round is 'paralysed', the World Bank 'chastened', the IMF 'incapable of helping to rectify the global imbalances that threaten the world economy', and no single agency able to coordinate the response to global warming. No doubt disappointingly for many, he offers no quick fix for the various messes into which we have got ourselves. Instead, he soberly concludes that 'the institutions of governance stand in urgent need of renovation'. Having got that far with him, you are likely to agree, and to be uncomfortably aware of the importance of the word 'urgent' in that sentence.

The book has a detailed index and many notes.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A history of two centuries and a look into the future, 1 May 2013
By 
Andy_atGC (London UK) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Governing the World: The History of an Idea (Allen Lane History) (Hardcover)
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The author is using the period from 1815 to analyse the growth of Internationalism, commencing from the unification of several European countries from small princedoms and dukedoms into monarchies of which several had collapsed in the between-War years and much later the re-assembly into larger units and the current belief that changes are ahead.

The ideas, initially simple, became complex with the breakdown of several European empires, principally Austro-Hungary, Ottoman, and the French and British more recently, as well as the creation of two Eastern European states, Czechoslavakia and Jugoslavia, where differences in religion and language and where long-standing distrust of other groups was smoothed over in the hope that all would be well. That both worked for some time but eventually collapsed causing the recreation of older and smaller states was a surprise to few, despite one being relatively peaceful and the other involved in multi-level friction and states of undeclared war. The eventual collapse of the Soviet bloc and the recreation of long-forgotten national borders and identiies is another consequence.

In the most part post-WW2 associations, trading and semi-political blocs between many countries in the form of NATO, Benelux and the EEC, British Commonwealth etc and financial institutions such as the World Bank allowed their participants to enjoy the benefits of mutual support and inter-trading at preferential rates were/are typical benefits but some distrust and doubt remains. However, those organisations are also being slowly eroded from within and by external issues and new institutions may yet arise that attempt to rectify the errors of the past and present.

Taking many examples from history, the author's research has allowed him to create a complex analysis across time and against different economic and political attitudes of the different eras. The author has also written extensively in his previous books on several aspects of European history, principally post-WW2, and where those earlier books may in part contribute to this. His understanding of primarily European issues, at least those in the earlier years of the 200-year span, undoubtedly aided his ability to write this book.

A book which may form an important part of future curricula.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Fascinating, 10 Jun. 2013
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S. Pawley - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Governing the World: The History of an Idea (Allen Lane History) (Hardcover)
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Mark Mazower's study of the history of international institutions is a fascinating examination of how individuals and governments have grappled with the problems of international co-operation over the last two centuries. The book's great strength is that it draws out the complexities of the story in a readable and accessible way. The chief insight I drew from the book is that internationalism has always been an unsteady mixture of abstract concepts and concrete institutions, of grand ambitions and mundane practicalities, and - above all - of single-minded idealism and pragmatic compromise. The book does assume some basic familiarity with the international history of the last two centuries, but most people likely to read it will already have that knowledge. That granted, it deals adroitly with a large and multifarious cast of thinkers, statesmen and organizations to craft an illuminating narrative of how global institutions came to be as they are today.

As Mazower emphasizes in his conclusion, much of what the book describes has now passed - not only does the post-1945 international order look increasingly irrelevant in a post- Cold War world, but it is beset by forces it cannot hope to control (like global finance), while the Western dominance on which it was founded is beginning to appear untenable. For all that, global problems are as pressing as ever (global warming, nuclear weapons, finance...). Any hope of confronting them depends on solving many of the same intricate problems that have bedevilled and complicated international co-operation for decades; I would advise anyone seeking to understand those problems to start here.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars International Governance, 8 April 2013
By 
Susman "Sussman" (London Mills IL) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Governing the World: The History of an Idea (Allen Lane History) (Hardcover)
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This is weighty History of `international governance', the vast majority of this work is dedicated to the origins of the League of Nations to creation of the United Nations and its various associated agencies. From Mr Mazower's work we see that the League of Nations was born of from the essential need to maintain peace in Europe, and the rest of the world. This would be done at an intergovernmental level, to preserve collective security, through dispute management and the will of Nations to aim for disarmament. There were other considerations as well such drug trafficking. However, without the help of the Great Powers, it could do little in its ability to enforce its own resolutions; hence by 1930s The League could do little in the face of Axis aggression and the Second World War.

So came into being the United Nations which was created to replace the imperfect League of Nations in 1945 in order to preserve worldwide peace and promote cooperation. The author shows that there were early detractors; he outlines the complexities of the organization and its various `organelles'.

There is much detail here, and in a way this can be the problem in reading this thorough and times awkwardly structured book. The last few chapters, in this volume, is where the Author somehow tries to formulate critique of whether any progress was made beyond the guiding principles of the United Nations and this the part that is the real `meat' of the matter - for me it was too brief, however, weighing up the whole book how it tackles complex events and outlines a very significant history, and for me this book is worthy of a good four stars.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Authoritative work, 13 Dec. 2013
By 
Dr. Paul Ell (NI, UK) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Governing the World: The History of an Idea (Allen Lane History) (Hardcover)
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This scholarly book cast against two hundred years of history, written by a well established historian is comprehensive. It's rich in ideas but I found that it writ was so broad, and the writing style so dry, that it was difficult to engage with the text to a great degree. It requires an existing rather good knowledge of history post 1815. Many will have this but not for the whole of Europe or the world. As a text book associated with a European History course it works well. Read in isolation I think too many nuances expressed by the author will simply be lost by the reader. For the lay reader read at the same time as a primer in European political history!
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5.0 out of 5 stars Fascinating review of an idea, 6 Jan. 2014
This review is from: Governing the World: The History of an Idea (Allen Lane History) (Hardcover)
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Mazower's 'Governing the World' starts at around 1815 with the Concert of Europe and explores how the idea of internationalism was spread, its benefits, failures and contradictions.

The Concert of Europe, for example, was very much about keeping peace in Europe, but it was also a conservative body. Similarly, the European Union was created for the purpose of preventing any future war in Europe in the aftermath of the destruction of so much of Europe in WWII. Even with the conservatism of the Concert there were high ideals and this was also very much the case in later bodies. But here lies the problem. The likes of Britain and other European nations would tout their liberal ideas and how they promoted individual rights. Or, advocates of free trade argued this would lead to a peaceful and prosperous world made up of strong nation states, tied in mutual interest. The truth was far from this, however. For starters, it wasn't until after WWI in Britain that most men or any women could expect to vote and the industrial revolution often caused as many problems as it solved. But, more heinously, while the vision was (and continues to be) peace in Europe, this really didn't extend to the rest of the world. The post-1882 dash to colonise every inch of land in Asia and Africa surely further evidence.

Mazower's book is clear headed about this hypocrisy, I think. He also points to the recent failure of world bodies to coordinate on issues which require cooperation (I think this may be again because so many international institutions are simply fronts for western interests).

I highly recommend this, a fascinating read on a big subject.
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4.0 out of 5 stars If I Ruled The World (Nothing Would Change), 20 Dec. 2013
By 
Neutral "Phil" (UK) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Governing the World: The History of an Idea (Allen Lane History) (Hardcover)
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There's irony in the fact that at the time Jeremy Bentham invented the word 'international' individual countries committed themselves to nationalistic aims which led to the demise of the Concert of Europe otherwise known as the balance of power. This balance of power was established to counteract the influence of France which had conducted an aggressive foreign policy under Napoleon. The Great Powers of the day - Austria, Russia, Britain and Prussia - were determined to ensure the post-Napoleonic era represented conservative values and emphasised this when France, under the restored monarchy, was accepted as a member. The idea was to constrain a revolutionary superpower and bind it into the rules of the international game. These rules included prioritising order over equality and stability over justice. One outcome of this was the development of the idea that the Concert had the right to intervene in the affairs of other countries if those countries were susceptible to revolutionary ideas or action. It was not a view shared by the British.

In 1823 France, backed by Austria and Russia, drove the revolutionary government out of Madrid and replaced it with an absolute monarchy in accordance with the aims of the Holy Alliance. The idea of exporting counter-revolution across the Atlantic induced American President, James Monroe, to declare the Monroe Doctrine warning European countries against intervention in the Americas. For European diplomats 'society' was a society of states not the scene of class war or the clash of economic and cultural interests. In preserving that idea the Concert increasingly found itself at odds with the spread of democratic sentiment. The revolutions of 1848 were the beginning of the end for Concert members who found themselves at fighting each other during the Crimean War of 1853-56. The unification of Italy and Germany, followed by the Balkan Wars of 1912-13, were evidence the old order had broken down.

Enlightenment philosophers such as Kant wrote in support of republics rather than democracy. Bentham argued unrealistically for the greatest happiness of the greatest number as a means of combining the two competing ideas. The idea was Utopian inasmuch as it ignored the actual behaviour of human beings who, when establishing new societies, failed to dispense with argument and dissension. Novelists such as H G Wells emphasised the role of science in creating 'a new system of ideas' which would enable mankind 'to throw off the shackles of received thinking and the shibboleths of the past' by creating a new religion of brotherhood. Free trade and peace went together, although the Irish may have seen things differently. When the Crimean war broke out Cobden advised 'rational and progressive' people to lie low while public opinion was in full flow in support of war. Similarly, nothing could stop the land grab in Africa and Asian after 1882 which exposed Free Trade's pretensions.

Giuseppe Mazzini embodied the cause of nationalism against the Concert System. He considered there was a higher obligation than obedience to kings and sovereigns. He was critical of the role accorded to reason and individual rights and argued in favour of fighting collectively for the Nation. The problem was that each nation fighting for its own self often conflicted with other nations doing the same. Marx proposed an internationalism based on his theory of class, condemning those who rejected his theory as Utopian. While internationalism became identified with communism in the twentieth century, fraternity was confined to the ideologically committed many of whom died as a result of failing to understand human nature in which 'power tends to corrupt and absolute power tends to corrupt absolutely'. Marxist internationalism was eclipsed by Bakunin's anarchism and the Social Darwinism of Spencer, although all three appeared to be spent forces by the time of the outbreak of the First World War.

Internationalism represented progressive ideas of the evolution of human society which were essentially based on the concept of the inevitability of progress. Hence Wilson committed to the idea that when the First World War was ended it would not be followed by vindictive action of any kind. In theoretical terms he was right but he failed to allow for the irrational nationalism of the various nations, especially France, to exact revenge on their enemies. Smuts characterised the war as a league of democracies against the autocracies of Germany and Austria-Hungary. The League of Nations was doomed to failure from the start, its powers were divided amongst the Great Powers, its executive was weak and it lacked the presence of the United States. In brief it was based on political foundations rather than legal ones. It was a collection, rather than a family, of nations. Liberal Internationalism was significantly different from Communist Internationalism. The former represented the domination of Britain, France and the United States, while the latter was governed by Moscow through the Comintern.

The League of Nations ended in April 1946 when it was succeeded by the United Nations. The latter retained the tripartite separation of powers between legislature, executive and governing council. The Big Three - Britain, the Soviet Union and the United States - were all committed to the organisation, although they quickly fell out over its role in international affairs, as each followed its own perceived interests leading to conflicts in Europe and Asia. Confrontation replaced the cooperation during the war against Nazi Germany. Once cooperation had ended universal principles of peace faltered in the face of national pride. As Kofi Annan discovered acting as peace maker in quarrels which have their origins centuries ago is an exercise in futility. Former colonial countries, in particular, sought to characterise Europe as a friend of American imperialism in face of American real politique. However, there is a difference between imperialism and incompetence. Mazower argues the future 'has been privatised, monetised and turned into a source of profit'. Nonetheless, the conflict between elected and electors is based on political failure not economic success and will adjust itself. Four stars.
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5.0 out of 5 stars More important now than ever, 9 May 2013
By 
Andrew Dalby "ardalby" (oxford) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Governing the World: The History of an Idea (Allen Lane History) (Hardcover)
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In Governing the World Mark Mazower documents the history of the idea of having a world government, starting with the Congress System set-up by the great powers after the defeat of Napoleon and meant to secure peace in Europe right up to the modern system of the liberal institutions established by the second world war, the UN, the World Bank and the IMF.

Mazower has an easy going style and he does not try to blind the reader with abstractions. This is clear presentation of how International Organisations have developed and the motivations for the powers that set them up. Mazower takes a well rounded and impartial view that shows that the systems were not created for high ideals but for practical reasons that suited the most powerful nations at the time. The Congress System was set-up by the old empires to protect their interests in Europe and to stop Continental wars but this system broke down as the Empires clashed over Africa and at home. Mazower links these changes with the social changes of the 19th century and the three new ideas to come from it. The first was that there should be a world government of nation state Republics - this idea would later be taken up by Woodrow Wilson at Versailles. The second was that the workers of the world would unite to form a world government that did not depend on a unity of nationality, but on a unity of class - this would lead to the revolution in Russia. The third was that there should be world governance through trade and in particular the freedom to trade through the free movement of capital - this would lead to our modern capitalist states and organisations such as the WTO.

These three strands have all had their ups and downs and Mazower is fairly kind to the League of Nations compared to many other authors - pointing out that while its legislative body was weak many of its bureaucratic and trade related functions have developed into organisations we can recognise today. Often these are associated with its replacement the United Nations with its organisations for development and Education UNESCO and UNICEF are examples of where there have been long-standing International efforts. Finally Mazower brings us to more recent history and the feeling particularly in the US that these organisations and it fact the whole idea of world governance is some sort of threat to individual freedoms. In the UK this is anti-EU feeling and Brussels regulates everything. The war in Iraq cracked the International agreements and brought these feelings into the open and in the final chapters Mazower looks at the current state of world governance after the war.

This is a very useful history in reminding us of both the high minded optimism and the cynical exploitative driving forces that have set up these systems of world governance. They have always been two tiered with the great powers dictating to the rest of the world what they should do, while they have little say. They have not been perfect and they have allowed two world wars but this history shows that progress has been made and that maybe world governance was not/is not such a bad thing, although it certainly was never the perfect thing the Utopians imagined.
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4.0 out of 5 stars A good if at times heavy read, 31 Dec. 2013
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Birmingham Book Reader (United Kingdom) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Governing the World: The History of an Idea (Allen Lane History) (Hardcover)
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Mr Mark Mazower's weighty 490+ page book "Governing the World: The History of an Idea" is a well thought out almost history of the world from 1815 to the present day. We travel from the Napoleonic wars but to Iraq so on.

This is an history of the world's international political structures. I must admit to rushing ahead to the start of the League of Nations after World War 1 as this period of history is something that I enjoy. Then returning to 1815. What really caught my attention was the hope after every major conflict that it would be the last - so the major world powers - all Europe in 1815 - come together to try to forge something new - something that will stop war and so on only to fail sadly. This is a thought provoking book, that reminds us how history repeats it's self. That the United Nations was born out of the League of Nations.

What I had forgotten was that the WW11 "Allies" that defeated the "Axis" powers called themselves the United Nations. So that the UN was not just a post WW11 idea. Also that the Soviet Union wanted the UN to have it's own armed forces. Rather than "borrow" nation states forces.

I have really enjoyed this book. 4 stars for it does assume some back ground knowledge. A good read.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Mazower cracks it; the definitive book on the subject., 15 Aug. 2013
By 
Pompom (Devon) - See all my reviews
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Mazower has managed to deftly capture the internal contradictions and conflicting spirits of idealism and realpolitik inherent within the concept of international governance. This work is timely and prescient and will become an enduring reference on the subject. Well-written, well-argued and thoughtful, this proved to be an enjoyable and well-paced read - for such a topic, in scale and detail, I read it straight-through in 3 -4 sittings and have now gone back to it to spend more time reflecting on the historical landmarks, the personalities involved and the dilemmas and challenges which they faced, the decisions they made and the unintentional consequences thereafter. This book deserves to have a broader readership than solely for those who are interested in international relations.

This is a must-read for any history or politics student from college to post-graduate level and for anyone out there who at times wonders why the international landscape is as it is, with all its hopes, flaws, pyrrhic victories and catastrophic defeats.
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