Internationalism in the Age of Nationalism

Internationalism in the Age of Nationalism

Internationalism in the Age of Nationalism

Internationalism in the Age of Nationalism


The twentieth century, a time of profound disillusionment with nationalism, was also the great age of internationalism. To the twenty-first-century historian, the period from the late nineteenth century until the end of the Cold War is distinctive for its nationalist preoccupations, while internationalism is often construed as the purview of ideologues and idealists, a remnant of Enlightenment-era narratives of the progress of humanity into a global community. Glenda Sluga argues to the contrary, that the concepts of nationalism and internationalism were very much entwined throughout the twentieth century and mutually shaped the attitudes toward interdependence and transnationalism that influence global politics in the present day.

Internationalism in the Age of Nationalism traces the arc of internationalism through its rise before World War I, its apogee at the end of World War II, its reprise in the global seventies and the post-Cold War nineties, and its decline after 9/11. Drawing on original archival material and contemporary accounts, Sluga focuses on specific moments when visions of global community occupied the liberal political mainstream, often through the maneuvers of iconic organizations such as the League of Nations and the United Nations, which stood for the sovereignty of nation-states while creating the conditions under which marginalized colonial subjects and women could make their voices heard in an international arena. In this retelling of the history of the twentieth century, conceptions of sovereignty, community, and identity were the objects of trade and reinvention among diverse intellectual and social communities, and internationalism was imagined as the means of national independence and national rights, as well as the antidote to nationalism.

This innovative history highlights the role of internationalism in the evolution of political, economic, social, and cultural modernity, and maps out a new way of thinking about the twentieth century.


In the steamy summer of 1948, a group of thirty-six teachers representing twenty-one countries— nearly half the number of internationally recognized sovereign states in the world at that time— met at Adelphi College on New York’s Long Island, a few miles from the United Nation’s own makeshift headquarters in an old munitions factory at Lake Success. They were guests of a UNESCO seminar on “world understanding,” tasked with discussing education programs that would promote interest in and knowledge of the workings of the UN and its specialized agencies. They also took it upon themselves to determine the proper progress of internationalism.

Refusing to be defeated by the heat and humidity, or by the challenges of translation, the teachers talked, ate, and made the most of photo opportunities. They listened to lectures by UN personnel, toured Lake Success, met with Eleanor Roosevelt on the grounds of her home at Hyde Park, and Dwight Eisenhower, then president of Columbia University. In the cool of night, they entertained each other with “National Evenings,” celebrated independence days, exhibited national movies, listened to music, and performed folk dances. At the end of six weeks of seminars and socializing as an “international group,” they concluded that “adult” internationalism welcomed “the nation-state structure of mankind.”

The seminar on “world understanding” was precisely the kind of internationally minded cultural event that Hans Morgenthau, the American political scientist and proclaimed founder of post-World War II realist theory, disdained as irrelevant to a hard-headed pursuit of peace. A German-Jewish émigré from the Weimar Republic, Morgenthau was based at the University of Chicago in 1948 and had just published his seminal study Politics Among Nations, with its lively dismissal of the futile idealism of UNESCO’s educational programs. History had taught Morgenthau that “world understanding”

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