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The Return of History and the End of Dreams Hardcover – April 29, 2008

4 out of 5 stars 47 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews


Advance Praise for The Return of History and the End of Dreams

“In this important, timely, and superbly-written book, Robert Kagan shows that the ‘end of history’ was an illusion. Today’s global challenges pose a stern test for the world’s democracies. This book is a wake-up call and should be read by policymakers, politicians, pundits and all who want a guide to the dangerous waters of 21st century geopolitics.”
—Senator John McCain

“Robert Kagan has once again written a provocative, thoughtful, and vitally important book that will reshape the way we think about the world, the special purpose that America must play in it, and the principles that must guide us. The Return of History and the End of Dreams is a must-read for anyone interested in the future of American foreign policy–and a reminder of why Robert Kagan is one of our nation’s most indispensable strategists.”
—Senator Joseph Lieberman

“An eloquent, powerful, disturbing, but ultimately hopeful view of the emerging balance of power in the world–and America’s proper role in it. Kagan’s views will be an essential part of the debate that will shape our next president’s foreign policy.”
—Richard Holbrooke, former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations

“Robert Kagan gives us a picture of the world today in all its complexity and its simplicity. This is a world where America is dominant but cannot dominate, where the struggle for power and prestige goes on as it always has. Power is at the service of ideas, but the key ideas are also ideas about power: democracy and autocracy. All this in a hundred pages, with style, energy and panache.”
—Robert Cooper, Director-General for External and Politico-Military Affairs at the General Secretariat of the Council of the European Union

From the Publisher

Narrator Information: Holter Graham has recorded numerous audiobooks, and is a stage, television, and screen actor. Some film credits include Fly Away Home, Maximum Overdrive, and Hairspray, and on TV he has appeared on Law and Order and New York Undercover. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

Product Details

  • Hardcover: 128 pages
  • Publisher: Knopf; First Edition edition (April 29, 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 030726923X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0307269232
  • Product Dimensions: 5.1 x 0.6 x 7.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 9.9 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (47 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #722,883 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Stanley H. Nemeth on May 2, 2008
Format: Hardcover
Robert Kagan's "The Return of History And The End Of Dreams" is a sobering, trenchantly written analysis of contemporary international affairs. In it, Kagan takes aim at the largely unwarranted optimism widespread in western democracies following the collapse of the Soviet Union. Many at that time thought the world had arrived at "the end of history," that the future would be confined to one inevitable shape (liberal democracy), that nations in the wake of a new geo-economics and globalization would now just peacefully engage in commerce, with nationalism and geo-political confrontation things of the past.

Kagan looks at the current scene without such blinkers, reminding his readers of the competitive nature of human beings and of the "stubborn traditions" now once again clearly resurgent in many nation states. Far from presenting a world in which the triumph of liberal democracy is inevitable, he draws attention to the resurgence of its increasingly powerful rivals, autocracy (in Russia and China principally) and to a lesser degree Islamist radicalism (in the Middle East). In short, Kagan reveals the allegedly post-modern world to be a place where power politics still obtains and war is not out of court. The post-Cold War world, then, should be understood as one containing a large measure of "backward-looking" geo-political competition, and that the great conflict now taking shape within it, if one has the courage to see, is the one between democracy and autocracy.

Following his demolition of the simple faith in a new international liberal order presumably automatic upon the collapse of the Soviet Union, Kagan goes on to call the western democracies to a new vigilance. As he puts it, "the future international order will be shaped by those who have the power and the collective will to shape it. The question is whether the world's democracies will again rise to that challenge."
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Format: Hardcover
This is a perceptive and far-sighted examination on the state of global politics as the decade approaches its end, in the form of an extended essay. A new axis of evil is rising in opposition to the West, one not guided by a shared ideology except in so far as hostility to the rule of law and democracy might be considered ideological. Kagan predicts that the future will see the return of nationalism, growing tensions and confrontation between the forces of democracy and autocracy. What matters is a nation's nature of government, he observes, not its culture, religion or geographic location; and this will determine its international alignment. While not dismissing the terrorist threat, he does not consider it a primary menace as history proves that modernity has never lost against the traditionalism represented by the Islamists. True, but terrorism might have unintended consequences in the formation of alliances and the development of state structures.

It is interesting to compare Kagan's analysis with Margaret Thatcher's Statecraft, published in 2002, in which she assessed the state of the world and possible future trajectories. In chapters 3 and 4 of her book Thatcher looks at Russia and the Asian Giants China (including Taiwan and Hong Kong) and India. Rogue states, religion and terrorism are discussed in chapter 6, with particular reference to North Korea, Islam, Iraq, Syria, Libya and Iran. Another must-read:
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
During the 1990s, after the fall of communism, it appeared that democratic capitalism had triumphed with no serious ideological challengers on the horizon. It was famously designated by Francis Fukuyama as "the end of history." Enlightenment had reached its final stage, there was no longer any beyond toward which progress marched. Most of the pundit class believed that China and Russia were well on their way to becoming liberal democracies. The theory was that once their respective middle classes reached a certain level of wealth they would be demanding the legal and political rights that are required of constitutional liberalism.

Robert Kagan does not believe this will happen. Autocracies such as China and Russia will not make the transition to liberal democracy on their own, nor will they change if they are safely embedded in the international liberal order. Kagan argues that the Chinese and the Russians do not view democracy as competitive elections, rather elections are something that asserts the popular will, which becomes the will of the ruling class. The ruling classes are not so much concerned with human rights as they are with satisfying public needs. In both countries a relatively small ruling class controls all the levers of power. Even though they line their own pockets, they have served their populations rather well, compared to the kleptocrats of smaller autocracies. The majorities of their populations actually seem content with this "style" of democracy.

Fareed Zakaria has argued in The Post-American World that autocracies do not hold beliefs other than becoming part of the global economy.
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