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  • Internationalism in the Age of Nationalism by Glenda Sluga
  • Katherine Sorrels (bio)
Glenda Sluga, Internationalism in the Age of Nationalism (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2013), ISBN 978-0-8122-4484-7, 224 pages.

The history of internationalism tends to be written apart from the history of nationalism, and little wonder, since the two ideas have often been conceived as opposites. Building on a growing literature challenging that dichotomy, Glenda Sluga has written a history of twentieth-century internationalism that ties it to the history of nationalism or, more accurately, recovers its entanglement therewith. She also recovers the scope and influence of internationalism in the twentieth century. Internationalism has, until very recently, received much less attention from historians than nationalism. In fact, internationalism has been dismissed as utopian (even when it was realist) and nationalism has been taken seriously (even when it was utopian). Sluga shows that while internationalists were often idealistic, they almost always understood their proposals as realist. Furthermore, at key points of crisis in the twentieth century the expectation that internationalism was about to overtake nationalism as the engine of modernity and progress was far more widely held than we remember. At five pivotal points—the belle epoch, the 1920s, during and immediately after WWII, during the 1970s, and during the 1990s—internationalist proposals were often understood as sober, realist, and pragmatic.

This should not be terribly surprising, she argues, given that internationalism was rooted in the same modernization framework that informed nationalism theory. This framework, moreover, came with baggage—twentieth century internationalism was suffused with the same discourses of empire, civilizational and racial difference, and sexism that had undergirded empire. Nevertheless, such discourses did not go unchallenged. One of Sluga’s main points is to show how the League of Nations and the United Nations served as forums for debate and platforms from which colonized and otherwise marginalized people, including women, made arguments which shaped the consensus about the meanings and priorities of internationalism and nationalism over the course of the century. However, she cautions against reifying internationalists’ own modernization trajectory; the progression of internationalist thought, movements, and organizations over the course of the twentieth century was an accumulation of contingencies riddled with contradictions and tensions, both vis-à-vis nationalism and internal to internationalist thought and activism.

Chapter One concerns internationalism in the years between the 1889 International Peace Congress at The Hague and the First World War, a period that was at once the apogee of nationalism and a time in which internationalism flourished. Sluga highlights how actors at the time understood the “objective facts” of internationalism—the growing numbers of international organizations and the transnational interconnections and interdependencies wrought by steam, electricity, and trade. She also outlines the trajectory of internationalism over the course of the period: a narrowing of the initially diverse field of internationalist ideologies and communities, (which included anarchists, communists, and migrant workers) toward a liberal internationalist consensus. As liberal internationalism emerged as the dominant internationalist impulse, budding social sciences, most importantly sociology and psychology, offered frameworks for defining internationalism in terms of [End Page 234] modernity and progress. International law, international government, and international organizations were accordingly understood as evidence that humanity was poised to enter its next evolutionary stage, leaving behind outdated national sovereignty and entering a new era of international life. Federalist visions rested on the idea that an international state of mind would naturally be followed by economic reforms, intergovernmental cooperation, and interdependence. Here, Sluga brings in one of the book’s main themes: the role of empire. Western inter-nationalists’ commitment to the principle of self-determination of peoples comfortably coexisted with empire. The British Empire, for example, could be conceived as a model of internationalism and home rule as a fulfillment of self-determination appropriate to the circumstances and civilizational level of colonized peoples. After all, visions of world federation were firmly rooted in longstanding, evolutionist, intellectual traditions predicated on racial and civilizational difference. This thread spans the century, but the liberal internationalist consensus was less stable—the First World War called into question the assumption that trade necessarily led to peace and security. Similarly, the war led to greater scrutiny of the...


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