Book Discussion: The Project-State and Its Rivals by Charles S. Maier

Photo Courtesy: Harvard University Press


A new and original history of the forces that shaped the twentieth and twenty-first centuries.



We assumed we knew the story of the twentieth century. After the two world wars and the long cold war, the judgement was clear for many in the West: democratic values had won out against autocracy. However, if liberalism had triumphed in the twentieth century, as many intellectuals asserted, then why have the period’s darker tendencies—ethnic nationalism, racist violence, and populist authoritarianism—revived?


Charles S. Maier’s The Project-State and Its Rivals offers a radical alternative interpretation that takes us from the transforming challenges of the world wars to our own time. Instead of the traditional narrative of domestic politics and international relations, Maier looks to the political and economic impulses that propelled societies through a century when territorial states and transnational forces both claimed power, engaging sometimes as rivals and sometimes as allies. He focuses on recurrent institutional constellations, such as project-states—democracies and dictatorships—that sought not only to maintain power but also to transform their societies, as well as new types of imperial dominance, international financial networks, and nongovernmental organisations (NGOs) that attempted to influence public opinion through ostensibly apolitical appeals to science and ethics.


In this account, Maier draws on his over half a century studies and invites a rethinking of the long twentieth century. He demonstrates how our own civic culture is eroding but also offers hope for its restoration by tracing the history of state involvement with capital, the failure of public undertakings, and the vulnerability of governance.



Charles S. Maier

Chief Advisory Chair, CGC; Leverett Saltonstall Research Professor of History, Harvard University



Sidney Tarrow

Emeritus Maxwell Upson Professor of Government and Adjunct Professor of Cornell Law School, Cornell University


Harold James


Claude and Lore Kelly Professor in European Studies and Professor of History and International Affairs, Princeton University

Peter Hall

Krupp Foundation Professor of European Studies and Resident Faculty and Seminar Co-Chair at the Minda de Gunzburg Center for European Studies, Harvard University



Soumava Basu

Soumava Basu

President and Founder, CGC


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