I finished reading another good book. This one focused on a twentieth century topic that has surfaced again — anti-globalism. As readers of my blog know, I believe history informs our view of the future. This book provides yet another example of how our current era mirrors the era of the early 20th century. I described those similarities here. The book’s author, Tara Elizabeth Zahra is an American academic who is a Livingston Professor of East European History at the University of Chicago. She graduated from Swarthmore College and from the University of Michigan with a PhD. The book is titled, Against the World: Anti-Globalism and Mass Politics Between the World Wars.
When a period looks similar to the past, it is helpful to understand the path of the prior period. In the story arc of the book, we learn about the drivers of anti-globalism sentiment. The build up to the era in question was the Gilded Age, which was an era in United States history that lasted roughly from 1877 to 1900. It was a period of significant economic growth and expansion, but also one of gross materialism, corruption and social inequality. The term “gilded” means covered in a thin layer of gold, suggesting the era’s outwardly glittering appearance — primarily for the rich — while concealing serious economic and social problems beneath the surface. It is not a hard stretch of the imagination if we viewed the last three decades through a similar lens. That earlier age led to World War One, which planted the seeds of the story told by the book. Our current anti-globalism sentiment is rooted in the same dynamics as that period so long ago. The path the world took back then is a scary look into possible futures. I highly recommend the book and have added it to my book library.
Before the First World War, enthusiasm for a borderless world reached its height. International travel, migration, trade, and progressive projects on matters ranging from women’s rights to world peace reached a crescendo. Yet in the same breath, an undercurrent of reaction was growing, one that would surge ahead with the outbreak of war and its aftermath.
In Against the World, a sweeping and ambitious work of history, acclaimed scholar Tara Zahra examines how nationalism, rather than internationalism, came to ensnare world politics in the early twentieth century. The air went out of the globalist balloon with the First World War as quotas were put on immigration and tariffs on trade, not only in the United States but across Europe, where war and disease led to mass societal upheaval. The “Spanish flu” heightened anxieties about porous national boundaries. The global impact of the 1929 economic crash and the Great Depression amplified a quest for food security in Europe and economic autonomy worldwide. Demands for relief from the instability and inequality linked to globalization forged democracies and dictatorships alike, from Gandhi’s India to America’s New Deal and Hitler’s Third Reich. Immigration restrictions, racially constituted notions of citizenship, anti-Semitism, and violent outbursts of hatred of the “other” became the norm-coming to genocidal fruition in the Second World War.
Millions across the political spectrum sought refuge from the imagined and real threats of the global economy in ways strikingly reminiscent of our contemporary political moment: new movements emerged focused on homegrown and local foods, domestically produced clothing and other goods, and back-to-the-land communities. Rich with astonishing detail gleaned from Zahra’s unparalleled archival research in five languages, Against the World is a poignant and thorough exhumation of the popular sources of resistance to globalization. With anti-globalism a major tenet of today’s extremist agendas, Zahra’s arrestingly clearsighted and wide-angled account is essential reading to grapple with our divided present.