The past decade has seen a renewal of interest in the international history of the 1920s. This interest is apparent in what might be called traditional state-centred studies of international politics. But it is also evident in the burgeoning scholarship on international and transnational movements and organizations, many of which were not (or not simply) state actors. The recent surge of work on the League of Nations offers a prominent example: once viewed as a failed inter-state security institution, the League is now portrayed as a dynamic, innovative, and multi-faceted experiment in international governance that drew into its orbit both state and non-state actors.
Tag: League of Nations
Brian Rathbun’s Trust in International Cooperation is one of the more important books in recent years written about American foreign policy and multilateral cooperation in world politics. While historians of American foreign policy will find much of interest in the empirical chapters on the origins of the League of Nations and NATO, Rathbun’s primary task is to challenge how International Relations [IR] theorists think about the origins of cooperation. In his view, “the way that most in the field go about explaining international cooperation and the creation of international organizations, as the rational and functional response to objective security environments marked by uncertainty, is almost always too narrow, often obvious, and sometimes exactly wrong” (xi). In contrast to rationalist approaches, which view the creation of multilateral institutions as necessary for the establishment of subsequent relations of trust among states, Rathbun argues that the causal relationship is exactly the opposite: “Trust rather than distrust leads states to create international institutions. It is a cause, not the effect, of international organizations” (5).
Mark Mazower’s Governing the World surveys the evolution of internationalism over the last two centuries. Mazower’s history provides a rich description of how the concept of internationalism has been contested, altered, and manipulated since the early nineteenth century. After reviewing some of the key points in Mazower’s historical narrative, my review makes two points. First, Governing the World could have benefited from a deeper engagement with theories in the field of international relations that seek to explain the rise and fall of institutionalized international cooperation. Second, Mazower’s arguments about the ways in which contemporary internationalism is eroding state sovereignty are underdeveloped, and, ultimately, unpersuasive.