Why I Went With Hoover Institution Press to Publish ‘Living With the UN’

by Kenneth Anderson

My book, Living With the UN: American Responsibilities and International Order, is now in stock and on-sale at the Hoover Institution Press website.  I have a copy in hand and I’m delighted to be holding it.  It’s not quite like holding your new baby – but for an inanimate object, it’s closer than you might have thought.  (Julian – feel free to weigh in here: I’m thinking having one’s new book in hand is kind of like holding one of those Japanese roboticized teddy bears for soothing the elderly with dementia, but maybe that’s just me.)

It will be a couple of weeks – April 17 – before it’s available through Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and other online sellers.  A Kindle edition will be released on April 17 as well.  Over the next couple of months, I will be talking about various themes in the book – UN-US relations, the nature of the UN, the different ways in which the US should engage (or not) with different parts and functions of the UN.  Julian will be doing the same with his and John Yoo’s provocative new book, Taming Globalization, so expect to hear a lot at OJ about themes in our books (we have, btw, covertly set up an algorithm in which the more OJ readers buy our books, the less we will talk about them!).  To start with, however, I wanted to go to a very different topic – this one about publishing, choosing a publisher, and why I chose the Hoover Institution Press.  This follows on some excellent guest posts by senior academic press editors in the past here at OJ – I’m really extending my take on those past discussions. I’m hoping that my thinking here will be useful to some OJ readers thinking about publishing.

This is a policy essay, not a “scholarly” book – it has about twenty footnotes for the whole thing, and a bibliography of secondary sources aimed to be accessible to those without a university research library or knowledge of how the UN online archives work.  My interest in this case is dissemination of the ideas in the book, not staking out academic turf.  So my general choices were three: One, find a commercial trade publisher, which seemed improbable given the subject matter, the way it is written, and my lack of trade press publishing in the past.  Two, find a university or academic press; this seemed like the obvious thing, and in fact there were several options that direction, notwithstanding that this is something like the opposite of the dense academic monograph.  Third, go with a think tank policy press in which case, given the history of the project and my affiliations, it would be Hoover.

The Hoover publishing folks have been marvelous.  They have been fabulous on production values, editing and copy editing, all the professional production elements.  They have been patient to a fault in waiting for the manuscript and letting me make later changes.  And they have excellent marketing staff and have a commitment to getting the book out there in a way that is only sometimes true of academic presses whose primary audiences are academics and university libraries.  But several academic presses are great in all these ways, too, so one has to ask, why consider a think tank press?  After all, isn’t a think tank press – even one associated with a university, like Hoover, and moreover a conservative think tank – taking a hit in academic prestige and respectability?

I thought carefully about this before choosing to go with Hoover.  It seems strange that a practical decision like choosing a publisher says something deeper, but yes, I think it does.  In part it’s how one sees academic prestige in public international law and, particularly, international organizations – which are, after all, human institutions and not purely abstract legal propositions.  The human experience of them matters – at least if you want to say the things about them that I say in this book.  I had a long career in the human rights and international NGO world before coming to teach in my forties, dealing with international organizations frequently, and whether in private or public law, I have a relentlessly practical streak that, at least in inherently political fields such as public international law, can’t see formal legal categories as finally dispositive.  International law for me is always fused with pragmatism (to draw from Michael Glennon’s fine book on this topic), politics and diplomacy, realism – policy, in other words.  But formal academic “brilliance,” to put the question of academic prestige in that way, likewise requires a more formal (and closed) system that allows one to show in some surprising and (one hopes) useful way that x is true and not y.  Policy, on the other hand, is about criteria of plausibility, not truth formally as such or purely for its own sake or, frankly, sheer marvelousness in reasoning.  One can do that in many areas of domestic law, because the legal framework drives the outcomes as such, but not so much in this field, at least how I conceive of it intellectually (and, of course, that’s not the only way to see it).

So academic prestige is not precisely my aim because I don’t think the subject matter or the writing, at least in this book, work to that end.  This is not to say that it has not been researched with the same care that the purely scholarly work would have – on the contrary, it is probably over-researched for such a short book, and it is also infused with a large number of interviews and discussions of a more journalistic nature than would drive a purely academic book.  It wears its substantive learning deliberately lightly.  I spent a lot of time a few years ago understanding the UN budgeting, accounting, and fiscal control systems – such as they are – from the inside out, for example, and I’m pretty certain I’m the only public international law academic ever to have done so, truly down in the weeds, at least among the Americans. (You have to be reasonably competent in accounting and financial statements, and understand something of public entity and NGO accounting; the truth is, though, having read lots of UN financial reports and statements, and way too many of the original documents at the time of the Oil for Food scandal, I doubt it was worth the amount of work I put into it, at least for the relatively brief role it plays in the book’s chapter on UN management).  But if prestige in the sense of building my own academic capital is not the issue here, then what do I want?

Dissemination, mostly.  I want to get this book out into the hands of a couple of audiences: the Washington and international organization policy audiences; the international NGO world; academics in international law, organizations, politics, and international relations; both the Obama administration (despite this book’s many criticisms) and the Republican campaign; and finally classrooms at the undergraduate, public policy and graduate school, and law school levels. The key issue there is price.  The book retails directly from the Hoover site for $19.95.  Hoover could sell it for more, but it is in the business of dissemination of ideas too – it and I are aligned. By contrast, the decisive factor for me in deciding what press was price – the other publishers wanted to sell at minimum $35, in several cases $40.  I’m not sure anyone would want to adopt this as a text in a class on international organizations – not as the main text, but as the short, fairly readable critique and counter-view – but I can’t imagine anyone wanting to adopt it at $40 as a supplemental text.  And a friend wrote after hearing the price and told me, well, my book went with a very prestigious academic press and is priced at $45 and no one wants to buy it because it’s too expensive.

It is true that everyone will discount, starting with Amazon and Barnes & Noble.  But I think that just gets it down to $20 – down to where Hoover starts its pricing.  Whereas I suspect that Amazon will discount the book very quickly to below $15, and I saw on a B&N page that it would sell at $13.50 – straight out of the box.  Now, if I made my living selling books or if Hoover made its living publishing them for a profit or even straight cost-recovery, this would be a big problem.  But we are both in the ideas-dissemination business.  We can live with this.  I think people can be persuaded to take a look at this book with a $13 price point (in hard cover, let alone Kindle), whereas at over $20 that is not nearly so likely.  Moreover – and this is very cool – at some point down the road, in a year or two, as sales dry up, Hoover will make the book available free as a pdf off its website.  So if your priority is dissemination of ideas and the book, rather than academic signaling, this is not a difficult call.

Added: One more practical note.  Unlike pretty much anyone else I know, I decided not to have book blurbs on the back.  This was probably a mistake, speaking practically; people do look for signals, and even if they are buying online, they see who has blurbed it.  However, I asked one close, and quite liberal (and liberal internationalist) friend what he/she thought about blurbing the book and the answer was … Sure, Ken, how about: “Kenneth Anderson has written a book only John Bolton could love.”


6 Responses

  1. Is the answer in the book the same as John Bolton would give?:

    “There is no United Nations. There is an international community that occasionally be led by the only real power left in the world, and that is the United States, when it suits our interest, and when we can get others to go along…The success of the United Nations during the Gulf War was not because the United Nations had suddenly become successful. It was because the United States, through President Bush, demonstrated what international leadership, international coalition building, international diplomacy is really all about… When the United States leads, the United Nations will follow. When it suits our interest to do so, we will do so. When it does not suit our interests we will not.”

  2. Mihai Martouiu Ticu: Not quite.  My friend was making a little joke.  I don’t think it’s actually what John Bolton would say.  Although to find out whether you’d agree or not, alas, you’ll have to buy the book and read it.  Luckily … it’s very cheap!

  3. @Kenneth
    I would consider reading it if you guaranteed to post my review on Opinio Juris. But from what I have already read from your posts, I have the impression that there is some dose of Machiavellianism in it – which you call realism.

    From my point of view any proposal to change international law – or any advice to a government relating to IL – is only good if satisfies the following condition: it has to be in accord to the Heaven Position.

    What is the Heaven Position? It is something like the Rawlsian original position.

    Imagine that you are a spirit, before your birth, in a debating room. Here you debate and negotiate with the future inhabitants of the earth. Here you decide which rules of conduct should be followed by individuals and states.

    But you don’t know in which person you will be born. You’ll have only 4.47% to be born as American.

    In the Heaven Position you would not accept the IL as it is now. You would want two things:

    (1)    An International Court of Human Rights, where all individuals can sue all states, using at least the non-derogable articles in ICCPR, CAT and maybe some other treaties. For instance El-Masri should be able to sue U.S. in such a court. You would want that all those killed by drones (or their relatives) could challenge the U.S. legal argument in such a court. You would want that the guys on Guantanamo could sue U.S. in such a court and demand a fair trial or to be released.

    (2)    You would want a much greater role for ICJ and international courts. For instance, you would try to maximize the compulsory jurisdiction. You would not give U.S. and the other powerful states the last word in their conflicts – as it is the case now. You would not grant them the privilege to act as the sole and ultimate judge in their own conflicts.

    So does your book satisfy this neutral position, or is it just an advice on how to violate international law with impunity, and get away with it while fooling the others in respecting it? Is it an advice on how to achieve even more undeserved privileges?

  4. Well, I guess there go sales in Europe! :)  More seriously, I don’t think I’d agree with your starting position here – I don’t think that international law can or should start from the ‘angelic stance’.  Too complicated to go into here, but that fundamental, ships passing in the night, difference probably accounts for much of the frustration you sometimes express in comments here.  I don’t think there is a way of resolving that difference; one either accepts the angelic stance for international law or one holds to a much more earthly, partial, pragmatic, and partisan view.

  5. A real realist would see that the IL goes in the angelic direction. Idealistic James Brown Scott wrote in a letter to the the Dutch Minister of Foreign Affairs in 1914:

    “[T]he historian of the future will look back with wonder and amazement to the time when nations did not settle their justiciable disputes by judicial process, and did not organize permanent courts for their trial and disposition.”

    And nowadays the international courts are spreading like wildfire. There are already 120 states parties to ICC in 10 years. ICJ, the ECtHR and IACtHR collapse under the workload. The African court of Human Rights is also testing her wings. Think of all these specialized criminal courts, the ITLOS, WTO and everything.
    Which realist has ever predicted that the war itself would be prohibited? We have had the abolition of slavery, the decolonization, the flourishing of human rights. No realist has ever predicted that. Realists like Aristotle claimed that the women will always be semi-slaves and he wrote about slavery:

    “But is there any one thus intended by nature to be a slave, and for whom such a condition is expedient and right, or rather is not all slavery a violation of nature?
    There is no difficulty in answering this question, on grounds both of reason and of fact. For that some should rule and others be ruled is a thing not only necessary, but expedient; from the hour of their birth, some are marked out for subjection, others for rule.”

    William Smith – another realist – gave the following oration at Charleston in 1796 about the idealists who wanted a constitution:

    “Among the wonders which no human research can fathom, even in these days, with all the miseries of anarchy before our eyes, there [are] still to be found political speculatists, who deriving their ideas of government from abstract theorems, and estimating man more by what he ought to be, than what he is, [wish] to erect an Utopian constitution on a sandy basis.”

    It seems to me that realists are constantly out of touch with reality.

  6. Is Mihai Phillip Allott?

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