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FROM THE ANTHOLOGY: What Was the Liberal Order?

The Unruled World

The Case for Good Enough Global Governance

Mark Garten / UN Photo

While campaigning for president in 2008, Barack Obama pledged to renovate the dilapidated multilateral edifice the United States had erected after World War II. He lionized the generation of Franklin Roosevelt, Harry Truman, and George Marshall for creating the United Nations, the Bretton Woods institutions, and NATO. Their genius, he said, was to recognize that “instead of constraining our power, these institutions magnified it.” But the aging pillars of the postwar order were creaking and crumbling, Obama suggested, and so “to keep pace with the fast-moving threats we face,” the world needed a new era of global institution building.

Five years into Obama’s presidency, little progress has been made on that front, and few still expect it. Formal multilateral institutions continue to muddle along, holding their meetings and issuing their reports and taking some minor stabs at improving transnational problems at the margins. Yet despite the Obama administration’s avowed

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