Return of History and the End of Dreams

International Relations

The book “The Return of History and the End of Dreams” by Robert Kagan is an expressive, influential, alarming, but in the end a reader eventually feels positive and sees the world in the view of promising and rising balance of power in the world along with America’s right role in it. His view has been quite fundamental and vital part of the discussion that would probably shape foreign policy (Sanger, 2008).

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The author of “The Return of History and the End of Dreams,” Robert Kagan has amazingly argued on how the world has a malicious practice of spinning off in its own path, a message for Americans of all political stripes. According to him the cold war may be over but anybody who thinks the outcome was really “the end of history” but those who have consensus on liberal democracy as future should have another look. In the first sentence of his book he says (Dejevsky, 2008), “The world has become normal again,” and further puts an argument in a clearer manner: “Autocracy is making a comeback (Dejevsky, 2008).”

The Post-American World” by Fareed Zakaria is one of his most astute and prudent writings where he imagines and predicts a world where the U.S. would no longer be the dominant power in global politics, economy, culture or market. He claims that the current patterns would lead to a “rise of the rest” like Russia, China, Japan, India and others. He explains that it would be the rising of a multi-polar influence that will influence the future of the global affairs (Zakaria, 2008).

Analysis of the Book

The main concern for the U.S. lies in the immense and consistent level of infrastructure development that is taking place all over the world, this concern is adeptly addressed in Zakaria’s book (Zakaria, 2008). Throughout the book, it is easy to be intelligently interested in the predictions and patterns highlighted by Zakaria. He discusses the declining value of the American Dollar as well as the wars that the governments initiated against Iraq and Afghanistan that have seen the government invest humungous sums of money and necessary time on. Simultaneously the main focus of his book lies on the development and gradual modernization of other countries that have flown under the radar in the pre-dominant American era. The main concern for the U.S., according to Zakaria, in the near future would to regain the economy’s balance in the recession period that will is a highly probable situation if their present focus does not shift from foreign wars to internal needs of the country (Joffe, 2008).

The main threat for the U.S., explains Zakaria, lies in the gradual level of development within China and India. Both countries have maintained a high growth rate over the past decade and are exhibiting the ability to design and apply intelligent and tactical economic plans that reduces their dependence on foreign market and investment. To explain the growth within China, Zakaria writes “China today exports in a single day more than it exported in all of 1978.” Other countries like Russia, Germany and Japan are also serious candidates in the “rise of the rest” expected by Zakaria (Zakaria, 2008)

Zakaria highlights that the common denominator of all the countries mentioned above is the overall “size” of their demographics, market size and economy amongst other things. He explains “China operates on so large a scale that it can’t help changing the nature of the game.” The argument that most researchers make is on the comparison of the GDP levels of the U.S. And China. Simple mathematics highlights that all America needs to do is maintain is current GDP rate of 3.5% annually, then China will need to double and triple its current GDP level of 7% to come close to even half of the GDP that the U.S. would have by the end of 2030. So the claim that Zakaria and other advocates are making on the rise of China might not be as close as the predict, maybe the global market will need to turn a few more corners before the “rise of the rest” will efficiently be in power (Zakaria, 2008; Joffe, 2008).

One of the main needs for the multi-polar existence of power in the global affairs is the presence of power. Power is a far more intricate concept in international relations than in other format. One of the main determinants of power is the defense system of countries. This particular aspect has been one of the strongest reasons behind the domination of America since World War II. The overall expenses that countries like China, India and Russia might be allocating for their defense might be huge in comparison to their own historical standards, but all of their defense expenses combined cannot match up to the expenses that American reserves for its defense systems. The main focus however for them still should lay on the overall devaluation of the currency, the expenses and resources spent on foreign wars, the overall debts and the economy which is nearly in a dire state (Joffe, 2008)?

Alongside power, another strong influence is the cultural structure of the countries. Zakaria’ approach here is not of the sever critic, instead he takes in simple annual stats that would be the support he needs for his argument. For example, he highlights that the annual graduating engineers within the U.S. are up to 70,000 on while countries like China and India record an annual level of 600,000 and 350,000 engineers respectively. However, this comparison is only true if we take into account the engineers and it professional within the Automation industries. Also, this particular stat does not take into account the concept of outsourcing U.S.-based companies that exist in China and India and have a huge cultural imperialism and influence on the local markets (Zakaria, 2008; Joffe, 2008).

One of the main reasons that Zakaria highlights in his book is the educational infrastructure present within the U.S. (Zakaria, 2008). He writes, “With 5% of the world’s population, the United States absolutely dominates higher education, having either 42 or 68% of the world’s top 50 universities.” He further explains and compares this to the educational stats in India where he acknowledges that “universities graduate between 35 and 50 Ph.D.’s in computer science each year; in America the figure is 1,000.” He explains that even though other countries like India and China cannot pose and effective threat to the U.S. domination until and unless they start focusing on the educational infrastructure alongside the yearly economic growth (Zakaria, 2008; Joffe, 2008).

The problem here lays in the fact that U.S., with all of its economic and devaluation problems, is still the only country and power that can handle the “rise of the rest” much better then the countries that are in contention for the “rise.” Economic growth, liquid wealth, educational infrastructure, culture, defense and other elements like markets, competitors and industrial growth are all highly influential factors in the domination of the U.S. And unless all of the countries aforementioned can singly match the level of investment that the U.S. makes in these sectors, the overall “rise of the rest” is a long way away (Joffe, 2008).

It appears that the author’s arguments have particular been relevant as he is one of the few foreign policy intellectuals who is respected by Senator John McCain, the Republican nominee for president (Dejevsky, 2008). As the Senator talks about assembling a “league of democracies” in order to get things done, Kagan discusses how to do business with a world where the United Nations Security Council is according to him “hopelessly paralyzed” and NATO on the other hand is very happy in parachuting into territory where chances of gunfire is less (Dejevsky, 2008).

A scholar and regular contributor to the Washington Post’s op-ed page noted in his book that “Growing national wealth and autocracy have proven compatible, after all.” Further according to him:

Autocrats learn and adjust. The autocracies of Russia and China have figured out how to permit open economic activity while suppressing political activity. They have seen that people making money will keep their noses out of politics, especially if they know their noses will be cut off (Dejevsky, 2008).”

He says in his book that in a world where there was after twenty years of cold war’s end there is a new divide that is not as orderly as the one defined by the Iron Curtain. Democracies of European and Asian have joined a balanced, generally pro-American alliance that is tempered by their economic interests (Dejevsky, 2008). Furthermore, kagan says they are facing off against strict government in Russia and China that continue ties with Iran, assist North Korea and welcoming the dictatorships in Africa, which are happy to sell oil to countries that doesn’t have to sit through tedious lectures about human rights.

He agreed with Samuel Huntingdon’s ‘clash of civilizations’ theory and the modern trouble with Islam/West that the world is not divided by religion or race rather the actual partition in contemporary geopolitics is between democracies and dictatorships, with countries such as the United States of America, Europe and Japan on one side, and China, Russia and Iran on the other (Dejevsky, 2008). As stated clearly in the book,

But in today’s world, a nation’s form of government, not its ‘civilization’ or its geographic location, maybe the best predictor of its geopolitical alignment.”

For instance, China and Japan both have shared Asian culture, but at the same time one is a democratic country while the other one follows an autocracy. Thus, Japan will have more in general with another democracy, even though it is not racially same, that it will with China.

He further discussed that the dictatorship are unsafe, not only because they have unfair internal policies, in fact they normally experiencing fast economic growth (Dejevsky, 2008). This permit them to support a more authoritative and threatening military with which to pressurize democracies: like, Russia’s flourishing oil wealth had conflicts with the European Union and sent nuclear bombers on training trip on Western side, while China on the other hand makes more and more difficult demands on Taiwan (Dejevsky, 2008). In addition, economic success of China in the absence of democracy has led other countries to follow their dictatorial rule as a way of copying their success, and the response can be seen in places such as Venezuela (Dejevsky, 2008).

Kagan has admitted that there could be friction between autocracy such as Russia and China may mistrust each other over their common objective in Siberia. He also recognized that democracies can have friction with one another like the cynical exchanges between the United States and France on the evening of the Iraq war (Sanger, 2008). However, the author’s point-of-view is that when push comes to heave, a democratic state would always take side with a democracy in clash with a dictatorship, while a dictatorship would always take side with a dictatorship in clash with a democratic state (Sanger, 2008).

One of the most controversial things according to Kagan is that the United Nations protects dictatorship in the name of independence. Besides, China and Russia both as permanent Security Council members with the veto protect other client dictatorship such as Sudan and Turkmenistan from United Nation action (Sanger, 2008). In order to resolve this, Kagan supports setting up a “League of Democracies,” where countries following democracy could organize policies so as to deal with dictatorship that tribute the United Nation, as a substitute to it (Sanger, 2008).

However, the book is has some weak areas. The first weakness can be seen in the author’s plan for a League of Democracies as unconvincing on two stages. First of all, it is quite difficult to see as to how a suggested structure is set up without being seen as a substitute to the United Nations rather than a tribute (Sanger, 2008). Second of all, democratic countries usually have competition and resistance with one another, like for instance France and America have a joint rivalry, as well as harsh recollections of their conflicts before the war of Iraq. As Kagan appears to set aside these as small and unimportant challenges, it is difficult to see as how such clashes would be prevented within his League of Democracies (Sanger, 2008). He claims unconvincingly that democracies will overcome such conflicts & clashes because of the greater uncertainties of the dictatorship.

This is a sensitive and far-sighted assessment on the state of global politics as the decade reaches its closing stages, in the form of an extended composition. He further says in his book that a new alliance of revolt is rising in opposition to the West, which is not led by a mutual ideology except in so far as resentment to the rule of law and democracy has been measured as ideological. Kagan foresees that the future would witness the comeback of nationalism, along with increasing pressure and disagreement between the forces of democracy and dictatorship.

He observes that what concerns the most is a country’s nature of government and not its culture, religion or even the geographic location; and this establishes its position internationally. Despite the fact that that he does not give much notice to the threats given by the terrorists time and time again, and doesn’t take this into account as a primary danger while the history has proven that modernity has never been defeated against the conventionality signified by the Islamists. To an extent one can consider this as the truth but at the same time terrorism might have unintentional outcomes in the development of agreements and in the growth of any country formation.


The author has given his readers a depiction of the today’s world in all its complexity and its simplicity. According to him, we all are living in a world where America has its dominance but cannot dominate, as all are making great efforts and struggling for power, stature and reputation (Sanger, 2008). Even though power is at the service of ideas, but the vital notion involves the idea about power for democracy and dictatorship. In other words, Robert Kagan masterfully position the most imperative questions that is dealing the moderate democratic countries, daring them to decide as to whether they want to shape history or give in others hands to shape it for them. The book consists of hundred pages having overall style, vigor, flair and elegance (Sanger, 2008).


Zakaria; Fareed. The Rise of the Rest. Newsweek. May 2008

Joffe; Joseff. “The New World.” Sunday Book Review. New York Times. May 2008

Dejevsky, Mary. The view from Camp McCain: “The Return of History and the End of Dreams by Robert Kagan.” May 2008

Sanger, David E. “Democracy Limited.” Sunday Book Review. The Return of History and the End of Dreams by Robert Kagan.”New York Times. May 2008

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