on July 29, 2011
This book, or rather treaties, was written just prior to the fall of the Soviet Union [being first published in 1987] but, although dated, it is nonetheless an extremely relevant offering; spanning 500 years and focused on the rise and fall of Great Powers. The thesis of the work is fundamentally based on the Economic and Military optiques, and their interaction, with minimal attention to the social, political, and cultural dimensions: whilst the technological focus is largely located in the military arena. Thus it has profound failings, but it is still extremely relevant when pondered by the thinking person.
There are two major surprises in the book. One is the failure of Kennedy, the author, to forecast the collapse of the Soviet Union, this, even though his entire offering, his own thesis, screams out the demise of the USSR. He presumes that the Soviet Union will continue to exist as a power; even though its end was imminent: as, for instance, is indicated on page 500, when he writes, 'without jumping to the opposite conclusion that the Soviet Union is therefore unlikely to "survive" for very long', and on page 513, 'this does not mean that the USSR is close to collapse'. The other failure is that Kennedy is not partial to the absolute decline, or the disintegration, of the United States of America as it tumbles from its dominance as the only world super power. He only sees its relative decline, relative, that is, to the rising nations of Japan, China, and maybe (he thinks) the European Union. Indeed, he constrains himself to a decline only to that equivalent to America's 'geographical extent, population, and natural resources', as he states on page 533, and so it 'ought to possess perhaps sixteen or eighteen percent of the world's wealth and power'. This is 'a disposition which implies a world equilibrium, and that, based on the physical: a situation which would seem to be a sheer absurdity', to quote from the first volume of the trilogy, "The Reality Of Reality", by this author [Miller] and which volume will be published in 2011; 'The Prelude' to which was published on the 5th November, 2010, ISBN 978-0-9579902-7-2.
To emphasize, the Kennedy offering is, still today, a major contribution, and one which provokes thought. It is a worthwhile read, but a read which is very tedious, for it incorporates far far too much detail, this being with regard to economic, and especially the military dimensions, whilst at once it has an underlying vagueness.
Thus, by way of illustration of that vagueness, and to quote from page 213, 'Realizing the unease and jealousy which the Second Reich's sudden emergence had caused, Bismark strove after 1871, to convince the Great Powers [Russia and Britain] that Germany had no further territorial ambitions'. It is taken for granted that the reader knows that 1871 was the date of the defeat of France in the Franco-Prussian War of 1870/71 and that it brought an end to the over 20 year rule of Louis-Napoleon Bonaparte III, being a period in which Emperor Bonaparte transformed France from an overwhelmingly agricultural country, to an industrialized nation; aided by England, which had commenced its industrialization over 100 years earlier. The social and political significance is totally lost on the 'ignorant' reader, not least of all the fact that it was France [with an apology of an army] who, and in an act of lunacy, declared war on Prussia; thereby triggering the unification of Germany in early 1871: having massive political and social consequences for all: for Germany, reunified, then rapidly rose to become the third most powerful industrialized nation in the world: being until its defeat in World War I.
To reinforce the foregoing with another illustration of vagueness [which could have been traded off by a reduction in the enormous amount of detail in the book regarding the military] Kennedy writes on page 527, whilst examining the USA, 'historically, the only other example which comes to mind of a Great Power so increasing its indebtedness in PEACETIME is France in the 1780s, where the fiscal crisis contributed to the domestic political crisis'. This would, for the reader who has little more than a cursory knowledge of the history of France, seem to be somewhat of a tame statement which would be passed over. Just another domestic political crisis. Yet that statement refers to the outbreak, on the 14th July, 1789, of the French Revolution! Fundamental social and political happenings underlay that brief observation. The French Revolution took some 30 years to erupt, as the absolute monarch, the King of France, Louis XVI, in effect, bankrupted the country. Military activity was prevalent during Louis XIV, XV, and XVI's consecutive reigns, but so was social and political delinquency. The French Revolution unlocked the resources that made France great, resources locked up in 'the system of government, the organization of society, and the culture' of the ancient regime; being absolute monarchy, writes Doyle in 'The French Revolution', 978-0-19-285396-7. After that social and political revolution, being not military, and under Napoleon Bonaparte I, writes Doyle, 'the French would dominate the European continent'. The necessity to contemplate the interaction of the social, political, cultural, economic, technological, and military dimensions, and others, is essential to a reasonable appreciation of that which did and is occurring; and also the philosophical: that is crystal clear in the case of the French Revolution, for the writings of two dead French philosophers, both of whom died in 1778, played a significant role in the lead-up to that revolution, its happenings, and its aftermath: being Rousseau and Voltaire.
The Kennedy book is a worthwhile read providing it is read bearing in mind the constraints of its two dimensional limitations; being economics and the military, and the belief that they are the causes of the social, political, etc, rise and fall of a great power [as he states on page 439] for the book has a great deal to offer. Its countervailing contribution, as the contemporary world creates new civilizations, is the trilogy, "The Reality Of Reality".