The Ideas That Conquered the World: Peace, Democracy, and Free Markets in the Twenty-first Century by Michael Mandelbaum

Published by: PublicAffairs 2002
Pages: 496 pp
Price: $30.00

The nonprofit sector has become increasingly “privatized” over the past decade or so. Growing attention to the needs and interests of funders and donors, new institutional interrelationships with private sector organizations and emerging private sector players in traditional nonprofit areas are but some of the ways in which nonprofit institutions have been influenced by—and are influencing—increasingly pervasive free markets.

Mandelbaum suggests the need for a powerful articulation of the global role of nonprofits in balancing the effects of the free market.

Michael Mandelbaum provides a compelling backdrop to this trend in his new book, The Ideas That Conquered the World: Peace, Democracy, and Free Markets in the Twenty-first Century. He argues that a set of three ideas has come to dominate the world today: peace as the preferred basis for relations between and among nations; democracy as the optimal way to organize political life; and free markets as the best way for countries to grow from poverty to prosperity. Although this Wilsonian perspective is hardly new, Mandelbaum’s book cogently demonstrates how powerfully these ideas have come to dominate international affairs and deftly illuminates their influence on the geopolitical and economic framework within which all Western institutions operate.

A professor of American foreign policy at the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies and a senior fellow of the Council on Foreign Relations, Mandelbaum provides a superb conceptual backdrop for nonprofit institutions as they think about their strategic situations on both a global and a local level. In particular, it is helpful for nonprofit institutions to keep these central ideas in mind as “givens” in charting their futures. Further, though Mandelbaum does not discuss it explicitly, the increasingly pervasive global influence of the free market has profound implications for the role, character and significance of the nonprofit sector. Mandelbaum provides a thoughtful and thoughtprovoking analysis of political and economic theory over the past two centuries and the connection between free trade and the spread of prosperity. He also illuminates how influential the power of example has been in establishing the potency of these ideas and gives a series of warnings about possible future conflicts. He sees the terrorist attacks of September 11th and the war on terrorism as aberrations in the midst of otherwise positive global trends already in play and he seeks to explain why much of the world is less peaceful despite the trend away from war among the great powers.

His book suggests the need for a powerful articulation of the global role of nonprofits in balancing the effects and implications of the free market. The “independent” sector—and the leading institutions within that sector—are uniquely situated to understand and analyze the free market. Without vigorous leadership by the nonprofit sector, there is considerable danger that the benefits and scope of free markets could be compromised in both developed and developing nations. By the same token, the nonprofit sector must be alert to the dangers of rampant globalization that leave the disadvantaged and the underprivileged even further behind. And the growing “privatization” of the nonprofit sector also has important longer-term implications.

One can quarrel with some of his views about “hot spots” in the world today and the impact of alternative courses of action by the United States, which he maintains bears the greatest responsibility for protecting and promoting these central ideas. But his depiction of the free market as an increasingly powerful force that holds the key to a peaceful and democratic future is compelling and convincing.

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