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Reviewed by:
  • Geopolitics and Globalization in the Twentieth Century
  • Michael Lang
Geopolitics and Globalization in the Twentieth Century. By Brian W. Blouet. London: Reaktion Books, 2001. 204 pp. $35.00 (hardcover).

Between the toppling of the BerlinWall and the popping of the info-tech bubble, "globalization" as a concept moved from business circles to the parlance of advertisers, journalists, social scientists, and university administrators. "Globalization" represented something new, and many of its academic promoters spoke unabashedly in epochal—indeed millennial—terms. Such presentist arguments met major resistance, however, from a set of historically minded works in various fields, including economics, anthropology, political science, and history itself. In the last few years, the globalization debate has shifted in large part to the problem of its history. Its defenders are now compelled to explain its historical emergence and delineate its periodization. The volume under review—part of the world history series Globalities, edited by Jeremy Black—presents a history of globalization from the perspective of political geography. It argues that globalization is a product of an Anglo-American maritime trading practice that seeks "the free flow of goods, capital, and ideas" (p. 7). Geopolitics is conversely defined as the territorial control of space, resources, and capacities. Twentieth-century history, according to the author, was grounded by the struggle between these competing systems of social organization.

The volume runs along two major tracks. The first is an intellectual history of geopolitical thought; the second, a history of great power competition with a focus on international resource economics. Blouet opens with the belle époche Darwinists of geographical space (Mahan, Mackinder, and Ratzel) and then turns to the worldwide competition for territory that, according to him, set the stage for World War I and dictated the aims of its participants. In the long run, the war secured a victory for geopolitical thought and practice over the alleged territorial openness of free trade. A chronology of the doomed twentieth [End Page 405] century follows, emphasizing the geopolitical causes, conditions, and results of World War II and the Cold War. The architects or would-be architects of various schemes for world order (Haushofer, Coudenhove-Kalergi, Lippmann,Welles, among others) are elaborated in their turn, though this track disappears with the partitioning of Germany. The book closes with "The Death of Geopolitics," a chapter describing the recent technological changes that have helped to create a trading, rather than warring, globe. But Blouet here echoes Soros: world finance is intrinsically unstable. The errors and violence of geopolitics, he warns, might still rise "from the deathbed" (p. 176).

The book offers an impressive marshalling of geopolitical history and serves as a useful overview of the resource difficulties faced by twentieth-century great powers. From this perspective, it also nicely details the historic antecedents and influences behind the European Union. The work is considerably less secure, however, in its conceptual framework. It presents little on the relationship between power and ideas, leaving the volume's two major tracks short of illuminating each other. Blouet thus misses the important ideational content of "globalization." He takes globalization discourse on its word without historicizing the theoretical commitments of the term itself. Most commonly, "globalization" has categorically separated states from markets. Blouet reiterates this abstraction by contrasting territorial state power from the open flows of international trade. But political power is inflected from a complex of sources within and across states. Likewise, and as world history is particularly adept at showing, markets are social constructions, built by diverse actors and understandings. Political decisions and market allocations emerge from an ongoing arbitration and appropriation of conditions, agents, and resources, and within these composites, each constantly implicates and reshapes the other. Like globalization discourse and the work of "international political economy" before it, this volume's categorical opposition of stasis and flow forces Blouet into untenable historical schematics. Britain and theUnited States become proponents of free trade who pursue geopolitical policies only when"forced"(p.36, emphasis mine). Confronted with antiliberal strategies, they "respond in kind" (p. 7, emphasis mine). The Indian textile producer of 1900, like the Bolivian coca farmer today, would surely describe things differently. Certainly the book is inattentive to perspectives outside Europe, but...