In the early twentieth century, subjects of the British Empire ceased to rely on a model of centre and periphery in imagining their world and came instead to view it as an interconnected network of cosmopolitan people and places. English language and literature were promoted as essential components of a commercial, cultural, and linguistic network that spanned the globe. John Marx argues that the early twentieth century was a key moment in the emergence of modern globalization, rather than simply a period of British imperial decline. Modernist fiction was actively engaged in this transformation of society on an international scale. The very stylistic abstraction that seemed to remove modernism from social reality, in fact internationalized the English language. Rather than mapping the decline of Empire, modernist novelists such as Conrad and Woolf celebrated the shared culture of the English language as more important than the waning imperial structures of Britain.
Literary fiction is a powerful cultural tool for criticizing governments and for imagining how better governance and better states would work. Combining political theory with strong readings of a vast range of novels, John Marx shows that fiction over the long twentieth century has often envisioned good government not in Utopian but in pragmatic terms. Early-twentieth-century novels by Joseph Conrad, E. M. Forster and Rabindrananth Tagore helped forecast world government after European imperialism. Twenty-first-century novelists such as Monica Ali, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Michael Ondaatje and Amitav Ghosh have inherited that legacy and continue to criticize existing policies in order to formulate best practices on a global scale. Marx shows how literature can make an important contribution to political and social sciences by creating a space to imagine and experiment with social organization.