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Mark Mazower: His book is laced with meanness 

Mark Mazower is a British historian who teaches in America. He is the Ira D. Wallach Professor of World Order Studies, as well as a professor of history, at Columbia University. That first title is almost startling. He is a specialist in Greece and Balkan states farther north. His current book is Governing the World: The History of an Idea. Here is a history of internationalism, in short (though the book is long).

Mazower is a man of immense erudition, a real scholar. He has read a vast amount, including science fiction. "You can learn a lot from Lydia," sang Groucho Marx. You can learn a lot from Mazower too. His book is stuffed with facts and quotations. I was interested to know that David Dudley Field, the American jurist, was the brother of Cyrus Field, who laid telegraph cable across the Atlantic. I was also interested to know what a Frenchman said in Andrei Gromyko's suite at the Park Lane Hotel, when they were discussing the location of the new United Nations: "If the seat is in the New World, it is the end of Europe."

Furthermore, Mazower can write engagingly, as when he sets a scene: "On January 16, 1920, as the midmorning sun shone off the Seine into the Clock Room of the Quai d'Orsay, the new League of Nations held its first council meeting."

If you're going to read Mazower, though, you will have to put up with his biases. I suppose that is true of most books and their authors. Governing the World, at heart, is a history of the United States on the world scene, and an indictment of the United States. In Mazower's eyes, the US is almost always ill motivated, without a speck of idealism or goodwill. To give a mild example, he says that Elihu Root, secretary of state under Theodore Roosevelt and, like Roosevelt, a Nobel peace laureate, "believed in arbitration as a means of developing the Great Power status of the United States". Perhaps, but Root, a man of considerable humanity, also believed in preventing war.

In this book, Truman, Eisenhower, and other US presidents come in for worse treatment than Stalin. Che Guevara is treated neutrally or approvingly; John Bolton, hostilely. Is that because the author takes for granted the superiority of democrats over Communists? I would like to think so, but am afraid not. For Mazower, the opposite of Communism is never "democracy" or "freedom," but "capitalism". With no detectable irony, he speaks of "the interests of progress rather than reaction". His language can turn nasty, as when he labels an Indian delegate a "British-appointed stooge". His language can be snotty, as when he says that Teddy Roosevelt was known for "his gung-ho foreign policy toward lesser breeds".

When it comes to political designations, his language can be utterly bewildering. For example, W.E.B. Du Bois is to be counted among the "most liberal and progressive thinkers of his era". In truth, Du Bois loved Stalin as much as anyone ever did, very much including Mrs Stalin. Mazower also says that "27 of the original 51 members of the UN had once been colonies, and others were East European People's Democracies with no liking for empire". I detect no irony in "People's Democracies" — and they were certainly part of an empire, and a supremely brutal one at that.

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