MAHIA BASHIR: Many congratulations on the publication of The Economic Weapon. It is a timely and meticulously researched work of scholarship. I was wondering if you could walk us through your scholarly trajectory and how this project developed.
NICHOLAS MULDER: Thank you very much for the opportunity to talk about it, especially with an audience of historians. I probably should start with the fact that I arrived at history as a discipline through a circuitous route. I was an undergraduate double major in economics and philosophy. Then I did my master’s degree at Cambridge in political thought and intellectual history. I moved slightly into the intellectual history direction and for a while I thought that was what I really wanted to do. It was incredibly enriching, and particularly combining it with economic history gave a good base. This was also the aftermath of the 2008 financial crisis where it seemed like a lot of these theories had a certain unreality to them: the real world was showing processes in politics and economics that were far more complex. I found that history as a dynamic process gave me much more of a grip on the issues I was interested in. That is really the way I ended up in a graduate programme in history. I find history to be the most capacious way of studying these topics. I am interested in the dimension of time, in things that change over time, and how this shapes concepts and theories that are often presented as permanent and internally consistent. That is the broad methodological background of my trajectory.
I was at graduate school in Columbia in the aftermath of the 2008-09 global financial crisis, a moment now widely recognised as having kickstarted or perhaps restarted a very broad-based interest in economic history and the new history of capitalism. That is something that I joined in and that I benefitted from tremendously. It also opened my eyes to how much old historiography—the excellent economic history from the past—did not get its due, but deserved to be taken into account.
There was a renewed appreciation of how much economic history and political economy mattered. The trick was to find what new topics one could productively explore. My MPhil dissertation at Cambridge had been about Karl Polanyi and Polanyi’s political thinking in the interwar period. I looked at his political thinking between 1919 and 1944 in conversation with the Austrian school of economics on the one hand and the Austro-Marxists on the other. Polanyi, who had a very interesting career as a journalist—very much like Marx and Engels in the 1850s and the 1860s—was also undergoing a revival at the time. People knew him as a theorist, but not as a journalist—as an observer of his own epoch. Over time, what I became interested in was moving away from concepts and theories towards more concrete, embedded understandings of history, but while never losing sight of the broad stakes of the theory. That is also where this book is situated; I do not necessarily do a great deal of theorising, but there are a lot of theoretical questions that emerged from it.
Columbia, an institution in a city that had a big role in the early twentieth century among American internationalists because of its historic ties to the Carnegie endowment for international peace and the UN being around the corner. People like B.R. Ambedkar and Wellington Koo, famous interwar internationalists from outside the West, had also been there. That made it a logical place to examine the history of internationalism.
I was lucky to be there in the middle of a big new wave of interest in the League of Nations and interwar internationalism. Scholars like Patricia Clavin, Glenda Sluga, Susan Pedersen, Mark Mazower, and Natasha Wheatley were all part of this trend. In the decade since then this subfield has seen a new generation of work emerge within it. These two things came together for me, because I was interested in internationalism and international institutions as well as in major economic and political changes in the early twentieth century. One of the things that I noticed was that there was a new policy instrument in the League of Nations namely sanctions, but it did not seem to have a historiography dealing with it at all. There was some work on the Italo-Ethiopian crisis, and a bit of writing about sanctions later in the twentieth century, but almost nothing about this instrument as an evolving policy tool. It took me a long time to figure out whether this was a purely formal mechanism with no political reality to it, or whether there was actually a story to be told there. Was this an institution that had existed on paper only or had it actually played some role? To figure this out I went back to the primary sources and looked at the texture of people’s discourse in the interwar period. What is noticeable is that many of them had been incredibly shocked, surprised, as well as impressed, by the power of economic war in World War I. That was actually one of the important ways in which civilians in Central Europe and the Middle East experienced the cost of war in the First World War. Then I realised that the people involved in this blockade project were also the internationalists who began to run the League of Nations in the following decade. Then things started to fall in place. I realised that there was probably a story to be told. But it was difficult to figure out where to go; ultimately, I did so through a variety of routes. I took some old-fashioned but solid diplomatic history to outline the lay of the land.
When I went back to the sources, looking at the texture of people’s discourse in the interwar period, I noticed that many of them had been incredibly shocked and impressed by the power of economic war in World War I. That was actually one of the important ways in which civilians in Central Europe and the Middle East experienced the cost of war in the first World War. Then I realised that the people involved in this blockade were also the internationalists who began to run the League of Nations.
I realised that in order to bring out the history of this economic weapon, I had to broaden it. So, I had to go into political theory and look into social movements. I read deep into bureaucracies and had to be schooled in the history and historiography of international law. It required a lot of ancillary methodological self-education, across different fields and domains of expertise, to be able to map fully the stakes of the story. The final thing that has been important in my intellectual formation is, coming from the Netherlands originally and growing up in Belgium and then being educated in the UK and the US, I moved in a very Anglophone academic sphere but was very much shaped by growing up in small but internationalized countries. The Low Countries particularly have a long history as empires, but in the last few decades, particularly since the 1940s, they have really been very small countries that have learned to punch above their weight via membership in international organisations, and actually already before that, already in the 19th century this was the case. I was interested in the question of sovereignty in international organisations, but particularly looking at the world from smaller and medium-sized places, and trying to look at the Anglophone international world from the point of view of its smaller actors, not through the lens of the British Empire or the United States of America. That is where these stories that I have in the book—they are really threads—dwell for example on places like Switzerland, Greece, Albania, Hong Kong, Yugoslavia, or Finland. That is what I think the history of sanctions demands: that you get out of the hegemonic view, so to speak, and grapple with the local.
MB: In the book you argue that sanctions are a distinctly modern innovation made feasible by advanced globalisation in the late nineteenth and the early twentieth centuries. They are considered practicable by their proponents precisely because of the scale of economic interdependence that they seek to exploit. However, their deployment does not always yield the desired outcomes everywhere. Would you agree that the proponents of economic sanctions were at times naively optimistic about their impact? If not, what are your insights on this matter?
NM: If I would describe the genesis of sanctions as a confluence of circumstances and events, I think the three major factors would be, first, an advanced level of financial and economic globalization; second, the advent of mass democracy in many Western countries—the idea that public opinion and mass society in general have a direct effect on politics and that political elites can no longer insulate themselves from these pressures—and finally, the quest by internationalists for some kind of international peace or arbitration procedure. This agenda had lacked an instrument; it was a campaign without a proper set of tools. In this regard the economic total war of 1914-1918 actually made it clear that there was such an instrument at hand.
Were the internationalists naively optimistic about using sanctions? This is an interesting question, because there is a certain amount of projection that was involved. Most of the people who were behind the sanctions—I call them sanctionists, a label used by critical contemporary analysts such as Helena Swanwick—would have seen themselves as liberals. But there were also centre-left, social democratic, and even socialist and communist supporters of sanctionism. The projection involved was the expectation that all societies, when put under external pressure, would witness the same effects that Western observers expected to see in their own countries. There was a sense of anxiety, particularly in Edwardian Britain, which had given up its self-sufficiency in food in favor of free trade, that famine would break out in case of a major war. Avner Offer’s fantastic book The First World War: An Agrarian Interpretation and work by Frank Trentmann and Nicholas Lambert has shown how deep the anxiety in Britain was about being dependent on overseas food supplies. When there is such an underlying sense of vulnerability, it makes sense that one would try to exploit the same weakness in other countries. This, I think, is a recurring feature in the history of sanctions: the level of sanctions being used is oftentimes a projection of what the sanctions-using-countries think would be an intolerable level of pressure. It is a very interesting way of projecting economic and political values around the world. It is not just about enforcing norms, but it is also about laying out a set of expectations. In some cases that might be acute and warranted. It just seems to me to involve a degree of projection with all the risks that that entails. I try to document cases where such projection worked, like in the Balkans in the 1920s. But there are real limits. Europeanists often think of the early twentieth century as an age of extremes and more specifically an age of ideology. Ideology is both the thing that drives some of the hope in this weapon—an ideology of liberal internationalist peace—but it is also present in the autarkic, nationalist reaction that blockade exposure and sanctions provoked. In some ways, this is a story of liberalism calling forth some of the forces that become obstacles to its own values.
MB: The book also revises our understanding of the power that the League wielded. The League is often seen as a rather powerless international institution incapable of effecting any significant changes. However, as you show, the architects of sanctions originally devised them to empower the League with a weapon that would elicit compliance. Could you reflect a little on this new perspective on the League’s power in this period?
NM: I am very much working in the tracks of new international history or the new historiography of the League that emerged in the mid-2000s that has now blossomed into a new sub-field. E.P. Thompson’s famously talked about the “the enormous condescension of posterity.” This is something that the League, even though it isn’t that old in historical terms, suffered from in spades. But the move in much of this new historiography was to move away from a focus on what the League did not do (prevent another World War) and instead emphasize that it created many new forms of global governance that we are still indebted to in the present. In other words, this was a kind of origins story in which it was shown how internationalists in the rest of the twentieth century greatly benefitted from and successfully developed further practices first created in the interwar years. This had a great deal of truth to it, and it was an important move. Yet it still seemed to me that in some regards it did not go far enough. Because when one reads sources from the interwar period that speak about the League, they were not talking about it as an international organisation merely. They saw it often for what it also really was from the beginning: a geopolitical alliance of the victors of World War I. Other countries had been brought into this alliance—Latin American and neutral countries most importantly—but in many ways the League of Nations was a much more stridently ideological project than the United Nations. The UN is a big tent in terms of values and outlooks, capable of admitting not just the communist Soviet Union into it but also many non-Western states, and to do so on an equal footing during the age of decolonisation. That was constitutionally impossible for the League, which was primarily a club of empires—and specifically a club of empires that won in World War I.
What was lost in cleaving apart the League’s governance work from its dramatic interwar surroundings was an account that could show how “idealist” institutions co-existed and acted in a “realist” storyline in which the international order collapsed and another world war began. In general, the distinction between the idealism of international institutions and the realism of nation-states behind them is overdone. When it comes to economic pressure, it was clear that this was a tool of the League that would always be enforced first and foremost by nation-states. The brunt of sanctions implementation would be in the hands of the most powerful empires, which were the only ones that had the power to implement these sorts of blockades and sanctions. Britain and France really were the two key players here. When they did agree to do it, like in the autumn of 1935, almost all the League members joined in the embargo against Italy. So, at its core there are really two major empires that need to move on this for a much wider international sanctions coalition to come into being. This is why during the interwar period the larger revisionist states saw the League mainly as an arena dominated by these liberal imperial powers. Behind Geneva stood London and Paris, and potentially, from the 1930s onwards, Washington D.C.
The move in much of this new historiography was to move away from a focus on what the League [of Nations] did not do (prevent another World War) and instead emphasize that it created many new forms of global governance that we are still indebted to in the present…This had a great deal of truth to it, and it was an important move. Yet it still seemed to me that in some regards it did not go far enough. Because when one reads sources from the interwar period that speak about the League, they were not talking about it as an international organisation merely. They saw it often for what it also really was from the beginning: a geopolitical alliance of the victors of World War I…The UN is a big tent in terms of values and outlooks, capable of admitting not just the communist Soviet Union into it but also many non-Western states, and to do so on an equal footing during the age of decolonisation. That was constitutionally impossible for the League, which was primarily a club of empires—and specifically a club of empires that won in World War I. What was lost in cleaving apart the League’s governance work from its dramatic interwar surroundings was an account that could show how “idealist” institutions co-existed and acted in a “realist” storyline in which the international order collapsed and another world war began.
Despite a lot of talk about peace and public opinion, I think that this power-focused view was the dominant understanding of the League before E.H. Carr and others began to introduce a very strong distinction between idealism and realism. But these two aspects of the same organization were much more mutually entangled in the interwar period than the theory would have us believe. That is really the gambit of the book: to say that the League’s use of this instrument, ostensibly an idealist dead end, was in fact a central story in the power politics of the interwar period. There was not really a diplomatic talking shop on the one hand and the drama of hard power politics on the other. These were one and the same story, but they were certainly different ways of talking about similar dynamics. Untangling this really set me up, in the final third of the book, to try to deliver a new interpretation of the crisis of the 1930s through the prism of the sanctions. Here I follow in the tracks of existing historiography, particularly great books by Robert Boyce, Zara Steiner, Adam Tooze, and Patricia Clavin. All of that put together gives you a pretty good grid already. But adding a specific focus on sanctions provides a new way of understanding why there was such a strong push in the 1930s by the fascist military states against the League.
MB: The rise of sanctions was intertwined with the transition from a nineteenth-century laissez-faire global order in which commerce and geopolitics were divorced from each other to a twentieth-century world in which geopolitics and commerce were desegregated. What are some of the ethical dilemmas that this transition posed to the proponents of the economic weapon?
NM: There is a really interesting process that occurred when sanctions were introduced: many private economic transactions that were deemed normal and possible in the nineteenth and early twentieth century came to be seen as morally dubious. A large part of this story is about the pressure that the League puts on the classical idea of neutrality. Sanctions that are hermetic require trade by neutral states with the sanctions target to be put under serious pressure. The whole idea that one cannot trade with countries involved in wars of aggression would have sounded very strange to nineteenth-century ears. At that time it was considered more civilised, in fact, to continue trading with private individuals even in countries that were at war with your own country—because that is what civilisation was identified with (the integrity of laws of property and contract) and civilised countries and their civil societies interact even if their governments were at war. World War I more than anything made this way of thinking untenable. This is where a tension emerges, because there is also an attempt within the League to resuscitate nineteenth-century laissez faire liberalism as an economic order. But this clashes with the new mandate to stop future wars of aggression by imposing total economic sanctions. The two things simultaneously do not work together. The economic-legal part of the League was still in the nineteenth century whereas the security-geopolitical apparatus was very much in a new ethical and legal universe. It was the asymmetry between these two domains that causes tensions in the League. Only in the 1930s did internationalists in Geneva begin to iron out these inconsistencies. They began to stigmatise trade with the aggressor states and that ultimately led to serious discussions of use and threats of sanctions in the 1930s. Finally, World War II consummates this trend, when a world war started by totalitarian states was deemed a new, categorically different threat to world order that ipso facto did not admit of any neutrality. By 1945, you are in a world where the United Nations has it easier because the world wars have decisively done away with the nineteenth-century world order that would have made economic pressure more difficult.
But there is also a moralisation, this idea that we cannot trade with countries involved in wars of aggression, and it was something that would have been very strange to nineteenth century ears. In the nineteenth century, it was considered more civilised, in fact, to continue trading because that is what civilisation was identified with—the integrity of laws of property and contract—and civilised countries and their civil societies interact even if their governments were at war.
MB: You write that economic blockade was a “quintessential form of biopolitics” and you have demonstrated in exacting detail the devastation caused by the economic blockade of the First World War in the Balkans and the Middle East. How does the experience and memory of this economic blockade during the Great War figure in the instrumentalisation of sanctions in the interwar period?
NM: That is a really interesting topic that surfaces most directly around the blockade of Germany from 1914 to 1918. This was long thought to have killed a very large number of people. In Germany, there was a famous estimate of 763,000 excess deaths produced by the authorities at the end of the war. Mary Cox at Oxford has done very good work on showing that a lot of that was exaggerated and there was a lot of German propaganda at work in this. There were certainly forces working to inflate that number tremendously, which is why I think, the most responsible kind of estimate lies between 300,000 and 400,000—lower than it was thought for a long time but still considerable. In the Middle East, the only thing we know is that on the whole at least half a million people died in Ottoman Syria and in Greater Syria, but many of those died because of the starvation caused by the Ottoman army’s requisition. There is a very fraught question in the background here as well, since in Turkish history these deaths were sometimes all blamed on the Allies to avoid culpability for the death of hundreds of thousands in the Armenian Genocide. So, there are a number of issues in this area around which we have to tread carefully. That being said, why we can still conclude that there is clearly a link between blockade and starvation in the Middle East as well. Areas that are no longer blockaded, like Transjordan from 1917 onwards, see far lower death rates than a continuously blockaded region such as Mount Lebanon, even though they are also subject to Ottoman depredations. So, there is a quite clear link there. On top of that, the blockade in the Middle East was formally declared and hence much stricter. Not even neutral ships were allowed to pass through. Areas like Mount Lebanon were under serious pressure. Of course, there the memory was politically less actionable, because the Ottoman Empire collapsed and disintegrated—the successor states in the Middle East became Western Mandates, and they did not necessarily have a national state like Germany for whom this blockade became a national trauma that could use it for nationalist mobilisation in the future. The interesting thing that happened is that despite there being fewer deaths than claimed and a less directly catastrophic impact on the war effort, German nationalists obviously played up the horrors of blockade because it provided a powerful way to rally popular support against the entire Versailles order. Conversely, this was strengthened by the liberal internationalist League. For them to have a viable sanctions instrument, talking up the damage that blockade had done was key to deterring future aggressors through sanctions threats. So, the strange thing that happened was that German ultra-nationalists and liberal internationalists basically agreed on the impact of and damage caused by sanctions for directly opposite purposes. That is where the stakes of this debate over who caused deprivation in World War I became very clear to me.
MB: The book also offers a fresh perspective on the expansionary autarkic tendencies and the rabid nationalism of the 1930s and the rise of Nazi Germany, Fascist Italy, and imperial Japan. Could you dwell more on this argument?
NM: Yes, sure. I’ll briefly string them together and provide some insights that might be interesting. It is really a reinterpretation. I had a lot of the archival materials from the League and I was working on American archival material. In the 1930s, the United States slowly emerged as a sanctionist power. A large part of its foreign policy establishment wanted to use sanctions, but there was no domestic political majority to do so in Congress. It is a striking juxtaposition because there is a lot of interaction between American internationalists and the League, as perception in liberal Europe of American support for the League, and a perception in Weimar Germany that America is really the secret power behind Geneva. I draw on the work of many other historians who have worked in much more specific detail on Fascist Italy, Nazi Germany, and Imperial Japan. What I became interested in was explaining a conundrum: if sanctions were so powerful, then why did they nonetheless fail to prevent another world war, which was their stated aim? Put differently, why was their no successful coalition to use sanctions against the aggressors who began World War II that came into being in time? Ultimately, there was a winning Allied coalition in World War II that created a new international organization, the UN, that it equipped with sanctions. So how come it was not possible to have such a proto-UN Allied coalition in the 1930s already? It is a large and complex question involving a variety of important factors. Obviously, the Great Depression plays an important role, the rise of nationalist forces and economic protectionism everywhere, the widespread distrust of the Soviet Union and anti-communism in the Western democracies (Jonathan Haslam’s recent The Specter of War is illuminating on this), which prevented the early formation of a war-stopping coalition between Britain, France, and the Soviet Union after the latter joined the League in 1934. Potentially this group could have been expanded with a role for the United States in the background or even Italy. That would have been something that would have stopped Nazi Germany and that would have also have been a very powerful way of restraining Japan. But it did not emerge. There was no recreation of the Anglo-French-Russian Entente of World War I, which would have been an obvious candidate for reconstitution when it came to the containment of Germany–despite ideological differences the power-political rationale for this was strong, as figures from Winston Churchill, Léon Blum, David Lloyd George to Stalin and Litvinov all understood. The non-emergence of a neo-Entente is central to how I see the tragedy of the 1930s: as an incredibly difficult four-sided coordination problem, in which it is really hard to get three out of the four sides to band together against the fourth and most dangerous—the fascist-militarist camp of the anti-Comintern powers. The first three camps are the liberal empires in the League and the smaller states aligned with them (for example the Central and Eastern European states of the Little Entente); the ambivalently internationalist United States; and the equally schizoid Soviet Union, which was committed in the 1930s in large part to an internationalist strategy (it entered the League, joined sanctions, and made many leftwing parties across Europe back Geneva’s doctrine of collective security). This is often forgotten: it was the official position of every communist party in Europe in 1935 that there should be sanctions on Fascist Italy, for example. But this preparedness to band together against aggression only heightens the scale of the tragedy because these three camps ultimately failed to come together against the fourth in time. That is how I really see the tragedy of the 1930s.
Sanctions are a useful way to understand why we end up with the Second World War and why we did not see the international coalition that won that war form at an earlier moment. I was struck by the fact that this coalition–known from 1942 onwards as the United Nations–was for most of the 1930s incomplete, and that this meant that there were obvious opportunities for the anti-Comintern and Axis powers to continue to aggrandise themselves. What was remarkable was how in wake of the Great Depression, Rome, Berlin, and Tokyo were all prepared to raise the stakes in response to sanctions. In the 1910s and 1920s, internationalists had hoped to restrain aggression by mobilizing the fear of blockade in target countries as a moderating influence. But amidst the explosive nationalist tendencies of the 1930s, this strategy interacted in a very destabilising and escalatory manner with the already existing autarkic tendencies of Fascist empires. It was not the cause of World War II (the aggressive impulse and desire for aggrandisement was already there, before sanctions) but I do think in several cases, such as the case of Japan, it brought forward the date at which Japan and the West clash. Even in the case of Italy, the sanctions pushed the Fascist regime into greater economic dependence on Nazi Germany, which meant that Mussolini, who for much of the 1930s had been thought of by the West as a counterweight to Hitler, is actually pushed together with Hitler. In June 1940, when Mussolini entered the Second World War, he did so much earlier than he would have liked and he does it because he is forced to follow Hitler. Hitler himself clearly was planning for war but it is the League’s sanctions against Italy that are an important factor in the background for the Four-Year Plan of 1936, which attempted to prepare Germany to withstand blockade and sanctions already at least two or two and a half years earlier than they were actually expected to launch a war. They start two years earlier because their aggression unleashes this escalatory spiral. Sanctions further contribute to what Christopher Clark has called their “temporal claustrophobia”—this sense that time is against them. This is at the core of the dynamic that I try to describe. I am obviously interested in giving sanctions some causal weight, not too much, but certainly writing them back into the existing accounts we have, where they belong. It allows us to understand a few things that hitherto were perhaps ascribed only to ideology or only to alliance issues, but there is actually a middle level policy instrument and a wider cultural memory—the fear of blockade-induced starvation—that it is linked to and which has a powerful contributing effect to hostilities here.
MB: From your reading of the history of sanctions, what lessons could we draw for the current global moment that has invoked fervent debates about sanctions?
NM: I will be quite brief to say that the thing that really stands out about the interwar period is that it was a world in which many of the assumptions and practices of modern liberal internationalism were created, yet without liberal internationalism functioning as it does today. Sanctions were only meant for inter-state war and to punish aggression. There was not yet a vast expansion in the use of sanctions for international ideological goals that we see today. There was some anti-communist use of sanctions. But by and large it was an inter-state story in the interwar period and it was a world of empires. It is really important to emphasise that this was a world in which sanctions fit very neatly in an older tradition of undeclared war against the subjects of colonialism who were not deemed worthy of declaring war against. The United Nations has really shifted that. It has really brought modern liberal internationalism as we know it now into being. The interesting thing is that the rise of an international human rights paradigm has broadened the use of sanctions. We have a world now in which there is more respect for state sovereignty but also more principles that allow the use of sanctions in a way that intrudes on states’ domestic arrangements, trying to shape what they can and cannot do. Think of the US embargo on Cuba or the harsh sanctions against Iran for nuclear proliferation. I think the main lessons are that since the interwar period both the sides of the equation—the internationalist and the nationalist side—have strengthened. That is why I think sanctions will continue to be used: there are simply so many new reasons for doing so. Also, with the advent of new economic globalisation since 1970s and 1980s, there are way more avenues to do so than before.
It was a world of empires. I think it is really important to emphasise that this was a world in which sanctions fit very neatly into an older tradition of undeclared war against the subjects of colonialism, who were not deemed worthy of declaring war against really, and also of gunboat diplomacy.
MB: What might we expect in terms of future projects?
NM: At the moment, the main project I am working on is a book that is provisionally titled The Age of Confiscation. It is a book that, in some ways, follows from my interest in sanctions and the history of economic coercion more generally. It is an international history of expropriation, a political and economic history mainly, but one that also pays attention to legal and intellectual-historical issues. Compared to The Economic Weapon, this book will be more concerned with domestic politics and with what goes inside societies, and somewhat less with what occurs between them. Certainly, I will keep an eye out for interactions and influences across space, but the real core of the book is telling the story of how European states and a European state-centric bourgeois model of private property that emerged in the nineteenth century was exported around the world through colonialism, through law, and through the spread of capitalism and capitalist property institutions. The essence of the book is to show how that model was not just based on a lot of confiscation of old regime assets, especially religious, feudal, and aristocratic property, but also how it restructured property relations outside Europe. It had its roots in a confiscatory tradition from the French Revolution onwards, and with the world wars in the twentieth century began to fundamentally redistribute property within state borders. I have been reading with great profit a lot of the new historiography on property and dispossession in imperial history. But I am interested in the fact that some of these arguments—you could call them colonial boomerang arguments, in which things done in the empire come back home to the metropole, from concentration camps to racism to legal states of exception—imply far too neat a picture of what actually happened in the metropole itself. As true as it may be in some cases, this way of framing things implicitly accepts the story that Europeans like to tell about their own societies—that they were essentially rule-bound, stable and largely peaceful, whereas in fact European societies were totally ridden with massive amounts of use of state force and expropriation as a form of state violence. I am interested in breaking down that metropole-colony barrier a little bit. In other words, telling the story of confiscation in that way that shows how many large-scale processes like the rise of international bourgeois civilisation in the late nineteenth century around the gold standard can be seen as reactions to the threat of confiscation from below. There is also a threat of lateral confiscation from other states, and this becomes a serious risk in both world wars. Property confiscation and redistribution is obviously crucial to the foundation of the welfare states in the interwar period, and also to the emergence of developmental states in the mid-twentieth century. Finally, once can also tell the story of neo-liberalism as a set of moves that protect business interests against confiscation, first in the Global South in the era of decolonization, then increasingly in the advanced economies themselves as the confiscatory powers that states had built in the early twentieth century are constrained. Using confiscation as a new plot line in the macro-historical narrative of modernity–from the Age of Revolutions to the Age of Extremes and beyond, that is really what I will be exploring in this new book.