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Format: Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
'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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on 27 March 2017
Good read.
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Format: Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
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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VINE VOICEon 10 February 2013
Format: Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
This is a lengthy trawl through the history of institutions and people, from the 19th century to the present, which have attempted to bring some sort of order - or 'peace' - to the world through 'internationalism'. From the Concert of Europe through to the United Nations disparate groups of people and organisations have attempted to impose order on the world, most notably the Western world, by envisaging a utopian ideal of co-operation between nations through external arbitration rather than resorting to war.

There have been many attempts at doing this and the time we live in has probably the highest number of so-called international bodies vying to govern the way nation states - seen as a very 19th century idea which still lingers resisting attempts to wrest power away from the governments and people who reside in them - interact with each other. Internationalism takes many forms from standardisation of weights and measures to global languages, like Esperanto - even globalisation was once seen as a utopian ideal which would bring peace and order to the world.

The book is very comprehensive in its attempt to bring together a narrative which shows the thread running through all of these organisations - most of them are built upon the bones of a preceding one - but sometimes fails to bring the people involved in these processes to the fore and you can sometimes get lost in a myriad of similar sounding names and acronyms. The conclusion is that the current organisations we live with will not be here forever but will, no doubt, be succeeded by similar ones with equally idealistic intentions which will ultimately fail ad infinitum.

Overall an interesting book which shows that politics mostly fails or gets bogged down because there are too many competing ideas and interests and that, slowly, the politicians are giving way to the bureaucrats.
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Format: Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
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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on 10 June 2013
Format: Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
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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on 16 January 2014
Format: Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
...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 politics. The reason nothing gets done at the UN is because that's what the big powers want - it maintains the status quo, and thus keeps them in charge.

Obviously the author provides plenty of info to back up these ideas, as this is a serious historical analysis. It is not light reading, but for anyone interested in international politics or the history of the Great Powers and Superpowers, this will be very stimulating.
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TOP 500 REVIEWERon 6 December 2012
Format: Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
Only half way through this fascinating insight into human history but I have this burning desire to articulate the story so far and urge you to seek out Mark Mazower's 'Governing the World. The History of an Idea.'

His narrative technique is to use the truth. What the reader may or may not perceive as 'development' can be discerned from events whether they are literary or physical. What is striking as I read through various signed agreements and declarations is just how dishonest the human race is. How present day concerns about dislocation and isolation are in fact nothing new. It is as though the individual human being has always been irrelevant.

The creation of the League of Nations plays a prominent role in his discourse. The existence of various peace movements and pacifism are much more important than mere wishy-washy resistance: often used to provide 'authority' to veiled imperialism/protectionism. Another new area for me was the invention of 'public opinion,' again absorbed and used by the very forces it sought to renounce.

Famous men also litter the fields of world governance. Richard Cobden is described as 'an English free-trade hero' but is clearly a leading player in Western ideologies. USA President Woodrow Wilson persists through the early twentieth century. Charles Darwin haunts them all.

In amongst all the factions and ideas the author skilfully puts us in a particular scene. For example when an American reporter manages to witness a meeting in Moscow, that same reporter describes the attire of Trotsky and how Lenin was so multilingual sat behind the red covered desk at the end of the room.

If I have one slight criticism it is the author's prose style often lacks the discipline of a seasoned writer. Sentences are often entangled in themselves but never so much as to be a hindrance to your continued reading. I am learning so much and am especially pleased that the writer is real and has the confidence to bring characters and ideas off the page with a pertinent adjective or remark. If you are a Manager who believes in control before the concerns of your staff then you may perhaps detect a bias in the book.

It is a book of empires and delusions. When the social instinct becomes insane. I could define an idea as a big idea if it becomes something to live for. Will the human being ever recover from the Second World War? It has not even begun to. Only an individual can promote clarity. Conformity Kills.


14 JANUARY. Finished reading this startling overview of human governance. I believe I now have a better appreciation of why macro politics behaves the way it does. Competing plans. Plans never from the overwhelming mass of average whom I like to refer to as Everybody. For a European reader (a fact or a fantastical statement?) I came very close to learning why the Euro sceptics in the UK exist. Powerful people who know their power is being undermined. Undermined by laws or bodies crossing State lines. The State is at the behest of special interest groups/lobbyists. Euro sceptics. And the individual who was so important during and after the Second World war, has become the Internet. Or nothing.

The author's insight into the rejection of a Keynesian response to the current financial turbulence, by European leaders in favour of welfare cuts and austerity for the poor, hit home particularly well in his concluding chapters. It really is a vital read. For every body.
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Format: Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
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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on 4 January 2013
Format: Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
Another book somewhat weightier in bulk than in content, but if you're not planning on reading Kant's Zum ewigen Frieden (Perpetual Peace) anytime soon (I'd never heard of it) this is as good a place as any to start. For *peace* - not 'governing' - is of course what it's all about, and while there are plenty of colouful characters here, peace, we are coming reluctantly to learn, is unattainable. 'Peace' maintained at the point of a gun was always a nonsense, and warfare, a luxury and a temptation in the good times, will become a necessity in the bitter years of scarcity, anomie and upheaval* that surely await us - or our children. Talking-shops are fine; when play ceases to resemble fighting I'll believe we're in with a chance. Up until then, all you really need for statecraft - or Realpolitik (for what statecraft isn't?) - is a copy of Aesop's Fables. Wait for the paperback's my advice; meanwhile, cultivate your garden, as advocated by Cobden on page 46, subscribe to Private Eye (increasing numbers are doing so) and keep your powder dry

* A world without (affordable) petrol is a world without plastic. A world without plastic is unimaginable
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