In May 1939 members of the Rockefeller Foundation’s European staff were keen to continue discussions started the year before at what became known as the Colloque Walter Lippmann. These were part of a larger agenda to confront world problems and tie Clarence Streit's influential book Union Now into a wide ranging “Program for the Revival or Renovation of Liberalism.” They assumed the congress, supported by the foundation’s Paris office, would comprise thinkers from around the continent. However, like many similar programs around Europe that Americans watched and sometimes participated in, it plowed straight into the unforgiving events of the day to be dashed by the outbreak of war.1 Of course, that does not mean issues around liberalism and the related topic of Federalism were not discussed in a transatlantic context. Or Rosenboim focuses on a set of British and American thinkers from 1939 to 1950. The period was a solvent to existing structures as solid assumptions melted into air. Basic questions regarding the state, democracy, economics, public welfare, and security were thrown open and reframed with discussions that remain current today. These took on a global hue. The real shift, however, was an understanding of how global connections and interactions were part and parcel of understanding and defining the new political space that emerged in a period of crisis. Rosenboim’s cast of characters is familiar, as Lewis Mumford, F. A. Hayek, Owen Lattimore, and Lionel Curtis populate the pages. Many were parties to the decade’s vogue for Federal Union, a concept that forms a substructure of the book. That such a popular and important movement and subject of debate gets its due is a strength. In many respects the book is about how the concept of Federalism and those clustered around it grappled with the increasingly global resonance of the issues that animated their movement. Rosenboim shows that debates went beyond narrowly construed calls for “Union Now,” encompassing basic questions surrounding the state, economy, democracy, security, and human welfare. One example is her resuscitation of the lively debate between the neoliberal patron saint Fredrick Hayek and Barbara Wooton. Taking on the Austrian, Wooton argued in a Federalist context that planning could not only work but also deliver the improved social welfare and rising standard of living that elites saw as indispensible political promises to populations disabused by depression and war (142–65). This recaptures elements of a discussion that many have treated as closed over the past few decades. What is more, these debates steered concepts like democracy and social welfare into issues that were pressing worldwide. Crucially, these were not seen as projected through imperial structures but as part of the norms of an increasingly interconnected globe. Rosenboim, however, often concludes chapters by noting how little her protagonists appreciated non-Western views or situations. With a few exceptions, these figures, rather than being fundamentally global in orientation, were mostly discussing the West rather than the rest. The story is less about an encompassing global view reshaping perceptions of political space than about the moments these figures nodded toward the global. The author also makes a point of noting the non-linear nature of the discourse. This is a useful approach for reconstructing a particular set of views but the reader can be left wondering precisely when and why a position was articulated. As presented these debates may appear disconnected from a tumultuous decade where basic political assumptions had to be reworked constantly. The danger of this non-linear approach is that the tracks these discussions journeyed were decisively linked to unfolding events. Even Rosenboim’s own focus on British and American thinkers is a product of a specific turn in a world war, even if many of the debates in the book have quite long genealogies. While the ideas of the storied Colloque Walter Lippmann would eventually trickle down from Mont Pèlerin, the role of continental thinkers and French intellectuals of any stripe was changed forever by shattering defeat in 1940. Of the many tectonic events that radically reshaped global space in that decade—be it political, geostrategic, or even cultural—few loom as large as the Fall of France.2 Not only did it assure that Rockefeller could not conduct a “renovation” of liberalism in a continental context but it energized American and British and imperial figures to restate and rethink their visions of world order. An Australian observer in London in October 1940 saw the profound shift that “until June many people believed that the keystone of postwar reconstruction would be Anglo-French collaboration … The collapse of France … [has] settled this issue … The post-war world will be shaped by either Nazi Germany or … the British Empire and U.S.A.”3 Abruptly, a great many continental centers that were already jabbering about a postwar world went silent. If they reentered the debate post-war it was on very different terms. It is arguable that Rosenboim’s focus on Anglo-American thinkers is itself a product of the strategic disaster of 1940. Those participants who were not American or British were often displaced persons who had fled political spaces that did not let them speak. As the Cold War jelled into a political reality that was both unprecedented and fraught with dangers, the question of who could speak where remained an issue. Events of that decade shaped not just how people could act, but who. What is more, through the war and in the unsteady years afterward a great many assumptions and existing political formulas were rendered moot by ongoing global renovation. Could any of these Anglo-American figures have guessed how rapidly India would be granted independence in 1939? While discourse can be non-linear, exogenous forces shape the terms, temper, and even the terrain on which ideas will be expressed. This hampers the book as it explains the concepts at play in the period. When discussing the impact of science and technology on global concepts the author centers her discussion on the sudden appearance of the atomic bomb in political calculations. It was a sobering moment of departure for many and another grim reminder of how science and technology could rewrite the rules of the global during the war years. The author rightly draws out how various figures wrestled with this quantum jump in humanity’s capacity for destruction (209–40). At the same time, other forces had been hard at work editing concepts of global space and time. Aircraft, the radio, and the demands of total war shifted assumptions about the tone of world interaction. The impact of these new forces reified liberal assumptions that assumed the growing interconnection and interdependence of the modern world. Rosenboim’s subjects are liberal thinkers. With this locus of inquiry it is understandable that the actions of communist or right-wing figures get little play in the book. Still, for Rosenboim the category of public intellectuals is rather indistinct. Why some voices are included and not others is unclear. Debate over global issues was extensive as it was intensive in the period. It was not even the exclusive province of public intellectuals, as public and civic engagement on the “postwar” was remarkable. What is noticeable is that some vital liberal intellects are missing. Should a figure like Ralph Bunche be seen as one of the globalists? A social scientist who, in the 1930s and 1940s, pumped radical critiques of a foundational element of the global system, that is race and racism, into public debate. It was no surprise that Bunche became deeply concerned by the rise of Nazism, fearing its success would enflame other regimes of white supremacy around the world. It left him with the rather lukewarm option of supporting the liberal West because the other options were worse.4 Bunche was then drawn into the war effort, perhaps precluding a “public” posture, with the Office of Strategic Services and State Department. After the war he took a prominent role at the UN dealing with the rearrangement of global space that came with the end of war and the breakup of empire. He won a Nobel Prize for his part in negotiating a peace to the 1948 Arab-Israeli War. Throughout, he like others getting through the 1940s understood the global impact of drastic political change even if it was mediated through national, organizational, imperial, and racial lenses. Undoubtedly, Rosenboim has added to the literature by showing that Federalism and the debates that surrounded it were deeply invested in the big questions of their day. She does show that even if these debates were not comprehensively global in their content, they did show how the intersection of crucial issues around Federalism extended some concepts into worldwide use. Footnotes 1 Tracy B. Kittredge, “Program for the Revival or Renovation of Liberalism,” May 11, 1939, RG 2, box 163, Rockefeller Archive Center, North Tarrytown, New York; Clarence K. Streit, Union Now: A Proposal for a Federal Union of the Leading Democracies of the North Atlantic (New York, 1939); Philip Mirowski and Dieter Plehwe, eds., The Road from Mont Pèlerin: The Making of the Neoliberal Thought Collective (Cambridge, MA, 2009). 2 David Reynolds, “1940: Fulcrum of the Twentieth Century” International Affairs 66, no. 2 (April 1990): 325–50; Marvin R. Zahniser, “Rethinking the Significance of Disaster: The United States and the Fall of France in 1940,” International History Review 14, no. 2 (May 1992): 252–76. 3 Frank McDougall, “Notes on the Re-statement of our Aims,” October 22, 1940, Papers of Frank Lidgett McDougall, box 4, MS 6890 4/6, Manuscript Section, National Library of Australia, Canberra, Australia. 4 Brian Urquhart, Ralph Bunche: An American Odyssey (New York, 1993), 92–100; Ralph J. Bunche, A World View of Race (Washington, DC, 1936). Bunche also played a leading role in the massive study of race in the United States that appeared as Gunnar Myrdal, An American Dilemma: The Negro Problem and Modern Democracy (New York, 1944). © The Author 2017. Published by Oxford University Press on behalf of the Society for Historians of American Foreign Relations. All rights reserved. For permissions, please e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Diplomatic History – Oxford University Press
Published: Apr 1, 2018
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