The Guardians

The Guardians : The League of Nations and the Crisis of Empire

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The First World War threw the imperial order into crisis. New states emerged from the great European land empires, while Germany's African and Pacific colonies, and the Ottoman provinces in the Middle East fell into allied hands. Britain, France, Belgium, Japan, and the British dominions wanted to keep the new states, but Woodrow Wilson and the millions converted to the ideal of self-determination thought otherwise. At the Paris Peace conference of 1919, the allies
agreed reluctantly to govern their new conquests according to international and humanitarian norms and under 'mandate' from the League of Nations.

As The Guardians shows, this decision had enormous consequences. The allies sought to use the League to safeguard imperial authority, but that authority was undermined by the mechanisms for international oversight they had themselves created. Colonial nationalists and humanitarians exploited new rights of petition or opportunities for publicity to expose abuses or scandals; Germans resentful of the loss of their colonies and Italians eager to found a new empire arrived in Geneva to
demand a repartition of the spoils. As imperial politicians wearied of continual scandals and crises - revolts in South West Africa, Syria, Samoa, and Palestine; famine in Rwanda; labour abuses in New Guinea; extortionate oil contracts in Iraq - they began to question whether independent states might be easier
to deal with than territories subject to international scrutiny.

Drawing on research in four continents and dozens of archives, and bringing to life a global network of nationalists, humanitarians, international bureaucrats, and imperial statesmen, The Guardians offers an entirely new interpretation of the importance of international organizations in the emergence of the modern world order.
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Product details

  • Hardback | 592 pages
  • 156 x 238 x 38mm | 992g
  • Oxford, United Kingdom
  • English
  • numerous black and white images and maps
  • 0199570485
  • 9780199570485
  • 347,175

Table of contents

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Review quote

provides an enlightening, insightful, richly textured expose of the Mandates Commission from birth to transformation under the United Nations. Her multi-archival, international, superbly footnoted, and, at its core, personality driven narrative brings alive an institution ... the author's highly engaging narrative style makes the book fly by as if it were a summer beach read. Extremely readable, richly informative, and boldly argued. * G. Donato, CHOICE * A magnificent study. * Ferdinand Mount, London Review of Books * The Guardians offers many important insights, not least in demonstrating how internationalism deepened when Germany became a commission member and how the UK's governance of Iraq inspired today's system of economic imperialism. The book's primary revelation, however, relates to what the league did not do. Pedersen argues that self-determination, the concept that supposedly underpinned its creation, "was not what the Commission would serve". Its failure to take
seriously the demands of its mandated populations initiated a set of forces that would help to forge our unequal world of today. Pedersen's study is nothing less than a groundbreaking account of how one organisation shaped the 20th century. * Times Higher Education, Niamh Gallagher * The book is important and deals with an important, hitherto understudied, theme The Guardians is very well written, with clarity and precision, compelling themes and illuminating detail ... Dr Pedersen always knows where she is going, and she takes us there efficiently. Her research is exemplary. * Reviews in History * This outstanding work of scholarship, with its formidable apparatus, is also a work of high literary art. Without sacrifice of intellectual standards, it eschews the cant and jargon that disfigure so much current academic writing on imperialism. It throws fascinating sidelights on many aspects of international affairs in the interwar period as well as on the history of each of the mandated territories, especially Palestine. The author's declared aim to "anatomize ...
a system in motion" has been magnificently achieved. * Journal of Israeli History * The Guardians is not simply a brilliant, beautifully executed study of the League as a major actor in the interwar years. It is also a cautionary tale about international governance today. * Diplomatic History * A strikingly original book. * Mark Mazower, The Guardian * The first indispensable book written on a critical subject in 50 years... fair-minded, hard-hitting and readable... The Guardians is a magnificent book. * Wall Street Journal (Europe), WM. Roger Louis * A richly detailed study of the League's Permanent Mandates Commission... Pedersen's book is genuinely revelatory a long disquisition on the politics of unintended consequences, as a bureaucratic system designed to uphold and legitimise imperial reconstruction provided the tools for its undoing. * Financial Times, Duncan Kelly * [An] original, stimulating and thoroughly researched examination of how the new League managed to sustain a facade of trusteeship in a world of selfish imperial interests... This is a fascinating examination of empire in its final death throes. * Literary Review, Richard Overy * [A] path-breaking study * Tony Barber, Books of the Year 2015, Financial Times * Elegantly written, highly accessible, meticulously researched, this is a model of historical scholarship. * Journal of Modern History * Susan Pedersen's The Guardians is one of those history books that provide even the most avid reader with a new perspective and understanding of contemporary events. * Ralph Janik, Austrian Review of International and European Law *
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About Susan Pedersen

Susan Pedersen was born to Canadian missionary parents and spent her childhood in Japan and Minnesota. Rescued by Harvard at the age of 18, she spent the next 26 years there as a student, faculty member, and sometime Dean for Undergraduate Education. A historian of Britain and Europe with wide interests and an a penchant for far-flung research, she has written on subjects ranging from the history of women's movements, to the origins of welfare states, to British rule
in Kenya, Hong Kong, and Palestine. Since 2003, she has been on the faculty at Columbia University, where she teaches courses on British and international history, and on 'great books' from Plato to Nietzsche. She lives in Manhattan with her husband and two children.
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