Wednesday, August 01, 2012

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

I am again reading books that no one else has read. In inventorying the collection, I found my library had owned The Return of History and the End of Dreams by Robert Kagan for four years, but no one had checked it out, despite its being only 115 pages, which some of our readers could handle in a night. Perhaps "the end of dreams" idea is something no one wanted to face.

In this case, the dream that seems to have faded away is that a new and better world will form now that the Cold War has ended. The author tells how many people in and out of Western governments around the world thought that democracy and capitalism would sweep the planet soon after the fall of the Berlin Wall and the breakup of the Soviet Union. According to Kagan, evidence to the contrary began to appear quickly in Tiananmen Square, the Balkan states, Africa, and across the Middle East.

In his book-length essay, Kagan takes us on a tour of problematic countries, showing us how they have changed. India is far different, but most other states have settled into positions similar to those before the fall of the wall. The U.S. is the primary superpower, and the autocratic states of Russia and China are the main competitors (if not enemies). In Kagan's view, the U.S. and the rest of the West are greatly distracted by the troubles in the Mideast and not addressing their own long term interests.

While four years have passed since publication, a time in which world economies have faltered and much has happened in the Islamic world, the overall picture is much the same today. The Return of History and the End of Dreams is still a worthwhile book for readers interested in geopolitics.

Kagan, Robert. The Return of History and the End of Dreams. Alfred A. Knopf, 2008. 115p. ISBN 9780307269232.

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