Worldmaking After Empire: The Rise and Fall of Self-Determination
By Adom Getachew
Princeton University Press, 2019, 288 pp.
In the mid-twentieth century, empires collapsed and postcolonial peoples around the world struggled for self-rule. In this important book, Getachew presents a sweeping new account of the global visions of the activists who led this charge. Scholars have typically seen the post-1945 decolonization movement as a story of nation building as postcolonial leaders in Africa and Asia embraced Western norms of sovereignty and self-determination. Looking closely at the political ideas of figures such as W. E. B. Du Bois, Kwame Nkrumah, Julius Nyerere, and Michael Manley, Getachew identifies a more revolutionary project aimed at pushing the world in a more egalitarian and anti-imperial direction. She explores this new thinking as it appeared in three domains—the push for self-determination at the United Nations, the building of pan-African and pan-Asian regional federations, and the calls to adopt the New International Economic Order (a trade agenda launched by some UN member states to bolster the interests of developing countries). In each instance, postcolonial leaders were not simply seeking to renegotiate relations between former imperial masters and newly liberated peoples. They offered a more far-reaching critique of prevailing geopolitical and racial hierarchies, emphasizing cosmopolitan solidarities and principled mechanisms for the redistribution of wealth and power. Getachew traces these ideas into the 1970s, when, in the face of a powerful Westphalian global order, anticolonial world-making gave way to more traditional political struggles that reinforced the nation-state.