This is a book that needed to be written. For centuries, wise men and mad dreamers have addressed the problem of how to put an end to conflict between states through the creation of some kind of overall authority to govern the world. The list includes illustrious names such as Otto III, Dante Alighieri, George of Podiebrad, Henry IV of France and Thomas Hobbes. But however ingenious their proposals and appealing their imagery, their schemes never came to anything. It was only following the defeat of Napoleon in 1815 that a form of internationally binding security system, the Concert of Europe, was set up by the four victorious powers. Their attempt to create a structure that would safeguard the fruits of victory after years of debilitating war was repeated after the First World War with the League of Nations, and after the Second with the United Nations. But, and this is where Mark Mazower’s book is truly illuminating, it was not the great powers that led the way in creating the intensely regulated and globally standardised world we live in.
For all the grandiloquent rhetoric of the Metternichs, Woodrow Wilsons and Roosevelts of this world and the windbaggery of more recent politicians, for all the intergovernmental conferences and agreements, the running has been made not by governments