Mark Mazower (Ira D. Wallach Professor of World Order Studies; Director of Columbia’s Institute for Ideas and Imagination) contributed a review essay on historian Tara Zakhra’s Against the World to Foreign Affairs (May/June 2023).
Zahra delves into the tumultuous years between World War I and World War II to argue that it was resistance to globalism and globalization that ended up weakening Europe’s then fragile democracies. Zahra writes that after World War I, free trade and internationalist politics came under fire, leading to stronger tariff barriers and immigration controls and eventually contributing to the continent’s slide into dictatorship. Echoes of that time seem to ring loudly today.
As angst about globalization fuels antidemocratic politics in the United States, Europe, and elsewhere, Zahra suggests parallels between the rise of authoritarianism then and its resurgence now. Her book, she writes, “with its emphasis on the popular politics that animated anti-globalism, is no less a history of the present.” Yet such an analogy insists a little too much. Globalization’s cheerleaders claim that free trade and economic liberalization pave the way for the spread of democracy. History suggests a more ambiguous relationship and shows that democracy can be undone by both nationalist and global forces.