Michael Mann, *The Sources of Social Power Vol. 4*

Michael Mann finally finished his series of books on the history of social power begun in the 1980s!

The subtitle is Globalizations 1945-2011. Like the earlier volumes it traces the “leading edge” of ideological, economic, military, and political power.

Chapters cover: the postwar international order, US society (2 chapters mostly on class and race), US hegemony (2 chapters), the rise of neoliberalism, the USSR and its fall, China, revolutions, the great recession of 2008-, and climate change.

The best parts for me included Mann’s account of the Soviet fall (revolutions are one of the strong suits of historical sociology), and his extensive discussion of US hegemony.

The least good parts I found were the chapter on climate change (Mann’s model of power does not have much to add to the issue) and the 2008- recession (ditto, plus it is still ongoing).

Surprisingly, quite a bit of the book is evaluative – assessing the positives and negatives of American hegemony, or neoliberalism, or climate change policy. (Something similar was true of Vol 3, which considered good and bad sides of European empires.) This shows how important and inescapable are evaluative questions. Mann set out with a model of power in Vol 1 that was purely analytical but has ended up in Vols 3 and 4 needing a theory of power with a normative component.

In the Conclusion Mann touches on the issue of European dynamism. Why did the West innovate so much in social power? His answer: “rational restlessness.” I think this is true but inadequate. It leaves aside so many questions: How and why did the West develop more “rational restlessness” than elsewhere? How might one measure or estimate levels of “rational restlessness”?

One thing I think he gets wrong. Mann notes the decline of international war after 1945 – a major shift in military power. He says it is due to nuclear weapons. I doubt it, and unfortunately Mann does not consider any alternative explanations.

Regardless of these faults, this volume is a major achievement, as is the series as a whole.

(I commented on Vol. 3 here and objected to one of Mann’s asides in Vol. 4 here.)

Michael Mann, The Sources of Social Power Vol. 4 Globalizations, 1945-2011 (Cambridge University Press, 2013).



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2 responses to “Michael Mann, *The Sources of Social Power Vol. 4*

  1. I just finished this and am hoping that volume 3 will be better but already have doubts. Volume 1 was impressive but I read only bits of volume 2. Are there some short reviews of the first two volumes?

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