Review: Global Outrage–The Origins and Impact of World Opinion from the 1780s to the 21st Century (Paperback)

4 Star, America (Anti-America)

Amazon Page
Amazon Page

4.0 out of 5 stars Misleading Title, Difficult Read, Useful Observations,

October 25, 2005
Peter Stearns
The title is misleading–Global Outrage is a bit strong–the book is actually a very long narrative about the emergence of “world opinion,” a phrase that appears innumberable times on every page. it is therefore a difficult read with no illustrations, charts, or tables. Somewhat tedious.

Removing one star, then, the book is never-the-less quite interesting in its topic, which the author says has not been systematically reviewed in the past, and its findings. The author reviews the early days of anti-slavery, women’s rights, labor rights, child labor, and the environment, concluding with the new campaigns against McDonald’s wrappers, sweatshops, and Central American death squads.

Among the gems that made the purchase and the effort worthwhile:

1) World opinion, when it does mobilize, is generally right.

2) World opinion is insufficient to deter a great power such as the USA from its chosen course, but it can impose great and lasting costs on that power as time goes on.

3) World opinion is equally helpless against local customs and conditions, including the economic need for child labor and the deep cultural attachment to female mutilation in some regions.

4) World opinion is a force that rises and ebbs, whose tools and techniques change across issues and times, but it is a constant force in that it exists and it can have an impact.

5) World opinion has been reduced in force by the demise of the U.S. Information Agency and the once powerful labor unions whose AFL-CIO did so much to nurture labor rights around the globe. I had two thoughts as I contemplated this observation: first, that the US and the multinationals were short-sighted in ending the one and crushing the other–it is only now that we appreciate the intangible power for good they both represented; and second, as we grapple with the needs of Public Diplomacy and Strategic Communication, it is clear we need to reinvent both.

6) The book excels at pointing out across several examples that world opinion is powered by information sharing. The most important information sharing is from the bottom up–from those who are persecuted to the outside world, and then back again in the form of petitions, letters, emails, etc. Information sharing is also important across national and cultural boundaries, helping raises expectations and standards as well as the costs of non-compliance with expectations.

7) Finally, “world opinion” is put forth by the author as the means by which humanity agrees on common standards and expectations that co-exist with regional and cultural differences, and provide a shared vision for humanity.

I found the author’s concluding suggestions quite relevant to the global Information Operations campaign that the USA is about to embark upon: he suggested that we need to research as deeply and broadly as possible where popular opinion rests on a wide variety of issues, and use that as a benchmark for evaluating the acceptability and sustainability of governmental politices as well as corporate practices; and we should, at least once a decade, examine the organizations, tools, and techniques of “world opinion” to see who they are changing, and if they are changing in the composition of constituencies or the focus of effort.

Concluding, the author is slightly optemistic about “world opinion” being a countervailing force against both militant Americans and radical Islamists, but he notes that “world opinion” is by no means a steady or assured power, only one that will have some form of influence, always varied.

This is an academic work, with a good index, notes, and recommended readings for each chapter. It can be tough going, but all things considered, a useful reading on that intangible power called “world opinion.”

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