James Forsyth James Forsyth

Forward to the past | 28 May 2008

James Forsyth on Robert Kagan's new book

When the planes flew into the Twin Towers many rushed to declare it the end of the end of history. But it was not. All the plans that emerged immediately afterwards about how to remake the Middle East were premised upon the assumption that history was at an end; that the world was moving inexorably towards liberal, market democracy. Indeed, al-Qa’eda’s nihilism appeared to prove that in the war of ideas, democracy’s dominance remained unchallenged. It seemed that the 9/11 attacks, far from marking the end of the end of history might actually have speeded its arrival.

Today, though, the world looks starkly different. For the first time in a quarter of a century, democracy is on the back foot and facing a serious ideological challenge. China’s rise has provided developing countries with an alternative model, a resurgent Russia is challenging our conception of the term democracy and Iraq is showing just how difficult it is to introduce it.

The Return of History and the End of Dreams tackles this subject with the same panache that Robert Kagan brought to discussing the trans-Atlantic divide in the influential Of Paradise and Power. Kagan, John McCain’s most intellectually influential foreign policy advisor, revealingly dedicates far more of this short book to the threat posed to the democratic hegemony by China and Russia than to radical Islam.

The return of ideological competition among the great powers means that the United Nations once more has, to borrow a joke from Yes Minister, the engine of a lawnmower and the brakes of a Rolls- Royce. China and Russia are hardly likely to agree with the ‘responsibility to protect’, the idea that countries have the right to intervene in the sovereign affairs of other states to protect citizens from their own governments.

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