Copyright Islamica Magazine Summer 2004

POLITICS PARADISE AND POWER Robert Kagan Atlantic Books. 2004 112 pages, 1843541785Pb

“It is time to stop pretending,” Robert Kagan counsels, “that America and Europe occupy the same world.” A fascinating thought For while Muslims worldwide fret over apparently irresistible Westernization, Paradise and Power strongly suggests the end of the West as a coherent entity. The divide between Europe and America is deep, Kagan argues, and is increasingly difficult to bridge. Insofar as he explores the historic origins of this rift, Kagan is nimble and provocative, urging the reader to consider more deeply why Europe appears passive and America active. Unfortunately, the efficient analysis unravels, as Kagan allows ideology to make for an raw, flag-waving finale.

America continues to play the part of superpower, but Europe has, since the end of the Cold War, directed its attention to itself – to uniting. Traumatized by centu-ries of warfare, the European nations are now concentrated on realizing a state of Kantian “perpetual peace.” It is a fascinating project but nevertheless, it has not resulted in a union of European powers combining their global force, but something quite disappointing. For the European Union’s international standing does not correlate with actual statistics (400 million citizens, and a combined economic of $9 trillion), let alone talk of long-term potential. This, Kagan explains, is because the European Union is the end of the road for an exhausted continent which can no longer find the strength or the spirit – to compete globally as once it so eagerly would.

Controversially, but nonetheless somewhat accurately, Kagan charges Europe with hypocrisy: While Europeans might criticize the American mentality towards the use of force, Europe’s pacifism and prosperity have only been allowed by this mentality. After World War 1 1, Europe was spent, and only kept up the charade both because of its geopolitical importance and American economic and military aid, allowing it the time to look inwards. Were the United States to withdraw, it is possible – however unlikely – that upstart nations would target a wealthy but vulnerable Europe. In effect, Kagan is warning European populations: Were we to be replaced by a less benign, less democratic power, what would become of your lifestyles, prosperity and freedom?

Though he is correct in assigning America significant responsibility for European affluence, there must be something beyond foreign policy that allows a historically self-confident region to accept dependence on what many once considered a rival. For this, a discussion of spirituality would have been most helpful. Europe suffers falling productivity, insecurity over small minority groups, a worrisome negative birth rate and, unlike America, a population mostly apathetic towards religion – which some have argued is the root of the other aforementioned problems. That Kagan has overseen these facts, and more worryingly, their consequences – namely, how can such an atomized Europe prosper in our exceedingly competitive world? – takes from his thesis.

Yet an incomplete work does not have to be inconsistent. Ragan’s contradictory Deus ex Americana accomplishes that instead. While Kagan thumps his chest and cheers America as the “indispensable” arsenal of democracy, one is never told what threat makes necessary its armies. Though dictatorships still exist throughout the world, they are becoming increasingly pragmatic. Supporting as much, Kagan insists that the world is “definitively settled” in favor of liberal capitalism, and that even Muslim fundamentalism “does not present a serious challenge” to this status quo. Nevertheless, he still demands that Europe show more nerve in toppling the remaining uaxes of evil.”

If the triumph of liberal capitalism is so certain, then a vulnerable Europe would have little reason to aggravate the last outposts of authoritarianism. It would be wiser for Europe to sit back and let totalitarianism fall on its face, as it always eventually does. Kagan, however, cannot grasp as much because he’s mired in the past. The world is accepting basic democratic principles, and whether or not neo-conservatives can stomach what that means for their (imagined) centrality, the fact remains: The peoples of almost every country were against the justifications behind the war on Iraq, showing just how much the world has changed. And, with that avoid Kagan’s burbling about a foreign policy freeing the world: These days, one hears enough ofthat anyway.

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    A piece previously published in the print issue of Islamica Magazine between 2003-2009. The following has been an effort to digitize and archive as a free service. Author citations can be found at as we continue to work on improving the digital archives here.

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