The Return of History and the End of Dreams by Robert Kagan

I would read a lot more books if they were all 105 pages. Kagan’s masterpiece, Dangerous Nation, was nearly 400 pages, and was not quite the four-hour read that this little gem was. But then again, if all books, of any length, were as good as Robert Kagan’s latest piece, I would read a lot more books then too.

This masterful alumnus of the Ronald Reagan state department, who serves as the Senior Associate of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, has once again challenged me in some of former presuppositions about former policy. Unlike Dangerous Nation, wherein he turns on its head the ludicrous notion that our founding fathers were radical isolationist types in the mold of present day Ron Pauls and Lew Rockwells, his latest book challenges my own faulty belief that Islamo-fascism represents the only world event one ought to be paying attention to. Indeed, readers who read books to find solace and comfort ought not book up this little primer. For one thing Kagan’s The Return of History and the End of Dreams does is decimate ill-found comfort in the state of world affairs.

Contrary to what my preceding paragraph may sound like, Kagan does nothing to indicate that the Islamic threat is not huge, and growing, as it pertains to global peace and prosperity. Much space is devoted in particular to the horrendous concern that Iran may indeed become a nuclear power – and soon. However, to Kagan, the notion that the end of the cold war ushered in “the end of history”, where we now stood at the precipice of global modernity and enlightenment peace and prosperity, has not been merely “delayed” by the Islamicists. Indeed, the very notion itself was ridiculous, and came about as a result of deeply flawed ideological tenets held by many domestically and abroad. And right now, as Kagan sees it, there is a gigantic divide between the “democratic powers” (the USA, primarily, and the EU nations as well), and then the autocratic powers (Russia and China, primarily). This brief read will provide you an extraordinary description of the state of world affairs, and why Russia’s relationship with its geographical neighbors, and China’s continued venom towards the situation with Taiwan, represent a time bomb for the global landscape. But more than his thorough and insightful description, he provides genuine and intelligent prescription as well, and for this reviewer, he has powerfully connected the “what is” to the “what ought to be.”

I can easily write a review of this treatise that exceeds the length of the treatise itself, but I will instead encourage readers to digest this on their own. Kagan is a true lover of Democracy, and understands the powerful forces that compete in the world today. His new book dismantles the idea that “a liberal international order rests of the triumph of ideas and on the natural unfolding of progress.” Recognizing such a hope as extremely attractive and rationalistic, he prods us past our enlightenment fantasies and on the world in which we live – and are likely to live in for some time. He never discounts the “powerful aspects of human nature, the desire for personal autonomy, recognition, and freedom of thought and conscience” that the liberal democratic idea represents. However, he sees the struggles of power, economy, and nationalistic pride that exist between today’s democratic and autocratic regimes as very much of a perpetrator in complicating such utopian hopes. Instead, to Kagan, “the future international order will be shaped by those who have the power and collective will to shape it. The question is whether the world’s democracies will again rise to that challenge.”