Louis Fletcher – From Civilization to Globalism: The Spatial Imaginary of Arnold Toynbee and Quincy Wright

PTRG 18/10/2017

Edinburgh doctoral candidate Louis Fletcher presented his paper on civilization and globalism at this week’s PTRG. A work in intellectual history, Louis’ paper charts the decline of civilization as an organizing concept in global political thought, and the birth of globalism in the interwar years in Europe. Drawing on the work of two liberal internationalists who wrote extensively on civilization and the emergent global order following the First World War, Louis explores how these thinkers, Arnold Toynbee and Quincy Wright, eschewed ‘civilization’ as a temporal achievement eventually reached by all cultures, embracing instead a cyclical understanding of the fortunes of history’s many civilizations. The twilight of the European empires and the catastrophe of war heralded a new era for Toynbee and Wright, as institutions such as the League of Nations and seismic shifts in the balances of power across Europe, the Americas, Russia, India and the Antipodean colonies transformed the global political order in this exceptional period.

A productive and collaborative discussion ensued, with matters of interest ranging from the meaning of globalism as a concept and as a project, to questions regarding methods and approaches in the history of political thought. One issue receiving particular attention was the idea of the organization of global space raised in the paper, and the extent to which concepts such as civilization and globalism can be seen as constructing, delineating or delimiting that space. The discussion also occasioned several recommendations for further reading and some lively exchanges regarding the role of an imaginary in global political thought.