In This Review

Ideology and International Institutions
Ideology and International Institutions
By Erik Voeten
Princeton University Press, 2021, 224 pp

In this impressive book, Voeten argues that although multilateral bodies such as the World Trade Organization may appear to be “neutral” and “universalistic,” they more often than not reflect the values and ideological orientations of their most powerful sponsors. The U.S.- led postwar multilateral system provided a framework for an open and rules-based global economy, but it also privileged the classical liberal values of private property, individual rights, and limited government. The collapse of the Soviet Union ended the Cold War era of ideological contestation, but Voeten sees U.S.-style liberalism facing a new challenge from an upsurge in nationalism, Islamism, populism, authoritarianism, and state-led capitalism. The book’s primary contribution is how it identifies the ideological elements of interstate bargaining over multilateral rules and institutions. Voeten concedes that many of the political disputes that take place in multilateral forums are old-fashioned parochial struggles over the distribution of economic gains. He argues that in the absence of a dominant coalition of like-minded states committed to a shared vision of international order, multilateral institutions will increasingly be shaped by short-term transactional politics.