Monday, September 13, 2010

John Owen's "The Clash of Ideas in World Politics"

John M. Owen IV is associate professor of politics at the University of Virginia.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, The Clash of Ideas in World Politics: Transnational Networks, States, and Regime Change, 1510-2010 , and reported the following:
On page 99 you catch me in the middle of describing the rapid spread of a new and potent branch of Christianity – Calvinism – in the third quarter of the sixteenth century. Why am I doing this in a book that is supposed to illumine world politics today, particularly in the Muslim world?

The Clash of Ideas in World Politics is about long struggles over the oldest question in politics, “What is the best regime?” – struggles that stretch across entire continents and decades. These struggles are over ideas, but also over which types of people and which countries have more or less power; and so they can draw countries into conflicts they might otherwise have avoided. Just as the Muslim world today is torn by a prolonged contest between various forms of secularism and Islamism, sixteenth- and seventeenth-century Europe was wracked by a prolonged contest over which was the true church. That early struggle seems non-political to us today, but most Europeans back then insisted that societal cohesion required religious uniformity. Religious uniformity in turn required state enforcement and hence intimacy between church and state.

The upshot was that Calvinism’s spectacular spread threatened the political order, and the actual power of actual people, in Catholic (and Lutheran) lands. Where Calvinists took power, as in Scotland or the Netherlands, any resurgence of Catholicism was, by the same token, a threat to order and the power of real people. In subsequent pages I go on to show how the back-and-forth contest between Catholicism and Calvinism triggered waves of civil war and foreign intervention, as when the Protestant Elizabeth I of England sent troops to France to help the Calvinists against the Catholics.

If this has an oddly familiar ring, it is supposed to. The substance of the disputes in the Muslim world today is quite different in many ways from that in Europe 450 years ago. But transnational contests over the right way to order society display some of the same dynamics today as they did then.
Read an excerpt from The Clash of Ideas in World Politics, and learn more about the book at the Princeton University Press website.

Visit John M. Owen IV's website.

--Marshal Zeringue