From Publishers Weekly
A bestseller in Europe, this provocative but erratic manifesto stands Euro-anxiety about American hegemony on its head. French demographer Todd (The Final Fall: An Essay on the Decomposition of the Soviet Sphere) cites Paul Kennedy's theory of imperial overstretch and Michael Lind's notion of the American overclass to paint America as a "predatory" but weakening empire, its unilateralism and militarism a sign of frailty, not strength. Misguided free trade policies, he contends, have hollowed out America's industrial base and decimated its working and middle classes, polarizing the country into a society of plutocrats and plebeians. Dependent on imports, America has degenerated into a parasitic, Keynesian consumer-of-last-resort, injecting demand into the world economy while producing nothing of value. To mask its decline, America pursues a foreign policy of "theatrical micromilitarism," picking fights with helpless Third World countries like Iraq to convince the world's real power centers-Europe, Japan and Russia-of its military prowess and validate its spurious image as global policeman. Written in a witty polemical style, Todd's grand but cursory arguments range across economics, military history and geopolitics in ways that might make specialists cringe. Particularly reductionist is his demographic and anthropological view of political science, in which birth and literacy rates and peasant family structures are virtually the sole determinants of a society's politics (but, it should be noted, he used declining birth rates in the Soviet Union to predict its downfall). Todd's eccentric views-on the American trade deficit, the racial attitudes of "the Anglo-Saxon mind," the prevalence of marriages between cousins in Islamic countries, the "castrating" feminism of American women-pull in too many directions to be classified as right or left. His characterization of the United States may hold more than a grain of truth, but some readers might bristle before they see it.
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Todd, a researcher at the French National Institute for Demographic Studies, has authored numerous books, one of which (The Final Fall,
1979) predicted the collapse of the Soviet Union well before it came to pass. Now he has written what may be the most important work since Francis Fukuyama's The End of History and the Last Man
(1992), positing that the U.S., despite its apparent position as the unipolar power of the planet, is overextended--our trade deficit is currently $500 billion per year, which means that the rest of the world is financing our consumerism. Todd is above all a demographer, and he bases much of his opinion on statistical elements--declining birth rates in the Soviet Union first cued him in to the country's approaching doom. So he notes some disturbing American phenomena, such as rising stratification based on educational credentials, and the "obsolescence of unreformable political institutions." In the end, he believes the U.S. should return to its nineteenth-century civilian, republican roots, and that Europe should follow that impulse. Already a best-seller in Europe, this book is destined to be much talked about and analyzed. Allen WeaklandCopyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved