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New Left Review 91, January-February 2015

Anders Stephanson


The cover of this fourth and (perhaps) final volume of Michael Mann’s vastly ambitious ‘history of power in human societies’ is a photograph of the earth taken from space. [1] Michael Mann, The Sources of Social Power, Volume 4: Globalizations, 1945–2011, Cambridge University Press: Cambridge 2012, £24.99, paperback 496 pp, 978 1 107 61041 5 It is an obvious way of rendering pictorially the thematic of globalization, but oddly the image happens to feature the continent of Africa, about which there is next to nothing in the actual text. This absence is however not odd in Mann’s own terms. His historical sociology pursues not power in general but its ‘leading edge’ (he puts the term in quotation marks); and Africa is neither that edge nor a theatre where the leading edge, so to speak, stages its principal act. That part is played by the United States, the only world empire in history, and as such one of the globalizing forms, along with capitalism and the nation-state, into which power can be seen retrospectively to have crystallized during the period in question. ‘As it turned out’—the retrospective aspect—is essential to the proceedings. Mann has a consuming interest in how things work and when they work well at the level of collective power. Results are paramount. The world in 1945 began with two rival empires but at the end of the day only one remains and it works, or at least it did. Mann’s history is a history of what and who came out on top. It is therefore also history read resolutely backwards.

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Anders Stephanson, ‘Empire Edgemanship’, NLR 91: £3

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