Where does “Europe” stop, and where does the world outside Europe begin? It’s a question that’s engaged inhabitants of the peninsula of the great world continent for centuries, if also one that has assumed newly tragic dimensions as refugees from Balkan states, refugees from countries such as Syria, Iraq, Eritrea, and Afghanistan, and migrants from Sub-Saharan Africa test their chances in crossing the seas, boarding the trains, and hopping the fences that separate Europe from an ostensibly more dangerous, more cruel, and more hungry outside world. Seemingly freed of its old morally burdensome entanglements in its African, Asian and Caribbean colonies, a reformed, European Union-ized Continent faces the challenges of how it wants to interact with the world of former colonies, mandates, and other possessions that it once ruled and still, of course, holds a dominant trading relationship with.
Can history contextualize some of these debates? The work of Dr. Anne-Isabelle Richard, currently an Assistant Professor at the Institute for History at Leiden University, The Netherlands and the latest guest to the Global History Forum, unambiguously demonstrates that it can. In her work, Richard seeks to show how many of the activists in European countries – in particular France and the Netherlands, countries with big empires and interested both in European integration and the politics of colonialism – juggled the two projects of Europeanism and relations with its colonies throughout the twentieth century.
Moving beyond just a narrow diplomatic history focus, Richard’s work mines both state and non-state archives to show how an army of diplomats, pressure groups, anti-colonialists, socialists, and bureaucrats in international organizations such as the League of Nations represented part of a broader, decades long-conversation about the relationship between “Europe” as an ideological and institutional project, on the one hand, and colonial empire on the other. One part of her broader research agenda, this work – the fruits of her PhD at Cambridge University, a Fulbright Scholarship at Yale, and time as a Max Weber Post-Doctoral Fellow at the European University Institute in Florence, Italy – is currently being revised by Dr. Richard to become a book.
Recently, one of the Toynbee Prize Foundation’s Editors-at-Large, Columbia History Department PhD Candidate Lotte Houwink ten Cate, had the chance to sit down with Dr. Richard to discuss the latter’s ongoing work and her observations on the fields of European and international history today.
Meeting in Leiden, Richard’s current home base, the two engaged in a rich conversation, reproduced below.
Lotte Houwink ten Cate (LHTC): What are your main areas of research?
Anne-Isabelle Richard (AR): I work on the intersection of European and world history; my dissertation discussed the interwar period, Europeanist movements in France and the Netherlands, and the influence of colonialism on these movements. Britain, as the foremost colonial power, was also included in the analysis.
While at Yale, classes by Paul Kennedy and Jay Winter got me thinking about projects for European cooperation in the interwar period and what the influence of colonialism on these projects was. In 1929/30 French foreign minister Aristide Briand’s proposed ‘some sort of federal link’ between the European nations. The reactions by the other powers were hesitant to say the least. While people in the Netherlands defined themselves as Europeans, their global connections (Dutch East Indies) were more important than possible European cooperation projects. The French, who had a much bigger colonial empire, however emphasized European cooperation. So while in the Dutch case colonialism and Europeanism seemed mutually exclusive, in the French case, they were compatible, even interdependent.
That intrigued me: how did that work? This became the topic of my PhD at Cambridge, working with Robert Tombs, but also very much influenced by the late Christopher Bayly, Tim Harper and Richard Drayton. I began to consider the role of colonialism in thinking about world order, and hierarchies of race and civilization, and how that had shaped Europeans’ understanding of themselves, and how these questions became especially prominent after the First World War.
LHTC: How did you develop an interest in this kind of history?
AR: I studied both history and law at Leiden. In 2001, I spent a semester at UCL with Kathleen Burk, and there I wrote a BA thesis about the Marshall Plan and decolonization in Indonesia, which connected these at the time seemingly disparate historiographies. I have always been interested in international/political history, on the one hand, and colonial/world history, on the other hand and I have continued combining distinct historiographies. I’m interested in how they overlap. What are their mutual influences? How do national historiographies relate to each other even if they do not always ‘talk’ to each other?
LHTC: Would you consider looking more into legal history?
AR: I am less interested in the traditional kind of legal history, i.e. Roman Law. I might explore legal aspects coming out of my work at some point, there is some very inspiring scholarship coming out in this field (Meredith Terretta, Natasha Wheatley etc.). I think that when working on legal issues, you have to approach it not just as a historian, but also as a lawyer. Lawyers think in a different manner and use a different language, Dutch and legal Dutch are not the same for example, so it would be quite different from what I do now.
LHTC: How would you define global history? And do you prefer to use the term “global history” or “world history”?
AR: First, I think it is important to note that there are two types of this kind of history; the one encompasses the entire globe, whereas the other mostly looks at—drawing on Christopher Bayly’s notion of “sensitivity”—being open to connections across various spaces in the world and thinking history contextually. At Cambridge the kind of sensitivity as defined by Bayly is what’s meant with “world history”, whereas global history is regarded to be a more all-encompassing history. Elsewhere these definitions can be used exactly the other way around, and I do get the sense that that understanding is prevailing. What is problematic is that, often, terms are being used without proper definitions of what is meant by them. More important than the label is an explanation of what we exactly mean by these terms.
Related to this we, of course, have “transnational history.” In my view transnational history can be understood in three different ways: firstly as an anti-nationalist project — a way in which history can contribute to providing a broader perspective, the opposite of nationalist Whig history (not unlike Jeremy Adelman’s argument about Global History recently). Secondly, transnational history as a subject, for instance when one examines transnational groups, as I do in my work. I look at movements which were active across several countries, and which were mostly non-state actors (although people constantly shifted roles). Thirdly, transnational history as a methodology, in adopting a transnational perspective, looking beyond the nation state. This comes back to Bayly’s notion of sensitivity — being attuned to connections between different territories and areas of the globe (although transnational history is not necessarily global). Connected to this is the use of various types of archives in different countries. The great potential here is the ability to connect seemingly distinct historiographies. But the danger is being very well-versed in one aspect, but having a more superficial knowledge of others. Language issues play a role here too of course.
LHTC: Is this kind of transnational history different from international history?
AR: Not necesarily, although again it depends on how it is defined. Erez Manela defined international history as the history of international society, and I think that that is a very useful description. It broadens international history to include besides the history of international relations or international organizations, also more informal (transnational) groups and processes operating on an international level.
My work is a broadly defined history of international society, rather than the history of international organizations. I find the interaction between official channels and civil society particularly interesting. Hence, I use transnational history as a topic and partly also as a methodology. What I find striking is how a transnational perspective can show how national these clubs working for, for example, European cooperation were. Although they might be working for an internationalist or transnational goal and might be trans- or internationally organized, when you look at the way they frame their thinking, you see how nationally determined they often were. If you only looked at the Dutch side of this history, these activists seem very international. But if you place them in a transnational or even a broad comparative framework, you realize how nationally determined these clubs were. Precisely the transnational method lays bare the national specificity.
LHTC: There is currently a wave of scholarship being published on the League Nations, works by Susan Pedersen and Patricia Clavin. How do you situate your own work in this wave?
But to come back to transnational history, that is strongly represented in new works about the League of Nations. What has struck me in histories of European integration is that the pioneers, mostly French scholars, started out as transnational historians (perhaps avant la lettre), but later seem to have returned to diplomatic history, as these sources became available. They certainly connected European cooperation with the League, which is natural given French activists’ networks. In the Anglophone historiography this connection is more rare, as is the connection between European cooperation and the colonial world. One might say that currently the historiography of European cooperation is divided between those who adopt an institutional lens in their work on the EU and its forerunners, and those who attempt to put the integration process into a transnational frame that engages non-institutional sources.
In my work I’ve used international history and world history lenses to look at Europe, in my next project I will use these perspectives to think about African actors and their relations to Europe. The clubs of people who became active around a certain goal have my interest. Whether their campaigns succeeded in securing their desired outcome (in the immediate term) is less the point, since their campaigning drove debates and therefore outcomes.
LHTC: What do you think about the sometimes assumed tension between European history and world history?
AR: I would like to argue for understanding European history as part of world hisory. It is often suggested that when you study Europe Eurocentricism and parochialism cannot be far behind. Whilst when you study, for example, South East Asia this is not necessarily the case. The history of European dominance of course makes Europe different from other continents and this has to be accounted for, but nowadays world history is sometimes everything except Europe. However, thinking of European history as part of world history could result in new perspectives, also when thinking about calls to decolonize the curriculum.
LHTC: What do you consider the classics in your field? And what are you reading at the moment?
The same goes for, for example, French historiography, which is often easily dismissed. It’s strange, because France used to be quite avant-garde. It is very unfortunate that even in the Netherlands, which abroad is still hailed as a linguist’s haven, students are more and more given set chapters, while they read fewer languages. Not long ago, a reading ability in English, German and French would have been required, unlike today. I’m currently re-reading Patricia Clavin’s Securing the World Economy: The Reinvention of the League of Nations, 1920-1946, which is fascinating and so filled with personal aspects that it’s bedtime reading as well.
LHTC: Besides preparing your dissertation for publication, what else are you working on at the moment?
AR: I am starting a new project on African perspectives on Eurafrica, for which I received a 4-year NWO (Dutch research organization) Veni grant. It’s very exciting. Eurafrica is usually approached from a European, or a more specifically French perspective, and in my new project I will approach it from various African perspectives, focusing on Senegal ad Ghana. I want to see what African actors thought about Eurafrican projects, did they reject them, embrace them or use them for their own purposes? A part of the Eurafrica project would be to establish the role and possibilities of African actors in relation to the European Union.
Now, access to sources is an issue. My favorite sources are personal archives. Of course, one has to know what’s in the official archives, but it’s through personal archives that you get a real feeling for the people you’re writing about, for what they thought about each other, what they wrote amongst themselves. During the preparations for my article on the Congress of Puteaux, I worked in the archive of [French socialist] Marceau Pivert. He went to the United States just before the outbreak of the Second World War, and from there to Mexico. While in Mexico, he corresponded with his comrades Fenner Brockway and John McNair in Britain about what was happening in Europe. These letters contained so many details, for example the murder of the Dutch communist Henk Sneevliet was discussed, very movingly, and in between personal stories, you really come to an understanding about their views of the future.
Smaller projects that I’m working on are Visions of Empire in Dutch History, with colleagues Rene Koekkoek and Arthur Weststeijn. It’s about thinking of a new research agenda for Dutch empire: connecting the early modern period to the postcolonial situation; seeing ‘Dutch’ history broadly, moving beyond national borders, explicitly informed by influences and actors from across the globe. So above all a transnational and transimperial approach and an approach that understands intellectual history as going beyond the big names of systemic thinkers, and includes visions of empire as negotiated in (day-to-day) practice.
The other project is about Global Regionalism, with my colleague from Leiden, Alanna O’Malley. Thinking about world order and alternatives to the nation state, from formal federations such as the West Indies Federation to more imagined communities such as Eurafrica and from institutions to individual activists.
For the moment, however, the researcher to watch is Anne-Isabelle Richard, whose Colonialism and the European Movement in France and the Netherlands, 1925-1936 we hope to see published as a monograph with a major publisher shortly. In the meantime, we thank Dr. Richard for participating in this latest installment of the Global History Forum, and wish her the best of luck as she blazes a trail in internationalizing the study of modern European history.
Comparing the shifting fortunes of Russia and China over the last fifty years, one cannot but be struck by the dramatic reversal in the two countries’ fates. In 1967, the Soviet Union was in the midst of a massive military buildup that would eventually enable it to reach superiority in conventional arms and parity in nuclear arms with the United States. The Prague Spring was a year away, and in spite of earlier interventions in Hungary, socialism in the Eastern Bloc enjoyed prestige among intellectuals in the West. The Soviet economy grew at a respectable five percent annually or so. China, meanwhile, was still reeling from the effects of the Great Leap Forward when, in 1966, Mao Zedong plunged the country into the Cultural Revolution. Millions of people were persecuted, and China’s leadership nearly triggered a war with the USSR following clashes over islands in Northeast Eurasia.
Today, the two countries present quite a different story. True, since Vladimir Putin was named, then elected, President in 2000, Russia’s economy year after year until the global recession of 2008-09. And having prevented the collapse of a Middle Eastern client in Syria, not to mention Russian influence in European and American elections, Putin can present himself as a confident paladin of Russian power in the world. Yet these triumphs were built only upon the ruins of the Soviet Union, which collapsed in December 1991. And Russia today has to deal not only with the United States, but also a rising People’s Republic of China whose economy is nearly an order of magnitude larger than Russia’s. Even on a per-capita-basis, Russians are only approximately 10% wealthier than their Chinese counterparts.
Reviewing this reversal, those contemplating the decline (and subsequent revival) of Russian state power might point to 1989 as the crucial turning point. In the summer of that year, the PRC’s government imposed martial law as student protesters swarmed Tiananmen Square in central Beijing. The Chinese Communist Party declared the protests “counter-revolutionary” and launched a massive crackdown that resulted in perhaps thousands of deaths. Communist Party control over China—albeit now promoting “socialism with Chinese characteristics”—remained intact, as it does today.
In Eastern Europe, however, the Soviet General Secretary’s refusal to use Soviet military force to put down mass protests in Berlin, Prague, Budapest, and elsewhere led to the collapse of satellite regimes won at the cost of 26,000,000 lives. And whereas Chinese economic reforms strengthened the legitimacy of the ruling Communist Party, soon, in the Soviet Union itself, Mikhail Gorbachev’s economic reforms contributed to the centrifugal dissolution of the world’s largest land country into fifteen successor states.
Using sources in Russian and Chinese and exploiting underutilized Soviet archives, Miller’s work challenges the conventional wisdom about the great Soviet-Chinese counterfactual. Far from ignorant of Deng Xiaoping’s reinvention of Chinese socialism, Mikhail Gorbachev and the advisors around him were well aware of how the Chinese were transforming their economy. While some criticized the Chinese for abandoning socialism altogether, Gorbachev and his team consciously sought to imitiate Chinese reforms throughout the 1980s. It wasn’t for a lack of awareness or effort that would-be Soviet reformers failed to match Deng Xiaoping’s results. Rather, Miller suggests, the answer to the failure of Soviet economic reforms lies in the political economy of interest groups in the late Soviet Union. Indeed, it was precisely because large lobbies in the military, the oil and gas industry, and collective farms refused reforms that a Soviet Tiananmen would have been impossible in content if not in form. Even had the coup planners who briefly seized power from Gorbachev in August 1991, there was no way they could have imposed the austerity measures on Russians that Deng imposed on Chinese, for such cuts would have meant cutting into their own bloated budgets.
In short, Miller’s work offers not only a tight empirical reconstruction of key events in the history of the Soviet Union and the People’s Republic of China, but also offers a new vista on the political economy of Russia and China as they emerged from that annus horribilus (for the regimes, if not tens of millions of Europeans) of 1989. In order to discuss some of the issues raised by The Struggle to Save the Soviet Economy, Toynbee Prize Foundation Executive Director Timothy Nunan recently sat down with Dr. Miller to discuss his road to writing the book, some of the results of his research, as well as his ongoing research agenda. Continue reading →
Is Christianity in danger of disappearing? Since at least the middle of the twentieth century, Christianity in Europe has often been seen as in decline, with the most recent surveys indicating that scarcely more than half of EU citizens believe in any God at all. Many Christian communities in the Middle East, such as the Assyrians, have been displaced through the US invasion of Iraq, the Syrian Civil War, and the emergence of ISIS. The Eastern Orthodox Church, freed in its Russian incarnation from decades of Communist rule, shows strong signs of growth in Europe. However, the disintegration of the Soviet Union and the displacement of Russians means, increasingly, that Orthodoxy’s southern frontiers end thousands of miles further north than they did a century-and-a-half ago.
In fact, Christianity in the world is in no danger of vanishing. The percentage of Christians as a part of world population is nearly the same as it was a century ago. What is changing, however, is the face of Christianity, as both the Roman Catholic Church and Protestant denominations see more and more of their congregations be composed of Latin American, African, and Asian populations. Pope Francis is the first Pope from Latin America, while Brazil constitutes the single largest Catholic country. There are almost as many Catholics in Nigeria as there are in Germany. There are perhaps tens million of Chinese affiliated with official state-sponsored Protestant organizations in that country, but the proliferation of unofficial “house churches” means that there could be up to 58 million Protestants and 9 million Catholics living in the People’s Republic of China. This, in turn, would make China the fourth-largest Protestant country after only the USA, Nigeria, and Brazil.
Demographic changes like these are bound to bring about conversations about theology and dogma. To take the example of the Anglican Church, bishops from the “global South” have boycotted conferences on the grounds that North American churches are too lenient on the ordination of homosexual bishops and their blessing of same-sex marriage. Conversely, many theological conservatives who approved of Joseph Ratzinger have expressed concern over the stress that Pope Francis has placed on issues such as global warming, consumerism, and US-Cuba relations (his more traditional views on matters such as abortion and same-sex marriage notwithstanding). As nations whose entry into Christendom is inescapably entangled with European imperialism come to occupy greater prominence, the question of how “North-South” relations will affect Christianity cannot but occupy the attention of Christians and non-Christians alike.
In his book, Wu (an assistant professor at the American University of Paris) explores how German Protestant and Catholic missionaries engaged with China during the late Qing period and during the Republican period. At the heart of the book stands a paradox. At the start of the period in question, German missionaries viewed Chinese Confucianism as backwards and a crucial hindrance to China’s conversion and, more broadly, modernization. Yet by the 1930s and 1940s, German Christians viewed Confucianism as a crucial ally of Christianity in China. They insisted that a synthesis of Confucianism with Christianity constituted not heresy but rather only common sense. Wu’s book explains this paradox of how Germans “struggled to make a religion with universal claims adopt particular forms” and “how a global religion should assume local guise.”
As many Christians on both sides of the North-South (not to mention European Muslims in search of a “European Islam”) debate these questions, Wu’s book provides useful historical perspective. Outgoing Toynbee Prize Foundation Executive Director Timothy Nunan recently sat down with Wu to discuss From Christ to Confucius as well as Wu’s ongoing research agenda. Continue reading →
The American Civil War decisively showed the world how thoroughly America dominated cotton production. From Berar in Western India, to the fields of Egypt and German Togoland, pockets of cotton production suddenly expanded, even as this cotton was derided for not being as fine, or the correct length, for the spinning machines in Europe’s factories. German imperial ambitions coloured their interest in American cotton production and strategies for its replication in German Togo. It also drove their incorporation of the Polish periphery into Prussia and sugar beet cultivation by labour gangs of Polish migrant workers to rival British sugar production in the Caribbean. What connected these projects in Germany and German Togo to the American New South was the need to manage racially dominated labour for complex and large-scale production processes.
Andrew Zimmerman’s book Alabama in Africa draws together the disparate threads, and often surprising intersections in a global history of how capitalism produces transnational forms of labour expropriation; a globalization of the ideology and practices of oppression across nations and global regions. Alongside, he shows also how sociology emerged as a discipline in Germany that buttressed the claims and concerns of the imperialist German nation-state. In America, the influential Chicago School of Sociology under the German trained sociologist Robert E. Park became the institutional framework for a new objectification of African American migrants from the New South to Chicago. The transnational exportation of “the Negro problem” of the New South undergirded the emergence of specific forms of labour and its control globally; and this in turn produced a global humanitarian discourse through which the Global South emerged as an object of policy. Continue reading →
Tools like GPS and Google Maps are so embedded in most people’s lives today that they can hardly seem worth remarking upon. Want to get from “Work” to “Home”? Simply open up the preset path into your smartphone, and the app of your choice will be glad to show you—or rather, a large blue dot—its path through the maze of streets, subway junctions, and bus lines that separate you from home.
Few people, in 2016 at least, would think about using an actual paper map to navigate from A to B. Most of the information about the other parts of your city beyond your path home are simply irrelevant to you at that particular moment, and what matters most is the accuracy of your GPS-reliant device as it guides you and the blue dot home. Not least from the perspective of the directionally challenged, the advent of GPS and similar devices just seems like the latest chapter in a history of ever-improving (because ever more accurate) mapping technologies that allow users to track moving points in space.
But as our most recent guest to the Global History Forum, William Rankin, shows in his recently published book, After the Map: Cartography, Navigation, and the Transformation of Territory in the Twentieth Century, such a Whiggish account of modern mapping is itself far from accurate. It may be true that mapping accuracy improved over the course of the twentieth century. But such an obvious statement fails to say anything about the kinds of geographic knowledge that were produced over the same period. It also overlooks the story of how the kinds of tools used to generate said cartographical knowledge changed over the twentieth century.
If we accept the GPS beacons embedded in our smartphones—or guided missiles—as the exponent of “progress,” we risk overlooking how differently (and not just “better”) GPS’s relationship to territory and space is from those of earlier world-mapping technologies. After the Map seeks to provide, then, not just a technical history of different mapping tools over the twentieth century. It provides an analysis of how shifts in tools engendered shifts in what Rankin dubs geo-epistemology: “not just what is known about the earth, but how it is known— and how it is used.”
The story that Rankin, an Assistant Professor of History at Yale University, explores in After the Map (published with the University of Chicago Press) is thus a crucial intervention into more macro debates among historians about the importance of territory and territoriality throughout the twentieth century. It is a story of how printed maps on paper—once the sine qua non of military operations, with some fifty maps printed per British and American soldier during the 1940s—became less and less relevant in the face of new coordinate systems, radionavigation, and ultimately GPS over the course of the century. It is, in short, a story that encourages readers to go from thinking about maps merely as illustrations, or tools of centralizing political authority, to seeing them as a crucial tool through which makers and users were rethinking the meaning of concepts like territory and sovereignty. In order to discuss some of these questions, Toynbee Prize Foundation Executive Director Timothy Nunan recently spoke with Rankin about After the Map.
We begin our discussion with a discussion of Rankin’s path to the historical profession. Mapping, he notes, played no special role in his childhood outside of Chicago. When he went to university (to Rice), it was to study engineering and architecture. There, part of his technical education encompassed training in drawing, and when he took a class at Rice on the history of cartography, he was spurred to begin making his own maps. Following graduation, Rankin worked at an architectural firm for approximately a year. This was followed by another stint working at an experimental physics laboratory. “It was only by talking to some of my professors from architectural school,” he explains, “that I began thinking about the history of science.”
This struck Rankin as a novel idea. “I never knew history of science was something you could do, and it was certainly nothing that I had studied in college.” Yet neither architecture nor physics had felt like optimal fits since graduation. Rankin began investigating history graduate programs, but he was accepted to Harvard to pursue graduate studies in both the history of science as well as the history of architecture. “I had been steeped in history while an undergraduate, since I had taken courses on the history of art, the history of architecture, and so on. But it was not until, perhaps, my early twenties that I realized that my style of thinking was historical. This didn’t come out of being exposed to academic history, or being a history major,” says Rankin.
Arriving in Cambridge, MA, Rankin worked with the historian of science Peter Galison. Much of Galison’s own work emphasizes the role of scientific tools and instruments as a kind of thinking unto themselves, and Rankin notes that many of his reflections in the introduction to After the Map bear traces of that influence. But beyond Galison and another advisor, Antoine Picon, Harvard at the time of Rankin’s studies was not a hub for digital history scholarship or the history of cartography, and Harvard had long ago abolished its geography department. Yet being lodged in two departments at once helped him keep his eye on broader questions, encouraged him to engage with critical theory, and opened up spatial history as an interdisciplinary method. And his earlier explorations into mapmaking as a practice between the academy and the public had, in the meantime, blossomed into one of the Web’s most successful cartography sites, Radical Cartography (www.radicalcartography.net). Radical Cartography had originally, Rankin notes, been envisioned as a side project—apart from and not integrated into his graduate work—but over time, he gained the confidence that he possessed both the critical tools and cartographic toolkit to make a useful contribution to discussions about the history of mapping.
The path to the dissertation that became After the Map, however, was not so straight as the path charted on a gridded map (of which more soon). His initial dissertation prospectus aspired to write an intellectual history of infrastructure—a term, he notes, whose current meanings only date from the mid-20th century (both in the original French and in English). “I thought that a history of infrastructure would get to questions of engineering and territory, but the more I looked, the more it pointed me to the history of economics.” While Rankin continued to work on mapping through Radical Cartography, he increasingly realized that the infrastructure project was not where he wanted to go. Hence, approximately a year and a half into his ostensible dissertation project, he decided to “pivot 90 degrees” to begin working on the technologies that play a central narrative role in After the Map.
We ask Rankin if he has any generalizable tips to offer to current or future graduate students based on his own research experience. He offers two. One, which isn’t just meant for those working on cartography, is simple: “collect as many maps as you can.” Unlike books, he notes, most university map libraries will only allow users to work with a single map at a time, and maps almost never circulate. But in his experience, just as with books or other textual evidence, his most productive engagement with maps has come when he has been able to work with multiple sources at once. If something looks good, he advises, take a photo—or download it, or scan it—in order to work with it later. The goal should be to amass a large digital collection that’s tailored to your own topic and interests. This can be great for research and writing, and it’s hugely helpful for teaching.
Second, however, Rankin cautions students away from the predetermined assumption that archives contain the key to all knowledge. After the Map does rely on significant forays into archives in France, Canada, the United States, and the United Kingdom, including both state archives and private papers. But for Rankin, the most useful sources he worked with often turned out to be the trade journals of the engineers involved in the three major projects at the core of the book. While one could easily spend months, if not years, scouring the archives of the International Civil Aviation Organization (in Montreal) or the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration (outside of Washington, D.C.), the point is that top engineers for these institutions published in semi-trade journals when they wanted to announce to the profession that they had accomplished something novel. Understanding that there was not a direct line between difficulty of source access and the usefulness of said sources—however contrary to the legends historians tell about themselves—was a crucial intellectual step to make.
Having explored the intellectual biography behind the writing of the dissertation, we dive into the meat of Rankin’s book itself. One of the core macro-level historical discussions that After the Map seeks to contribute to has to do with how we understand the twentieth century. As the introduction to Rankin’s book explains, one could argue that the twentieth century marked the victory of territorializing processes. The century saw the fragmentation of all of the old colonial empires into territorial nation-states; what’s more, Rankin notes, virtually all of the new post-colonial states that were created were formed along existing administrative boundaries. If capturing and annexing territory had formerly numbered among the core components of European geopolitics, by the end of the twentieth century a number of treaties—such as the 1933 Montevideo Convention, the 1975 Helsinki Accords, and treaties concerning potential German claims to Central Europe—focused instead on preserving existing borders. Not only that, but treaties covering the use of airspace, continental shelves, and Arctic space all stressed the centrality of states’ territoriality.
At the same time, one could just as easily advance an interpretation of the twentieth century centered around globalization and the increased importance of transnational, non-territorial forces. Accounts like those of Charles S. Maier, or that of Michael Geyer and Charles Bright, emphasize the 1970s as a moment in modern history when the geographies of global capitalism began to exert a stronger effect on “regimes of world order” than did states or international organizations. Recent accounts of U.S. foreign policy, too, emphasize the 1970s as a moment when the United States was able to recast itself as a distinctly kind of “post-territorial” empire, able to exert hegemony not through brute force of conquest and annexation but through “nonterritorial hegemony.”
How to reconcile these two narratives? For Rankin, part of the answer came through engagement with scholars of critical geography who contested the tension between “network” and “territory” often embedded into sweeping claims about the master theme or trend of the twentieth century. Fewer, however, had engaged with the actual technologies whose histories would have to be integrated into critiques of how territory was reconstituted throughout the century. Rankin’s task then became, in his words, “not just looking at the history of particular devices, but trying to understand a new way of thinking.” Engaging attempts to actually represent and manage territory offered the key to intervene into the debates in both global history and critical geography.
After the Map enters this debate with two related arguments. One is that there was never “any clean dichotomy between the hardening of territory and the debordering of globalization. The very same technologies that were developed to make borders more permeable have also been used to make them more stable and enforceable.” While the twentieth century was, as his case studies show, marked by a turn toward making the globe universally legible through grid-based coordinates and GPS, these projects were advanced by large, powerful states—primarily the United States. Similarly, looking at the projects Rankin examines also dissolves any easy affinities between states and territory and markets and post-territory: as he notes, grids and GPS “were often developed in tandem with private corporations and enthusiastically embraced by a wide range of ‘nonstate’ users, domestic and foreign alike.”
The second intervention of After the Map is more conceptual. While Rankin concedes that the 1970s were replete with important changes, it is problematic to conceive of the decade as the alleged pivot away from an earlier moment imagined as primordially territorial. “From the point of view of geographic knowledge,” Rankin explains, “the major shift of the twentieth century was thus not a transition from national to planetary, but from one worldwide political-geographic framework to another.” The 1940s, he argues, were a crucial turning point in “global” thinking from the point of view of geographic sciences. But the “globality” of this moment is not primarily in contrast to the national, but to the ideal of the international that was embedded in many prewar mapping projects.
Crucially, however, even long after this turn towards the global, territory remained very important. “Both the national/international space of the early twentieth century and the global/regional space of the late twentieth century were equally territorial,” he explains. While it may be true that the importance of national jurisdictions compared to global networks did decline, Rankin stresses that it is crucial not to mistake national jurisdiction for territory. Systems that monitor the phone traffic and metadata of cell phone users worldwide, for example, may certainly be global in that they monitor activity beyond the boundaries of, for example, the United States of America. But such operations monitoring suspects in Pakistan or Afghanistan are undeniably interested in space and the management and monitoring of territories (even if these territories are conceived of not just as the national jurisdiction of Pakistan, Afghanistan, or elsewhere). Rather than territory being abolished, Rankin instead sees the twentieth century as marked by the emergence of “new kinds of territories: territories defined as frameworks of points—neither a block of space nor a network of flows—that organized knowledge in new ways and facilitated new kinds of intervention and new kinds of governance.”
Rankin is aware that these might seem like rather abstract claims. In order to make the argument more concrete, After the Map is organized around three large projects that neatly illustrate the turn from an international vision of mapping that reinforced national jurisdiction to what Rankin dubs the “pointillist” logic of GPS, which instead challenged borders of all kinds. In particular, Rankin examines one project in each of the three principle branches of the mapping sciences: the International Map of the World (cartography); Universal Transverse Mercator (geodesy); and GPS (navigation).
The logic of the first of Rankin’s triad of projects, the IMW, may be the most familiar and approachable for non-technical readers. Maps of the world per se were nothing new—think of the age of exploration—but the IMW is best understood, Rankin says, through “the ways geographers themselves saw it in the 1890s.” We ask him to elaborate. “By the 1890s,” Rankin explains, “the Age of Exploration was clearly over, and cartographers saw their sister disciplines like geology and astronomy defining themselves through collaborative projects that would, they thought, serve to finalize their knowledge—for example, having observatories around the world work together on a hugely ambitious multi-decade sky survey.” Entrepreneurial geographers like the University of Vienna professor Albrecht Penck argued that the time for standardized maps of the world, all at the scale of 1:1,000,000 and bounded by lines of latitude and longitude, had come. The idea was to create a base map of geographic knowledge at a more detailed scale than had ever been done—all the while formalizing geography’s status as a real science.
Yet in spite of the lofty academic ambitions of Penck and his colleagues, the international network of cartographers inevitably had to turn to states in order to produce new knowledge. “This wasn’t something that the instigators behind IMW had necessarily sought, or wanted. This wasn’t a story, then, of cartographers hatching a conspiracy to enforce state control.” Immediately prior to World War I, most of the states of the world—not just the US and European empires, but also Japan, China, and most of Central and South America—had been enrolled into this project. But the project, argues Rankin, became authoritative not just in a scientific but also in a political sense, since countries were tasked with mapping their own territories and the surrounding areas (as determined by the standardized sheets of the IMW). “The government of Egypt,” as Rankin puts it, “might not necessarily care about mapping their western border with Italian-controlled Libya, but the internationalizing impulse coming from elsewhere encourages them to do so, lest they lose control over their own mapping.” The IMW, in short, was not a grand plan hatched by states, nor was it a centralized effort by one state or one academic society to map the entire world.
Rather, notes Rankin, “it was about process,” whereby decisions about mapping in Tanganyika or Panipat were subject to international treaties signed in London. Similarly, when private societies like the American Geographical Society or individuals like the Swedish explorer Sven Hedin made excellent maps of territories in Latin America or Central Asia, these maps were forcefully deemed “provisional” within the logic of IMW, since they had not been carried out by their respective governments. Only national governments had the proper authority to carry out the mapping of IMW squares, the logic went, so maps of “their” regions had to be considered provisional until carried out in a politically legitimate way.
Granted, in reality, the hierarchies of world politics of the day were what mattered. These “provisional” maps were often prized for their quality and used to settle international boundary disputes, and little was made of the vast internal territories of “civilized” states like the USA or Australia that had not yet been mapped. “The most pressing need was for the uniform mapping of continents that would not otherwise be mapped. Producing maps of Latin America, Africa, or colonial Asia—or even central Europe—was perhaps illegitimate, but it was also seen as a gracious service to the international community.” The IMW very much reflected this civilizing logic. The pride that American geographers took in assembling their “provisional” sheets of the Amazon spoke more to a belief in the civilizing power of systemic geographic knowledge than the actual needs of anyone in the Amazon itself.
By the late 1940s, however, the lofty goals of the IMW were increasingly out of touch with actual mapping practice. Even the idea of a universal map had come to be seen as less than useful, since specialized professional audiences needed maps specific to their uses. And while the colored shading and symbolism of the IMW made it an attractive base map in theory, it didn’t address the new needs of aviation or other tasks requiring precise calculation. Even during the First World War, for example, what artillery divisions operating in the trenches really needed was a way to precisely aim at targets out of their sight. The careful politics of the IMW was simply irrelevant; instead what was crucial was being able to aim weapons at particular angles and knowing that those angles would connect them with the points at which their targets were located. As Rankin notes, the geographic questions that people were asking were gradually shifting. “Instead of trying to say ‘What does the terrain look like?’ it became more, ‘How do I know very precisely the distance between myself and my target?’ This is a kind of full-scale knowledge that you just can’t get through a paper map, or even through latitude and longitude.”
The technology that responded to these needs—and a core pivot in After the Map—was the grid. During the First World War, gunners could not use latitude and longitude coördinates to aim, and even a hypothetically perfect map, if printed on paper, would inevitably warp over time, making it useless (not to say clunky) to use in conjunction with cannons and compasses. Grid systems instead overlay locally bound (not relative to the Equator or Prime Meridian) coordinate systems over relatively small areas, and the projection is adjusted in such a way that the grid can provide very, very high accuracy for calculating angles and distances between any two points. Instead of trying to produce a miniaturized God’s-eye view of the battlefield at some arbitrary scale, grids strove to create a perfect 1:1 index of reality, and the grid—not a representational map—would become the primary space through which soldiers could orient themselves.
This shift to grid-like thinking might be confusing to grasp for the uninitiated. Indeed, mentions of a 1:1 scale map might cause readers to think of short stories by authors like Lewis Carroll and Jorge Luis Borges, in which fanciful kings and rulers task their cartographers with creating a 1:1 map of their kingdom. The task predictably ends in failure, since any 1:1 representational paper map would simply reproduce the world itself. These stories, notes Rankin, are often cited as if to highlight the hubris of cartography and the failure of representational projects.
“And yet,” Rankin notes, “this is exactly what cartographers were doing by creating grids. Cartographers themselves spoke in these terms – ‘we’re creating a 1:1 map.’” Rankin notes that the real lesson that readers should draw from the Borges tale is a different one: “The key point in the Borges tale is that the 1:1 map is made of paper, and so it takes over the entire world. But thinking of managing space at a scale of 1:1 isn’t such a fanciful venture—it just means thinking in terms of coordinates rather than paper.”
The project of expanding and globalizing grid systems soon became a crucial strategic task. The shape of the earth meant that a grid projection for a chunk of the Western Front might not work if applied to territories deep into Germany. Hence, one crucial task for early grid-makers was to arduously calculate how to calibrate and connect different grid maps with one another. Such secrets were, of course, guarded jealously. Possession of high-precision grid data for an enemy country could make it susceptible to long-distance artillery properly calibrated to connect one grid with another.
By World War II, this problem took on another dimension. In World War I, reminds Rankin, much of the fighting had been concentrated along Germany’s flanks. But coordination of complex naval maneuvers and military aviation operations in World War II could mean coordinating actors everywhere from Dresden to Singapore. Several countries developed patchwork systems to cope, but it was obvious that a unified system would offer great advantages. Immediately after the war, the United States stood alone in possessing both the motivation and the technical means to develop such a system.
The solution the US Army embarked upon was the so-called Universal Transverse Mercator system. UTM divides the globe into sixty north-south grid zones, each using a Transverse Mercator projection so that there is no distortion through the middle north-south axis of a given zone. This solution had the advantage of practicality, but as Rankin notes, UTM marked a decisive shift from the multilateralism of the IMW. According to the IMW’s conception of political space, individual countries (or empires) ought to be responsible for mapping “their” space.
In contrast, the United States spearheaded UTM entirely on its own, even volunteering to perform surveys in Latin America, Asia, and Africa free of charge, before delivering the final system to its allies. The full-scale coordinates, of course, were not declared “provisional,” and national élites found them useful tools for organizing statist development projects. Likewise, the UTM “slices” or “slivers” that were created by the projection were just that—slices of the entire globe, rather than jigsaw-puzzle pieces of an international map. So even through the system was created and maintained by national governments, it was an inherently global system—not an international one. In this sense, argues Rankin, UTM can be seen as a turn toward a transboundary geoepistemic well before any supposed global turn of the 1970s.
The introduction of UTM raised serious questions about nations’ sovereignty, and arguably in ways more primal than did the IMW. It was one thing for the United States and the Soviet Union to possess nuclear weapons and be able to drop them on one another via fleets of bombers. But as both Moscow and Washington developed intercontinental ballistic missiles, being on the grid (via UTM or the Soviet equivalent) meant that being mapped could tie them in to the logic of nuclear war. Observers at the time, including one British colonial official in East Africa, could not but wonder if the nations signing up to be mapped via UTM were entering into a fool’s bargain.
Rankin is, however, skeptical about any straightforward American imperialism or suspicions that the US was strong-arming poorer nations against their will. Rather, UTM is perhaps best seen in terms of mid-century American efforts to create universal systems (albeit technically monopolized by the USA) that other countries would voluntarily sign up for. Countries that allowed UTM to come in, says Rankin, understood the basic questions: “They said, ‘I think we’re going to come out ahead if we have the United States train our people and do this for us.’ There is some real reflection on the tradeoffs, and I don’t think it was an underhanded move. The United States spent tons of money, after all, doing serious work for other countries. And not everyone said yes.”
At the same time that grids were expanding for missile targeting, “grids were being technologized,” says Rankin. Perhaps most importantly, during the war both the British RAF and the German Luftwaffe experimented with radionavigation techniques that also relied on the logic of the grid. Many different systems were attempted, but the broad shift is similar to the one Rankin describes for earlier artillery systems. Rather than navigating using a map and the lay of the land beneath them to locate targets, bomber pilots could instead use a full-scale system of electronic coordinates (again, the map a scale of 1:1). Pilots could simply fly to a point in the grid, any time of day, regardless of weather. Although the technology was very different—radio waves and precise time measurement rather than the mathematics of map projections—the conceptual approach was remarkably similar.
Following from these new navigation technologies, the final project examined in After the Map is the now-ubiquitous GPS. In the final chapter of his book, Rankin explains the unlikely rise of GPS within the American military bureaucracy. While various agencies—especially the Navy, the Department of Defense, and the civilian NASA—could agree on the benefits of a universal radionavigation system that would work anywhere in the world, the three actors had different needs. Early attempts at satellite navigation systems were often designed primarily for branch-specific tasks—helping Polaris submarines, for example. Other Navy systems involved ongoing political headaches. In the case of the Omega system, for example, the huge ground transmitters sometimes had to be moved in response to political pressure or instability—from Panama to Trinidad to Liberia—and there was major grassroots pushback in Australia.
GPS, in contrast, emerged out of the Department of Defense, and was altogether more ambitious, both technically and politically. Rankin explains the basic principle:
each orbiting satellite continually broadcasts a signal giving its location and the time when the signal was sent. Since the signal travels at roughly the speed of light, calculating the precise distance between the satellite and a receiver just requires knowing how long the signal took to reach the earth. But because GPS only uses one-way communication, this is only possible if all GPS clocks, on the satellites and in the receiver, are synchronized within only a few nanoseconds, since a time error of just one millisecond would mean a coordinate error of nearly three hundred kilometers.
The solution was to equip each GPS satellite with an atomic clock (accurate to about three seconds over a million years) and to always have at least four satellites in view from any point on earth. Because the clocks in most receivers are not nearly as accurate as those in space, these four satellites are used to solve for four unknown values: three for distance and one to synchronize receiver time with satellite time.
While it’s tempting to marvel at the engineering triumph and take its success as a foregone conclusion, bureaucratic infighting complicated the design of GPS and political buy-in from different institutional actors was not easily won. “The essential dilemma of GPS was that it had the potential to be useful for everyone, but it was required by no one,” explains Rankin. Ultimately, key actors within DOD ensured the program’s survival by advocating a “go for broke” approach: a system that would solve all the problems of all key stakeholders, and also be able to solve problems that did not exist in the mid-1970s (for example, new more precise smart weapons). This was a risky and expensive gamble that was altogether unpopular outside the DOD. The project, for example, was subject to major budget cuts in the early 1980s. Huge sums were being invested into an ideal system, but with few stakeholders particularly interested in its success.
Yet outside shocks kept the process moving. When the Soviet Union shot down a Korean Airlines flight that had veered off course into Soviet airspace—killing a US Congressman on board—President Ronald Reagan vowed greater support for the program. Steps were taken by the early 1990s to use GPS as the standard for international civilian aviation, making it an open-access, dual-use system used by civilian airliners as well as the military. It also allowed for dramatic military successes during the Gulf War. Normally, armies would have struggled to maintain formation while navigating through the featureless deserts of southeastern Iraq. Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein’s armies counted on this fact and expected to engage coalition troops along better-mapped axes running from Kuwait to central Iraq. But GPS-armed US troops were able to sweep through the desert to trap Saddam’s armies and end the war in one blow. The logic of the grid—with all of its implications for weaker states’ sovereignty—was brutal, as GPS allowed users “to replace a local system of (nonexistent) physical landmarks with a new local system of electronic coordinates.”
The advent of GPS meant not only a new kind of navigational hegemony for the USA but also, Rankin argues, a new kind of “pointillist” geoepistemic mapped on to the globalism of UTM. When he was looking through his sources, Rankin explains, “I started to look at the first uses people had for GPS. What were they doing, and what did they care about? And what I found wasn’t things like driving directions or tight integration with digital maps. Instead what early users wanted was secure points. They wanted to be able to set a waypoint, and then later get back to their waypoint. Or geologists wanted to put a stable point on an island and track its drift due to plate tectonics over time. Sifting through dozens of journal articles and technical reports, the core theme was the need for stable reference points.”
Points, in other words, had replaced even the grid as the most important optic for processing space. “That’s even what the blue dot on our cell phones is about,” says Rankin. “It locates us as a point, and it allows us to connect ourselves to other points. The stability of points is the crucial thing.” Whereas mid-century aviators would navigate with grid lines printed prominently on their maps, now our GPS-equipped phones simply place us as points, and the grid disappears.
As Rankin concludes in a series of open questions at the end of After the Map, what GPS means for state sovereignty is not yet settled. When states signed up for UTM, they knew they were buying into a US-designed system that could easily be militarized. The only “customizability” of UTM, so to speak, resided in its applicability for national development programs, offshore surveys, and international boundary treaties. On a smaller scale, UTM systems could be “hacked” (colloquially speaking) by hikers and outdoor enthusiasts. But the system has remained relatively close to its US military roots.
Whether the story is the same with GPS is less clear. “GPS is useful for normal, everyday activities in ways that UTM just isn’t. When taxi drivers want to move around Bangkok, they use GPS. And I’m not so sure that they’re only participating in a US military project when they do so.” And with increasing use of GPS for civilian aviation, “the US military can’t just turn it off—thousands of people would crash. Much of this has happened against the military’s wishes, and the core point is that GPS really is a hybrid system.” After the Map leaves it an open question whether systems like GPS give greater proportional advantage to “local” uses over the “global” uses of the US military. For example, how do we weigh the bottom-up, GPS-driven countermapping of natural-disaster sites or informal settlements against the precision bombing of air bases during the 2001 invasion of Afghanistan? But even as GPS throws into question the importance of national borders today, what remains clear in all cases is the enduring relevance of territory, albeit constituted and engaged in novel ways through the pontillist geoepistemic of GPS.
As our conversation approaches its end, we ask Rankin about the projects he has on his desk now that After the Map has been successfully guided to print. One is a methodological book about mapping at the juncture of digital humanities, spatial history, and visual communication. Ever since he started Radical Cartography, Rankin notes, “I’ve been trying to think conceptually about maps and diagrams and the argumentative work they can do.” In this book, which draws on research he has been collecting for the past several years, Rankin says he hopes to engage a range of questions: “How do we actually do our work spatially? How are we using mapping to advance our arguments? How can we use maps to engage academic and non-academic audiences at the same time?” As anyone who has ever dipped their feet into digital humanities or mapmaking will know, these are far from simple questions. This first project, Rankin notes, has a relatively short time horizon—perhaps a couple of years.
A bigger project altogether is his anticipated second major research project, which Rankin describes as “a spatial history of the environmental sciences.” Rankin notes that too often, histories of environmental thinking are told without any attention to the actual techniques used to generate environmental knowledge. Rankin seeks to correct this by exploring how spatial knowledge is created about the skies, waters, forests, and other parts of the planet defined as “the environment.” “For example,” Rankin explains, “right now I’m interested in spatial modeling and how a hodgepodge of diverse measurements are combined to create a smooth-looking map. Or how satellite measurements are used to create images that look like photographs, but aren’t. When we confront an environmental dataset, what exactly are we seeing? How did this knowledge come into being, and how did it become spatial? What assumptions are embedded within it?”
Beyond simply providing a useful history of these techniques, Rankin hopes to demonstrate the transnational lives of many tools used for the environmental sciences today. He notes that “the article that I’m working on right now starts with South African gold mining in the 1950s, but their techniques are picked up by French engineers in the 1960s and are used in the environmental sciences around the world by the 1980s. There’s also someone in Russia developing similar techniques in meteorology, and his work gets picked up in Jerusalem and is later deployed in all the meteorological systems in the West. Today, these same algorithms are available as one-click solutions everywhere from soil management to global warming.”
Yet more than just making the observation that such techniques were developed transnationally, Rankin’s account will revise embedded clichés about the relationship between ecology and capitalism. “There’s a strong sense that environmental thinking,” says Rankin, “is divorced from capitalism, or opposed to capitalism somehow. But even in just this one case, we see how new kinds of environmental knowledge come directly from mining, and of course weather modeling was heavily supported by the US Navy. I’m still interested in many of the same players—military, commercial, and academic—that readers will encounter in After the Map.”
While research on the second project and a busy teaching schedule stand to occupy a fair chunk of Rankin’s schedule for the next several years, he still finds time to engage with recent work in several fields. When we ask him what he has been reading recently, he notes that much of his recent reading time has been devoted to understanding the legacy of the neo-Marxist geographic theory of the 1970s. “Much excellent spatial history is anchored in the work of Henri LeFebvre and David Harvey,” he notes, “but their approach leaves a lot of questions unasked.” Given how many other branches of academia have moved on from the neo-Marxist intellectual project, Rankin is trying to understand the enduring appeal—and possible responses to—the work of the aforementioned scholars.
Much of this is part of a broader intellectual re-tooling for the his spatial history of the environmental sciences, but beyond that, Rankin notes that he has enjoyed the work of Northwestern University historian (and Global History Forum guest) Daniel Immerwahr. Immerwahr’s first book, which we discussed with him for the Global History Forum, focused on the history of community development as a part of U.S. modernization efforts in the Third World. However, Immerwahr’s ongoing research on the history of the United States’s “hidden” or post-territorial empire is what Rankin has found most generative recently. He also highlights the work of Rachel Rothschild, a former Yale PhD now at New York University, whose work explores the history of transnational acid raid pollution during the Cold War. Both of these projects, like Rankin’s, combine “tight empirical work” with attention to the politics of space and how space was negotiated, whether within the framework of U.S. hegemony or Cold War Europe.
Our conversation with Rankin may not allow us to look at the GPS in our pocket, or its friendly bulging blue dot, in the same way again. The very fact of using GPS may mean that we are all, in some sense, invested in the military infrastructure of the American global project. Unless we all start drawing our own maps, we are likely to be unable, as are most states today, “to claim exclusive authority over the knowledge they rely upon” for our daily spatial existence. But as Rankin’s account shows, there are plenty of ways that individual users can appropriate GPS for their own ends. Further, the very depth and breadth of GPS’s penetration may make it a system where its makers and operators can never simply shut it off, so manifold are its uses. Users, communities, and states can respond by creating new tools or adapting old ones, but only with a historically grounded sense of the geoepistemic stakes of their choices.
Works like Rankin’s represent a crucial intervention for achieving that kind of awareness, and we thank him both for authoring After the Map as well as participating in this installment of the Global History Forum.
During the middle of a troop and advising “surge” to Afghanistan following the election of Barack Obama, U.S. Defense Department officials and Afghan President Hamid Karzai made a blockbuster announcement: Afghanistan, formerly best known for its export of opium, was said to be on the brink of becoming the “Saudi Arabia of lithium,” a rare mineral essential for the production of modern computers and smartphones. American geologists had stumbled onto dusty old Soviet maps of the country produced during the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan in the 1980s. Their quality was not terrific, but they hinted at enormous mineral deposits hitherto untapped that could turn Afghanistan from a large net recipient of foreign aid to a state flush with extraction-based revenues, like neighboring Turkmenistan, or Caspian Sea oil and gas giant Azerbaijan. American geologists soon conducted aerial surveys of Afghanistan that allowed them to photograph the interior of the Central Asian state. Thanks to American-made “advanced gravity and magnetic measuring equipment,” the U.S. had produced “a three-dimensional profile of mineral deposits below the earth’s surface” and “the most comprehensive geologic survey of Afghanistan ever conducted.”
The announcement, made in 2010, seemed like good news for the Afghans. But beyond obvious ongoing questions about when (if?) security conditions in Afghanistan will ever permit mining corporations the confidence to make major investments in that country, the episode also raises questions about the role of the United States in th world and the nature of sovereignty in which access to mining data may be just as crucial as political sovereignty over the piece of real estate in which this niobium deposit or that lithium bed might be located. What does political sovereignty mean for a post-2001 Afghan state if its main real hope for self-financing comes from the interface of U.S.-produced data with an international bidding process over which an Afghan people may have only limited say? While the contradictions are perhaps particularly vivid in the case of Afghanistan, the drama of how extractive industries are entangled with the sovereignty of less powerful states and nations—not least Indigenous Peoples—is an ongoing story. Recent events such as the Standing Rock protests make this ever more clear.
The work of our most recent guest to the Global History Forum, Megan Black, makes clear the history behind episodes like these. A Lecturer in History at Harvard University and a Post-Doctoral Fellow at the Charles Warren Center for Studies in American History, Black studies the United States Department of the Interior as an institutional prism through which to see a new history of U.S. global reach since 1890. Often misunderstood as an obscure branch of the U.S. government, the Department of the Interior, in Black’s account, turns out to be a crucial agent of American power toward the outside world in the nineteenth and twentieth century. Rather than seeing Interior as a mere manager of that which was already “inside” the U.S. polity, she sees it as the crucial actor in a process of “interiorization” whereby resources once external to the American homeland (whether in the North American West or anywhere in the world) were made legible and potentially extractable.
While one might expect Interior’s mission to have ended once the frontier was closed and the American West swelled with settlers, Black’s account shows how Interior reinvented itself as a crucial agent for the discovery and management of “strategic minerals” around the world — first in nearby theaters in the Americas, and later globally. Studying the rise and fall of the Department of the Interior and the logics of “interiorization” it relied upon, then, constitutes not just a lens to understand the nature of American hegemony in the 20th century. It’s also a crucial story for understanding how what it meant to be sovereign changed in light of the discovery of new aerospace, computing, and nuclear technologies, and the complex mineral chains required to maintain them. While our conversation with Black therefore provides a lens into one of the most dynamic historiographical literatures today—namely that of U.S. foreign relations—it also provides a terrific example of what it might mean for scholars of global history to take minerals and mining more seriously as subjects for investigation. Outgoing Toynbee Prize Foundation Executive Director Timothy Nunan recently sat down with Dr. Black to discuss her research as well as her forthcoming book manuscript, The Global Interior. Continue reading →
More and more social science research suggests that polities recovering from eras of mass atrocity do best with strategies that are both forward-looking and backward-looking. Forward-looking initiatives may include constitutional revisions, support for non-governmental organizations, and amnesties; backward-looking devices may include summary executions, war crimes trials, or truth commissions. While few would argue that we are in the twilight of impunity, scholars who study the generation and diffusion of norms look to recent settlements in Argentina and Columbia that stress increased accountability for past atrocities. The conviction of former Chadian dictator Hissène Habré by a Senegelese court for crimes against humanity and war crimes in early 2016 might be a harbinger of future, more regionally-grounded processes of international justice. Even more recently, the conviction of an ISIS militant for the destruction of ancient documents and religious sites in Mali has suggested an expansion zone for war crimes that would take in cultural destruction.
Critics of liberal internationalism, by contrast, are heralding the death of the human rights idea in light of the recent U.S. presidential election, Brexit, and the resurgence of ethnic nationalism in the West and elsewhere. Atrocity crimes seem to be a growth industry and botched humanitarian interventions are also doing a brisk business. These critics also ask how institutions such as the ICC and the UN tribunals for the Former Yugoslavia and Rwanda could have any legitimacy at all, as they are dominated by Western elites, with judges who are vetted and qualified to preside only after receiving indoctrination at Western law schools, while defendants are inevitably drawn from smaller, weaker countries, some of which are now turning their backs on international institutions in general and the ICC in particular. Law, skeptics say, has been unmasked as really “just politics;” that is, only capable of generating scenarios where illegitimate power expresses itself by means of adulterated law.
Convincing one side or the other of the moral legitimacy of today’s international tribunals may indeed be a rather fruitless exercise. In the meantime, however, it may be helpful to ask a more historically-informed set of questions, such as how some of the foundational ideas in international justice from the 19th century and before came to be institutionalized in the 20th century, or how the very format of trials came to be added to the spectrum of responses to various kinds of atrocities against civilians, or indeed how the idea of what might count as a “crime” in international law came to be debated and refined.
These are the questions at the heart of the research agenda of Elizabeth Borgwardt, an associate professor of history and law at Washington University in St. Louis, and a permanent faculty associate of the Center for American Studies at the Ruprecht-Karls-Universität Heidelberg. Borgwardt also recently served as the Richard and Ann Pozen Visiting Chair in Human Rights at the University of Chicago. Readers will probably best know Borgwardt as the author of the 2005 monograph A New Deal for the World: America’s Vision for Human Rights, published with the Belknap Press of Harvard University Press and co-winner of the Merle Curti award for best book in Intellectual History and of the Stuart Bernath Book award for best first book in U.S. foreign relations.
Now considered to be field-defining research in the then-novel specialization of human rights history, Borgwardt examined how the 1941 Roosevelt-Churchill Atlantic charter served as a kind of ideological blueprint for many of the young lawyers negotiating the draft charters of various wartime international institutions, notably the 1944 Bretton Woods agreements, the 1945 United Nations charter, and the 1945 Nuremberg charter. She explored how these new institutions were meant to generate a world order that would somehow “advance” human rights and, for the US officials involved, one which would entrench and extend U.S. influence. A major theme of New Deal for the World was also the role of unintended consequences, in that a variety of constituencies seized upon the vague and inspirational rhetoric in the Atlantic Charter and sought to use it for their own ends.
Now, however, Borgwardt is interested in a different set of questions related to human rights politics and ideas: how did “human rights” become a concept that even the most heinous regimes feel that they need to buy into, if only to pay it lip service? Why did ideas about sovereignty and individual accountability articulated in a courtroom in provincial Germany go on to affect larger systems of international justice? The answer to these questions — grounded, in Borgwardt’s case, in her background as both a lawyer and a historian — cannot but interest us in a world that continues to be scarred by human rights violations, both domestic and international.
The Toynbee Prize Foundation’s Executive Director, Timothy Nunan, recently had the opportunity to sit down with Professor Borgwardt during a visit to Harvard University to present an excerpt from her new manuscript, with the working title of The Nuremberg Idea: “Thinking Humanity” in History, Law & Politics, under contract with Alfred A. Knopf. We have reproduced below an edited transcript of that conversation.
Timothy Nunan (TN): Thank you for taking the time to sit down with us.
Elizabeth Borgwardt (EB): I was so thrilled to receive your invitation! I had just been reading your wonderful interview with Susan Pedersen, in preparation for reviewing her book on the League of Nations, and was already hoping that some day I’d have the opportunity to be speaking about my new manuscript.
TN: Perhaps we should start with your path to the profession of history. I know that you came to history after a career in law. If you could maybe talk a bit about your path to history. Did you have any initial inclination toward working as a professional historian?
EB: Well, I wasn’t sure I’d be lucky enough to be a professional historian, but maybe as a lawyer or legal scholar with a deep interest in history. My interest in the Nuremberg trials dates back to when I was a law student here [at Harvard]. As a creature of habit, I would always sit in the same place to study. I preferred the more human-scale International Legal Studies library to what I saw as the overblown pretentiousness of the main law library, with its gilt engravings and huge portrait of a fierce-looking Oliver Wendell Holmes. My study spot happened to be opposite the forty-two volumes of the Nuremberg trial transcripts, so that became my procrastination project, just reading through all the volumes.
I also used to hang around in the upstairs stacks, and became obsessed with a typescript version of the dissent of the Indian Justice, Radhabinod Pal, at the 1946-48 Tokyo War Crimes trial; the sheets were just unbound pages in a folder. Hardly anyone had published anything about Pal’s dissent at that time. I could see records of who had signed for it at Harvard, for instance, which was exactly nobody, with no publications specifically on the dissent the card catalogue.
Pal’s contribution to the Tokyo trial was an impassioned diatribe that ran to over a thousand pages in manuscript. And so a study of Pal’s dissent as a kind of early Third World critique of public international law as a hegemonic imperialist club became my third-year paper in law school, working with Detlev Vagts. Pal wrote about the use of atomic weapons was a crime against humanity, for example. I was so preoccupied with this text that my friends began to refer to my paper as “our pal Pal” because he had become part of their lives, too.
I published the paper on Rahadbinod Pal as a law review article during my judicial clerkship, which I served in San Francisco. Soon, though, the opportunity to think more broadly appeared. After I finished the clerkship, I unexpectedly had the opportunity to do some law teaching down the road at Stanford, because they needed someone to fill in as a temporary lecturer. I was hoping that in addition to teaching and practicing law, I would also be able to turn my long Tokyo trial article – “Ideology and International Law: The Dissent of the Indian Justice at the Tokyo War Crimes Trial” – into a book.
But the more I followed up on the issues and problems with the Tokyo War Crimes trial, the more I felt that all roads were leading back to Nuremberg. Almost everyone analyzing the Tokyo trial has highlighted how similar the Tokyo charter was to the earlier Nuremberg charter, for instance. So that became my jumping off point: Why did the Nuremberg charter look that way? Why did the trial’s designers set it up that way, rather than some other way? What did they think they had learned from the failed experience of the war crimes trials in the wake of the First World War?
TN: So, as you were beginning this research process, what were your biggest misconceptions about Nuremberg? What are some common impressions that people have about Nuremberg that turned out not to be correct?
EB: Well, there are a number of mistakes people commonly make about the main 1945-46 Nuremberg trial, such as arguing that the term “genocide” was not used at all, or that there were no witnesses at the main Nuremberg trial, or that the term “crimes against humanity” was an innovation that was created for use at Nuremberg. These are simply factual errors that I still see everywhere.
Then there are what I might call mistakes of emphasis. The main one is portraying the designers and litigators of the main Nuremberg trial as much more farsighted than they actually were. In real time, the Allied prosecutors in particular thought they were running a trial about what they called crimes against peace, that is, waging aggressive war. They thought they were strengthening and extending the Kellogg-Briand Pact [the 1928 Pact of Paris] to definitively outlaw aggression. Crimes against humanity was to them little more than an afterthought. How crimes against humanity came to be the main show over the course of the postwar era is one of the fascinating stories in these archives.
I think it is also fairly common to elide or downplay the importance of the twelve so-called “subsequent” trials held in the same Nuremberg courtroom from 1946 to 1949. These were the later, thematically-organized trials convened by the United States such as the Doctors’ Trial, about involuntary medical experiments, or the Industrialists’ Trials, about the responsibility of corporate directors for human rights abuses such as the use of slave labor. The movie Judgment at Nuremberg was about one of these subsequent U.S. trials, the 1948 Judges’ Trial, for example, not about the main, four-power tribunal. It was also, I believe, William Shatner’s film debut.
TN: Sure. And although there has been a great deal written about Nuremberg, I was struck by your assertion that there are very few treatments of all thirteen trials.
For me what stands out is the chance to examine all thirteen trials as episodes in international intellectual history and how they worked together to reshape important, pre-existing legal concepts. And the role of the Doctor’s Trial, the Industrialists’ Trials, and the other thematic trials at Nuremberg are what makes this a “U.S. in the World” story, in that these later trials were designed and run by U.S. occupation forces, as was the contemporaneous Tokyo Trial. I now see how my analysis has benefitted from analyzing these 1945-49 trials as a group.
This framing reflects my own path to studying the trials. I have been working at the seams where history, law, and IR intersect since I was undergraduate. I earned an M.Phil. in International Relations at Cambridge, really as a fourth-year of undergraduate study. Coming out of law school, I had reverted to that lawyerly perception that it was more professional to find what lawyers would call bright line between “the politics” and “the law” of Nuremberg. I was going to find some definitive way of doing that, with politics meaning, basically, illegitimate approaches that should be discarded, and a realm of law, meaning whatever shards of the trials were legitimate and should be respected.
I cast this approach aside after reading Judith Shklar’s brilliant book, Legalism, where she basically throws this false binary out the window. Her framing had so much intuitive traction for me, where she basically said, “what a stupid question as to whether these trials were “good law” or “just politics.” Surely it’s ALL politics!” She went on to argue that just because an international trial is a political act doesn’t then mean that it’s the same as a Soviet show trial, with Vyshinsky sitting there, but that these trials may be situated on a spectrum of responses to atrocities that could appropriately be more or less politically contested. We can then argue about the quality of the politics. The key question then became was it better to have conducted these trials than not to have conducted them, and how might we argue abut that, rather than was Nuremberg perfect or pure.
This was a much richer and more fruitful debate, to me, than just saying “everything to do with liberal internationalism is terrible,” which was kind of where I was coming out of the Pal article. And on a more wide-ranging level, Shklar’s scholarship showed me how legal history might be seen as a branch of intellectual history, as she had long argued.
TN: It sounds like the Indian dissent, if you like, gave you an externalist platform or language with which to think about this, while the Shklar was this internalist perspective from which to dwell on these issues of liberal internationalism from within that discourse.
EB: Yes, exactly; that’s very incisive. Nuremberg’s critics were vitriolic and legion, both then and now. And one of their most persistent framings tends to be that the trials were “tainted” by politics, and this would accordingly mean that the proceedings could not amount to “real” law. As noted, this was the perspective I once shared. But then I began wrestling with how to continue to critique the many shortcomings of these thirteen trials without dismissing the whole enterprise.
TN: Was this all going through your head as you were doing the PhD?
EB: Well, I was still practicing law at this point, but it was becoming clear that my dream of turning that Tokyo trial article into a book was not going anywhere. While I was still serving as a law lecturer, I made an appointment to speak with the chair of the History Department at Stanford, literally wandered over with my law review article in my hand to meet with David M. Kennedy. And I said, look, I have this dream of writing a book about World War II-era legal history – do you have any kinds of fellowships or visitorships that might help me do this? And when he finished laughing, he basically said, “You’re coming from the Law School and asking me for money? Are you kidding?”
Fortunately for me, Kennedy then suggested that if I were really serious about writing a book, I should consider applying to do a doctorate in history, and Stanford might even be able to waive some of the coursework as I already had a subfield in legal history by virtue of my law degree. Initially, I thought, “Really? Another degree? No thanks!” But the longer I continued in practice, the better this idea seemed. Mostly I was just very lucky that at that time Kennedy was working on what became his Freedom From Fear on the 1930s and 1940s. I became one of the research assistants for that book, and I think perhaps because Kennedy viewed himself as having a World War I and Progressive-era specialization in U.S. history, he was happy to have some people around who were working on World War II.
TN: And I presume that your set of research interests, from working as a research assistant for Freedom From Fear, played into the making of A New Deal for the World?
EB: Well, the interests for me were pre-existing. But I definitely felt as if I had hit the jackpot in being able to work with Kennedy. The truth is, I always thought that Freedom From Fear would have been the best title for my book! And David Kennedy, in common with many of the best advisors, always encouraged me to write the dissertation as a book manuscript, devoid of both legal jargon and historiographical throat-clearing. He would say things like “you have to be able to tell your story without mentioning the name of Jurgen Habermas,” which I always thought was kind of hilarious.
I found I enjoyed writing about documents and their construction. I loved the way the U.S. negotiators of the United Nations Charter, especially, would talk about how they were giving life to an earlier, more general statement of principles, the 1941 Atlantic Charter, negotiated by Roosevelt and Churchill and a handful of their senior staffs before the US had even entered the war. They talked about how the Atlantic Charter was like the American Declaration of Independence and how the UN Charter was more like the US Constitution. I think they really believed this; it was fascinating.
Using a particular document as a jumping-off point for a wider meditation on U.S. foreign policy was a venerable device, just as Felix Gilbert had done with Washington’s Farewell Address, which was a book I was teaching with at the time.
So, at the dissertation stage, Nuremberg became a label for a package of issues, a kind of case study, as one of three charters of institutions that were set up during the war — first the Atlantic Charter, and then its three “progeny” charters in the realms of international political economy, security, and justice – i.e., the Bretton Woods Agreements, the UN Charter, and the Nuremberg Charter.
I thought I was writing a book about institutions. And the late, great Ken Cmiel took me aside at the Annual Meeting of the American Historical Association and asked, “do you realize that what you are really writing about is human rights”? In the early 2000s there were very few dissertations actually focusing on human rights, but Cmiel encouraged me to join him in developing this subfield.
By way of encouragement to others who may be reading this interview, I should say that I had a fair amount of pushback from publishers at first — my revised manuscript was over 1000 pages, and this in a world where academic publishers are skeptical about publishing dissertations that are 300 pages. They wanted something that was the moral equivalent of 220 typeset pages, and I would explain about the comparative approach, and that each of the three case studies needed room to breathe, room to develop, and eventually I convinced them.
TN: Could you talk a bit about the research process for New Deal for the World and some contrasts with your current project? Now you are including quite a lot of analysis about middle-tier actors, and the role of exile governments like the Poles in London. Looking back on the experience you had with New Deal for the World, what would be your advice for people writing dissertations in the U.S. in the World field?
EB: Well, I wouldn’t recommend doing it the way I did it! That is, spending lots of time with archives and unpublished sources before you even know what you’re doing. And even trying to write an initial draft with minimal secondary citations. Basically, I wrote my dissertation twice; once almost exclusively with archival sources and then again after I realized that many of my points had already been made in the secondary literature. As a graduate student, I didn’t want to be seen to be overstepping in claiming originality. So if anything, I went overboard with the secondary literature. It was very time-consuming. One reviewer actually said “any time I was looking for a citation, it was there. Every single time.” I think this may be too high a standard to be realistic this time around.
After saying that was a mistake, however, I’ve ended up doing almost the same thing with this project. If you’re in a hurry, again, I think it would be a huge waste of time to adopt this approach. For this chapter [from Nuremberg Idea], I’m interested in how certain intuitions I had about the “crimes against humanity” label played out in the primary sources. Giving shape to these intuitions, however, just came from reading and reading and reading. I could feel a kind of gravitational pull from the sources: the more I read, the more I knew the material I was looking for would be out there based on what else I was reading. And yes, as with the New Deal book, the “middle tier” actors were key, as Paul Kennedy has argued in a military context.
TN: Perhaps a way to frame this in relation to your talk is, you’re framing this around Herbert Claiborne Pell, whom I think is not there on the “Greatest Hits of American diplomacy” …?
EB: . . . And kind of a nut, right? I’m drawn to these individuals, in part to underline that intellectual history is also about people and their stories. There’s a strange kind of hierarchy in our subfield where theory or quantitative analysis is meant to be persuasive, but deep archival work on particular episodes is somehow just sparkly anecdotes. It’s puzzling to me, because these stories, when they are done well, have at least the potential to be suggestive or even emblematic in various kinds of provocative ways, and to supplement more theory-oriented approaches. And of course, one can tell stories with numbers or with theories, as well.
TN: When did Pell appear on your radar, then?
EB: Well, Pell’s story is partly a kind of penance for having excluded him and his organization, the United Nations War Crimes Commission, from New Deal for The World. There, I didn’t really talk about the War Crimes Commission at all; it just seemed to me that Gary Bass and other analysts looking at the early ‘40s were consistently saying, “Look, if few of the actors at Nuremberg or later are thinking in terms of the UNWCC, then why should we?” Subsequently, Dan Plesch published some fascinating work on the UNWCC. So I wondered: could they both be right? Could the UNWCC matter as intellectual history even if there wasn’t a direct line?
TN: As a research strategy, you look at Plesch’s book, and his work in making those files public, and it’s 500,000 files of documentation. And you think, we live in a world in which if you want to write a book whose fulcrum will not be the UNWCC …
EB: Again, not terribly efficient, I know. I had actually read a great deal about the War Crimes Commission before their records were declassified, since they were available in the U.K. although not in the U.S. And this material also struck me as another way to make the case for the value of archival work, in that they do cast a very different light on some of these origin stories about how terms such as crimes against peace and crimes against humanity were used at Nuremberg.
TN: Well, to set this up more for people who will be reading this interview without having been at the seminar, one of the issues that you are engaging with here, and that Pell is engaging with, is this distinction between crimes against humaneness – “Menschlichkeit” – and the other as crimes against humankind –“Menschheit” – the one, a kind of chivalric notion, the other a more modern notion of humanity. Some people might say, “This seems like the reason I dropped out of German class,” but for you it’s emblematic.
EB: Haha! I don’t think it has to be quite so esoteric. I’d say that the larger purpose is to fold in cultural politics with legal analysis, rather than to reify the term “crimes against humanity” and then ransack all of human history in order to find the same label in use at various moments in the past. There’s a split between what we might more modernly call humanitarianism and human rights. And I wasn’t persuaded by what I read in either the social science or the legal literature by how we analyze and historicize that split.
By the way, I don’t think that any international lawyer today would necessarily look at it this way. But scholars in other fields are able to use a wider lens. For example, I recently an e-mail from John Ikenberry – actually, that was kind of a thrill – asking me whether I agreed that in the early 1940s this civilizational rhetoric around the outbreak of World War II was displaced by a new Four Freedoms rhetoric that focused more on developmentalism. Yes – exactly! Crimes against humanity had been “crimes against civilization,” a much more 19th-century vision of civilization. The 1940s displacement was that such atrocity crimes became crimes against what we would now call human rights.
TN: Is that “the Nuremberg Idea,” then?
EB: Yes, although interestingly, it didn’t take place at the main Nuremberg trial. The designers of the first trial struggled with this approach, but they were so preoccupied with prosecuting aggression that crimes against human rights were never anything but a sideshow. Figuring out the place of atrocity crimes was much more a function of the so-called subsequent Nuremberg trials that I mentioned before, the twelve trials at Nuremberg from 1946-49. This is fascinating to me; that it’s a Nuremberg idea, but a different Nuremberg than the one we normally think of.
TN: It’s helpful. Also, it seems that maybe a decade letter, we have ideas of Judeo-Christianity, or the Judeo-Christian heritage as moves away from a kind of ideology of, let’s call it Semitism, where Jews are seen as a distinct limb within the West, to something that’s part of a greater, a greater Western whole.
EB: Sure, that kind of broader shift. There’s this move toward pluralism as an affirmative Allied value, which Wendy Wall has analyzed so well in her Inventing the American Way. You think of something like the wartime buddy movie, where there’s an Italian, an Irishman, and so on in the foxhole. And all of this is set up to counter this vision of the Third Reich, of ethnic homogeneity. But then you see some of our historical actors in say, the US Office of War Information, putting the brakes on when it comes to race, resulting in awkward teachable moments like the film “A Welcome to Britain,” which basically suggests that white servicemen shelve their prejudices for the time being.
TN: This reminds me of a conversation I had with Adam Tooze for the Toynbee Prize Foundation last autumn. A point he really emphasizes in The Deluge is that Wilson was very nervous, at least in his telling, of bringing the US into the war, because of this sense that assimilating these Italians, these Irish, etc., was so urgent. And by the 1940s, now, in your telling, this assimilated Irishman can be presented as an achievement rather than a challenge. Does this embrace of American pluralism look different in the Tokyo Trials? Does this change, do you think, when they are judging non-Europeans?
EB: Well, there’s an even bigger gap between what happens at the Tokyo Trial and US public interest in terms of attentiveness to that trial. I think there is a greater support among the US public, a la John Dower, in terms of wanting just to hang everyone. As draconian as that sounds, if you think of how little debate there was relatively recently about simply assassinating Osama bin Laden versus putting him on trial, it was closer to that kind of atmosphere. Now, obviously, bin Laden was part of an ongoing enterprise, as opposed to the end of World War II in Germany and Japan, where the war was definitively over. But there wasn’t a great deal of scrutiny of the trial device in a Japanese context, more like a collective shrug around the idea that “if MacArthur thinks this will make Japan more governable, then, great.”
TN: Could you talk about the current architecture of the Nuremberg book? Could you describe what the arc of this book will be for us?
EB: Well, as a consumer I was never able to find the one book I really wanted to read about Nuremberg, which would be a treatment about where some of these ideas and concepts came from, or at least different kinds of origin stories — not just Hersch Lauterpacht having Sunday lunch with Robert H. Jackson – and then would take these ideas through the postwar era to see how they would play out.
I had conducted enough research for my first project to see “crimes against humanity” as a late 19th century concept, that there was an important iteration and distillation in the late 19th century, just as Peter Holquist and others have been arguing. And Geoffrey Robinson will probably come and point to an instance in the 15th century, and how Louis XVI was tried for “the crime against humanity” which was tyranny, so I definitely get it that the locution was older.
It was interesting to me that our historical actors in the 1940s rely on the 1899 Hague Conventions as a direct precedent, but they don’t discuss anything earlier, and they don’t even discuss documents coming out of the Armenian Genocide that use the term crimes against humanity, even though some of these papers were British. These New Deal lawyers and others seem to think that they are massaging the Hague concepts from 1899 to help international law “make progress.” It was only the more granular archival research from basically 1942-44 that enabled me to see a shift taking place beyond the legal plane.
TN: And it seems that for the purpose of this chapter, you are coming back to Shklar, in that you are not just the legal brain in the jar, judging about reality, but you’re in this world of people with head colds and bronchitis in London, arguing, messily, about concepts.
EB: Yes, that’s the chapter I’ll be workshopping today. But then there’s the question of how far to take it up chronologically in the book as a whole. Because today crimes against humanity features very prominently in the ICC’s Rome Statute, and Saddam Hussein was tried for crimes against humanity, as was Radovan Karadic. For now it seems as if the UN promulgation of the “Responsibility to Protect” in 2004-5 seems like a reasonable place to stop. One book can’t be about everything!
TN: Indeed, 1880s to 2004.
EB: Not exactly the longue duree, but still quite a big chunk of time, especially as compared to my first book, which focused on 1941 to 1946. Of course not every episode can be as detailed as it in this particular chapter. But there are certainly moments where I zero in. The Eichmann trial is one, for example, when Hannah Arendt argues that there is a mistaken focus on “crimes against the Jewish people” rather than crimes against humanity, and the controversy that flowed from her analysis. Where is the book that puts all thirteen Nuremberg trials together with Eichmann? A book that would cover the Nuremberg story, but take these nineteenth century events seriously, as well as analyzing the postwar unfolding. So I find myself writing the book I always wanted to read myself.
TN: Well, I guess to begin to bring this to a close, someone today might look at the ICC and say, “Why is it that the USA was so vociferous in creating a criminal court at Nuremberg, and today there’s little interest in international criminal law.” So, a very presentist question, but what do you think are the lessons that one can draw from this earlier moment of deep US investment in international criminal legal institutions, versus our present moment of disinvestment?
EB: Yes, at certain junctures we see the U.S. building and reinforcing institutions and norms, and then at other times flaunting them or undermining them. But to me it seems kind of unsurprising that superpowers would try to construe their self-interest in a self-interested way. What does seem surprising is that the U.S. did it at all, and that the gap between what was going on at Nuremberg and what people thought was important, namely the prosecution of aggression, and what was important later, turned out to be so wide. There was a huge gap between what contemporaries thought Nuremberg was about and what we think it’s about now.
TN: As you have been writing this project, are there any inklings of what you would like to work on for future projects?
EB: Yes, definitely! Initially, some folks labeled my work “ambitious,” usually as shorthand for “where does a graduate student get off thinking she can write about these big, sweeping topics?” Believe me, “ambitious” in that context was not a compliment. Now, I have young scholars come up to me who say, wow, it’s so great that you work on these huge projects; it encouraged me to cast my net more widely. Look at these superstar scholars like Adam Tooze —how can you write a single book about World War I? It’s clearly possible, and it’s important, I think, especially post-tenure, to have a project with a big chronological and analytical sweep, and for me that’s Nuremberg Idea.
For the next project, it will definitely be something more bounded, a short monograph about corporate responsibility for human rights abuses, with a focus on the 1980s, from which I’ve already started publishing articles. I have a number of projects underway post-Nuremberg Idea and they are all much more bounded! I have a co-edited volume on Grand Strategy, with Andrew Preston and Christopher Nichols, and an article on sovereignty which focuses on the Trust Territories of the Pacific Islands. Also a collection of human rights essays with Penn Press, because so many of them have been published in law reviews or edited volumes, and are somewhat difficult to find.
The corporate human rights abuse project is really exciting terrain for me – a number of the earliest arguments about group versus individual responsibility are being made at Nuremberg, actually, at the Nuremberg Industrialists’ Trials. There’s a great deal I could do with the industrialists’ trials on their own, to say nothing of their postwar legacies, which in the U.S. case is the transformation of the Alien Tort Claims Act of 1789. The idea sometimes shocks people, where with Exxon in Indonesia, or Chevron in Nigeria, in certain circumstances you can have foreigners suing U.S. companies in federal court for human rights violations. This kind of transnational litigation has not yet been properly historicized. I think this is the case because historians think it will be too technical, and then lawyers don’t care about analyzing it historically, so very few scholars look at the Alien Tort Claims Act outside of a given contemporary controversy.
TN: This reminds me of the work of Toynbee interviewee Daniel Immerwahr, who writes about these debates around the group, the corporation, if you like, as a scale of human sociability.
EB: I admire his work very much. I also like the work of [the Princeton philosopher] Philip Pettit, too, on how groups make decisions.
TN: What books have you been reading recently with an international or global bent that have really stuck with you?
EB: Well, certainly Susan Pedersen’s book, which I reviewed for the Journal of American History. I am also a huge fan of Isabel Hull’s work, particularly her most recent book, A Scrap of Paper, on World I era public international law. I love their richly archival treatment of legal issues and of the history of international relations. That’s more of a niche area than you might think, at least outside of the U.K. You have figures like Isaiah Berlin in the British tradition, but today I don’t think that even Berlin or Hannah Arendt could get a job in a U.S. political science department today. There are exceptions – Ira Katznelson, John Ikenberry, and Michael Barnett on humanitarianism. I am a huge fan of political scientists and legal scholars who use archives, as well as historians who cross over into political or legal theory.
I’m also interested in work that is experimenting with other, less academic approaches, such as Philippe Sands’ East-West Street, which combines biography and family memoir, and which I’m reviewing now for Boston Review. And I’m reading some classic works of Grand Strategy, to help conceptualize how that field might expand into areas such as international public health, women’s roles in development, and human rights.
It should hardly surprise readers from the above that Borgwardt’s visit later the same afternoon to the Harvard International and Global History Seminar, led by Professors Erez Manela and Toynbee Prize Foundation Trustee David Armitage, attracted a large and enthusiastic crowd. Like us, many of the attendees were interested to discuss with Borgwardt how she intends to reconcile the granular detail that her archival finds allow her to provide on figures like Herbert Pell and Adolph Berle with the broad chronological scope of her intellectual biography of “the Nuremberg Idea.” Likewise, there remains open the question of how one can actually track the traffic in ideas between the European governments-in-exile in London and figures like Berle, Lauterpacht, and Robert Jackson.
Borgwardt noted that foreign language skills were helping her to better document the transnational intellectual history of “crimes against humanity,” and that U.S. in the World as a subfield can only be strengthened by additional multilingual, multiarchival scholarship and transdisciplinary inquiry. She noted that there is exciting work in progress by Francine Hirsch about how the Soviets understood and contributed to public international law that will also shed a different light on the proceedings.
As Borgwardt’s achievement in A New Deal for the World has shown, there are few scholars of international history better able to weave together meaty archival work and abstract legal theory and combine it with compelling analysis in an engaging narrative. We thank Professor Borgwardt for agreeing to be interviewed on her research agenda, and we know that we are not alone in following The Nuremberg Idea as it approaches print.
Raymond Aron represents one of the most important intellectuals to take stock of the global situation in the twentieth century. A frequent commentator to French debates through his position at the Sorbonne and Collège de France, and his long-time column at the newspaper Le Figaro (and, later, L’Express), he engaged in debates about the Algerian war of independence, the meaning of the 1968 student protests in France, and France’s position in a world marked by the East-West conflict, decolonization, and economic reconstruction in Europe. While sometimes criticized for being a generalist—“the professor at Le Figaro and the journalist at the Sorbonne,” in one rendering—Aron’s range makes him one of the most interesting commentators for historians trying to reconstruct the intellectual landscape of the twentieth century. Not least for this reason does Aron number among the recipients of the Toynbee Prize.
Yet in the Anglophone world, at least, the reception of Aron has been more blinkered. Many American readers are probably most familiar with Aron through the work of the late English historian Tony Judt, who in his 1992 volume Past Imperfect presented Aron as a beacon of sanity in a French intellectual scene otherwise marred by “the marked absence of a concern with public ethics or political morality.” More recently, readers without access to Aron’s writings in the original French may have engaged with him through the work of Columbia historian Mark Lilla, whose New French Thought Series for Princeton University Press re-introduced a French liberal center to Anglophone readerships. Both works situated Aron in a canon of responsible French intellectuals—Aron, Léon Blum, Albert Camus—who contrasted with radical or reactionary thinkers.
Daniel Steinmetz-Jenkins, our latest guest to the Global History Forum
However, as our most recent guest to the Global History Forum, Daniel Steinmetz-Jenkins, shows, there is another side to Aron that his current translation into the North American scene barely captures: namely, his engagement with American intellectual thought on themes like neoliberalism, modernization theory, and détente. Throughout his career, Aron debated and challenged Anglophone intellectuals like Edward Shils, Walt Rostow, Friedrich Hayek and others as intellectuals across the Atlantic found intellectual legitimizations for American hegemony. Steinmetz-Jenkins’ account also captures an Aron best understood not as a static “responsible” intellectual never changing, but rather as an evolving intellect who by the end of his life had arguably become a neoconservative. By the early 1980s, Aron was less committed to the kind of social democratic politics that marked his work from the 1940s and 1950s.
All of this recovers an Aron of interest not solely, or even primarily, of interest to historians of France or intellectual history as traditionally conceived. Instead, Steinmetz-Jenkins’ work helps us see an Aron as a figure who must be read alongside his American interlocutors if we hope to understand what was at stake in debates about the above themes. His reading also helps us see Aron as part of an Atlantic intellectual story wherein former liberals—think here Daniel Bell, Irving Kristol, or Malcolm Glazer in the American context—became neoconservatives by the 1970s. In short, Steinmetz-Jenkins helps us rethink Aron as precisely the kind global intellectual that the Toynbee Prize Foundation sought to recognize in awarding him the Prize in the 1970s. In order to discuss some of these themes, Toynbee Prize Foundation Executive Timothy Nunan spoke with Steinmetz-Jenkins via telephone recently.
We begin our discussion of Steinmetz-Jenkins’ contribution by asking him about his road to history as a discipline. Steinmetz-Jenkins initially pursued theological studies. He prepared for a career as a pastor or a theologian himself, and to that end, his first collegiate experience was at a Pentecostal Bible College. Yet for a variety of reasons, over time he became much more interested in political and historical questions, although theology still remains of significant interest. After receiving an MA in theology from Western Seminary in Portland, Oregon. he eventually came to the conclusion that he would rather study history and started his studies afresh at Concordia University, a Lutheran institution of higher education in Oregon. From there, he credits the mentoring of historians like Mark Ruff (at Concordia) and Ben Lazier (at Reed College, where Steinmetz-Jenkins pursued an MA in Liberal Studies after receiving a history degree from Concordia) for getting him up to speed on the field and the professional realities of an academic career as a historian of Europe.
Soon, by 2009, Steinmetz-Jenkins was off to Columbia University to study European intellectual history. But what topic would he choose? His initial inclination was to focus on the work of Carl Schmitt, a German legal scholar whose writings on political theory have proven extremely influential but whose legacy remains controversial due to Schmitt’s membership in the National Socialist Party and his scholarly defenses of anti-Semitism in German academia and Nazi foreign policy. Perhaps because Schmitt’s work emphasizes the centrality of executive power and existential distinctions between “friends and enemies,” reinterpreting his works had become a small cottage industry by the time of the Bush Administration’s War on Terror and defense of its actions through “unitary executive theory.” Steinmetz-Jenkins was interested in particular in exploring Schmitt’s idea of political theology (the idea, to oversimplify, that meaningful political concepts are secularized theological concepts), and when he went to Paris following his first year in the program, his PhD supervisor, Samuel Moyn, advised him to take a look at the correspondence between Schmitt and Raymond Aron held at the Bibliothèque nationale de France.
It turned out to be good advice—but for unexpected reasons. Steinmetz-Jenkins dove into the correspondence of Aron with the German intellectual, but he soon became as fascinated with the former as with the latter. “Here was a scholar,” explains Steinmetz-Jenkins, “that had exchanges, some of which quite significant, with the leading intellectual and political figures of his time, from Walter Benjamin and Herbert Marcuse, to John F. Kennedy and Henry Kissinger.” There was also the professional benefit of being able to make a bigger splash, as more and more work on Schmitt was being produced as Steinmetz-Jenkins decided on a dissertation topic. Aron, in contrast, was a more open field. The bigger challenges turned out to be interpretative. Aron wrote so much for so long that it was difficult to get a grasp on him. And because Aron enjoyed such charged reputations on different sides of the Atlantic, taking a stance on Aron in general could be construed by French or American audiences as an acid test for a broad set of political stances. But over the next several years (most of them spent in Paris), Steinmetz-Jenkins dove into the Aron papers at the BnF. He traveled to use the collections of prominent American social scientists in the United States. And he made it all the way to California, to work with the papers of the Mont Pelerin Society, located at the Hoover Institution.
We ask Steinmetz-Jenkins if he has any reflections to offer to budding intellectual historians on research process. Here, he offers two notes. One is the importance of archival research—“even” for intellectual historians. “There is a reluctance that many intellectual historians have,” he says, “to do archival work, because they’re focused on ideas. That focus on ideas seems to suggest that they don’t need to look at letters, since the big ideas are in the books. But many of the claims of this dissertation have been derived from archival research. The chapter on Hayek, for example, makes heavy use of the archives of the Congress for Cultural Freedom at the University of Chicago’s Regenstein Library. In that sense, this dissertation makes the case that you can write a really good intellectual history project that makes heavy use of archives.” Lest this sound like a slog— Steinmetz-Jenkins will have visited some two dozen archives by the time the book is completed—he emphasized that it is enriching. “Throughout, I enjoyed the process, since I discovered many things that I don’t think are well known, at least in published writing.”
Another point concerns the importance of intellectual historians immersing themselves in secondary literature, especially if they want to make contributions to fields or discussions beyond just the field of intellectual history. That’s especially true in the case of someone like Aron, who made interventions into fields from international relations to modernization theory to decolonization. The problem Steinmetz-Jenkins encountered was that merely reading Aron’s output and the growing research literature on Aron was a huge task; adding to this a mastery of the history about one of the thematic avenues of his dissertation would have made things even more difficult. In his own case, he notes, the receipt of a prestigious post-doctoral fellowship was both a blessing and a curse, since he was forced to write up his findings quickly, rather than being able to integrate a more nuanced reading of one theme or the other into his Aron materials. “If I could have done it over again, I would have been more versed in modernization theory. I would have wanted to read more about debates about modernization in France, and then connect those to debates in the United States.” Doing precisely this remains a priority as Steinmetz-Jenkins refines the manuscript.
Moving beyond these issues of process, we plunge into a discussion of some of the debates around which Steinmetz-Jenkins organizes his treatment of Aron: neoliberalism; modernization; international relations realism; and neoconservatism. As Steinmetz-Jenkins argues, it’s in examining these four themes that readers can see how Aron offers a “a sustained critique of what I describe as the American ideology—a realist approach to international relations, the view that parliamentary democracy can be transferred abroad via global development schemes, the reduction of human liberty to free markets, and an over-reliance on rational choice theory and computer technologies to predict military, and specifically, insurgent behavior.” This doesn’t just make Aron significant on his own terms; it also means he’s a useful thinker for today’s critiques of “the American ideology” to reach back to as they articulate their concerns about trade deals, drone warfare, policy vis-à-vis Ukraine or Syria, and so on. Furthermore, Aron’s thought is refreshingly free of some of the dark associations of the other intellectual—Carl Schmitt—that critics of American power might use.
In order to ground the discussion a bit more, we ask Steinmetz-Jenkins to explain Aron’s stance vis-à-vis debates over neoliberalism and the welfare state. The starting point here is France in the 1930s, where intellectuals debated the proper response of the state to the post-1929 global economic crisis. Some on the Marxist Left perceived the global depression merely as the inevitable result of the contradictions of capitalism. The left-wing coalition that governed France from 1936-1938, the Popular Front, agreed with the proposition that more economic planning was necessary to resolve the crisis and implemented policies like a forty-hour work week and the nationalization of French credit. On the other side of the spectrum, what might be dubbed Manchester liberals promoted free trade and a loosening of work and labor regulations as the best response to the crisis. Those on the left could argue that precisely such liberal policies had helped augur in the economic crisis; those on the right, that state controls were responsible for double-digit inflation and job cuts, thus limiting workers’ gains and exacerbating the mass unemployment that the Left had sought to combat.
At the same time, however, many figures in the French intellectual scene sought a “Third Way” between these options of right or left. Aron, Steinmetz-Jenkins, explains, viewed both Marxism as well as Manchester liberalism as relics of a nineteenth-century ideological age. Examining intellectual forums like the Colloque Walter Lippmann (a five-day event that took place in 1938 and brought Aron together with a young Friedrich Hayek), Steinmetz-Jenkins shows how the core issue for Aron was not simply that one ideological vision (Marxism or laissez-faire liberalism) would boost GDP or employment, but rather than both were themselves expressions of a kind of ideological determinism.
This, Steinmetz-Jenkins explains, is most on display in Aron’s 1938 dissertation, Introduction to the Philosophy of History. For Aron, what united doctrinaire Marxists with budding neoliberals like Hayek (who outlined some the arguments to appear later in The Road to Serfdom in a 1938 article titled “Freedom and the Economic System”) was their ideological, deterministic thinking. Marxists insisted on the inevitability of proletarian revolution as the result of capitalism; neoliberals, meanwhile, insisted on the natural and inevitable descent of any kind of central planning into unfreedom, even though this argument was not backed up by any factual or historical examples. Aron, Steinmetz-Jenkins explains, did not dispute the necessity or desirability of developing abstract economic models, but he was skeptical of Hayek’s early thought as a kind of “inverse Marxism” driven by the idea of one set of circumstances necessarily producing a certain outcome. “This made it,” Steinmetz-Jenkins explains, “an ideology that didn’t deal with reality—it was an ideology that mapped itself onto politics and attempted to steer it in a direction that reality didn’t want to go. “
What’s more, this insistence on planning necessarily leading to dictatorship was especially unhelpful for those (like Aron) interested in preventing the rise of Soviet-aligned Communist Parties in Western Europe. Theorists like Hayek might have thought that only laissez faire could hold off the Marxist temptation, but Aron saw “Hayek’s thought as an ideology that would create the conditions under which Marxism could speak to the working class.” The adequate response to meet the Soviet challenge, argued Aron, would combine some elements of the welfare state (to avoid the inequalities created by unfettered capitalism) but also pay attention to the realities of the geopolitical situation to avoid European decadence and the possibility of Nazi, or, later, Soviet domination. (The economic policies of the Popular Front government handicapped the French armaments industry at a time of unprecedented German rearmament, thus hamstringing the Third Republic’s ability to slow down the Nazi war machine in 1940.) Parallels arguably abound with today, when record numbers of young Americans and Europeans seem interested in “socialism” (however defined) after feeling let down by austerity and trickle-down economics; at the same time, some might argue that vigilance against an activist Russian Federation is more important than reallocating resources to social programs that would respond to young citizens’ demands.
Fittingly, the specter of Soviet domination over Europe would silence the divide between thinkers like Aron and Hayek for much of the 1940s and early 1950s. When asked, both agreed to participate in international conferences organized by the Congress for Cultural Freedom (CCF), an anti-communist advocacy group formed in West Berlin in 1950 shortly after the Soviet blockade and the Berlin Airlift. The CCF, which was exposed in 1966 to have received significant funding from the CIA, grew over time to be an incredibly active organization, running conferences around the world devoted to discrediting socialism and left-wing thought and upholding the importance of intellectual freedom around the world. This sufficed as a mission for the organization’s first several years, when the outbreak of the Cold War and the Chinese Revolution made a purely defensive, negative posture justified. But after Stalin’s death in March 1953, many involved in the CCF understood that the organization would have to adopt a more positive stance on what, exactly, “freedom” meant in the new Cold War world. Did free societies have, for example, large welfare states—or were these welfare steps merely a step down the Road to Serfdom, as a rejuvenated Hayek had begun to argue? Aron and Hayek had been put “on a collision course,” argues Steinmetz-Jenkins.
Steinmetz-Jenkins’ work delves into the archives of the CCF, Aron’s papers, and Hayek’s papers to explore the debate that unfolded at international conferences run by the organization, above all one that took place in Milan in 1955. At the top of the agenda was, in essence, the question of how “the end of ideology” could be globalized—that is, whether much of the non-Communist world could be convinced to avoid the extreme of Marxism-Leninism and instead embrace a non-ideological middle road. A few months before the Milan conference, Aron had published a piece in a CCF-funded journalstitled “What Are the Nations Arguing Over” (“De quoi disputent les nations?”) noting that:
we are becoming ever more aware that the political categories of the last century—Left and Right, liberal and socialist, traditionalist and revolutionary-have lost their relevance. They imply the existence of conflicts, which experience has since reconciled, and they lump together ideas and men whom the course of history has drawn into opposing camps.
At the Milan Conference, however, Hayek profoundly disagreed with this interpretation. In his speed, he argued for a conception of liberty centered around private ends and the private sphere, remarking that no other conception of liberty had supplanted this Lockean one in the last one hundred and fifty years. Rather than submitting himself to a vision of politics in which the masses no longer needed to be feared (since they had, in effect, been bought off from Marxism through the welfare state) Hayek remained militant about the need for “a good sprinkling of rich men who have both the leisure and the means to espouse unpopular causes and to oppose the monolithic power of the government machine representing the majority.” In short, without the permanent vigilance of liberal élites (think of the Koch Brothers, controversial in the United States for their support of free market policies) it was virtually inevitable either that the masses would demand more and more planning (reducing freedom) or that bureaucratic creep would achieve the same end of unfreedom.
Much as it did in the 1930s, this interpretation exasperated Aron. He viewed Hayek’s insistence about the inevitability of a turn from planning to dictatorship as an ideological position unfounded in reality. Unable to reconcile himself to Hayek’s position, he resigned from Hayek’s Mont Pelerin Society shortly after the Milan conference, and in many of his works in the 1960s, he stressed the “priority of the political” rather than the “priority of the economic” in determining the direction of societies. Aron noted that “industrial society” could exist under both conditions of socialism, like in the Soviet Union or Eastern Europe; or under conditions of capitalism, like in the United States or Western Europe. The existence of a planned economy in the Eastern Bloc, however, was the result of conscious political decisions and the legacy of Lenin and Stalin, not the purported inevitable turn from any planning to totalitarianism that Hayek seemed to be arguing for. As Steinmetz-Jenkins notes, “Aron observed that partial planning in the postwar era or even total planning, such as in Britain during the war, did not abolish the rule of law.” It was, in short, mistaken for theorists to try to argue that politics could be overwhelmed by “some kind of universal system, whether economic or political,” argues Steinmetz-Jenkins.
Aron’s engagements with American thinkers were not confined to these debates over economics. Even though the clash with Hayek was in part concerned the extent to whether the CCF should support laissez-faire economics or the welfare state as the way forward for the non-Communist world, Aron also grappled head on with questions of international development and international relations theory. Two of the chapters of Steinmetz-Jenkins’ work show in particular Aron’s engagement with the guru of American modernization theory, Walt Rostow; as well as the godfather of postwar American international relations realism, Hans Morgenthau. As was the case in Aron’s clash with Hayek, in both of these cases Aron plead for a “Third Way” that would offer an alternative to the faith in technology and power politics ultimately adopted by the United States in the 1960s.
Aron’s argument with Rostow was connected with debates inside the Congress for Cultural Freedom about the direction of the post-colonial world. By the late 1950s, Rostow had begun developing the theses that would figure into his major 1960 work, The Stages of Economic Growth: A Non-Communist Manifesto. In Rostow’s view, all nations passed through five stages of economic growth in their historical development, ending in a phase of mass consumption. Given the proper forms of assistance (whether American aid to post-colonial states like India, or French development assistance for Algeria, then in the middle of an anti-colonial revolution) societies could avoid the temptations of socialism or Third Worldism. In other words, the United States had a responsibility to guide post-colonial societies down this “natural” road of development to make sure that they did not fall off the path, as had Communist China, North Vietnam, or (as seemed increasingly possible) Algeria.
Aron had been aware of Rostow’s through CCF seminars in the late 1950s, but once The Stages of Economic Growth was published, he voiced his dissatisfaction with the work. He slammed Rostow’s “five-stage” scheme of history as incredibly simplistic, overlooking the fact that industrial “take-off” (Rostow’s term) had taken place under very different conditions in, for example, France and Brazil. Many societies, such as Meiji Japan, had managed to modernize without ditching tradition or embracing liberal political institutions, as Rostow suggested they necessarily would. Similarly, in the context of the 1960s, the Soviet Union and the United States had both modernized, but under diametrically opposed ideological systems. All of this meant, concluded Aron, that “there are no grounds for believing that all advanced societies must be of the same type.”
And even as Rostow went on to serve as American President John F. Kennedy’s National Security Advisor, Aron disseminated this critique to Asian (in particular Indian) members of the CCF who, too, felt that Rostow’s scheme to be too superficial. It was, in the end, better for Western would-be modernizers like Rostow to accept that Western political institutions had arisen under unique circumstances, and that many formerly colonized people would, for the foreseeable future, simply choose to go another way. As Aron concluded in one piece from the late 1950s:
whether independent Indians or Egyptians enjoy more or less liberal institutions is up to them. People of color, whom the Westerns have humiliated, use a Western vocabulary to voice their claims, but if they were given the choice between liberal institutions under Western tutelage or tyrannical ones in an independent state, the fact is that most of them would chose the second alternative.
From Aron’s point of view, Rostow’s intellectual resistance to these facts led him (and the United States) down the twisted road of the Vietnam War. Steadfast in the belief that enough modernization and economic aid could defeat a guerrilla war and popular nationalist movements, the United States embraced a cause it could not advance in Southeast Asia. As Aron later summed up in a book, The Imperial Republic, Rostow had, similarly to his intellectual cousin, Friedrich Hayek, fallen prey to ideological thinking. Ideologies, whether in the sphere of economics or modernization, demanded (however foolishly) that reality adapt itself to them, rather than the other way around.
Walter Rostow developed an interpretation of contemporary history to which [he] pinned [his] faith . . . . The North Vietnamese, he claimed, were the last prophets of revolutionary romanticism, and Vietnam was a decisive test of counterinsurgency, because if South Vietnam held out and won, the United States would have deterred the doctrinaires of the revolt of the countryside against the cities, the last proponents of Communist expansion by force, once and for all. Whether Kennedy or Johnson believed in these reasons or justifications, the war created its logic.
The other major bete noire for Aron in the sphere of international politics was the German-American émigré scholar Hans Morgenthau, probably most familiar to readers as the author of the influential textbook Politics Among Nations. Morgenthau’s work filled a need in the context of post-World War II America, as American élites looked for a comprehensive theory of international relations that could guide policy decisions. (Like most countries, an independent discipline of “International Relations” did not exist in postwar France.) In his work, Morgenthau emphasized the primacy of the pursuit of power and promotion of “the national interest” as key determinants in understanding international relations.
Morgenthau’s message had (and has) great appeal, but from Aron’s point of view, Morgenthau’s approach was based on an idealized picture of European diplomacy from the Treaty of Westphalia to the First World War, and then asserted that the dynamics of that period were universal across all historical contexts and geographies. Far from being an age of “international morality” (Morgenthau’s phrase), the Cold War was instead marked by an absolute contest between two opposed systems, and smaller states often had few options to resist falling into “the orbit of one or the other of the two giants whose political, military, and economic preponderance can hold them there even against their will.” Even assuming that the idealized period of European diplomacy had ever existed, it was dangerous to presume that similar wheeling and dealing could work in an international system of unprecedented bipolar ideological competition.
Aron sought to make these and other objections clear in his 1962 book, Paix et guerre entre les nations, itself an attempt to establish international relations as an intellectual field in France. Once again, ideology was the problem for American thinkers. Setting up power,” affirmed Aron, “as the unique or highest goal of individuals, parties or nations does not constitute a theory in the scientific sense but rather amounts to a philosophy or ideology.” It was an unhelpful truism to observe that states sought to promote their own interests, but Morgenthau’s approach avoided the crucial work of understanding how states defined their own interests. And particularly in the context of the Cold War, this realist approach was dangerous for understanding the conduct of ideologically-driven states. As Aron noted,
To say that the Soviet Union conducts its foreign affairs on the basis of its ‘national interests’ means that it is not guided exclusively by ideological considerations, by its ambition to spread communism. Such a proposition is undeniable, but to conclude from it that the rulers of a noncommunist Russia would have had the same diplomatic policy between 1917 and 1967 is simply absurd.
Once again, Aron sought to find a “Third Way,” this time between a Marxist approach that emphasized economic domination by capitalist elites and a “power politics” approach that emphasized an eternal contest for power in an anarchic international arena. “Aron,” emphasizes Steinmetz-Jenkins, “was trying to find a pathway between these extremes. He’s trying to find a pathway between his friend, Alexander Kojeve, and then the Schmittian worldview of enmity being ever present, and therefore war is ever-present.” Morgenthau had imported the latter into the American context, where American publics, unaware of Weimar-era political debates, absorbed it as objective theory rather than ideology. In contrast, says Steinmetz-Jenkins, Aron was “trying to find a worldview between the two. Instead of a theory, you’re supposed to write about the history of different cultures, you’re supposed to study the languages. And it’s only on the basis of that study that you can make a judgment. This was later his critique of the RAND Corporation, which relied too much on rational choice and calculation–it didn’t look at language, and culture.”
These attempts didn’t work. Morgenthau blasted Paix et guerre in a review, and it arguably was only thanks to Franco-American students and interlocutors like Harvard professor Stanley Hoffmann that Aron’s IR theory found a voice in the American academy. “Perhaps because of its intention to find a Third Way,” says Steinmetz-Jenkins, “people didn’t like Aron when it came to international relations theory. Ultimately, within the American context, Aron’s theory wasn’t as successful as Morgenthau’s theory. Morgenthau told audiences, ‘everyone is selfish, everyone wants power, and we can base policy on that.’ Whether Aron pulled this off, I think, is open to question. But perhaps the beauty of his thinking is the same reason for its failure. At the end of the day, politicians need to decide, and there’s the question of whether they can use Aron’s theory to make decisions.”
Ultimately, they couldn’t. As commentators like Stanley Hoffmann recognized, once Morgenthau’s theories of power politics arrived in Washington circles, they blended with, rather than replaced, older traditions of American exceptionalism and idealism. Rather than the concept of “the national interest” being used to define a more circumspect foreign policy, American foreign policymakers asserted a definition of the American interest that was practically limitless—precisely the danger that Aron asserted in a 1953 article. Precisely this kind of thinking legitimized the American intervention in Vietnam, and parallels to more recent events should be obvious, when the United States has, in effect, argued that the establishment of cosmopolitan democracies in Mesopotamia or the Hindu Kush was essential to American interests. Morgenthau did, it bears mentioning, oppose the Vietnam War, but Aron and his followers like Hoffmann recognized early on that the idea of a theory of international relations based on “national interest” would lend itself to easy misappropriation by ideologues.
As Steinmetz-Jenkins’ work concludes, however, it would be a mistake to see Aron exclusively as a critic of US power and neoliberal economics. Throughout the 1970s, he notes, Aron grew increasingly concerned that Western European societies had grown complacent to the greatest threat still facing them, namely the Soviet Army. He opposed strategic arms limitation talks on the grounds that they acquiescefd to Western nuclear strategic parity with Moscow. And he viewed United States’ President Jimmy Carter’s emphasis on human rights as “fool’s gold,” argues Steinmetz-Jenkins, since such “diplomatic evangelicalism” was unlikely to put serious pressure on the Soviet military machine.
By the late 1970s, Aron had joined the editorial board of American magazine Commentary (often linked the budding neoconservative movement), and he himself founded a journal, Commentaire, that would oppose the Common Program of François Mitterrand after 1981. “Instead,” explains Steinmetz-Jenkins, Aron “stressed the necessity of the market system and free enterprise to ensure political liberty out of fears of the Common Program and disdain for spoiled baby boomers.” Gone was an earlier interest in the need to placate the masses to avoid their turn toward Marxism; now, the risk seemed to be that the welfare state had so tranquilized the masses that they had turned their attention from the persistent threat of Soviet domination to matters of sexual liberation, lifestyle, and diet.
The transformation was complete when by the late 1970s, he announced his support for the election of Ronald Reagan, Ironically, even through Aron would come to be celebrated for his place as a morally engaged thinker within a French “liberal revival,” by the end of his life, he had completed the kind of turn toward neoconservatism. All of this makes Aron’s a rather mixed legacy. While Aron remained bitterly opposed to Hayek’s neoliberal policies to the end of his life, he eventually embraced the two figures (Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan) whose rise represented the ascendancy of Hayek’s thought into public policy. He had opposed the naïve identification of “the American interest” with the economic and institutional transformation of the non-Western world, but he allied himself with an American President more openly committed to military adventurism than any since Vietnam and under whom “democracy promotion” abroad became a core principle of US foreign policy. Paradoxically, the man who had sought a “Third Way” for so much of his life seemingly found it in neoconservatism. “All of this,” concludes Steinmetz-Jenkins, “is to say that Aron’s Third Way offers a mixed political bag that can contribute to the very causes it once sought to resist.”
With the dissertation behind him, Steinmetz-Jenkins is currently engaged in several projects in intellectual history. There remains the task of re-writing the dissertation into a book manuscript. He says, he intends to expand the manuscript with additional chapters focusing on (among other things) Aron’s engagement with intellectuals at the Rand Corporation. He has also recently received permission to work in the archives of Indian journals and magazines funded by the Congress for Cultural Freedom in the 1960s such as ReOrient andFreedom First, and he hopes to travel to India shortly in order to read those papers. These materials, together with other sources that should paint a fuller picture of Aron as a person (not just an intellect), should, Steinmetz-Jenkins hopes, flesh out the project and ground it more in the contours of the global Cold War and Aron’s biography itself.
Beyond this main task of revising the dissertation into a book manuscript, Steinmetz-Jenkins is engaged in two other projects. One longer-term engagement that he hopes to develop eventually as a book project is a global history of the idea of “the end of ideology.” By this Steinmetz-Jenkins means not just Daniel Bell’s most famous formulation of that idea, but rather the idea that a non-utopian system of government was even possible. (Twenty-first century readers might recognize the echoes of Bell’s idea in Francis Fukuyama’s idea of an “end of history,” coined at the end of the Cold War.) With Daniel Bell’s papers now open to researchers at the Archives of Harvard University, Steinmetz-Jenkins is hardly to lack for resources to carry out the project.
Finally, beyond this more conventional second project, Steinmetz-Jenkins is also at work on a book project under contract with Columbia University Press on the relationship of the Left to politics and religion since 9/11. It’s a controversial topic. Recently, Steinmetz-Jenkins notes, reactions to the assault on the French newspaper Charlie Hebdo have proven illustrative of divides on the issue of religion on the Left. Some observers have argued that the attacks, while heinous, are best understood in the context of systemic French Islamophobia and discrimination toward French Muslims, many of whom live in dilapidated banlieues.
Others, however, would argue that this account completely overlooks the importance of Islamist ideology and risks mistaking a global ideological phenomenon for nothing that better apartment blocks and better Metro connections couldn’t fix. Similar debates have only repeated themselves following the Bastille Day massacre in Nice, the murder of several dozen LGBT clubgoers at a Florida nightclub, and numerous individual killings apparently motivated by Islamist ideology everywhere from San Bernardino, California to Bavaria.
In his project, Steinmetz-Jenkins is interested in exploring how different intellectuals who broadly identified with anti-imperialist politics could come to such different conclusions about the proper forms of solidarity (or antipathy) to be accorded to religious movements and religion in the public sphere. Steinmetz-Jenkins is currently pursuing this project as a doctoral fellow at the University of California’s Center for the Study of Religion.
Beyond these endeavors, Steinmetz-Jenkins continues his work as editor of The Immanent Frame, an SSRC-funded blog devoted to secularism, religion, and the public sphere. We ask him what books with a global history focus have caught his attention. He notes that he’s read (and is currently participating in a a review forum of) David Milne’s recent Worldmaking, a history of American diplomacy through the biographies of ten or so important foreign policy thinkers.
Beyond Milne’s work, he recommends Princeton scholar Jan-Werner Müller’s recent What is Populism?, whether read alone or as a counterpoint to John Judis’ The Populist Explosion, another book on Steinmetz-Jenkins’ bookshelf these days. These works not only help make sense of populism as an intellectual tradition with a history, but are also timely at a moment when many states seem in the middle of a populist boom: look no further than the hostile takeover of the Republican Party – and successful election to the Presidency – by Donald J. Trump, the political successes of Alternative for Germany (AfD) across the Atlantic, or the bombastic combination of anti-Americanism, law and order, and nationalism vended by the Philippines’ President Rodrigo Duterte since his election to that office earlier this year.
Our conversation with Daniel Steinmetz-Jenkins has given us a vista not only of the life and work of Raymond Aron, but also of the current directions of intellectual history as a field. Thanks to his work in the archives, it becomes possible to see Raymond Aron within the French liberal revival, yes, but also within a broader frame that brings the United States into the picture and complicates our notions of what, exactly, said liberal revival was. We thank Steinmetz-Jenkins for participating in our conversation, and we wish him the best of luck as he steers The Other Intellectuals to publication.
As Americans debate their choice of President, enthusiasm for long-term ground wars in the Middle East seems at an all-time low. Both candidates debate the merits of drone warfare in distant lands, or even the desirability (and viability) of a ban on Muslims’ entry to the United States, but what does seem unanimous after two wars in Iraq and Afghanistan is that the U.S. role in the region is best handled by some combination of deploying remote force against “them” over “there,” and preventing “them” from coming to “us” “here.” With many debating whether the country can police its own cities in a way that does not reinforce racial injustice or systemic hierarchies, American appetites for reconfiguring foreign societies to police themselves appears to be at an all-time nadir.
Yet even if Americans seek a more reclusive role vis-à-vis the world (or at least societies wracked by civil war and conflict), what remains clear is that the effects of those wars are rebounding into America itself. Beyond the tens of thousands of veterans who cope with some form of PTSD or physical wounds, American immigration authorities have been criticized for not expediting the entry of former Iraqi or Afghan interpreters whose lives are at danger if they remain in their home countries.
These rebounds occur in a darker way, as well. The sniper who murdered five police officers in Dallas this June was a veteran of the war in Afghanistan. One of the many reforms demanded by activists within the Black Lives Matters movement, meanwhile, is closer scrutiny of the ways in which military equipment originally designed for use in Baghdad or Kabul has been repurposed for use against American citizens in St. Louis or Chicago. And with American troops removed absolved from directly occupying the likes of Fallujah or Lashkar Gah, many of the soldiers and ordinary policemen responsible for ensuring order in the streets of post-American Iraq and Afghanistan are graduates of American training programs.
Connections like these, as our most recent guest to the Global History Forum shows, have histories. A postdoctoral fellow in Global American Studies at the Charles Warren Center for Studies in American History at Harvard University, Stuart Schrader explores how the United States exported police expertise around the world of the Cold War, particularly from the late 1950s to the mid-1970s. During those years, USAID (the American foreign development aid agency) not only engaged in now-familiar projects of dam-building, road-building, and food aid in the name of “development.” Modernization was conceived not only in terms of kilowatts and calories, but also in terms of the number of fingerprints, and traffic stops; in terms of the number of professionalized, educated, and uniformed cops walking a beat in Saigon or Jakarta.
But Schrader’s work—which he has revised into a book manuscript provisionally titled American Streets, Foreign Territory—explores not only this under-appreciated aspect of modernization and development aid. It also, as our introduction to it suggests, investigates the ways in which a close examination of policing practices blurs the divide between domestic and foreign territory. It explores the ways in which the streets of Watts or Detroit became coconstituted with those of Tehran or Guatemala City. It explores, in short, the transnational lives of the American state during the context of the Cold War and the 1960s, although the entanglements he reveals are still ongoing.
Toynbee Prize Foundation Executive Director Timothy Nunan spoke with Dr. Schrader by telephone recently to discuss the transnational history of U.S. police advising.
We begin our conversation with Schrader by asking him about his road to the historical profession. Having grown up in New Jersey, Schrader headed to Vassar College in Poughkeepsie, New York, to pursue his undergraduate education. He ended up as an English major, but, he explains, seminars with Professor Robert Brigham related to the Cold War piqued his interest as to the linked nature of U.S. domestic and foreign policy. Brigham, he explains, emphasized in classes that “the domestic activism of Lyndon Johnson’s Great Society was tied to its foreign activism.” In other words, foreign adventurism in Vietnam was best understood not as the betrayal of the liberal mission at home, but rather in terms of an increasingly activist American state integrating and policing realms near and abroad.
Schrader later followed up on these interests by pursuing a PhD in American Studies at New York University. But the line of research that eventually became American Streets, Foreign Territory took some time to mature. “When I started my graduate studies, I thought I would do something that was more traditional in terms of urban studies and community studies. But I continually came across policing as an issue that was ever-present in urban and community life, if not in the scholarship on it.”
In his readings on the subject, moreover, Schrader came across the odd reference that U.S. counterinsurgency programs in South Vietnam were linked to police reform efforts at home. Scholars like Forrest Hylton and Tracy Tullis–trained at NYU in the last fifteen years–along with Christian Parenti had begun to follow up on this line of research. During his time at NYU, moreover, policing became more and more of a subject in national media, suggesting that there was something there.
Following the requisite graduate seminars in New York, he made plans to visit the usual sites on the itinerary of many a historian of U.S. foreign relations: Presidential Libraries like those of John F. Kennedy in Boston; Lyndon Johnson in Austin, Texas, or those of Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan in Southern California. The U.S. National Archives in College Park, Maryland, was another natural stop.
But, Schrader notes, he soon began encountering the implicit methodological divisions embedded in archives themselves. Schrader’s intuition from the start had been that if he were really interested in the relationship of police apparatuses abroad and domestic agencies, then he had better devote his attention to files related explicitly to U.S. military planning for domestic emergencies, including large-scale political unrest. These research forays, however, proved less compelling than he had hoped.
And working at College Park, he found himself confronting how to research a topic that seemed to straddle the realms of foreign policy and domestic policy. “At College Park,” he explains, “you have to explain whether you’re looking at civilian policy or military policy.”
Rather than digging in his heels on what he thought he should be looking for, Schrader adopted a different strategy. Doing his best to cover both military and civilian affairs, “I took note of names that kept recurring,” explains Schrader. “That led me to try to determine why certain names were appearing where they were appearing. I found a recurrent list of names and institutions that didn’t seem to be confined to one side or the other of the foreign/domestic divide. That observation in the archive led me to conceive the questions, and engage with the research processes, that would drive my project.”
Once the intertwined nature of “local” police reform efforts in the United States with foreign aid to places like South Vietnam, Iran, Guatemala, and elsewhere became apparent, an entire new set of archives became obviously relevant to the project. Policing in the United States remains a domestic issue, but Schrader came to focus on the Office of Public Safety (OPS), the overseas police assistance arm of the U.S. government during the 1960s and 1970s.
In tracking down these new sources and overcoming the foreign/domestic divide embedded in his prior research approaches, Schrader also came across evidence that the liquid nature of that boundary was appreciated not the least by the people he was studying. Looking into American government papers about Vietnam, for example, Schrader would find references to the Watts Riots, which took place in Los Angeles in August 1965.
Conversely, North Vietnamese commanders would later explain the 1968 Tet Offensive by saying that “we learned from Detroit to go to the cities.” (Detroit, like Watts, was the site of major riots in the mid-1960s.) Before these references to African-American rebellions vis-à-vis Vietnam, the intellectual W.E.B. Du Bois fretted over the coming American-led global order by noting that “colonies are the slums of the world,” kept poor and exploited by a stretched web of social, political, and economic relations, and policed intensively, just like the African-American urban neighborhoods he had investigated early in his career. In short, actors on all sides of color and colonial lines understood the implicit connection between domestic policing and colonial interventions abroad.
Some would have written these references off as trivia. Not Schrader. “I paused on that strangeness–why is this here? What is the work that this reference is doing?” he reflects. He decided to treat these cognitive connections—and the governing strategies linked with them—as not peripheral, but rather central to American practices of exercising power abroad during the 1960s. Rather than viewing leaps across the foreign/domestic divide as peripheral to the American state in the world, Schrader’s project views them as central.
Readers might question whether this approach is really so new. As early as the 1950s, the German-American political theorist Hannah Arendt wrote about the “imperial transmission belts” that allowed imperial practices once used only in the exceptional space of colonies to migrate back to domestic cores. Arendt’s contemporary Aimé Césaire and, later, the French philosopher Michel Foucault commented on the “boomerang effect,” whereby (often illiberal) foreign practices re-enter domestic space.
Historians of U.S. foreign relations have lately become keenly attuned to these processes, too: readers might recall our discussion with Northwestern University historian Daniel Immerwahr about the ways in which ideas about “community development” moved from the TVA to Japanese internment camps to postcolonial India, then back to urban policy and the rhetoric of Black Power movements.
Yet Schrader’s work is far more than a paint-by-numbers application of the “boomerang effect.” Schrader articulates skepticism toward the idea of the “boomerang effect” insofar as it risks reifying a separation between the foreign and domestic spheres, whereby identifying the leap between the two spheres–rather than their constant and massive interaction–is presented as the novel move, methodologically speaking.
Further, sometimes, discussions of a transmission belt also tend to support the notion of a liberal domestic sphere and an illiberal imperial sphere. As in the case of tear gas, the supposed domestic application of police technologies was used to legitimize their foreign use in theaters like Vietnam. Further, the ways supposedly objective, standardized, and replicable practices of professional policing acquired new tones when re-inserted into a U.S. domestic sphere makes it difficult to view Schrader’s work as mere application of the boomerang principle.
This emphasis on fluidity matters for Schrader’s broader intervention, which is to show how the United States achieved hegemony across much of the Third World in a way that aimed to maximize its legitimacy. Whereas late-nineteenth century European colonial empires relied to a greater or lesser extent on explicit logics of race and “civilization” to justify their rule over foreign populations, Schrader argues, twentieth century imperial projects turned to new registers of development and security to justify their presence in former colonial territories, which recapitulated race management in a new idiom (a theme that Schrader’s work shares with that of Robert Vitalis, a recent guest to the Global History Forum). This is where institutions like OPS come in.
Schrader’s project shows not only how practices like police advising accomplished this former goal, but how they constituted, he argues, “a new regime of racialized power in the United States. We have all kinds of terms for this: racism without racists, colorblind racism, and so on. I’m trying to understand this change in terms of global practices and global experiments.” In other words, American Streets, Foreign Territory examines how the process of creating a “racial order without racists” shared concerns, institutions, and personnel with the U.S. project of creating an “empire without imperialists abroad.”
Having discussed some of the major methodological interventions of his work, we shift the conversation to discuss the concrete narrative of American Streets, Foreign Territory. A crucial theme of Schrader’s manuscript is the transformation, as much domestically as abroad, of policemen from the unwashed “Keystone Kops” figures they were at the beginning of the twentieth century to the much more professionalized, educated, and technologically advanced force they represent at the beginning of the twenty-first century.
Today, police officers in the United States are (generally) equipped with dashboard computers and access to digitized drivers’ and criminal registries, and are mandated to follow standardized procedures for conducting stops. However, it’s important to understand that until the mid-twentieth century, policing was not nearly as professionalized an operation. In many cities, police departments functioned de facto as part of Democratic Party machines. Beat cops were employed to enforce machine rule at the precinct level, and graft and corruption were rife in many a department. Many cops were illiterate, and requirements for college degrees, or even a high school diploma, were uncommon. In some Midwestern cities—later to become hotbeds for police reform efforts—gangsters even infiltrated the police departments and then employed ex-cons to turn the departments into para-criminal institutions themselves. As one police reformer, Lear Reed, reflected, “Police plus politics equals parasites.”
Reformers like Reed, as well as one of his disciples, Byron Engle, sought to change this. Engle, a sharpshooter, favored standardized training regimens for marksmanship and instituted new riot-control training for police officers in Kansas City. Similar reformers elsewhere instituted educational requirements, standardized protocols, and standardized uniforms for cops. Particularly at the time of the Great Migration—when millions of African-Americans migrated from the rural south to northern industrial centers—existing procedural requirements were transformed to be less overtly racially intrusive, though more to avoid scandal or riots than out of concern for civil rights. The match between procedure and actual practice, of course, was loose. Finally, figures like Reed, under the influence of FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover, instituted programs aimed at combatting Black or Communist “subversion.”
From the start, such programs were highly mobile. Engle took a leave of absence of several years from the Kansas City Police Department to engage in police training missions to Japan following World War II, while the U.S. occupied the country. Thanks to Engle’s advising, Schrader explains, “save for the color of fabric, the new forces in Japan dressed like officers back home, even with rain gear designed for visibility, like Engle’s former colleagues wore.” And much of the gear that cops carried with them, like nightsticks and handcuffs, were introduced to many a Japanese police officer’s belt, as well. Police academies, too, were modeled on those existing in Kansas City.
In other words, American figures like Engle may have been products of specific domestic contexts, like those of Midwestern police departments confronting machine politics, mass Black migration, and the perceived threat of labor and Communism. But the practices they pioneered could quickly go global as the frontal edges U.S. power abroad, especially in locations where U.S. officials perceived those left-wing threats to be powerful. Once there, moreover, they became the pieces in a serially replicable package of police reform that (save for a different shade of navy or olive fabric) could easily be transported to new settings. Culturally specific pieces of police gear, like the “prisoner rope” that Japanese cops formerly used to arrest criminals, were gone. Over time, the standard gear of a police officer or police department in the U.S.-managed world became more and more uniform, from typewriters to fingerprinting kits to walkie-talkies. These patterns of global reorganization were, moreover, preceded by interlinked domestic efforts among police departments concentrated in the Midwest, from Kansas City to St. Louis to Wichita. And after a few years, Engle departed Japan for Turkey to teach countersubversive policing techniques. He never returned to the Kansas City police department. Instead, his return to the United States placed him in CIA headquarters.
Schrader explains that as the Soviet challenge and national liberation wars replaced the Japanese and Germans as challengers to U.S. power on the world scene, U.S. police advising efforts grew in scale and professionalization themselves. Beginning in South Vietnam, in 1955, U.S. police and criminology experts began working for a program to provide aid to South Vietnamese police officers. French efforts to maintain their control of a Indochinese colony had gone poorly, and U.S. experts were convinced that part of the reason was that European colonial regimes were too militarized, secretive, and despotic. By replacing colonial officers with broad punitive powers with professionalized indigenous police forces, the U.S. could prevent Communist infiltration of the Third World while also improving on European techniques. The need to do so became all the more obvious when Soviet First Secretary Nikita Khrushchev declared the USSR’s support for national liberation struggles in January 1961. The history of South Vietnam, however, indicates how elusive success in this program would be.
Soon, the “development” of post-colonial societies was taken to encompass not only the construction of dams, or the introduction of new strains of rice, but also the institution of police departments armed and equipped by U.S. trainers. By the 1960s in particular, trainers would be sent to U.S. allies around the world, where they would provide aid and instruction in the use of gear like binoculars, walkie-talkies, tear gas, standardized forms (for the processing of perpetrators), and so on.
Such trainers were not engaged in operations themselves—that is, U.S. police trainers were not out policing the streets of Jakarta or Seoul themselves. Instead, they trained foreign cops to do that work themselves—thus, empire without imperialists. Foreign police officers also frequently traveled to police academies and training centers built expressly for such “North-South” transfers, the most famous being the International Police Academy located in the Georgetown neighborhood of Washington, DC.
The institution at the center of it all—and of Schrader’s narrative—was the Office of Public Safety, an office within the United States Agency for International Aid (AID) that existed from 1962 to 1974, which consolidated dispersed activities under AID’s predecessor agency ongoing since the mid-1950s. Byron Engle moved from the shadows of the CIA to a public role as the leader of OPS. It’s crucial to emphasize that while the story that Schrader tells is to some extent inescapably connected with U.S. military aid abroad, OPS was distinct from Pentagon efforts to modernize foreign militaries or intelligence agencies themselves. Many OPS advisers—the men sent to Tehran, Jakarta, or Guatemala City to train police officers and foreign police trainers themselves—had a background in the U.S. military, true. And while archival regulations make the (possible) CIA backgrounds of certain trainers hard to determine, the idea that OPS was only a CIA front is not substantiated by the evidence.
Instead, Schrader suggests, OPS’s role in expanding American control overseas—call it empire or governance—was more subtle. It’s true that often, informal contacts between local police forces, OPS trainers, and clandestine CIA agents at the U.S. Embassies led to U.S.-initiated crackdowns on local labor organizers or leftist movements. A loose lip by an Iranian or Uruguayan police sergeant about their monitoring of a potential Fedayan or Tupamaros cell could become a tip to the “defense attaché” at the Embassy, which could then lead to clandestine action.
But OPS’ techniques were influential in less obvious ways, such as traffic control. Enforcing exported traffic regulations like those taught at Northwestern University’s Traffic Institute not only trained police officers in the art of crowd control, but also licensed them to engage in control of individual drivers, ticketing citizens for traffic violations, thus bringing them into the reach of a state increasingly interested in monitoring and indexing its citizens. Here, too, technologies like National Identity Cards played an important role.
The point, then, is that while OPS and pre-OPS police advising complemented and abetted headline activities, such as coups in Iran, Guatemala, and Chile, it also enabled police departments to come into much more intimate contact with populations, all the while reminding Iranians, Indonesians, South Vietnamese, and others, of the specific kinds of orderly behavior expected of them as citizens.
Other forms of U.S. police expertise and technology migrating to counterinsurgency settings and back, however, were more violent and sinister. One chapter of American Streets, Foreign Territories explores the case of tear gas—more specifically, CS, a kind of tear gas perfected by the 1960s to largely supplant its predecessor, CN. (CN acted marginally more quickly than CS, but produced less debilitating symptoms than CS.) The US and South Vietnamese militaries began deploying CS in Vietnam during the Johnson Administration. The most common usage was to incapacitate opposition forces to make them easier to destroy via conventional munitions.
The Johnson Administration contended with criticism that the use of CS violated international law regarding the use of chemical weapons, even as it was also supplying it more quietly via OPS to many other countries. (Observers will recall the invocation of norms against the use of chemical weapons vis-à-vis U.S. President Barack Obama’s declaration of a “red line” on the Syrian government’s use of chemical weapons.)
Whether the military deployment of CS violated such agreements, however, is something Schrader leaves to the international lawyers. What interests him instead is the way in which the Johnson Administration legitimized its use of CS in South Vietnam. In order to justify his policy and pronounce it legal, LBJ explained in 1965 that CS was already being widely used against crowds and riots in America (it wasn’t). Arguments predicated on the existence of a liberal domestic sphere, in other words, justified spaces of exception in the foreign sphere.
Perversely, however, the established use of CS in Vietnam subsequently legitimized its actual use against protesting populations in the United States, on the grounds that it had worked for “crowd control” in South Vietnam. Again, it hadn’t—as noted, the primary use of CS was as an incapacitating agent prior to killing with conventional weapons. Still, the use of CS not only against crowds but also to incapacitate “seditious” groups inside closed spaces expanded within the United States. Police officers frequently deployed the gas to “gas out” Black nationalist and Black Muslim safe houses, and tear gas continually migrated out again to US-backed scenes of counter-rebellion in Rhodesia, South Africa, Israel, Panama, and Iran.
The point, as Schrader shows in this and other lines of analysis in American Streets, Foreign Territory, is that domestic and foreign spheres have to be understood as connected with one another. The use, real or fictional, of a particular technology of order in one or the other sphere legitimized its migration (and adaption) to the other. And frequently, its advertised use (“crowd control”) was quite different from its actual application.
What is more sinister, however, argues Schrader (expanding on the work of University of Wisconsin-Madison scholar Rob Nixon) is how these new modes of policing changed the very temporality of policing and order in the United States itself. The use of tear gas was legitimized on the grounds that deaths resulting from massive violence against crowds had grown unacceptable by the late 1960s. However, rather than reducing deaths when police intervened against crowds (the advertised purpose of CS), tear gas empowered police departments to engage in more preventative kinds of policing—gassing out a Black Panthers safe house before a protest action even took place.
While beyond the bounds of this summary of Schrader’s work, he also reminds us that the 1960s and 1970s saw the elaboration of today’s headline-grabbing practices—“broken windows,”“stop and frisk,” etc.—in policing, often with disastrous consequences for Black populations that these practices racialized as predisposed toward crime. Central to Schrader’s analysis is the context of counterinsurgency in which debates around these practices originally unfolded.
Schrader’s work does not cover the entire history of U.S. overseas police advising. A revised U.S. Foreign Assistance Act banned USAID from providing police aid, and OPS was shuttered in 1974. However, US aid to foreign police operations did not stop then. At the center of Johnson’s War on Crime was a new agency, the Law Enforcement Assistance Administration, which coördinated best practices, training, and technical assistance between the federal government and the states. Soon it enabled police repertoires and training to be coordinated across borders when concerned with skyjacking, terrorism, and narcotics control. At the moment of the closing of OPS, narcotics control became a key focus for US law enforcement, which empowered the new Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) and the State Department’s Office of Drug Interdiction to engage in their own operations, particularly in Latin America, that continued the counterinsurgency mission OPS had stewarded.
Many XPSAs (ExPublic Security Advisors) found employment in these agencies, particularly after the funding granted to them surged under the Reagan Administration. Other XPSAs found employment as private security contractors and advisors to governments like Saudi Arabia and white-ruled Rhodesia. More broadly, the U.S. federal government also began contracting services on a much wider scale in the 1970s, allowing for those XPSAs who had not signed on in Riyadh or Salisbury as “mercs” (mercenaries) to take on assignments with new agencies on an ad hoc basis.
Schrader consciously ends his story at the moment of OPS’s dissolution, but he notes that the archives lead him to think that many core themes in U.S. police advising changed following the 1970s. Whereas security assistance had been internalized within a development agency for the period he studies, the linkage between development and security weakened over this period, as the criterion of security came to overpower development goals. Policing inevitably involved the implicit threat or explicit use of violence, and the social order it produced was thought crucial for societies to modernize and become model members of a U.S.-dominated world order. But when modernization did not occur fast enough, many conservative thinkers were apt to discard it as a goal. In the final chapters of his work, Schrader traces how intellectuals and on-the-ground practitioners undermined the stated US commitment to development by insisting on the impossibility of development absent the nebulous condition of security. The result was a new framing of the objects of foreign assistance: the individualized rational actor who demonstrated eligibility for assistance by conforming to social order, rather than the collectivity that participated in producing social order helped by a modicum of external assistance.
By the 1980s and the War on Drugs, however, Schrader sees a shift in the terms of U.S. engagement with the rest of the world (and perhaps Latin America in particular) when it comes to the connection between poverty and crime. By the 1980s, he argues, the commitment of U.S. advising operations had shifted from forming stable post-colonial regimes to protecting U.S. domestic space. There was no contradiction perceived if the quest to clamp down on the supply of cocaine or crack to U.S. domestic consumers meant an increase in violence or disorder in Central American theaters. The goal of policing operations was no longer to reproduce fractally some imaginary of an orderly U.S. domestic situation, but rather, if necessary, to deploy violence outside the U.S. domestic space to ensure the maintenance of order at home. As Schrader explains, “the key shift was from seeing poverty as producing crime, to seeing crime as producing poverty.”
And outside of the field of U.S. history, he notes that he has learned much about the inflection of the social sciences with state power from works like David Price’s Cold War Anthropology and Joy Rohde’s Armed with Expertise. Both of these recent books, he notes, show how social science knowledge became crucial for U.S. policymakers engaged in a global Cold War who were hoping to perfect counterinsurgency.
These latter works, like Schrader’s, correspond to a larger shift in the writing of national histories—something that Schrader sees as perhaps the core takeaway of American Streets, Foreign Territory. While he sees himself as indebted to his own training in American Studies, he hopes that readers take away from a reading of his book “the idea that being able to write a history of U.S. politics, culture, or any institution within the bounds of the nation-state is hard to sustain.”
As he learned from his time navigating the archives, and following the transnational life of tear gas, “one of the things I am trying to accomplish is to show how necessary it is to keep the unboundedness of U.S. governance in mind. We can’t keep telling the same stories that we tell without paying close attention to their wide geographic setting.” Transnationalism cannot be its own justification as a methodology, in other words, but rather matters because it was inherent to U.S. state-making and governance formations in the twentieth century.
Readers interested in pursuing these themes further need not wait long, however. As of writing, Schrader is completing final revisions for the book version of American Streets, Foreign Territory, which is under contract with the University of California Press. We warmly thank Dr. Schrader for joining us in conversation, and we look forward to seeing his work on shelves soon.
The centrality of anti-Westernism as a subject of global debate is underlined with every new terrorist attack on the West today. Both the attack on a nightclub in Orlando, Florida, as well as attacks in France and Germany over the summer engendered many civilization-oriented questions in the minds of people, as also happened in the case of 9/11 and Pearl Harbor. At the same time, Islamophobia as a major problem in the Western world is continuously affecting the daily lives of people. Even reading a book written in Arabic on an airplane can cause an awkward situation due to constant paranoia about terrorist attacks, as more than one passenger has discovered.
Following the historical roots of the political impact of anti-Western sentiments, we come across “a clash of civilizations” discourse which argues that conflict between Islam and the West is a result of a conservative reaction and response of Muslims towards both Western modernity and imperialism. However, the argument that Islam is incompatible with the Western modernization process raises question marks about why major non-Muslim societies as India, Japan, and China, as well as some European and American intellectuals also came forward with harsh critiques of the Western civilizational mission.
Non-Muslim communities and other religions have historically been disenchanted with European colonization and its claims that the white race and Christianity were somehow superior. This disenchantment makes us question whether anti-Westernism is a derivative of anti-colonial critiques or whether it represents a distinctively religious reaction to modernity. Such wider analysis is crucial in order to understand why anti-Western ideas persist in current times.
Ottoman pan-Islamism and Japanese pan-Asianism play a vital role in deciphering the influence of anti-Western ideas on global history. Both Ottoman Turkey and Japan struggled with the ideas about Western “the standards of civilization” around the same time. Do the events and ideological currents in these two empires help us understand anti-Westernisms today?
Our most recent guest on the Global History Forum, Associate Professor Cemil Aydın (University of North Carolina), takes up this issue in his earlier book The Politics of Anti-Westernism in Asia: Visions of World Order in Pan-Islamic and Pan-Asian Thought (Columbia University Press, Global and International History Series, 2007). The book offers a global history perspective on the roots of modern anti-Western critiques with a comparative focus on the Ottoman and Japanese experience in order to understand the importance of pan-Islamism and pan-Asianism in international history.
Aydın argues that modern anti-Western discourse developed out of a crisis of a single Eurocentric global order in the late 19th century, and that it did not reflect a traditionalist rejection of modernity in non-European societies. He also emphasizes how Asian and Ottoman intellectuals and reformers played an important role in universalizing the Western-rooted model of modernity and subsequently transforming this idea into a tool to criticize the Western “civilizing mission.” Thus, Aydın’s book occupies an important place in the examination of the historical roots of anti-Western ideologies while illuminating the international history of non-Western perspective.
The Editor-at-Large of the Toynbee Prize Foundation, Fatma Aladağ (TPF), recently had the opportunity to interview Cemil Aydın (CA) to discuss his path to writing The Politics of Anti-Westernism in Asia, some of the arguments of his book, the contemporary impact of anti-Western discourses on the world agenda, and his intellectual plans for the near future.
TPF: Welcome to the Global History Forum Professor Aydin!
CA: Thank you!
TPF:Could you tell us about where you were born and raised? Where did you do your undergraduate work?
CA: I grew up in Istanbul in the 1980s, and started my undergraduate education at Boğaziçi University in 1987. I was lucky to have a set of amazing professors at both the Political Science and International Relations department, my concentration, and at History department. Boğaziçi University’s curriculum allowed us to take classes from different departments, which was not the case in other Turkish universities at that time.
During the period from 1987 to 1991, Turkey was re-entering into a multi-party democracy after the 1980 military coup. There was a vibrant intellectual life in Istanbul, both at the university campuses and café houses. Eurocentrism was one of the debates, coinciding with Turkey’s official application for membership to European Union. At the same time, Turkey was connected to the politics in the Middle East and South Asia from the Iran-Iraq War to the Afghan resistance to the Soviet invasion. Thus, reading Edward Said’s Orientalism in that context was very powerful as I could try to interpret what Said was saying in light of the new Western media discourse on Arabs, Muslims and Islam. Even though I was not reading any race theory, there was a sense of linking Orientalism with the re-racialization of Muslims and Arabs in Western media. Saddam Hussein’s invasion of Kuwait and the first Gulf War was in my senior year. More important for our generation was the genocide against Bosnian Muslims just at the end of the Cold War. The publication of Samuel Huntington’s article on the “Clash of Civilizations“ around the time of that genocide both coincided with my MA work at Istanbul University.
TPF:When did your interest in becoming a historian develop?
CA: After my undergraduate degree in 1991, I first went to Malaysia with a fellowship to do MA work in Islamic and Middle Eastern studies for a year. That was an amazing experience because, for my generation growing up in Turkey, Southeast Asia was not in our mental map. That was a good cultural shock for me, and I had a chance to travel in places like Thailand and Indonesia as well. This experience convinced me that my education was thoroughly Eurocentric and I need to expand my horizon towards other parts of the world. Upon my return to Istanbul, I did an MA in Ottoman intellectual history to try to understand how 19th century Ottoman intellectuals conceptualized the globalizing world and Europe and the West.
It was after this MA that I decided to start a Ph.D. in comparative global history, with a focus on Ottoman and Japanese intellectual history. When I started my Ph.D. at Harvard, I began to focus on both Japanese and Ottoman/Middle Eastern studies to try to think about the experiences of the Muslim Middle East and East Asia comparatively and in terms of their connections. This comparative study led to my first book on Pan-Asianism and Pan-Islamism.
TPF: How did the story of global history start in your academic life?
CA: I think I experienced a global turn in my research interests after my MA thesis on Ottoman intellectual history, in which I focused on 19th century Ottoman intellectuals dealing with the Eurocentric international order and their view of Enlightenment and modernity. I did realized that globalization actually coincided with some sorts of regionalization. As the world was globalizing, there were these pan-national identities and ideologies like pan-Islamism, pan-Asianism, and pan-Africanism, and I was trying to make sense of them. There is something paradoxical that as the Ottoman Empire tried to be inclusive by eliminating distinctions between Muslims, Christians and Jews, and it tried to be part of the European Empires, yet the Muslimness of the Ottoman Empire became more important. Eventually, around the World War I, the empire ended up being identified with the imagined Muslim World – at least in terms of global perceptions.
There was something similar about China and Japan as well. These empires were trying to strengthen themselves and modernize, but while this was happening, the question of East-West, Asia-West, white race-yellow race, Islam-West or Islam-Christianity was becoming more crucial. So, with that realization, I started to immerse in a comparative study of East Asia and the Muslim Middle East and that’s how I got into global history. In other words, my research included these three regions; first, Europe and the West; second, the Islamicate world and the Ottoman Empire; and third, East Asia, Japan and the “yellow race.” So, to think about these three traditional historical fields, in the context of the last two hundred years, required some sorts of global history training or approach. When I started my Ph.D. program I was in search for methodologies and ideas about transnational and global history.
TPF: You went to University of Tokyo as a part of your Ph.D. at Harvard. What motivated you to visit Japan?
CA: In my Ph.D. program, I initially did three years of course work and exams before I started my field research. My fields were Japanese History, Ottoman History and German History, as well as Arabic and Middle East. In that context, I was lucky that Professor Akira Iriye was teaching at Harvard at that time; he is a pioneer of global history. Moreover, my advisors Andrew Gordonand Cemal Kafadar were also interested in global history. And I was lucky to have a colleagues and friends like [Toynbee Prize Foundation President] Dominic Sachsenmaier, who was at Harvard as a visiting Ph.D. student and then later as a post-doctoral fellow.
As a result, I had the chance to write a project about both the Ottoman Empire and Japan. Eventually my Ph.D. ended up being mostly on Japan and pan-Asianism. I went to Japan and focused on how Japanese pan-Asianists looked upon the Islamic World, Muslim societies and India. I wrote more on Okawa Shumei, who as a leading pan-Asianist also became a founding figure in Japan’s Islamic Studies establishment. There was a great interest among Japanese pan-Asianists in the Middle East, Ottoman Turkey and India as well. And I was trying to understand why Japanese pan-Asianists were interested in both India and the imagined Muslim World, what they do with it, what kind of arguments they developed about it. As someone familiar with the debate surrounding Orientalism, I also wanted to understand how Japanese scholarship of Asia and the Middle East compared to European Oriental Studies.
TPF: Today, however, you work at University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill. What was your transition from the Turkish to American academic atmosphere like?
CA: One important aspect of American history departments that I appreciated was its coverage of the global. Perhaps it was not like that fifty years ago. Fifty percent of a good history departments in universities like Harvard or North Carolina is still devoted to America and Europe. But the other fifty percent covers Latin America, Middle East, Asia and Africa. That is an impressive achievement of history departments as they developed in America in the last forty years. This interest in covering different parts of the world encourages and allows a new focus on world and global history. I later found out that some of my mentors in global history and generations before me, such as Ross Dunn, Terry Burke, John Voll and Richard Bulliet actually fought this battle of re-orienting American history education away from a singular focus on Western story toward global history and world history. This may have started in the 1980s, but it was already underway 1990s, and it is strongly visible in today’s history departments all over North America.
TPF: What would you say about the main differences or similarities between Turkish academia and American academia?
CA: In a Turkish history department, unfortunately, we don’t expect to see a professor of African History, or scholar of China or India. I think this is a big problem. In many of the Turkish history departments, more than half of the professors would still be teaching just Ottoman and Turkish history; and I don’t understand why Turkish university student do not have a chance to learn about the rest of the world (except Europe)! However, that is not unique to Turkey as German, French, Italian, Iranian or Indian history departments may also have the same problem.
This all meant that it was a great advantage for me that in Harvard’s History Department, I could find professors, graduate students working on the different parts of the world and when they wanted to talk to each other – of course – global history emerges naturally in that framework. We used to complain that it is still the historians of Asia, Africa and the Middle East who are trying to talk to historians of Europe and the US, and there is less curiosity on the part of Europeanists or Americans to talk to us about the rest of the world, but this may be changing. At my current university, UNC-Chapel Hill, global history is now an institutional track of both undergraduate and graduate education.
TPF: Now, if we go back to your book that you wrote after your dissertation: How did a dissertation on Pan-Asianism turn into a comparative work of global history, and included Pan-Islamism?
CA: Initially, I wrote my dissertation on Japanese pan-Asianism. However, for the book project, I combined my research on Japan’s Pan-Asianism with Ottoman pan-Islamism in a global context. So, the book is dealing with one major puzzle about both the Japanese and the Ottoman Empires. Both were ruled by imperial elites whose main concern was to strengthen the empire, establish its sovereignty and legitimacy in the international arena, and to make it a part of a club of powerful European empires. From the perspective of these elites, the world would be an imperial world and both the Ottomans and Japanese would be part of it. In other words, imperialism did not seem something that should be opposed.
My puzzle was how race and racism became a question for the Japanese and the Ottoman elites. Istanbul and Tokyo were not necessarily anticolonial, and they could accept that Russia, Britain, France rule over Muslims and Asians as long as these European empires also allowed them to rule over their own subjects. So, I then realized that this imperial world in the late 19th and early 20th century has an irrational aspect and it was overcome by the logic and language of race and geopolitics.
TPF: What do you mean by this?
CA: The Ottoman elite began to worry about the so-called “Eastern Question” and its impact on diplomacy and discourse. But the Eastern Question was also about racism against Muslims, which affected the rights and struggles of all the Muslims in the colonies of the Britain, Russia, Dutch, and French empires. At the same time, the way European empires categorized and talked about Muslims in India, Algeria or Central Asia began to closely affect the Ottoman Empire’s legitimacy and sovereignty. As a result, the issue of Muslim peril and Pan-Islamism became closely connected with how European elites and publics perceived the Ottoman Empire. I need to note that Muslimness became racial in the late 19th century. That is an interesting turning point of world history; the formation of an imperial world order in the second half of the 19th century produced and faced the challenge of racial and geopolitical perception of global humanity.
TPF: Could you explain more how “Muslimness” intersected with this rise in racial consciousness?
CA: Islam was not just a religious or faith tradition by 1890s and the early twentieth century. Being Muslim became very similar to being black, yellow or white. And the Ottoman Empire was worried about this, because it directly challenged its legitimacy to become an acceptable good empire ruling over Christian subjects. As the Muslims in Africa and Asia were seen as inferior in terms of a lack of civilization that required the Western “civilizing mission” or the “white man’s burden,” the Ottoman Empire was also seen as a bad empire, because it was ruled by a Muslim Sultan and Caliph. Abdul Hamid II, for example, became an “evil figure” in European imagination and the Ottoman Empire became what [William] Gladstone called “anti-human specimen of humanity.”
Before I get to the comparison, I also noticed that extraordinary new connections emerged between the Ottoman Empire and Muslims in Asia. The Ottoman Empire was an empire primarily in Europe first and then went to the Middle East – and it never ruled over India, Afghanistan, Indonesia or Malaysia. Around 1890s and 1900s, however, Muslims in India, Indonesia or Afghanistan began to see their destiny as connected to the destiny of Ottoman Empire. Indian Muslims closely followed all the developments in the Balkans, Bulgarian nationalism, Serbian rebellion, Ottoman-Russian War or even the war in Crete.
I was very surprised not only why these new connections emerged between the Ottoman Empire and Indian Muslims, but also how they did when they did. This was partly about the power of new transportation and communication technologies in the age of steamship, telegraph and printing. And yet, the racialization of Muslims had something to do the crisis of empires in general. And I see something very similar happening in Japan with regard to ideas of the “yellow race,” Asian civilization and Japan’s connection to the rest of Asia. So, even though Japanese elites – then allies of the British Empire –defeated China and treated Chinese like Europeans were treating China, Japan became a symbol of the Asian “yellow race” after Russo-Japanese War. Their victory became seen as a first victory of an Asian-Eastern race against the white Western race. In fact, that war in 1905 was a truly imperial war and Britain was an ally of the Japanese Empire. I was very surprised about why Indian or Turkish nationalists began to interpret that war as a racial conflict. So, my research turned into comparative study of Japan and Ottoman Empire dealing with this question of race and geopolitics.
TPF: What motivated you to write this book along the way?
CA: Before I finished my Ph.D., September 11 happened in America. It was my last year as a graduate student. I had a fellowship in a room at the Center for International Affairs at Harvard. And Samuel Huntington, the man who wrote about “Clash of Civilizations,” had an office in that center situated just across my office. I was very struck by people who were interpreting September 11 in terms of clash of civilizations, as clash between Islam and the United States’ Christianity. Suddenly, the debates I was hearing in the corridors of the Center for International Affairs and in the broader public seemed very similar to idea of clash of civilizations I was writing about in the context of Pan-Islamist and Pan-Asian thought from 1905 to the 1920s or 1945.
TPF:What kind of examples can you give about the “clash of civilizations” discourse?
CA: First, I should note that there were many other historical actors who talked about the “clash of civilizations” during the period from 1905 to the 1920s. And the good example is the Ottoman Empire’ declaration of Jihad against Russia, Britain, France and Dutch, but not against Italy, Austria-Hungry and Germany. Japanese empire also declared their own jihad on behalf of Asia and the yellow race against the whites in 1941 after Pearl Harbor. I was struck by why Japan and Ottoman Empire became so involved in question of clash of civilizations and clash between races. The Ottomans did it in World War I, the Japanese did it in World War II. Ottoman and Japanese elites regretted their holy war declarations after defeat, and tried to forget about it.
In short, the same people who declared jihad in 1914 actually established the Turkish Republic, then blamed Enver Pasha or a couple of extremists. Figures like Atatürk and İsmet İnönü, the founders of secular Republic, were military officers of the Ottoman Army who were fighting for jihad because they grew up with ideas of Pan-Islamism. The same thing is true for Japanese pan-Asianism. This was not a crazy idea advocated by ultra-nationalists. Pan-Asianism seemed like a realist geopolitical idea embraced by very Westernized Japanese elites during the 1930s. These elites also abandoned pan-Asianism after WWII, and then blamed some so called “extremists” for it at the Tokyo War Crimes Tribunal. So, at the end of the book, I was trying to tell people that the Ottoman pan-Islamism and Japanese pan-Asianism actually were not anti-Western, and were part of a dominant geopolitical and racial ideas about the international order. But I was also trying to understand the long-term connections that existed from Enver Pasha and Tojo Hideki to Samuel Huntington or George Bush.
TPF:So, is not the title of the book—“The Politics of Anti-Westernism”—misleading?
CA: Yes, inside the book I argue that neither pan-Asianism nor pan-Islamism was truly anti-Western and anti-modern. In fact, the main intention of Ottoman and Japanese elites was to try to belong to the European Eurocentric imperial settings. They were perceived as anti-Western and anti-modern within Europe, but in terms of content, they were not. In this sense, imperial-era Pan-Islamism and Pan-Asianism were also very different than late Cold War Islamism or radicalism. Even though my earlier book covered history until 1945, I have been aware of the present concerns about explaining the re-emergence of Pan-Islamism or Islamism in the 1980s. Pan-Islamism gained a new meaning during the 1980s, coinciding with the rise of Iranian and Saudi-sponsored projects of pan-Islamism. Meanwhile, the racism against Muslims in Serbia and all over Europe that led to the genocide in Bosnia in the 1990s prompted a defensive mobilization of Muslim publics to help the Bosnian resistance.
There are, of course, long-term connection between Ottoman era Pan-Islamism of the 1890s to the Iranian-Saudi era Pan-Islamisms of the 1980s. And this connection continues in European racism against Muslims as well. I think we are still experiencing this irrational imagination that all the Muslims are united and they belong to an “Islamic world.” So, I was trying make sense of the present by looking at the past experiences of the Ottoman and Japanese Empires.
TPF:I also wonder about the methodological challenges you faced while writing this book! What kind of archives and sources did you use to compare history of these two empires?
CA: Because I work mainly on intellectual history, there are so many journals and magazines and texts available in the libraries of Harvard, Istanbul and Tokyo. So, I read these texts and I tried to contextualize them. Part of my job was to detect the key ideas and concepts and see the evolution of these concepts and ideas. I also examined how these ideas are used by political elites.
While doing that, I did not just carry out a comparative study, but attempted to do a connected study. So, I focused on what Japanese Asianists said and wrote about the Ottomans and Muslims, and vice versa. What did the Muslims in the Middle East write about China and Japan? There, I think that inter-Asian connection are important and that is one of the ironies and paradoxes of late 19th and early 20th centuries. Even though we see this period as the period of Western hegemony, it also coincided with the peak of inter-Asian connections. There were more connections between Turkey, Iran, Egypt and China, or India, Japan in the 1890s than ever happened in history. The more Egyptians, Arabs, Persians or Turks were Westernizing, they were also writing more about India, China and Japan; similarly, more and more Japanese and Chinese began to think about Arabs, Muslims, and Turks as their fellow Asians after 1880s.
In sum, by examining who wrote these texts and what they did about their ideas, I had to contextualize the boom of inter-Asian intellectual and political connections from the 1880s to the 1940s. In addition, I also looked at the actuals encounters among different intellectuals and political leaders from Asia. They were equally important and increasing thanks to steamships, telegraphs, journalism. So in many cases, global history became a very useful methodology for me to make sense of these connections and going beyond the area studies of Middle East, Islam and East Asian field, because historical actors were more transnational and mobile than these areas studies assumed.
TPF: If we return back to the details of your book, we see that reformist intellectuals in the Ottoman Empire and Japan during the Tanzimat Period and Meiji Restoration Period desired to attain the same “universal modernization” as Europeans had. How did these elites reconcile their beliefs and traditions with this type of modernization, given European modernizers’ claims about the superiority of the white race and Christianity? How did these elites manage public opinion?
CA: How non-European intellectuals talked back against European claims of civilizational superiority was an important part of my research, although I wrote less about it. I focused more on geopolitics and race, but there are two very important things happening in the late nineteenth century in this context of inter imperial geopolitical conflicts, rivalries and alliances. One is a new intellectual construction of the idea of Islamic civilization or Asian civilization, and the second one is the new way of thinking about Islam, Buddhism and Hinduism as world religions. There are parallels and differences in the way how this happened in the context of the Muslim West Asia and non-Muslim East Asia.
Let me start with the differences; because East Asia was primarily racialized by skin color, via yellow race, skin color racism became easier to overcome in the long-term after World War II. Its irrationality can be more clearly seen today. However, racism against Muslims was not primarily based on skin color, although having a brown skin was an often used attribution for Muslims. To racialize a group of people through their religion, Islam, made anti-Muslim racism similar to anti-Semitism—Jews were also racialized through their religion.
Racialization based on their faith tradition had to be rejected by Muslim intellectuals, because, simply speaking, nobody wants to be inferior. So they responded and talked back by multiple arguments about Islam’s civility, and comparability to or even superiority over Christianity. They talked back against the European Orientalism, but also Muslims talked to each other. In that process, Muslim modernists created a new understanding of Islam as a civilized, universal religion that is better than the ideas about Christianity advocated by missionaries. So, there emerged a new conceptualization of Islam in relation to polemics against Christian missionaries as well as Orientalists.
TPF: Can you provide an example of how this worked in practice?
CA: Well, one of the most powerful books in the late 19th century, the Spirit of Islam, was written by an Indian Shia pan-Islamist, (pro-Ottoman but also pro-British intellectual) named Sayyid Amir Ali. Writing a book like that, and simplifying and represent the “spirit of Islam” for a Western audience, was completely new. Before late nineteenth century, Muslims did not talk on behalf of an essentialized and globalized Islam. Only in that context of imperial globalization and racialization that many Muslim intellectuals began to imagine that Islam was a united religion and compatible with progress, science and modernity. Islam was also supposed to be universal and capable of responding to Christian apologetics. So, pan-Islamism became the new way of thinking about Islam. A new notion of global Islamic civilization also linked story of Istanbul, Baghdad, Delhi and Andalus together to create a story of the Golden Age of Islam and its decline. These intellectuals such as Syed Ahmad Khan, Mohammad Abduh, Jamaluddin Afghani, Namık Kemal, Shakib Arslan, and Rashid Rida were extremely important for creating a new way of talking about Islam and Islamic civilization, and they had a long lasting effect that persists until today. Similar things happened for Buddhism and Hinduism in late 19th century.
TPF: We see the defense of the Ottoman Empire against the West. They sent bureaucrats to Orientalist congresses and reformed their military and administration to prove that the compatibility of Islam with modern civilization during the nineteenth century. However, European politicians and intellectuals insisted that the East could never be integrated into the “international system” because of racial, cultural, and geographical factors. They utilized a “civilizing mission” discourse to colonize non-Westerns countries. Can we not then say that the challenge of non-Western societies to Europeans was a reaction to the West’s own actions?
CA: Yes. European racial thinking was also weakening the imperial visions and legitimacy. Colonized societies like Indian Muslims wanted more dignity and equality and more rights within British Empire. In fact, in the earlier period, many of the Muslims were not necessarily against the Empire. For example, Sayyid Ahmad Khan, one of the leading Muslim intellectuals in India, wanted to reform the British Empire in India and Muslims at the same time to make them compatible.
Could the British Empire be more inclusive and allow Muslims, Hindus, Christians to have the same or similar rights? I think there is an amnesia about that racialized imperial moment in 1880s and 1890s when many colored people of the European empires above all wanted to reform their particular empire, not to abolish it or end it. After all, there were more Muslims and Hindus in the British Empire than Christians. So, for the Muslims under imperial rule, critiques of the Western empires associated with Pan-Islamism was a kind of challenge to imperial racial thinking and discrimination, but not necessarily anti-imperial.
Critiques of the European empires by Japanese and Ottoman imperial elites had differences from the critiques expressed by colonized subjects, because these were sovereign political entities and they had autonomy. Their discontent was about unequal treatment in international law and in international power politics. Even when a wealthy Ottoman and Japanese elite member traveled to Europe, they were also subjected to the same type of racial discourses and discrimination. The Ottoman Empire ruled over Greeks, Armenians, and other Christians, and anti-Ottoman Christian nationalism often demonized the Muslim dynasty that ruled over them, as barbarian infidels ruling over civilized Christians.
TPF: Yet at the same time, these “Muslim dynasties” were seen as potential protectors of Indian Muslims or Dutch or French Muslim subjects.
CA: Precisely. It is still fascinating that, in the early Abdul Hamid II period in late 1870s, there emerged a connection between the destiny of the Ottoman Empire and destiny of the colonized Muslims in India. This is a development that requires global political and intellectual history to make sense of it! In the 1840s and 1850s, there was no such connection. When, for example, Indian Muslims and Hindus rebelled against the British rule in 1857, the Ottoman Empire did not side with the rebellion. They supported their British allies.
TPF:But Japan also had a strong relation with Britain, right?
CA: Yes, Although Japan always sided with Britain until the mid-1920s, what Tokyo should do vis-à-vis Asian and yellow race identity was an important debate for the Japanese public. Only in the late 1930s did the Japanese government pragmatically embrace pan-Asian ideas and discourses. However, before the 1930s, Japanese intellectuals and elites knew that their yellow race mattered in the way they were treated and perceived, or in the way they were discriminated, but they did not have to do something geopolitical and military against the West because of this. Japan’s revolt against the Eurocentric world order had more to do with their failures in the Manchurian incident than their belief in a “clash of civilizations,” but that belief in conflict among white race and colored races shaped their policies and propaganda in the context of Japan’s own imperial crisis in mid-1930s. In short, I don’t think that there is any natural rejection of modernity or Western culture in Pan-Asianism as well as in Pan-Islamism. These were not traditional responses to modernization or Western hegemony.
TPF: Since some Pan-Asianists or Pan-Islamists support continued connection with the West while others support breaking all links with Europeans, can we say there are different groups within Pan-Asianism and Pan-Islamism?
CA: There are, of course, different and competing varieties of both Pan-Islamism and Pan-Asianism. However, I want to note a historical rupture in this context. Because pan-Islamism after 1970s is associated with Islamism, conservatism or ultra-nationalism, we are mistaken attributing that kind of conservatism to early pan-Islamism. That’s very wrong! The early pan-Islamists were not traditionalists, or conservative. For example, they did not try to impose Sharia on all the subjects of the Ottoman Empire. Indian pan-Islamists also did not want Islamic law to be only law in whole British India and impose their values on Hindus. On the contrary, Pan-Islamism was very proud of Tanzimat reforms and Ottoman cosmopolitanism. There were no vision of a Cold War style Islamic state in early pan-Islamism as they were still imperial projects, and comfortable with existing empires.
So, in Turkey for example, there remains the assumption that pan-Islamism is an internationalism of only the Islamists, but there was no Islamists in the 1910s. The Second Constitutional Period Pan-Islamists were radically different than Islamism in the Muslim Brotherhood of Egypt or Jemaat-e-Islami of Pakistan. It has no similarity with Hizb ut-Tahrir, Al-Qaeda or Taliban as there was no fundamentalism among Pan-Islamists in the early twentieth century. In the early twentieth century, one could be pan-Islamic and a cultural Westernizer or positivist at the same time. I think a great example would be Celal Nuri İleri, who wrote a book on “Ittihad-i Islam” (Muslim Unity) and he is known as pro-Westerners and almost Darwinist in Turkish intellectual history. Ahmed Rıza, who was a follower of August Comte, could advocate civilizational, geopolitical Muslim solidarity against European racism and imperialism. We need, in short, to distinguish Cold War Islamism from imperial-era pan-Islamism.
TPF: What are the relations between religion and Ottoman Pan-Islamism or Japanese Pan-Asianism? While Pan-Islamism focuses on the Muslim world, Pan-Asianism comprises diverse religions, especially Buddhism. What was the role of religion during this period?
CA: That’s a very important question! That may be explaining some of the unique and peculiar aspects of pan-Islamism. It is a geopolitical or racial thinking based on religious affiliation. In the case of Asianism, Asia is a continent and you can attribute Asia a civilization, but not a single religion. Within Asia, there are multiple religious traditions as Hinduism, Buddhism, Daoism, Confucianism and Muslims. If you have three levels of thinking on Asianism, you can think that geopolitics is pan-Asianism, civilization is an Asian civilization, race is yellow as well as the brown race but religion could be multiple.
For pan-Islamism, all of these were actually referring to Islam as a primary marker, so civilization is Islamic civilization, religion is Islam and geopolitics is the Muslim world. Overall, these three layers constituted the basis of Western racial thinking on Muslims in the imperial era, in the sense that Muslims were seen as members of a threatening Muslim world, belonging a completely different civilization and practicing an inferior religion. That means that the racial otherness and inferiority of a Muslim is confirmed on three levels as a civilization, as a geopolitical political affiliation and as a religion. That may be one of the reasons why pan-Islamism survived longer than Pan-Asianism and Pan-Africanism.
Pan-Islamism might be similar to pan-Buddhism, but pan-Buddhism was not the main framework for geopolitics. So, in terms of similarities between pan-Buddhism and pan-Islamism, one thing is clear; both Muslim and Buddhist intellectuals were empowered in the age of globalization. Both had a chance to connect, talk and formulate a response to missionary Christianity and Western thought on behalf of a Buddhist and Islamic tradition. For example Buddhist were different up to 1880s and 1890s, and different branches of Buddhism in Sri Lanka, India, Thailand, China and Japan were not always in touch with each other. In 1880s and 1890s, Buddhists were traveling, talking each other and they were also reading and responding to European and American scholarship on Buddhism. As a result, in 1893 Buddhists appeared as this kind of united front in Chicago World’s Parliament of Religions defending Buddhism as a civilized, rational, global religion in relation to Christianity.
Something similar happened with Islam. We often mistakenly assume that Islam was always a monolithic, universal religion, but there were many different lineages, and traditions of diverse interpretations, but eventually in the 1880s and 1890s there was a shift in terms of perceiving Islam as a world religion. And that’s thanks to a global context of Muslims being empowered by connectivity but also under attack of imperial racism and Christian missionaries.
TPF: When we look at the present, how ought we to understand Pan-Islamism in the twenty-first century? How can we understand terrorist attacks and Islamophobia in the anti-Western context?
CA: After World War II, racism based on skin color fell out of fashion—not immediately, but gradually. One could say that Adolf Hitler gave racism a bad name by treating Europeans with racial thinking and also exposing all the destructive aspects of racism within the European continent. So, together with the idea of white supremacy, gradually the idea of racial distinctions became unfashionable in politics.
However, something unique happened about the idea of the Muslim world, because Muslimness was not seen as racism based on skin color. Europeans did not think that their prejudices against Muslims was racial. As a result, they assumed that they do not like Muslims because of the problems inherent in their religion. The other important aspect of it is that colonialism in the Middle East and Muslim societies never fully ended. There was long period of wars from 1948 to the late 1960s from the wars surrounding Palestine to the Algerian War of Independence, where the issue of Islam and the West were continued to be played it out. For example, when the French Empire was fighting against Algerian nationalism, French figures argued that they were fighting against pan-Islamism and defending Western civilization against Islamic fanaticism.
More importantly, in the context of Gamal Abdel Nasser’s war with Yemen, Saudi Arabia gradually revived earlier pan-Islamic networks against Nasser’s Pan-Arabism. It is very complex story, but that is part of my next book. King Faisal of Saudi Arabia emerged almost like an Abdul Hamid II of the Cold War. He made Mecca and Medina centers of pan-Islamic networking and he really wanted to defeat Nasser’s challenge to Saudi legitimacy, and created a global network of Muslim internationalism.
TPF: You mentioned the 1980s as a turning point, though, no?
CA: Only in the 1980s, after the Soviet Invasion of Afghanistan, and after Egypt seemed to betraying the Palestinian cause at Camp David, and after the Iranian revolution, do we see pan-Islamism resurfacing in world politics, especially in the competition between Iran and Saudi Arabia. It is in the 1980s that we see some vision of pan-Islamism re-emerging with newer ideas of Cold War era Islamist political projects. Anti-Western fundamentalist versions of Al-Qaeda or other are coming out of the crisis of the 1990s in the region. Today’s new delusional versions of Pan-Islamism, as seen in ISIS’ self-declared Caliphate, do not look anything like in the late Ottoman Empire or even Faisal’s 1970s Saudi version. If ISIS fundamentalists were to see the Ottoman Caliph Abdul Hamid II, they will probably declare him as infidel and try execute him, because, for example, Abdulhamid was listening to opera music and had no problem with Western culture. So, there is an ironic repetition of some of the slogans of pan-Islamism and Caliphate, but in terms of context, it is completely different. None of the pan-Islamists of 1890s to 1920s could recognize Al-Qaeda or ISIS even as familiar Muslims.
TPF: In that context, what do you think about Pan-Asianism?
CA: For pan-Asianism, we do not see that kind of a revival in the post-World War II period, although there were still ideas of Asian unity, civilization, and solidarity in the context of the Bandung Conference. We might see the Bandung Conference as a last gathering of ideas and figures from imperial-era Pan-Asianism or Pan-Islamism. After the Bandung Conference, some ideas and memories of Pan-Asianism still survived in terms of an identity discourse, but there is no significant geopolitical Pan-Asianism in today’s world.
TPF: We have come to the end of our conversation but I want to ask that what are your plans for the near future? What have you been working on, recently?
In addition to that, I also completed a manuscripts on this question of idea of the Muslim world and why pan-Islamism persisted and survived up to today in different forms. (The Idea of the Muslim World: A Global History, Harvard University Press, Spring 2017, forthcoming). I was initially planning to actually write the story of pan-Islamism, pan-Asianism and pan-Africanism after WW2, but after I started my research, I frequently faced this question: Why was it that, among these three different non-European, anti-Western pan-nationalisms, only pan-Islamism seem to persist and even revived. Thus, I tried to explain why the idea of the Muslim world as a geopolitical concept persisted through decolonization up to today.
TPF: We are looking forward to read them! Also, what have you been reading recently?
CA: I like reading recently on international law, but I also try to read more on gender in world history. There was always a weakness in my previous scholarship about incorporating gender as a methodology and it is not simply history of women, but thinking about history in gendered terms. I want to read more theoretically in my future books and want to be more aware of that. I am married to a feminist scholar of Islam and get her suggestions for a reading list on gender and feminism.
We at the Toynbee Prize Foundation were very happy have the opportunity to read and discuss on Cemil Aydın’s The Politics of Anti-Westernism in Asia: Visions of World Order in Pan-Islamic and Pan-Asian Thought, published by Columbia University Press, as well as his forthcoming The Idea of the Muslim World: A Global History. Aydın’s book illuminates us on how anti-Western and later Islamophobic discourses as global issue in our era that influence social order and political decisions taken in various countries can be associated with pan-Asianism and pan-Islamism of the past. We would like to thank Professor Aydın for his contributions to the Global History Forum and wish him the best of luck in his future projects.