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The Return of History and the End of Dreams

3.62 of 5 stars 3.62  ·  rating details  ·  463 ratings  ·  60 reviews
Hopes for a new peaceful international order after the end of the Cold War have been dashed by sobering realities: Great powers are once again competing for honor and influence. The world remains “unipolar,” but international competition among the United States, Russia, China, Europe, Japan, India, and Iran raise new threats of regional conflict, and a new contest between ...more
ebook, 112 pages
Published April 29th 2008 by Vintage (first published 2008)
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Worthless Bum
This interesting, clearly written and terse book explores the direction the major geopolitical powers have taken since the end of the Cold War. Those powers are the US, the EU, China, Russia, Japan, India, and Iran. The geopolitical analysis of these powers comes from a more or less Realist perspective, which is to say, the powers are viewed as individuals pursuing their respective selfish interests.

At the end of the Cold War, the liberal democracies of the West made the naive assumption that t
James Murphy
There are a great many books on current geopolitics available at this time to the general reader. This is one of the more interesting. Kagan differs from others that I've read. He believes the drift of nations is generally toward liberalism. But in the post-Cold War world the powerful nations are more able to express their individual cultural traditions, religions, and nationalism. Because these nations no longer stand in the hulking shadow of Soviet-American conflict, this has allowed a new era ...more
Molly Gum
A quick and informative read that deepened my understanding of international politics. A great primer, but one that should be read with healthy skepticism since (A) the author served in Reagan's State Department, (B) the author makes important judgments about the motives and world views of foreign nations, but from a Western vantage point, and (C) it was published in 2008 (pre-financial collapse) and is somewhat outdated given today's rapidly changing global landscape.

Some reviewers classified
To understand this book and its context in International Relations theory, you need to be aware of the famous essay (later, book) by Francis Fukuyama
entitled "The End of History and the Last Man", written after the fall of the Berlin wall and the end of the Soviet Union. Fukuyama argued that, essentially, western liberal democracies and free-market ideologies were triumphant, and that the great ideological struggles in history were at an end.
The Return of History, and the End of Dreams is a short (105 pages), troubling book on the state of the world, its great powers, and what the future could hold. Kagan is one of the neocons, and seems quite at home w/ the Big Picture, which sees a world roughly aligned between the democracies (the United States, Europe, Japan, India (the new player), and the autocracies (Russia, China, Iran, and a grab bag of rogue states). Kagan sees the world entering a dangerous era that resembles the 19th Cen ...more
Warning! Self-indulgent review to follow.

At long last, a foreign policy author who agrees with me! I'm so sick of hearing silly idealism (foreign aid will set you free) and disgusting cynicism (Arabs can only understand the fist and the gun), that I got all the way through this book without noticing the lack of supporting evidence. It's fast, it's fun, it's painted blue! Whoops, I mean that you may feel a little blue after reading it, unless you live in India. Nevertheless, Kagan offers some hop
Andrew McBurney
Robert Kagan's The Return of History and the End of Dreams provides a piercing analysis of the nascent struggles among the new great powers in the 21st century world order. The work is succinct and definitive in its critique of the hoped-for "end of history" paradigm that the post-Cold War period briefly offered. New international developments are viewed in the light of historic patterns and precedents, and are highly effective at explaining different nations' motivations. The world, to Robert K ...more
Ed Pluimer
Jun 16, 2008 Ed Pluimer rated it 4 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: any reader with a quasi-passion for foreign affairs
This is a serious piece. Its short length [105 pages text, 116 with footnote] can disguise the long essay/short book's serious approach to a number of foreign policy issues. Kagan was [is?] a neo-conservative, but this piece has the merit of a sometime neo-con looking back at the past years, and looking ahead with more practical suggestions and, it must be said, more optimism than many gurus of foreign affairs tea leaves do.
It's not difficult to agree with the author's premise that liberal capitalist democracy is worth 'fighting' for, in contrast to the alternatives of autocracy and religious radicalism.
Sure, the currently prevailing models of Western democracy and economy are imperfect and could use numerous judicious improvements, but in the meantime it seems hard for any but the cultural/political relativists out there to dismiss the case for defending capitalist democracy to the hilt. While, granted, the model
Matthew Newton
Rather neoconservative in its perspective but still has some useful insights.
A good, although I believe premature, analysis on the shape of geopolitical relations now and how it will affect the world during the next century. As always, Kagan has a simple yet brilliant way of explaining difficult concepts to the average reader. While his argument is good, as I said before I find his analysis premature. I don't believe Russia is as autocratic as he is making it out to be. Even if it is, Putin has not had a grasp on authoritarian power long enough to make a large difference ...more
Few books have changed my world view as dramatically as this one has. I never realized how ignorant of I was of global geopolitics, and a lot of my libertarian policies of national military isolationism have been challenged.

This concise read paints a very realistic and thoroughly researched picture of a "world precariously at the edge of a new time of turmoil." "The end of history," referring to the end of the Cold War, an end to nearly a half century of unremitting hostility of the two polar s
Let me start with I do not agree with this authors opinon on foreign policy. I do not think that the author is naive or stupid. He is clearly a smart man and knows how to write. This book/essay is well written. I side with a non-interventionlist foreign policy. I do not think that we should get involved in civil wars or regime changes. I disagree with the author when he gives a mere three sentences to free trade and says that it will not work because governments act like humans and free trade do ...more
In this concise piece, Kagan refutes the notion, put forward by a great many academics in the 1990s, that the world would become increasingly harmonious as great powers adapted themselves to a new, global liberal democratic consensus. The hard-power geopolitics of the past, such thinkers argued, would give way to a new geo-economics, as nations plugged themselves into the global economy and concerned themselves more with becoming affluent than with traditional concerns of national pride, honor, ...more
I'm always depressed to read a book that is all about pointing out the blindingly obvious state of the world, and then it gets called "enlightening". All Mr. Kagan did was summarize what anyone with a basic knowledge of international relations and world history should have been able to figure out from glancing at the news on a semi-regular basis. Aside from this, there is a shocking lack of supporting evidence every time he makes a claim about why a nation-state or ethnic group acts the way it d ...more
Compared to Of Paradise and Power, this one takes a more global view, although the American slant is obvious (and South-America, Canada, and most of Africa are barely mentioned). The author Robert Kagan still sees the world as a kettle that might boil over, and his answer is military power, the fear it causes as a threat and the results it brings if used against others. He seems to be amazingly unable to understand that not everyone wants to live the same kind of lives, that there are several se ...more
Ben Ernst
Uses extremely broad brushstrokes to essentially rebut Fukuyama's "The End of History" and reiterate plenty of Sam Huntington's "Clash of Civilizations." Its thesis is simple enough: Since the fall of the USSR and the end of a bipolar world order, multipolarity has been on the rise, and several "great" powers (China, Russia, Japan, India, the Euro Zone) in this multipolar regime cause a lot of stress on the sole "super" power (the USA). Sometimes interesting, but not terribly original.
Mike Horne
Russia and China and the US and Europe. It is the 19th Century all over.

I read this when it first came out. And just read it again after reading Fukuyama's End of History. I think Fukuyama's book was an excellent analysis of the modern liberal state, but clearly we have not gotten to the "Federation" yet. Kagan thinks it is America's duty to be the superpower that at least scares the other bullies (China, Russia, and to a lesser extent) into playing well with others.

Good quote p. 85
"The tendenc
The premise of this book was that everyone thought after the fall of the Berlin Wall and the collapse of the Soviet Union that competition would move from a military sphere to an economic sphere. This has not been the case, Russia, China, India, Iran, Japan and others have begun building up their militaries. They have also competed economically. The world faces much of the same political maneuvering that it has for that last few centuries. I found the book very interesting because I was not awar ...more
Jake M.
Robert Kagan gives a diverse, analytical perspective of international power relations. The vareying interests between autocracies such as China and Russia, and the growing contention between autocracy and democracy serves as the foundation for this book. Kagan is not hesitant to state that democracy is malleable; it can be broken and it will not inevitably triumph against autoracy without strong meaures to ensure its global preservation.
There should have been more analysis on common interests b
A concise work with diligent perspective that can serve as a primer for macro international relations with an ability to encourage thinking outside the usual IR framework of power pieces.
This was a well reasoned book. I disagree with several of his foundations, and consequentially, his conclusions. Namely, his cynicism seems excessive. I don't believe that the world is as immutably static as Mr. Kagan suggests. I would prefer a more pro-active and less reactionary approach to foreign policy than that advocated by Mr. Kagan. And I believe that many issues do not have to be as adversarial as he makes them out to be. Still, I appreciate this book's brevity and scope. (Many books of ...more
Kagan has produced a short but very informative summary of the changes in the world's political structures in the past twenty years. Rather than "the end of history" where struggles between countries would melt into a multinational cooperative of combined economies and social structures, the rise of autocracies in China, Russia, and other smaller countries is proving that today is much like yesterday. However, Kagan also provides excellent on the United States' role in such a world. His conclusi ...more
Eric Berbig
Eh. The book is well written and researched. As other readers commented, Kagan points out some obvious trends. At times, I felt I was reading some recycled, self serving Us vs THEM cold war era dreck. I do like his sober minded analysis of America's declining worldwide clout. I enjoyed his 2007 work "Dangerous Nation" much, much more. DN is a must have on the book shelf for anyone interested in tracing the arc of America's (aggressive) foreign policy. It ends with the on-set of the Spanish-Ameri ...more
"The post-cold war world was not to be a postmodern paradise after all, and power politics still dominated international relations."

"To be virtuous is not to be innocent."

"The great fallacy of our era has been the belief that a liberal international order rests on the triumph of ideas and the natural unfolding of human progress.... Naturally, many are inclined to believe that the Cold War ended the way it did simply because the better worldview triumphed, as it had to.... Such illusions are just
This is an excellent and thoughtful short summary of the realities and challenges of global power politics in the post-Cold War world. Kagan does a very good job of providing a sweeping overview and offering some historical context. Thoughtful readers who lack the background in history to immediately grasp all of his contextual references may want to find additional works to fill in those gaps.
Anyone who wants to point out exactly how much shit Francis Fukuyama is full of is a friend of mine. This book lays out a convincing argument as to why the end of the Cold War wasn't the end of much, and makes good, restrained predictions about the near future. Perhaps most importantly, it's not padded with lots of repetition or nonsense; it's exactly as short as it should be.
This wasn't a bad book - just one that slipped from my interest level as it plodded on. The thesis - that the post-fall of Communism world is fraught with a whole new set of foreign policy challenges that we (the U.S.) are in many way unprepared to face - is right on. I just got about 3/4's of the way through & never found myself interested in picking it up again.
Craig Fiebig
Even though slightly dated, Kagan's book is worth the read. Very easy to see why China ventures in the Spratly's and Putin sells S-300 advanced air defense systems to Iran. The authoritarians will ally operationally, if not officially, while the rest of us play 'make believe' about counter jihadist cooperation or nuclear arms agreements with Tehran.
A typical 'realist' approach to the state of world affairs. Though he brings forth quite a few valid points, it's also rather concerning how, toward the end of the book he makes a few assumptions which time has proven cannot hold.

Other than that an easy update on how the world really works in a post-Cold War era.
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Robert Kagan is an American historian and foreign policy commentator. Robert Kagan is the son of Yale classical historian and author, Donald Kagan. He is married to Victoria Nuland, the former U.S. ambassador to NATO, and has two children. He is the brother of political commentator Frederick Kagan.

Kagan is a columnist for the Washington Post and is syndicated by the New York Times Syndicate. He is
More about Robert Kagan...
Of Paradise and Power: America and Europe in the New World Order The World America Made Dangerous Nation: America's Place in the World from Its Earliest Days to the Dawn of the Twentieth Century Present Dangers: Crisis and Opportunity in America’s Foreign and Defense Policy A Twilight Struggle: American Power and Nicaragua, 1977-1990

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