Colin Woodard: Review of Mark Mazower's "Governing the World: A History of an Idea"

Roundup: Books

Colin Woodard is the author of four books, including “American Nations: A History of the Eleven Rival Regional Cultures of North America.”

Every few generations, some overly ambitious member of our species tries to rule the world. Philip of Macedonia, Genghis Khan and the Roman Caesars all gave it a go, of course. Generations of Protestant Europeans came to believe that Spanish King Philip III had entered the Thirty Years War with the aim of creating a Universal Kingdom to hasten Judgment Day. Given the scale of destruction unleashed by that early-17th-century conflict, it’s not surprising that efforts to create a genuine world government have polled poorly ever since.

Napoleon Bonaparte ran into these headwinds when he tried to unite and standardize the European continent under his rule. As he retreated from Moscow in 1812, huddled in his carriage with his army collapsing around him, he asked his foreign minister why Europe’s rulers had resisted him so. “It is your majesty they fear,” the minister told him. “The governments are afraid of a universal monarchy.”...

In his new book, “Governing the World,” Columbia University historian Mark Mazower explores the tensions between humanitarian ideals and great-power realpolitik in the two centuries since Napoleon’s defeat, showing how they have alternately advanced and confounded efforts to forge a better — or at least more stable — world. He shows that international institutions have been only as effective as the great powers of the age have allowed them to be, and he provides ample food for thought for those concerned about managing our increasingly globalized world....

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